(Courtesy of Image Comics)
In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, writer/artist Dean Haspiel discusses his must-read superhero adventure, The Red Hook Volume 1: New Brooklyn (Image Comics). The critically acclaimed writer/artist breaks down his amazing first collection, which notably became the winner of the Ringo Award for Best Webcomic 2017!
All of a sudden, a super-thief is bequeathed the Omni-fist of Altruism! He is transformed into a hero against his will. All of this takes place within a year, after a sentient Brooklyn’s heart is broken and physically secedes from America.
With the first volume in stores now, The Last Bar at the End of the World playwright discusses how the superhero, The Red Hook, came about, world-building the New Brooklyn Universe, and what the project means to him. So join us in our in-depth discussion of the comic book process behind The Red Hook.
Villain Media: In your introduction, you mention the inspiration comes from Jack Kirby and Alex Toth. Tell me more about the Silver Age inspiration behind The Red Hook.
Dean Haspiel: I’ve been reading Marvel & DC comics books since the mid-1970s. And, like any good fan cum student of the form, when you start to love what you like, you research the source material, and I found myself reaching back to the Silver and Golden Age in the comic shop bins. Jack Kirby co-created the Marvel Universe, and the comics that came out in the early ’60s were fertile with concepts that are entertaining the world to this day.
While Kirby’s unbridled, PTSD-laced imagination inspires me to no end, it’s Alex Toth’s confident page design and curious homage to pulp noir that made me wonder what a character co-created by he and Kirby would look like, could be like? And what I concocted was The Red Hook, a super-thief who is bequeathed the Omni-Fist of Altruism and is forced to become a superhero against his will, or he will die. A challenge I experimented with, as a creative palette cleanser, when I went on a writer’s retreat to Yaddo, an artists colony in Saratoga Springs, NY in 2012. A few years later, I added the cosmic idea of a sentient Brooklyn who secedes from America to start her own republic.
VM: Though the setting is in New York, tell me about world-building the New Brooklyn Universe?
DH: New Brooklyn was born out of a frustration of trying to make ends meet as an artist in NYC as the price of living rose exponentially and freelancer rates remained the same. My then-studio was losing its space and my studio mates were being displaced. Some went back into the closets and bathrooms of their homes, while others moved to more affordable states. My current studio consists of refugees from the fall-out, but some of us continue to shave corners; to keep our pledge to create personal art that reflects and reacts to the world. Alas, autonomy is a privilege you need to earn.
Besides New Brooklyn setting the stage for an experimental economy where you can barter art for food and services, it’s also the backdrop for The Red Hook to negotiate right from wrong. New Brooklyn honors its broken bridges by building new bridges within its diverse neighborhoods, brokering authenticity with gentrification. Where heroes are revealed to be the most unlikely candidates.
VM: Tell me about creating the romanticism between the Red Hook and Ava, which has a Batman/Catwoman vibe.
DH: The Red Hook is just trying to make ends meet. He isn’t evil but he doesn’t dream big either. Clearly a cat I can relate to. However, his girlfriend, The Possum, has higher aspirations and is looking to retire before she plucks her first gray hair. They enjoy a healthy friction, where their biggest concern is whether to make love in their costumes or not. The Red Hook tends to over-analyze. He’s a worry wart brought on from years of insecurity; he hesitates. The Possum is more curious and confident, bordering on dangerous; willing to take risks. And their different personalities speaks to where they each end up in the finale of volume one.
VM: From my analysis, I think the introduction of The Green Point builds the mythology, expands the world you created, and raises the stakes. Tell me about how the Green Point matters to the Red Hook.
DH: The Green Point is a demi-god. He’s kinda like New Brooklyn’s Thor but with a mystical sword instead of a hammer. And, when his immortality is compromised, he passes his burden of altruism onto, or to be more precise, into the nearest person who happens to be Red Hook’s resident super-thief. This complicates matters as The Green Point’s imbalanced girlfriend, The Invisible Light, expresses megalomania, endangering earth’s infrastructure.
Without giving too much away, The Green Point should have been the protagonist of this tale but his life was cut short. And now, the guy who sneaks around stealing valuable art and household items to pay for his waterfront warehouse, is left holding the bag to help save the world from cracking in half. Were I to ever produce a pre-New Brooklyn story about The Green Point and The Invisible Light, I’d call it, “The Pure and The Damned.”
VH: Red is a recurring color in the narrative. Benson Hurst’s outfit is a bright shade of blue. Tell me about designing the color palette.
DH: Working within the confines of a self-imposed limited color-palette, I designed New Brooklyn to gestate within a warm-gray ambiance, while various characters popped in their targeted colors. Some of the color choices were obvious, while characters like The Coney, with her black and white view of the world, dictated that she be mostly colorless.
VM: Looking back on your first volume, what are you most proud of? Is there an image or line of dialogue that pops out to you?
DH: Because comics are formally a sequential series of words and pictures that culminates into a whole story, a single piece of narrative, I don’t really have favorite pages, or panels, or dialogue. Sure, there are a bunch of things that stick out, but they’re earned by what occurs before and after. Because all of my published comics are what I dub “deadline art,” drawings attached to a clock, I can’t allow myself the indulgence of playing favorites. And given the luxury of time, I’m not sure I want to find out what my art really looks like.
VM: How did the first volume change you as an artist?
DH: I was never ready for prime time and my work frankly was never up to snuff for the Big Two. The Red Hook encouraged me to not care about how my art looked and how my writing read. I went with my heart to produce something honest and possibly embarrassing yet wholly pleasurable despite the market.
VM: What are you working on now?
DH: War Cry, the sequel to The Red Hook, just completed its run on LINE Webtoon (which you can read for FREE!). And I’m currently working on the script for the next Red Hook story, the third in a trilogy. The title was technically announced at the end of War Cry but has yet to be made public in a proper, soon-to-be-announced press release.
I’m also considering sparking a Patreon that would brandish new Billy Dogma material. I’m talking to a publisher about publishing a collection of my three plays. And coming out at the end of the summer is The Fox: Fox Hunt graphic novel collection with co-writer Mark Waid from Archie/Dark Circle Comics, and the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Alcoholic with writer Jonathan Ames, published by Berger Books via Dark Horse Comics in the Fall.
[Writer’s Note: Interview Has Been Edited For Clarity. Links Are Highlighted In Bold]
By Jorge Solis