Losing the love of your life is never easy, but her being resurrected as some nigh-invincible galactic weapon in the body of a teenager, might be slightly more difficult. That's the story Dean Haspiel's titular character Red Hook is going through in the second volume of his series, titled War Cry, which is being collected by Image Comics on October 9.
When New Brooklyn’s Red Hook finds himself face-to-face with this dead girlfriend who has now assumed the role of an interstellar entity, War Cry (who Haspiel based in part of from DC’s O.M.A.C.) he tries to get her back, but of course, nothing is ever easy for Brooklyn’s finest.
Newsarama chatted up Haspiel about the arc, and the difficulties and complications of laying out the book from digital to print, the bizarre character design, what he feels like he has against him with how the book is produced, and of course what the third collection holds in store.
Newsarama: So Dean, before we get into the volume 2 collection, those that are unfamiliar with the world of Red Hook and this "New" Brooklyn, what does the world of the Red Hook look like?
Dean Haspiel: The Red Hook is a super-thief forced to become a superhero against his will or he will die during a time when Brooklyn reveals herself to be sentient but is heartbroken by the toxicity of the world. So, she literally and physically secedes from New York, ergo America, to develop her own republic where art can be traded for food and services. The great secession spawns a cosmic pandemic of extraordinary, diverse beings who are trying to make ends meet in this brave New Brooklyn.
Nrama: War Cry, as part of a LINE Webtoon series, was nominated for a Ringo Award which must have been nice since the first volume actually won two years ago. How do you think the comics industry as a whole sees webcomics?
Haspiel: If by "comics industry" you mean "print comics industry," and to qualify that even further, you mean "Wednesday Comics Industry," I think we're most definitely talking about two very different industries. And, honestly, that's pretty damned exciting. Some webcomics make it into print but the majority just live online to, ultimately, be binge read.
There is a misguided mindset that suggests free webcomics aren't as valid as print comics. You know, comics that you currently pay $4 for 1/6th of a story (which makes me miss the good old days when 35-cents got you an entire story). And, even though more people read my free webcomics than anything else I've ever written and drawn, it's hard to get the hype that a new number one on the comic shop shelf will get. The New York Times or the Washington Post will be sure to ring the alarm for the next superhero gender swap or death-resurrect-repeat, but you'll hardly read about new and regular webcomics.
Maybe because webcomics, in general, don't have the promotional muscle print needs but I hope someone figures out how to turn on more readers about what's happening on your phone.
Or, maybe that's part of the problem? Everyone is on their phone, taken hostage by the horrors of the world while seeking to carve their own digital footprint (guilty as charged), that they don't have the time nor the desire to escape like we used to when we had less technology and more newsstands. It's not nostalgia I crave, but I've foolishly dared to compete with Marvel and DC by creating a new universe of superheroes. Alas, I'd like to think I'm not competing but, in fact, complimenting the characters and stories I grew up loving by adding a small cabal of my own misunderstood misfits.
Nrama: What's the process like when you're reconfiguring the page to go from vertical to horizontal? How much thought has to put in ahead of time for panel composition?
Haspiel: The hardest part of concocting my Red Hook stories is to draw it in a way that I can apply it twice; in two very different formats. How can I exploit the real estate of the traditional comic book page while honoring the virtues of the vertical scroll? It's all in the layouts.
I've had to abandon landscape panels and my beloved inset panels for taller, thinner, portrait-sized panels. I've had to forfeit action shots that intrude other panels for static panels that can stack upon each other like funhouse mirrors. So, whatever I loved about the way Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Frank Quitely, and Javier Pulido did and do designing their comics, I've had to shift gears and study the likes of C.C. Beck, Ramona Fradon, and Steve Ditko, who employ a more standard template, and more recently, Mike Mignola, who did really nifty stuff adding the occasional ambient panel to his Hellboy comics. You know the ones I'm talking about? Where there's a statue or a skull or a creepy detail lurking inside a small panel, hovering between two or three other panels like an omniscient specter.
Anyway, the cool thing about reading my web-first comic is how very different the reading experience will be in print. Like modern television or a multi-layered movie that you gotta revisit, it gives the reader a chance to view the story from wholly different design sensibilities.
