Brooklyn is teeming with culture and activity, an integral part of New York City’s five boroughs. LINE Webtoon, the online digital comic publisher, looks to make the borough the centerpiece for New Brooklyn universe, a brand-new comic world introducing a whole host of characters. That universe, with tales crafted by Brooklyn writers and artists, sees its first title launched today with The Red Hook by comic veteran Dean Haspiel.
Mr. Haspiel spoke with me recently about the genesis of The Red Hook, his experience in webcomics and the comic industry as a whole, and why his LINE Webtoon protagonist isn’t necessarily a good guy.
FreakSugar: First of all, thank you so much for speaking with us!
Dean Haspiel: Thank you for reading my new comic! Much appreciated.
FS: For folks who might considering checking it out, what is your elevator pitch for The Red Hook?
DH: The Red Hook is about a super thief that is bequeathed the omni-fist of altruism and is transformed into a superhero against his will a year after a sentient Brooklyn’s heart is broken and physically secedes from America to become its own country. (Say that three times real fast!)
FS: What is your background in the comic industry and how does that inform how you approach this new project?
DH: In 1985, my senior year of high school, I assisted and drew some backgrounds for Bill Sienkiewicz, Howard Chaykin, and Walter Simonson on New Mutants, Elektra: Assassin, American Flagg!, and Thor, respectively. Not counting the mini-comix I made in school, my first public comic book was The Verdict, a mini-series I co-created with writer Martin Powell and published by Eternity Comics in 1987.
Since then, I’ve hopscotched between writing and drawing creator-owned comics, webcomics and franchise comics for all the major publishers, including Marvel, DC/Vertigo, and Archie, with comic books like Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor and The Quitter, Jonathan Ames’ The Alcoholic and HBO’s Bored to Death (for which I won an Emmy Award). I’ve also worked on Inverna Lockpez’ CUBA: My Revolution, The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Deadpool, Batman ’66, Wonder Woman, The Fox, and much more.
In addition, I created Billy Dogma and a recent memoir collection titled Beef With Tomato, both of which were derived from doing them originally as webcomics at ACT-I-VATE, TripCity, and the now defunct Zuda. As much as I enjoy the honor of being an occasional custodian for company-owned characters, my New Year’s Resolution was to attempt creative autonomy and I hope my work on The Red Hook will lead me towards this direction.
FS: There seems to be a social justice thread running through the first two chapters of The Red Hook, if I’m reading them correctly. What made that topic one that you wanted to explore in comic form?
DH: I don’t feel I’m taking a specific stance on social justice, but, perhaps, a more romantic spin of what could be if Brooklyn was forced to sustain itself and thrive. In The Red Hook, Brooklyn is sentient and its heart was broken by something and, with that, decided to literally pull away from its neighboring boroughs and physically secede from America to spark a “New Brooklyn.” Where art can be bartered for food and services. Where technology is scrutinized and intellectual property is reconsidered and the day-to-day operating system becomes a bare bones commitment towards community and culture and what is necessary to survive yet provides beauty for a better quality of life.
FS: As you just said, Brooklyn, specifically New Brooklyn, seems to be a character unto itself in the first chapters of The Red Hook. What made Brooklyn the perfect setting for the comic?
DH: I moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan almost 19-years ago. I live in Carroll Gardens and have been drawing comix in Gowanus for many years, but I fell in love with Red Hook along the way. In that time, I’ve written and drawn a lot of stories about my experiences in Brooklyn. So, when I decided to create a new superhero, I only had to look as far as my backyard. Brooklyn is rich like Paris with diverse food, artists and culture and became the exodus for so many native Manhattanites as myself. Over the years, it’s become too expensive and a challenge to maintain a good quality of life as I watch my fellow artists and freelancers make a new exodus upstate and to the Catskills or to New Orleans, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond.
As a creator, I think it’s important to put out there what you want back and my knee-jerk reaction towards the current difficulties of sustaining an affordable lifestyle in Brooklyn is my fantasy of transposing Brooklyn into a place that can support experimental art and champion diverse culture and, heck, inspire new heroes, rather than lose another bodega and another art loft space to more innocuous banks and pharmaceutical stores.
FS: With New Brooklyn seceding from the rest of New York and the United States, will we get to see reactions from outside the area as to what they think of the secession?
DH: The first season of The Red Hook is an origin story. It spotlights super thief Sam Brosia and his relationship with Ava Blume, aka The Possum, and how New Brooklyn affects what they steal, the perceived value of art, and how suddenly being forced into being a superhero impacts their lives. How the citizens feel are explored more in The Brooklynite by the late Seth Kushner and Shamus Beyale, and more specifically in The Purple Heart, which I co-created with Vito Delsante and Ricardo Venancio. All three comics are essential to understanding and expanding the New Brooklyn universe.
FS: The Red Hook’s character seems to have elements of Robin Hood and V from V for Vendetta, with an emphasis on rebellion for the greater good. How would you describe him and what is his ultimate end game?
DH: That’s the thing: The Red Hook is not an inherently a good guy. He’s not evil, either. He’s a criminal who, initially, is only concerned with his own well-being. I relate how hard it is to get by in a suffering economy and the difficulties of making ends meet. I’m a freelance cartoonist who lives in the most expensive city in America! I can understand how a person can bend sideways and not trust the world. Not feel safe. Depending on the day, I can be a half-glass empty kinda guy and this is where our protagonist starts until he’s cursed into a position of altruism by fate. He didn’t choose to be heroic and must come to terms with his new moral code or die.
