Hannah Means-Shannon interviewed Gregory Benton and Dean Haspiel about Hang Dai Editions’ three fall graphic novel releases, and the late Seth Kushner at Bleeding Cool: “Edgy Indie Titles Beef With Tomato, Smoke, And SCHMUCK Land In September – The Hang Dai Editions Mega-Interview”
Dean Haspiel excerpts:
HMS: So, how many times has your bicycle actually been stolen? In all seriousness, your love affair with New York/Brooklyn seems to be your longest running fictional romance. Sometimes from reading your comics I think it’s the most messed up place on earth, sometimes I think it’s the most wonderful. What’s life like as a comics creator between those two extremes?
DH: My passion and respect for NYC is very much tactile and real and I have the bruises to prove it. And, even though every year I lose another childhood mainstay or three due to crushing rent increases and the ugly fact that NYC is becoming a bizarre maze of banks and pharmacies while bodega’s dwindle and cheap ethnic restaurants die and reincarnate into obnoxiously expensive health food stores geared to rape your wallet while thinning your stomach with the latest trends, I still hold my native hometown dear to my heart like a battered wife. Which is what I’m comfortable with because, after all, I’m a foolish writer and artist trying to tell and sell stories while living in the most expensive city of the 21st Century.
NYC may be not be the most messed up place on earth but it is the most mixed up. And, I fear that we’re finally running out of rundown neighborhoods for artists to colonize and create what made NYC cool and communal. There is no more middle class. There is just rich people and poor people and I don’t think this modern NYC is worth suffering for anymore. Is the love affair over? Never. I’m a New Yorker, born and bred. Which is why my escape from Manhattan to Brooklyn, as documented in Beef With Tomato, is even more relevant as I consider my next pilgrimage while currently on a writer’s retreat at Yaddo.
HMS: I’m not sure humanity can even bear the too much reality of some of these true stories! Awful George is true, isn’t it? How long did it take you to decide to draw that story and do you recall any of the choices you made narratively to bring out its raw qualities?
DH: All the stories in my memoir comix are true. Sometimes the stories take longer to write than to draw because there is a specific art to making slice-of-life comix. As the author, you have to account for your tale or it fails. But, real life isn’t always plausible. It can be excruciatingly painful yet wonderfully insane with no rhyme or reason. And you have to be able to account for that. So, there is a delicate hopscotch between what is true and what is dramatized and how to honor yet express the emotional truths. Otherwise, it can feel like a ruse and no one reads memoir to be lied to.
Gregory Benton excerpts:
HMS: It was an intense period of productivity and promotion. You didn’t wait too long to get back to the drawing desk (or should we say, painting).
GB: Ha! I tried to milk every last ounce from B+F but, yeah, at some point I had to throw the smock back on. While I was sketching and writing the next B+F book, the idea for Smoke snuck up on me, plopped down on the drawing board and refused to leave. I began drawing sequences about two young brothers being protected by the skeleton dog (a Xolo) from B+F.
HMS: I started seeing an image here and there that related to this new project, but only about a month ago did I hear the title “Smoke”. When I asked you if it was a cheerful story after the more gruesome aspects of B+F you hinted that it was not. That this story was about kids, hardship, and I think you might have even used the word “horrifying”.
GB: You were visiting the studio, and I had just finished a sequence that at first blush could be construed as horrific, but it hadn’t been put into context (not even for myself) at that point. I don’t think of it as anything more than jarring with the way it fits into the story.
Seth Kushner excerpts:
HMS: Seth Kushner worked on this anthology of semi-autobiographical stories for a number of years before Kickstarting a print collection with many collaborating indie artists. What would you say that Seth accomplishes in his storytelling in SCHMUCK that most impresses you, Gregory?
GB: Being that SCHMUCK is taken from Seth’s life I guess it should be no surprise that the main character, Adam Kessler, evolves in a realistic manner. Taking the stories individually, this might not be apparent, but as a whole works brilliantly. Seth’s scripts were a pleasure to work from, as well. He thought visually, narratively and had extensive knowledge of storytelling having created his “Culture Pop” and “Costumed Characters” fumetti for years. His scriptwriting was concise, dynamic and left his collaborators with plenty of room to breathe.
HMS: What do you think it was about Seth’s personality that enabled him to set up and successfully complete such large collaborative projects? If you think about Leaping Tall Buildings, we have masses of people involved there, and Schmuck, while one story, is composed of many artistic voices.
GB: I think it might have to do with his enjoyment and respect for the people he photographed and artists with whom he collaborated. He was genuinely interested in his subjects, made them feel at ease, and in the case of SCHMUCK made the artist feel like an equal part of the creative process.