Red Hook Adventures with Comic Book Artist Dean Haspiel
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
When coronavirus became a reality for New Yorkers and all Americans in March of last year, Emmy-winning comic book artist Dean Haspiel was working on his superhero love story The Red Hook, which is set in a Brooklyn whose heart is literally broken and has seceded from the rest of the country. At the time, he wrote: “No matter how many post-apocalyptic comic books, movies and TV shows I've read and watched and wrestled with in my own work, I wasn't emotionally prepared for what's happening right now on earth.”
But Dean is a prolific creator, and during the pandemic work is what kept him going. Days into Covid, he started logging 10 to 12-hour shifts, alone in what was, pre-coronavirus a 12-person group studio.
During the past year, he completed season 4 of Red Hook; corralled 19 artists to create PANDEMIX: Quarantine Comics in the Age of ‘Rona, a digital anthology that raises funds for artists who lost work because of the pandemic (see his contribution below); and with writer Whitney Matheson initiated NightWork, a production studio that creates TV shows, plays, videos and podcasts. He also was supposed to mount his fourth play, The War of Woo on March 19, 2020 but, not surprisingly, that has been postponed until March 2022.
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Of course, cataclysm and horror have always been muse for Dean. He draws inspiration from superhero-scaled disaster as well as calamity in his own life. Some of my favorite works of Dean’s are these personal stories, based on heartbreak, traffic accidents, uncanny encounters, even tomfoolery with a former neighbor (that one would be based on me).
Like me, Dean is a New Yorker through and through. He grew up on the Upper West Side, lived downtown for many years, and for the past 23 years has been a resident of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. He’s seen and chronicled changes in the neighborhood; the city is a central character in his writing. Red Hook is case in point with many of his characters named for Brooklyn neighborhoods: the titular Red Hook; the conniving villain Benson Hurst; and Brooklyn’s greatest superhero The Green Point, who bears a long green sword extending from his nether region and tragically dies in the first chapter, imparting some of his power to the ill-equipped Red Hook.
For our All Dressed outing, we met in Red Hook and Dean showed me some of the Red Hook’s – and his own – haunts! We had whiskies at Sunny’s Bar, key lime pie (delicious!) at Steve's, took photos outside of the warehouse that is the source for Red Hook’s home, then walked along the waterfront with its glorious view of the city and the Statue of Liberty.
Dean and I met in the early 1990s when we were both living on Thompson Street in Soho. Our apartments faced one another, and we struck up a friendship from across our windows. Ours was a flirtatious but platonic relationship featuring many shenanigans. Both of us have written about our time on Thompson Street, me in short stories, he in his comic book memoir, Beef with Tomato, a panel of which I am sharing below. For the record, I am not nor never was an exhibitionist, but that theme of exposure works well for his piece.
Dean and I lost touch for many years. Then a few years ago, right when I had started writing again and had just finished a short story about that time on Thompson Street, I ran into him at a party. I took it as a positive omen for my writing. We rekindled our friendship, and he has been the most encouraging person, reading drafts of chapters, sharing his own writing experience, and inviting me to participate in a reading.
While Dean’s superhero characters are not literal stand-ins, they certainly capture aspects of his character. The brave, the ridiculous, the openhearted, the romantic all rolled in one.
Dean had warned me that he wasn’t much for dressing up. He showed up in his uniform of black T-shirt, pants, and Blundstone boots. But this is not to say he did not make an effort! For one, he didn't arrive topless, always a possibility with Dean. And the worn T-shirt he wore was a very special one, he assured me, from a Wizard World Comic Con conference, and one of the few T-shirts he has with writing on it. “When I wear it, it’s like having a dog, a conversation starter. All the people who love comics talk to you.” Also, instead of jeans or Dickies he wore black semi-stylish pants! Most special is the ring he showed me, an M with a devil tail, something he carries in his pocket at all times, a memento from his brother Mike who died sixteen years ago. He told me that he hadn’t really thought about how these kinds of objects you wear or keep with you on your body hold stories until our All Dressed date.
I always choose my outfit based on the person I am meeting. For Dean, I knew I needed to wear something superhero-esque, and I almost considered coming in cape and leggings but thought better of that. Instead, I channeled what an off-duty 1970s female superhero would wear, something form-fitting and kick-ass: Sparkly dress poached from my daughter Flora's closet, black leather boots, topped with a swinging long leather jacket. A note about the leather jacket: it was purchased for $12 from a Good Will and is made of genuine leather. In case you are curious if genuine leather is, indeed, leather (which I was), and not the stuff of thick plastic tablecloths, I will assure you it is leather, though perhaps not of the highest quality.
Of course, for Dean, my super-powered friend I also wore my Super Amy Necklace.