“American Splendor” artist and Emmy Award winning designer Dean Haspiel stopped by the CBR Tiki Room at New York Comic Con 2013 to discuss his upcoming project with Mark Waid, “The Fox,” the newest series under Archie’s Red Circle imprint. The artist also discussed his collaborative relationship with Harvey Pekar, his love of superhero comics and why it’s taken him this long in his career to work on a superhero book.
On his introduction to Harvey Pekar and comics: I remember back then when VHS was competing with Beta and Beta was still around, I was taping Harvey Pekar on David Letterman on Betamax. I would watch those and show them to my friends and say, “Look, this guy is writing about his life. This is different.” When I grew up reading comics, I would go to the news stand across the street, I would pick up “Fantastic Four,” “Shazam” or “Batman” or “Spider-Man” or whatever. There was that “Batman” show we all used to watch — which, as a kid I thought was corny, but now that I’m older, it’s amazing. As a kid, my dream was to one day grow up to pencil the Fantastic Four. That’s it, ’nuff said. Then I discovered “Yummy Fur” by Chester Brown and I saw this guy — Harvey Pekar — and other people drawing his life story. I discovered that comics can be about anything. His whole mantra was that comics can be about anything. I actually took that baton and not only did I want to write and draw my own stories if I had life experiences to impart, but also Chester Brown was creating his own universe. Then of course, there were the universes of Marvel and DC and Archie Comics. I’ve always wanted to hopscotch around that. … Going back to Harvey Pekar, that was a pretty profound impact on comics.
On his path to landing “The Fox”: It isn’t the first [superhero book I’ve done] technically, but it’s the one I’ve had the most fun doing and given a little more — I hesitate to say carte blanche because there’s obviously editorial direction on it. What’s weird is I feel like what happened when I was younger — and remember, as artists, we all grow up in public. There’s a lot of mistakes, there’s a lot of stuff I cringe at; I cringe at stuff I did last year. I think that’s a good sign because maybe it means I’m getting better. Having said that, I only wanted to do superhero comics, wasn’t good enough, so I went and started to do my own little thing where it was more acceptable, I guess, with these alternative comics shows. I think what happened is I started to grow a sensibility so that eventually, maybe the mainstream would take a look at me and say, “Hey, maybe he can play with our toys.” There used to be house styles. Now you get a comic because someone’s writing it or someone’s drawing it. Maybe I’ve been going down that road this whole time so I could come back to the very thing I always wanted to do: superhero comics.
On bringing Mark Waid on for “The Fox”: Part of my pitch was two-fold. One, I can write comics alright and I probably have more of an avant-garde voice; more memoir leading. Who’s a better superhero writer than Mark Waid. Not only through the years, but he’s killing it with “Daredevil” and “Hulk” and everything he touches. He and I have been threatening to work with each other since 2007 when Mike Wieringo died. We were in the hallway of Baltimore Comic Con and it was a glum moment, because it was one of his best artists and best collaborators. We looked at each other and we had already talked about working with each other and he said, “No, we have to work with each other because I don’t want this to happen again with the people I’ve always said I’ll work with and suddenly, they’re gone.” … When this opportunity came to do “The Fox,” I called Mark and I said, “Mark, please. Let us do something on this.” Luckily, I’ve been writing the story … and he would read the plot and make sure it’s not stupid. That said, his voice — he gives so much personality to this character. Also, Mark is a historian. He knows these Mighty Crusader characters. The Fox was created in the 1940s. … It was really cool to get him to sanction the project, if that makes sense.
On why he wants to work on superhero comics: There’s Norse mythology, there’s Greek mythology — I’ve always maintained that America’s mythology is our superheroes. We tell these classic stories, these moralistic takes. Yeah, how do you eke out 75 years worth of Batman? I don’t know. They’re still doing it. Same thing with Spider-Man and these Archie characters. Archie, Betty and Veronica — they’re still telling these stories and they’ve figured out how to keep doing that. I feel like in a way, I’m contributing to the mythology in that case. There’s the personal stuff, which is the indy stuff that I do: the memoir, my own personal characters, but I don’t know if I have 75 years worth of stories to tell there. And I enjoy collaboration. There’s an art to collaboration. I feel like today in the comics schools that we have here, you’re challenged to do your magnum opus the minute you walk out of college and it’s this 500 page thing, and good luck. But look out here, the amount of stories that are around with these characters. Trust me, I championed the auteur, but I love the challenge of telling these stories and adding a little bit to the mythology. Plus, I grew up with them when I was a kid!