Dean Haspiel on Street Code at Zuda Comics

Dean Haspiel on Street Code at Zuda

Although the comic itself is in classic black & white, Dean Haspiel has said that in the webcomic Street Code, "all the characters are quite grey". Devoid of the classic hero vs. villain struggle you might expect from some comics, the NYC native's webcomic looks to relate, review and realize one guy's experiences living in the streets of Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens. Debuting last week on DC's website, Street Code is the latest instant winner and is from the most high-profile cartoonist to date.

Haspiel is no newcomer to comics. Haspiel got his start as an assistant to Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson and Bill Sienkiewicz before breaking out on his own with 1987 comic The Verdict with Martin Powell. Today's readers know him well from his collaborations with Harvey Pekar in The Quitter and American Splendor, while also being a early adopter and leader in webcomics as co-founder of ACT-I-VATE, which is new home to his long-running series Billy Dogma.

Haspiel leads of his run on Street Code with a store of feline abuse called "Awful George". For more, we talked to Haspiel from the studio he shares with others, Deep Six.

Newsarama: Dean, how would you describe Street Code as a whole?

Dean Haspiel: Street Code is a series of short, personal experiences about the time I left my home town to start a new life somewhere else only to face a new set of neighborhood "house rules." At age 30, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about living in NYC. Little did I know.

Ultimately, Street Code is about territory and serves as my commentary on how people are innately polarized by different cultures and what makes us who were in the chaos of circumstance.

NRAMA: You've led off with the first part of a story entitled "Awful George". Why'd you decide to lead off with this one?

DH: Street Code takes place during Jack's transition between living in the lower-east side streets of Manhattan and moving to the old Italian neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. "Awful George" tells the tale of a creepy shut-in and the insanity that ensues which is one of the deciding factors that makes Jack split from one borough for another. Plus, "Awful George" is such a sensationally sick and twisted story, I just had to start the series with a wallop.

NRAMA: There's a lot of heart in these panels, Dean. It also feels a bit more personal than your other works of late -- -am I misreading it, or is there some truth to this fictional yarn?

DH: Street Code is semi-autobiographical. A version of these stories, like "Awful George," were originally intended for my now-defunct OPPOSABLE THUMBS #2, and some of these stories were derived from my blog and reshaped for the comix form. All the stories are 99.7% true.

NRAMA: .3% Soylent Green. Or Not.

The lead in this is the NY bruiser Jack. How would you compare him with your other popular character, Billy Dogma?

DH: Even though "Jack" in Street Code clearly represents me in many ways [although, he has a different name and a scar across his forehead and cheek], I find that the stories expressed in Billy Dogma are much more autobiographical in their emotional truths. And, therein lies the difference. With Street Code, I had to strategize narrative entry and exit points like a journalist by taking snippets of true life tales and culling allegories. These are real events that occurred during a specific time and space and the reader is delegated to voyeur. Albeit a psychedelic romance, Billy Dogma, has the potential to be universal and, with the right investment, he could be you.

NRAMA: I hear the title for this, Street Code, has some interesting origins. What say you, Dean?

DH: Street Code was the original title I proposed for Harvey Pekar's The Quitter when we pitched it to Vertigo. Then, Harvey called me up one day and said "I'm calling the book The Quitter. I want everybody to know I was a quitter." Harvey was really adamant about changing the title to reflect his thesis and it made sense. However, I always dug the "Street Code" title ever since I read Jack Kirby's singular auto-biographical comic of the same name. And, while trying to come up with a title for my Zuda series, I realized that a lot of my stories had to do with the laws of the streets and "Street Code" was the perfect title. Plus, Jack Kirby is my favorite cartoonist. Which is why I named the protagonist, Jack.

NRAMA: No problem with that. This is your third big series on the webcomics front, following up from Billy Dogma at ACT-I-VATE and Next-Door Neighbor at Why Zuda?

DH: A lot of eyes are on Zuda and they pay well. The Zuda aggregators are helping engender the potential of webcomix while making it exciting. I wanted "in" on some of that action and had a nice pow-wow with Kwanza Johnson, Ronald Perazza, and Richard Bruning, that led me to developing Street Code.

NRAMA: This will be updated bi-weekly every Friday. How big will each installment be?

DH: Each installment of Street Code yields between four and six screens.

NRAMA: And before we go ¬ do you have any pets of your own?

DH: I grew up with cats living in my home most of my life. I currently take care of two cats, Coco Pilao and Miercoles, and I love them very much.

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