Nrama: Going to the story of War Cry now, Red Hook really finds himself in an odd situation as his dead girlfriend is resurrected as this energy host and takes hold of this teen's body, in a sort of Genis-Vell/Rick Jones/Mighty Man sort of way. But you really dive into the mythos of Red Hook and Ava before she was War Cry and was assuming the Possum identity. Why is Ava so important to Red Hook that he can't let go because he's trying to get her back pretty much the first half of the story?
Haspiel: Ava Blume, a.k.a. the Possum, is the love of Red Hook's life! They broke into banks together. They robbed rich people. They made love by the Statue of Liberty. And, when New Brooklyn happened, it was the Possum who knew they had to stash stolen art and let it appreciate if they ever wanted to buy land in the mountains and build a home. The Possum, a.k.a. the feminine-half of War Cry, is a juggernaut of conviction. A human of mass destruction with a heart of gold. Who wouldn't want to woo that?
By the way, I never made that Genis-Vell/Rick Jones/Mighty Man connection before. Pretty cool way of looking at War Cry, Lan. I came at War Cry from my love for Shazam, O.M.A.C., Firestorm, and Hawk & Dove.
Nrama: Do you think books like Red Hook are a difficult sell when fans can read it for free? Because it wouldn't seem that way since I feel like we have this affinity for books still but with everything else, we've cut back on having a physical footprint with streaming and such.
Haspiel: I'm not gonna lie. I've got two strikes against me: 1) the print versions of my webcomics are available to read online for free. So, why would you buy it? And, 2) I'm stubborn enough to believe I can launch a small new universe of superheroes during a time when Marvel reigns supreme on a global level. But, I have to believe that there is room for outliers like me.
Publishers like Image, Dark Horse, Humanoids, and Lion Forge still make valiant efforts at universe building while seasoned fans bin dive and discover old comics that never made prime time. The stuff that fuels our imagination, encourages the next batch of dreamers and cartoonists, will never truly disappear if there are still long boxes to rummage. If ACT-I-VATE, the webcomics collective I founded in early 2006 with seven other cartoonists on Livejournal still existed, folks would stumble upon some of the best webcomics made 13 years ago.
Nrama: War Cry is still a very serious story with how people deal with loss, and you know, obviously trying to stay above water as a hero in a not so heroic world, but it's almost like a Venture Bros. scenario where it's a very serious situation but the characters involved seem less than so. Do you find that it's easier writing these sorts of characters instead of just another Dr. Doom analog?
Haspiel: My comix are heartfelt abstracts. Pop-theater on paper. A fine mix between melodramatic and sentimental. I learned long ago the best way to impart experience and wisdom is through levity. Do I want people reading my comix to cry? Occasionally. But, it's more important that I have fun making the stuff you have fun indulging and, perhaps, walk away feeling something special.
Nrama: So what would you say is the at the heart of the War Cry arc? Is it trying to find a lost love or is it more learning when to let go?
Haspiel: From Billy Dogma to The Red Hook to all of my plays, a lot of my core work wrestles with obsessions of the heart and how that affects love. What is true love? Is it knowing how to give? Knowing how to receive it? Managing expectations? Making special connections? What is it? And, why are most of us so bad at it? I suppose the heart of War Cry is about the duality and the complexities of love.
Nrama: You mentioned a ton of artists previously in how you construct panels, but is there one of those names you look to the most for maybe figure composition or even character design?
Haspiel: Kirby and Ditko are clearly great influences when it comes to costume design. But, I take it a little further. I prefer a more reductive style. For example, The Green Point is a naked guy with weird antlers for antennas, a cape and a sheath for his sword -- and that’s it. The Red Hook looks like a cross-between Daredevil and the Fox. The Coney looks like a black cricket with XX's for eyes and staples for teeth. Simple designs. I also like to assign a bold color for each of my characters so you can "see" and separate them in a group from afar. When it comes to figure drawing (and perspective, for that matter), I try to draw what my gut desires. Nothing about my art is accurate. It's emotional.
Nrama: After War Cry, we're in the “Starcross” arc, what can readers look forward to when they finally get to this part of the story?
Haspiel: In season 3 of The Red Hook at LINE Webtoon, I get galactic. “Starcross” finds New Brooklyn on the eve of an ice age that will make all life on earth extinct. The only way to save the planet is for the Red Hook to ally with Sun Dog, find and rekindle the romance with War Cry, confront the Omni-Gods, and give birth to a new dawn where only love can save the world! If I ever get to publish an omnibus edition of my Red Hook saga, thus far, I may have to call it "Once Upon A Time In Brooklyn."