ON ANY HEALTHY live-music scene, there’s that guy. The guy. He’s the musician — humble but with serious chops — so many others want to jam with. Warm and outgoing, he provides a social glue — whether he’s sitting in and laying down a local beat, trumpeting younger bands and helping them get gigs, or collaborating as a frontman on the national stage. He’s seemingly into so many things at once, and so many things benefit from his being into them.
In the comics universe, straight out of Brooklyn, Dean Haspiel is that guy.
Are there any creators within a stone’s (or Rolling Rock’s) throw of Williamsburg or Bed-Stuy who don’t know “Dino”? All while his success spans both coasts.
The gifted, usually bewhiskered fortysomething fluidly moves between so many circles. He birthed and co-founded ACT-I-VATE, a webcomics collective of dozens of cartooning talents. And on that site he spotlighted his “Billy Dogma” comic, which recently garnered an Eisner nomination. He’s fluent in rendering mainstream superheroes, which he balances with such graphic novels as “CUBA: My Revolution,” collaborating with everyone from Harvey Pekar (”The Quitter”) to Mark Waid (a teaming that has its roots in the Baltimore Con itself). And his artwork for HBO’s “Bored to Death” landed him an Emmy Award.
Oh, and in his free time, he donates indie comics to the Library of Congress, wins Literary Death Matches and retreats to write as a Yaddo fellow.
Comic Riffs recently caught up with Haspiel — who will be a guest at this weekend’s Baltimore Comic-Con — to talk about great vintage characters (The Fox), the greatest comic artist ever (just one guess)... and about who is the greatest journalist in superhero comics history:
MICHAEL CAVNA: Welcome back to Baltimore, Dino. ... You do your share of East Coast cons — what particularly appeals to you about Baltimore?
DEAN HASPIEL: Marc Nathan and Brad Tree, the organizers of the Baltimore Comic-Con, were my shepherds into falling in love with Baltimore over the past 12 years. I’ve yet to fully visit Baltimore for all its glory and ghettos, but its convention center, harbor, good food and general kindness makes the city a joy to behold.
MC: What are you most excited or energized by right now artistically], either on or recently off your boards?
DH: I’m currently drawing issue #3 of The Fox while steeping in the works of Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, and C.C. Beck, and I couldn’t be having more fun doing it.
MC: So, to toss it out there: Jack Kirby — great comics artist, or greatest comics cartoonist?
DH: Jack Kirby is my hero and the greatest cartoonist who ever lived. Like Norse and Greek mythology, Kirby’s concepts helped give birth to America’s gods and monsters.
MC: Related to that, your recent OMAC inking was just beautiful — an obvious labor of love. What compelled you to take it on, and what did you thinking of the coloring it got?
DH: For many years, I’ve been too shy or too scared to try my hand at inking a Jack Kirby drawing. It almost feels like a rite of passage to ink the master and I finally bit the bullet and inked an OMAC [One Many Army Corp] drawing Kirby did. I was aiming for a slick Joe Sinnott finish, but it wound up looking more like Chic Stone, what with how thick my brush lines are, and I’m okay with that. It was cool to see it colored and brought to the finish line by my former Marvel Comics editor/indie-cartoonist, Mort Todd.
MC: Your work on The Fox is dazzling. Can you speak to the joys of joining forces with Archie?
DH: Archie/Red Circle Comics has been a good fit for me. Editor Paul Kaminski has been a great champion of my ideas and work and, frankly, he’s spoiling me. Maybe I finally earned a place at the table where I can have regular fun working on franchise comic books like so many of my peers. I hope to have a long and fruitful relationship collaborating on ideas for The Fox and the future of The Mighty Crusaders, who have the untapped potential to stand proud next to our favorite Marvel and DC characters.
MC: So, Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Paul Patton: Who’s the best journalist among them?
DH: Clark Kent, Peter Parker and Paul Patton ain’t got nuthin’ on Lois Lane!
MC: So what it’s like to, finally, collaborate with Waid? And I understand you two once vowed to work together right here at the Baltimore Con — what’s the full backstory?
DH: It’s an honor to finally collaborate with one of my favorite writers, Mark Waid. In 2007, Mark’s good friend/collaborator Mike Wieringo had just passed away at too young an age and we made a vow in the lobby of the Baltimore Comic-Con hotel to work together. There were several attempts to sell ideas to no avail, but when the opportunity to work on The Fox arose, I asked Mark if he would script my silly pictures and he gladly obliged and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
MC: You’ve been hailed and dubbed by some as “the godfather” of Brooklyn’s fertile comics scene. Can you please speak to a few things that most thrill you, or engage you, about the Brooklyn scene now?
DH: There are too many comix gangs in Brooklyn to allow for just one “godfather.” Between Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and Jimmy Palmiotti, plus a plethora of other comix-making giants, I’m just helping out the best I can when I can while waving the comix flag.
MC: Other than your own work, what have you read new this year that most impressed you in one way or another?
DH: I’m enjoying Saga, Hawkeye, Daredevil, Indestructible Hulk, Jupiter’s Legacy, The Walking Dead, Satellite Sam, Batman, Thor, Fury: My War Gone By, and most anything published by Nobrow Press. My studio mate, Jon Allen is doing an impressive three-part series called “Vacationland” that I’m doing my best to avoid watching him write and draw the finale to so I can read it like a proper fan. Curiously, I’ve been digging back into my archives and I’m on a big “Power Man and Iron Fist” kick. Those Mary Jo Duffy and Kerry Gammill stories rule!
MC: Anything I didn’t ask — from ACT-I-VATE to TripCity.net — that I should have?
DH: I’m currently involved in a small band of undisclosed cartoonists who are putting their monies where their mouths are. Please swing by my table, #2207 at Baltimore Comic-Con this year to uncover the mystery.