FS: What made LINE Webtoon the perfect fit for launching this comic?
DH: Editor Tom Akel approached me at a NYC comic convention last year and got me hip to the LINE Webtoon platform. He asked me to pitch ideas and he dug The Red Hook. I alerted him to the proposed New Brooklyn universe that could include The Brooklynite and The Purple Heart and was able to broker a deal that would stagger all three series while unveiling the origin of New Brooklyn and setting a tone for future stories and new characters. Tom was hooked (pun intended). I’m a life-long fan of print but I knew with the invention of the internet and social networking that, eventually, the majority of people who indulge information, entertainment and stories via modern delivery devices (“smart phones”) would be impossible to ignore.
I still prefer to read comix the old fashioned way but I’m up for a good challenge and I’ve been innovating the scroll-down format that LINE Webtoons employs with every new Red Hook chapter I create. It’s been a fairly steep learning curve. I’m also in close touch with both of the creative teams producing The Brooklynite and The Purple Heart so that we’re all in sync. I guess you can say I’m a kind of a show-runner for the New Brooklyn universe. I’ve even worked developing new characters with other writers and artists in case NuBKU becomes a hit. We have lots of great plans in store for committed readers.
FS: What can you tease about what we should expect out of The Red Hook going forward?
DH: In future installments, The Red Hook will come face-to-face with a Brooklyn god called The Green Point, who changes his life forever. An encounter with rival thief, The Black Breath, will test The Red Hook’s new found powers, and mafia kingpin, Benson Hurst will present a huge hassle that ignites an epic battle that will decide the fate of New Brooklyn and planet Earth.
The first chapter of The Red Hook, created Dean Haspiel, is now available to read for free over at LINE Webtoon. A new chapter will release each Wednesday. Check out the Apple app store and Google Play for the official LINE Webtoon app.
[Full disclosure: LINE Webtoon Head of Content Tom Akel is also a founding member of FreakSugar.]
From the official press release:
LINE WEBTOON LAUNCHES FIRST TITLE IN “NEW BROOKLYN” SUPERHERO UNIVERSE — “THE RED HOOK”
First Comic Series Set in New Brooklyn Universe Debuts Chronicling the Adventures of Thief Turned Hero during the Fallout Following Brooklyn’s Secession from NY
LOS ANGELES, April 06, 2016 – LINE Webtoon, the popular digital comic publisher pioneering the development and distribution of comics worldwide today launched the first of three titles that comprise a brand new comic universe, New Brooklyn. Created by Brooklyn writers and artists, New Brooklyn is the first comic universe to truly encapsulate the borough’s spirit with comics starring Brooklyn as their centerpiece. The first title, The Red Hook by Dean Haspiel, follows Brooklyn’s master thief, Sam Brosia aka The Red Hook, who finds he can no longer lie, cheat, or steal when America’s greatest champion bequeaths him the powers and moral burden of the Omni-Fist of Altruism– against his will.
New Brooklyn follows the adventures of a unique group of heroes who emerge in the fallout from Brooklyn’s decision to secede from New York State. In these comics, Brooklyn is not just the setting, but also a character with a broken heart whose decisions greatly impact the destinies of its residents. Fed up with the way society has formed around her, Brooklyn quite literally pulls away from New York – its bridges breaking and tunnels flooding – and proposes that humanity return back to days of old where things and people were defined by their ethics, values and contributions; where skills and art could be bartered and traded; where land could be farmed to sustain life and spawn beauty.
“I’m excited to produce an original comic with full autonomy using a state-of-the-art format that can appeal to everyone,” said creator Dean Haspiel. “Ever since print was challenged by the digital age, I’ve been advocating new storytelling delivery systems while developing a dawn of creator-owned heroes. Working on season one of The Red Hook at LINE Webtoon is a renaissance moment for me.”
“New Brooklyn is the first complete comic universe created for LINE Webtoon and we are looking forward to seeing this alternate reality that Dean and his fellow creators have developed come to life in The Red Hook and future titles,” said JunKoo Kim, Founder and Head of LINE Webtoon.
In addition to The Red Hook, season one of New Brooklyn follows two additional heroes who are also struggling to make peace with themselves and reconcile their redefined home in theNew Brooklyn Universe – The Brooklynite and The Purple Heart.
Launching in summer from the late Seth Kushner and Shamus Beyale, The Brooklynitefollows Brooklyn cartoonist Jake Jeffries, who gets caught in the fallout of two super-humans battling and is accidentally irradiated with superpowers. Fraught with “Superman powers and Spider-Man problems,” Jake learns to fight crime in his secret identity as The Brooklynite, and chronicles his adventures in a comic book series while struggling to lead a dual existence.
The Purple Heart, launching this fall from Vito Delsante, Dean Haspiel, and Ricardo Venâncio, tells the tale of US Navy soldier, Isaiah “Zeke” Nelson has just returned from war overseas. He is done fighting and all he wants is to go home to Brooklyn, but Brooklyn has other plans when her heart is broken and she secedes from America and selects Zeke to become New Brooklyn’s cosmic guardian, The Purple Heart.