In this third part of our conversation with the Billy Dogma creator, we discuss Haspiel’s process for work on a big character franchise book, the worst character in the Marvel Universe, and why Harvey Pekar was, perhaps, the ultimate anti-hero.
What’s it hard to work with a character like Deadpool? Obviously you had nothing invested in it from the beginning, seeing as how you hadn’t even heard of him, prior to being asked to pen a story.
I had to figure out a story—a quick story, that not only brandished a Dean Haspiel sensibility, I hope, but also served the character for the Deadpool fan. It’s a great challenge, because I’m taking on a job where, the day before, I didn’t even know this character existed, and then I found out that, not only does he exist, he’s popular—and then I found out that I’m in a book with Howard Chaykin, Peter Bagge, Michael Kupperman—I actually got Tim Hamilton a gig drawing a one-pager in it.
It’s got a good bunch of people, so not only do I want to pay my rent and eat food with this job, I also want to put my best foot forward amongst my peers. It’s a really good challenge. It kind of reminded me of when I was doing Billy Dogma on a regular basis at Act-I-Vate, there was Michel Fiffe’s Panorama, and there was Simon Fraser’s Lilly MacKenzie, and then Mike Cavallaro’s Loviathan. It felt like it was our own little Marvel Age.
We were putting our best feet forward. It was a healthy competition. It actually encourages more creativity. There’s an energy there that happens.
In my conversation with Reilly Brown, there was one thing that he said about me that stuck out about this character. He said, “the thing that no one knows about this character that is at the root of everything he’s done, is that he hates himself.” I took the idea that he hates himself, and came up with a fun little ditty, I think.
We’ve seen a lot of initiatives from Marvel in recent years, reaching out to indie cartoonists, but they tend to be one-shots or anthologies. The publisher seems like it’s not really willing to fully entrust characters to “outsiders.” They’re like little, goofy experiments, largely.
The anthology stuff? I think that there’s an initiative to not only try out new talent, but also to, “all right, we have this stable of characters.” There are definitely ones that they can’t touch because of whatever they have planned for the next year. Or, if they are going to play with the character, it’s not in continuity at all, which to me is kind of silly, because, what is real about any of these characters?
And what can’t be undone?
Exactly. It’s proven that everything can be undone, unfortunately. But I think that it must be a corporate, editorial caveat. What I like is, when they say, “do what you want,” which is rare, because I don’t work with Marvel and DC a lot. so, when Marvel invited me to contribute to Strange Tales Volume 2, I had to think about that, because I was allowed four pages to do what I want.
Probably my favorite character of all time is The Thing, so I knew I wanted to do something with him. And I was such a big fan of Marvel Two-in-One, that I wanted to do something like that. I was going to pay a little homage to that. And then I looked through almost the entire Marvel catalog of characters to find the worst Marvel character ever made—and I did. What I wanted to do was honor that character, by making him cool.
So I did that with Woodgod. And I hope that, in my four-page epic that I wrote and drew, that I properly honored Woodgod, the worst Marvel character ever created.
When you’re working with a character like The Thing, from your favorite book of 30-plus years, is there a part of you that’s holding out hope that Marvel will love it and ask you to do a monthly series?
Of course! I don’t know if I could write and draw the Fantastic Four on a monthly basis, but I would love to do a Fantastic Four story. I would love to dabble. I’d love to revisit those characters. I had a chance, years ago, to do a four-issue mini-series with Evan Dorkin called “Night Falls on Yancy Street,” and when I look back on it now, I cringe, of course. I’m definitely proud of some things I was able to pull off, but I was not ready. I feel like I’ve gotten to place where I’m ready to be able to tackle—not only a franchise scenario, but characters I love.
I love these characters. I’ve grown up with these characters. Some of these characters are iconic. I mean, The Thing is a tragic monster. He’s a romance figure, and that’s classic. What Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did was create these classic tropes with these characters.
Was working with Harvey [Pekar] like working on one of these superhero franchises?
Absolutely. Harvey had not really been seen in pictures before the movie. The first bunch of Harvey Pekar one-pagers and three-pages that I drew before the movie, I was basing it on other comics. I didn’t really know what the guy looked at, at the time. Maybe there had been an old documentary, but he was a character. It kind of like drawing The Thing, only, after drawing Harvey for a while, I realized that I was drawing Darkseid. He’s a real person. He’s one of the very few people who really made a comic book character out of himself.
[Concluded in Part Four.]