The Life and Times of Illustrator DEAN HASPIEL

The Life and Times of DEAN HASPIEL

It’s a good time to be Dean Haspiel.  The prolific cartoonist has become a familiar face at Vertigo with such graphic novels as The Quitter with the late Harvey Pekar, The Alcoholic with Jonathan Ames, and the forthcoming Cuba: My Revolution with Inverna Lockpez.  He’s also been a regular presence on such webcomic sites as ACT-I-VATE and Zuda…and of course was the basis for Zach Galifinakis’ “Ray” on HBO’s Bored to Death, for which he recently received an Emmy nomination for his work on the main title design.

With all this Haspiel action going on, the time is ripe for Dean Haspiel: The Early Years this September.  It’s the first in a new series from IDW/Desperado spinning off the acclaimed Graphic NYC ( site.  The new volume, written by Christopher Irving, combines interviews with Haspiel with a heaping helping of his early comics and some all-new work.  The life and times of Dean Haspiel have yielded some unbelievable stories…and Irving and Haspiel sat down to let us know what to anticipate.

Newsarma: Christopher, what does this book cover in Dean's career?

Christopher Irving: Graphic NYC Presents: Dean Haspiel the Early Years talks about Dean's salad days as an assistant to Howard Chaykin and Walt Simonson at Upstart Studios, all the way up to his work with Harvey Pekar, Jonathan Ames, and then his own Billy Dogma at ACT-I-VATE. In terms of comics material (or comix, as Dino says), we reprint lots of Dean's early autobio work from Keyhole and Opposable Thumbs, along with oodles of early Billy Dogma.

I do insist it's more of a career “introspective” rather than retrospective: instead of just looking back, we're looking back with a forward-thinking and insightful attitude.  

Nrama: Dean, you're having a moment, as they say!  How do you feel about this book, and what are your thoughts on the recent Emmy nomination?

Dean Haspiel: I often rib my peers that I won't have anything interesting to stay until I'm fifty years old, but Chris Irving convinced me that I had some compelling, real-life experiences to share and comix wisdom to impart before I reach my self-imposed plateau.

I've always had a reservation about collecting most of my early, creator-owned works, warts and all, but I'm happy with the savvy way Chris pieced together my journey thus far as a freelance cartoonist dancing between the independent and mainstream, from print to digital while evolving my personal expression.

Even though the bulk of the book reveals cringe-worthy art knit together by a tapestry of vulnerable revelations, I can safely say the book represents an insider's look at an important era in comics.

As for my Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Main Title Design” for the HBO series Bored To Death,  I'm humbled and honored to lend my talents to such a great show and I look forward to fans response to the second season airing this fall.

Nrama: What was the most interesting thing you found out while putting this book together?

Irving: I'd have to say it was Dean's being babysat by De Niro and godson to Shelley Winters. Or it might have been the homoerotic comic battle he had with Josh Neufeld back in their teens (reprinted in the book)...

Nrama: Dean, you shared some very poignant thoughts on working with Harvey Pekar in the LA Times.  What do you feel your work gained from working with him?  

Haspiel: Before book publishers, the internet, and telephone applications leveled the playing field, the comics industry was highly competitive and, as early as my high school years, I tried to make hay at Marvel and DC – to no avail. I just wasn't ready to take over the Fantastic Four and Shazam!

In 1987, I co-created and drew The Verdict with writer Martin Powell for Eternity Comics, but our indie-effort hardly made a dent in the black-and-white boom-cum-glut. Collaborating with Harvey Pekar on The Quitter in 2005 is what finally put me on the map, and I've enjoyed a successful run of drawing semi-autobiographical comics, ever since.

Which is odd, since I prefer to draw primitive superheroes and Billy Dogma, my bruiser romance noir. However, it was pioneers like Harvey who proved that you could write and draw your own stories, and they could be about anything.

Working with Harvey taught me to extend a keen ear and listen to the people I share common space with. There's narrative gold to mine among your friends and neighbors, the very stuff I excavate for my Zuda comic, Street Code.

Nrama: Christopher, you did an extensive interview with Pekar last year.  How did the experience affect you?  

Irving: I only talked to Harvey a few times, but I feel I personally benefitted from getting to talk to a helluva character and an extremely thoughtful man. In all honesty, I wish I'd gotten to know him better than just in passing.

In terms of my career, Seth (Kushner) did an amazing job making a Harvey fumetti with my interview quotes, and that pushed us even further into an experimental comics journalism territory.

