Dean Haspiel might be more known for his recent superhero work on Archie's The Fox and DC's Batman '66 and Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman, but that doesn't mean he's done with more personal, autobiographical stories. Haspiel, who worked extensively with Harvey Pekar as well as Jonathan Ames, just finished work on a new graphic novel based on his own life called Beef With Tomato.
Scheduled for release in September, Beef With Tomato is inspired by Charles Bukowski, his recent move to Brooklyn, as well as his friends and family both inside and outside of comic books. Beef With Tomato is being published by Alternative Comics in partnership with Hang Dai, a studio/small press publisher Haspiel co-founded.
Newsarama spoke with Haspiel about his return to autobiographical works, what "Beef With Tomato" actually is, and his current work with Hang Dai.
Newsarama: Dean, can you tell us about your "New York bruiser" in Beef With Tomato?
Dean Haspiel: Beef With Tomato is a 96-page graphic novel hybrid of semi-autobiographical comix and essays (mostly comix) with an introduction by my good friend/collaborator/writer, Jonathan Ames (who is also the TV producer/creator of HBO's Bored To Death and Starz' Blunt Talk). The book is mostly about my escape from Manhattan to Brooklyn and a cautionary tale about riding a bicycle. It's also got sex, violence, love, death, hope, heartbreak, crazy people, fisticuffs, cops & robbers, and tribalism.
Nrama: You've done autiobio and semiautobio before -- what "flavor," I guess you can say, is your Beef With Tomato protagonist?
Haspiel: As far as I'm concerned, autobio and semi-autobio is the same thing. Besides, what is truly autobiographical? Isn't it really just synonymous with “point of view”? When two or more people share the same space you're liable to get different versions of the same story and they're all (mostly) true! I try to ignore traditional navel-gazing because that's awfully boring. Alas, I didn't have anything too tragic happen to me, thus far (fingers crossed), so my book doesn't have that immediate “Headless Body in Topless Bar” hook. Instead, it's a meditation on transition, transformation and misunderstanding.
When I went full time freelance 15+ years ago and worked at home alone, I sparked a blog. It was a way to keep track of my days and fulfill a desire to matter despite the fact that the internet can be a vacuum of too much information. I discovered I was addicted to conflict and wrote about the stuff that charged me. That got me in trouble. And, as an author, you have the power to exploit your own narrative and I elected to show and tell stories that mean something to me in hopes that they mean something to you, too.
Nrama: Beef With Tomato -- what does that refer to?
Haspiel: “Beef With Tomato” is a major story in the book that is my love letter to New York City. It refers to my favorite dish at my favorite restaurant, Wo Hop in Chinatown. The title also pays homage to Charles Bukowski's Ham On Rye, which is the first semi-autobio book that allowed me to think I could write about my life and get away with it.
Nrama: You're doing Beef With Tomato in a partnership between the company you founded, Hang Dai, and Alternative Comics. Why the partnership, and what does the book gain from it?
Haspiel: When Hang Dai decided to partner with Alternative to distribute our graphic novels, I talked to publisher Marc Arsenault about print pricing and other costs and concerns. I was considering a Kickstarter for Beef With Tomato and he said he would like to publish it. I weighed the pros and cons and felt it smarter for me to ease into self-publishing with Marc's publishing experience guiding me while I focused on finishing my current workload of writing & drawing The Fox for Archie/Dark Circle Comics and other freelance work. Marc took a certain load off me, the nuts and bolts of publishing, but I'm learning from this project and what it takes to get a book out there.
Nrama: Let’s talk more about Hang Dai. It’s both a physical art studio you share, as well as a publishing company. Why did you personally choose to be involved with something like Hang Dai?
Haspiel: There was never a choice. I long ago abandoned the notion of being sanctioned by editors and publishers and taste-makers. Don't get me wrong, they certainly help but I walk the dog and put my time in despite all odds. I work eight hard days a week developing pitches and making deadlines and being communal. I even flex the occasional altruism; sometimes mentor, champion causes, etc. But, I will never be the next hot Batman artist and I will never make a Bea Arthur-sized dent in the pop culture zeitgeist. At least, not by design. Like I did with Keyhole, Billy Dogma, Act-I-Vate.com, Deep6 Studios, TripCity.net, Hang Dai Studios/Editions, I'll always put my money where my mouth is.
Nrama: Earlier this year your friend, fellow comic creator and Hang Dai co-founder Seth Kushner passed away. Not to cut too deep, but how has Seth impacted you and Hang Dai?
Haspiel: I miss Seth twenty times a day. He kept me sane. There are so many things I want to tell him and show him. His death killed a part of me. Luckily, we kept Seth busy and he did more in a hospital gown than some people achieve their entire lives. And, with that, we'll publish some of his posthumous works, including Schmuck the graphic novel and other things I'm setting up. Meanwhile, we honor Seth by moving forward; Do and Dai – Hang Dai! There is a painting that Gregory Benton bought in the park of a lion-headed Superman that hangs where Seth's seat is. It was hung there to celebrate Seth's lion-hearted spirit while he battled cancer. As long as we have a studio, that Super-Lion will be there to represent Seth and his life.
Nrama: One of the things he enjoyed most it seems was One of the unique aspects to Hang Dai: a renewed push to have some comic books of yours available only by buying it direct from one of you at shows, selling by hand. Is that exclusive to all the books, and why did you choose to do this?
Haspiel: Hang Dai books and graphic novels will be distributed to retailers. We want that kind of relationship. It's important to the health of our industry and market. But, not unlike a poster or an exclusive item, I wanted to have some comix you could only get personally from me. Social networking fools us into believing we're connected and I prefer a more intimate parlay. Kinda like when phones were still used to talk to each other. I miss hearing voices. I miss live interaction and, ever since I started doing more comix shows and events (and salons), I've wanted to make available certain things for sale – stuff you can only buy from me.
Nrama: What are your ultimate goals for Hang Dai?
Haspiel: I suppose the ultimate goal of Hang Dai is to publish signature works by a handful of like-minded yet wholly different auteurs. A place for us to experiment and potentially reap the most beneficial rewards of creating and publishing.