Monday, December 21, 2020

Meet Dean Haspiel, The Comic Book Artist, Author, And Creator Of 'The Red Hook', Brooklyn's Very Own Superhero

Dean Haspiel, author, artist, cartoonist

I have often mentioned that one of the greatest pleasures of writing about Carroll Gardens and Gowanus is the opportunity to meet and introduce interesting people in the neighborhood to others. In that spirit, let me introduce you to artist/writer and New York City native Dean Haspiel, who was gracious enough to spend some time speaking with me about his work, which includes several plays and a pair of graphic novel series Billy Dogma, and The Red Hook.

I met Dean Haspiel on a recent Saturday, while I was handing out fliers on the proposed Gowanus rezoning and speaking to local residents about new development and displacement. It turns out, Dean personally knows a fair bit about the subject of displacement, having just been told that he and several artists who share a work space would have to move out of yet another studio in Gowanus, displaced by rising rents and by developers targeting the area for luxury housing. "We keep getting ousted," he told me during our first meeting.

A few weeks later, Haspiel and I met in Carroll Park for a longer conversation about the neighborhood, its past, present, and future. Haspiel spent his childhood in Manhattan, before rising rents pushed him over the Brooklyn Bridge to Carroll Gardens in 1997, at a time when it was mostly still a working-class Italian neighborhood.

His semi-autobiographical black-and-white graphic novel "Beef with Tomato" published by Alternative Comics, tells of some of his early encounters with the older Italian gentlemen on his block, who would give him "the hairy eyeball" and call him "yuppie" behind barely disguised coughs.
"When I moved here 23-plus years ago, I thought I knew everything about New York City that I needed to know. And little did I know."
The little vignettes in Beef with Tomato all happened to Haspiel, though he calls himself Jack in the book. "There is a story in there about neighbors, and about 9/11, which I witnessed from my window on Carroll Street."

Brooklyn also featured prominently in his series "The Red Hook". Its main character, Sam Brosia, a.k.a the Red Hook, is a super-thief who is "bequeathed the Omni-fist of Altruism and transformed into a hero against his will" a year after a sentient Brooklyn, sick of pollution, greed and superficiality physically secedes from the rest of the country. In its place, 'New Brooklyn' is born, a place which fosters culture, community, and where art is honored, and can be bartered for food and services.

"One of the things that spawned The Red Hook was me being in a studio with other artists carving out our little spot, to be able to make stuff," Haspiel explained to me. "A few years go by and the artist warehouse is being sold to become something much more expensive. We keep on getting ousted and pushed away farther and farther."
According to Haspiel, in order to be able to afford studio rent, artists find spots where no one wants to go. But when they create cool art, they attract attention to the places they occupy. "Outliers make an unlikely place attractive, and then developers come and say 'Well, now that they have done the hard stuff, let's build new structures here.' And they literally just kick out the artists who are just trying to make it. That seems to be the domino effect."

And that domino effect is currently happening in Gowanus, Red Hook and many other Brooklyn neighborhoods. It almost makes one wish for a New Brooklyn.

All volumes of Dean Haspiel's THE RED HOOK are available online at Webtoon:
Volume 2: WAR CRY
Volume 4: BLACKOUT
(Blackout is the current season, which will end in late 2021.)
The Red Hook volumes 1 and 2  in print are available through Image Comics

You can follow Haspiel on Instagram here:

Below, "The Currency of Community", a four-page Red Hook story about the pandemic. It was originally published in PANDEMIX, Quarantine Comics in the Age of 'Rona, a benefit for artists in need through The Hero Initiative.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love Love Love the Currency of Community! YES! Big Applause for the Red Hook! (I want to taste the Teamster's pasta fagiola.) Thank you for this wonderful post.