Friday, November 11, 2005

Interview with Dean Haspiel

One of the comics shops in my immediate vicinity is Jason Richards' fine store, RIOT! As you may or may not know, Brian Wood and Dean Haspiel will be stopping by the store tomorrow afternoon from 2-5 p.m. to sign their books and shoot the breeze. I interviewed Dean for yesterday's edition of our paper, reprinted here for your reading pleasure below. Hope to see you at the signing!

Illustrated ‘Quitter’ details Pekar’s adolescent years

It pays to know the right people.

At least, that’s the message driven home after talking with comic artist Dean Haspiel.

The artist has worked on books such as “Batman Adventures” as well as more personal, autobiographical fare including “Opposable Thumbs.” Haspiel was illustrating several short stories for famed “American Splendor” author Harvey Pekar when he thought of his friend, filmmaker Ted Hope.

Haspiel had worked for Hope as a personal assistant many years before and knew that the director was a big fan of Pekar’s work. He persuaded Pekar to meet with Hope.

The result? The award-winning and critically acclaimed 2003 film “American Splendor.”

That film in turn led to the latest project from Haspiel and Pekar, “The Quitter,” a no-holds barred look at Pekar’s childhood and adolescence in 1940s-era Cleveland.

Haspiel will be signing copies of “The Quitter” from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at RIOT comics + culture, 2202-A Gettysburg Road, Lower Allen Twp.

“The Quitter” is a rather unsentimental look at Pekar’s formative years. Plagued with insecurity and doubt, the young Pekar bails out of football, college, work and just about anything else at the first sign of frustration. The only thing he truly seems gifted at is street fighting.

It’s only upon discovering jazz music and, later, underground comics, that Pekar is able to turn his frustration into art, partly as a music critic, but mainly through writing about the everyday ups and downs of his own blue-collar life.

All of this is told in rather stellar fashion by Haspiel, who uses his angular, almost expressionist art style to breathe life into Pekar’s neurotic tale.

“I wanted to do a longer work with Pekar for a while now,” Haspiel said in a recent phone interview. “ 'Quitter’ is kind of like payback for hooking Harvey up with Ted Hope.

“After the [success of the] film, Harvey asked me what he could do within reason to thank him for the movie,” he recalled.

“I said ‘I want to do a long story with you.’ ”

Drawing the book provided its own set of challenges much different from, say, illustrating the adventures of the “Justice League.”

While admitting that “a heftier work is always a challenge,” Haspiel acknowledges that the real trick was interpreting and adapting a real person’s life story.

“A franchise character you can [interpret] on any number of levels as long as you meet certain standards,” he said. On a book like “The Quitter,” however, “you have to answer to that person [you’re drawing].”

To that end, Haspiel had to take a bit of poetic license in translating Pekar’s script into comic book panels.

“What I told Harvey was ‘I need to make it mine so I can make it yours,’¤” he said. “I couldn’t be married to every fact and detail. ... It’s better to take poetic license. There are more truths gleaned that way.”

Haspiel also will be signing copies of a new 16-page story he did with Pekar, featured in the eighth issue of the ongoing series “The Escapist.”

Also at the signing will be Brian Wood, author of such critically acclaimed comics as “Channel Zero” and “Demo.”

Wood will be debuting two new comics at the event, “DMZ” from Vertigo Comics and “Local” from Oni Press.

“DMZ” is the futuristic story of a photojournalist trapped in a war zone on the streets of New York City. “Local” is a collection of self-contained stories about everyday people forced into extraordinary situations.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005


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