When we lost Harvey, we both 100% agreed that the book needed to be dedicated to him, and placed a dedication at the end.

Nrama: Chris, what makes Dean's work distinct, as both a writer and an artist?

Irving: Think Kirby by way of Kerouac. Dean combines the dynamism of superhero comics with the insight of alt. comics and Beat writing. Not that he can't go make superhero or flat-out indy comics (which he does), but I feel like pure undistilled Dean (Street Code,Billy Dogma) straddles the line between the two genres in a very funky, very heartfelt, and mashed-up way. Must be another thing he learned from Chaykin.

Nrama: What was the process like for assembling the short stories reprinted in this volume?

Irving: It was going through stacks of original Dean art in his apartment, toting them back to Deep Six, and then my scanning each and every page (we have about 200 pages of comics!) high res while drinking coffee and having Dean throw things at my head (by the second day I learned to wear a helmet).

Then, in the safety of my own home, I ordered them in a way that flowed with the essays.  So, when Dean's talking about his cataclysmic bone-breaking accident at SUNY Purchase, I've inserted his story “Proud Flesh”, which goes into detail. What we've done is merged autobio comics and the essays into a big narrative tapestry.  

Nrama: What was the collaboration like in putting this book together?

Irving: A lot of back and forth, a fair share of head butts, and quite a bit of my partner Seth Kushner stepping in with his insight. In mentioning my photographer pal, I have to give him a lot of credit: Seth designed the front and back cover, edited the color section (which also features a new four-page CulturePOP Dean story, titled “Angel”), and gave a great amount of editorial input as things rolled along.

I also had Scary-Oke ( and GNYC writer Jared Gniewek Associate Editing, and my layouts were done by my old pal Rich Fowlks with assists by other pal Corey Hall. Add Ryan Roman's photos, and I literally had a small team of collaborators to help me along the way.

While Dean and I have been friends for a handful of years, there's no way you can't have creative disagreements with him, because he's very strong-willed and creatively passionate. In the end (as we've both agreed), it has made for a much better book, even more so than it would've been originally four years ago.

Nrama: Chris, what other books are coming up in your new IDW series, and what made them a good fit?    

Irving: Jay Stephens is definitely up for one, ala Dean style with the reprints. Since I can't (due to ownership issues, etc) do them all this way, GNYC Presents should toggle between art books and reprint books: I have ideas for a Silver Age Legend, a late and under-rated fantasy cartoonist, and a few other ideas.

All of the folks I'm picking are not only great artists/cartoonists, but also great and interesting people. I feel like most profile books don't celebrate the unique personality of the subject, instead taking the easy route of focusing on their work. So, in short, they have to be interesting people who would make for a smart and sexy character/career study of.

Luckily for me, there are dozens in comics like that.

The kicker, though, is that we need the Dean book to do well for Desperado/IDW before making too many more plans for future volumes. At just $20 for 240 pages, we think it's a great deal, so we're really hoping for a high enough amount of orders by the deadline of the 27th.

Nrama: What's next for both you guys?

Irving: Seth and I are keeping on with Graphic NYC the site; the plan is to move into more book projects like this in the near future. I'll also be tackling that Masters degree (finally), continue getting book projects out through my agent, and actually get back to writing some comics. I've also been hankering to try out my cartooning chops again; we'll just have to see if I can actually get the time!

Haspiel: I'm currently drawing, “Beef with Tomato,” my love letter to NYC for Street Code, which will make its debut as the sixth issue under the Zuda imprint at DC Digital. Otherwise, I have a new graphic novel coming out from Vertigo in early September called, Cuba: My Revolution, written by my friend/painter, Inverna Lockpez.

Look out for two short stories I wrote and drew for Marvel; an epic Woodgod tale that pays homage to Marvel Two-In-One, featuring The Thing in Strange Tales Vol. 2, and a psychedelic story for Deadpool# 1000. I just finished drawing something for the finale of “Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies,” which is a 12-part back-up feature conceived and edited by Michel Fiffe for Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon at Image.

Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't talked about yet?

Irving: Yes, we've built a site for the Dean book with ordering info:

It has the Diamond code, a link to the Amazon page, and other goodies (including an eight-page preview). There's also a look at Dean's Giant-Size Man-Thing (hey, don't say I didn't warn you!).

Also, if any retailers or reviewers/bloggers are reading this, you can drop a line at, and we'd be happy to shoot you a PDF of the book to check out for review or ordering purposes.


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