Brigid Alverson interviewed Gregory Benton and Dean Haspiel about their upcoming graphic novels; Smoke, and Beef With Tomato, the late Seth Kushner and his posthumous graphic novel Schmuck, and the future of Hang Dai Editions at Robot 6.
Here are some excerpts:
ROBOT 6: I want to start out with what must be the elephant in the room for you: the loss of Seth Kushner. Can you tell me what part he played in creating Hang Dai and what place his work will have in your lineup going forward?
Dean Haspiel: Seth Kushner was a photographer/comix creator and founding member of Hang Dai Studios and Hang Dai Editions. When I left Deep6 Studios in 2011, I recruited five other artists to spark a new studio, and Seth was the first person I asked. We had become fast friends after I first met him for a photo shoot for his book, The Brooklynites, and discovered that we had comix in common. Little by small, we worked on several comix projects, including the Act-i-vate movie and other stuff. Seth had never been part of a studio before, so there was hesitation, but he grew to love the shared work environment. So much so we co-created TripCity.net, an online salon version of our studio with Chris Miskiewicz and Jeffrey Burandt. Between the time we spent physically and virtually, it felt like Seth was a Bat-phone call away at all times. Even though it’s been almost two months since he passed away, I still think about Seth 20 times a day and stumble, knowing that I can’t show him anything I’m working on and/or can’t talk to him about anything and everything. When Seth died, a part of me died.
Gregory Benton: Seth was a huge part of my getting out of bed every morning. I looked forward to going to the studio, knowing he’d be there with his huge smile and positivity. He is the only person with whom I never spent a bad moment. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to know him as a friend and studio mate. Even when he was sick he was full of optimism, energy, and humor. The hole Seth leaves at Hang Dai is vast. We lost our heart, frankly. Our thoughts are always with his wife, son and mother.
Dean, I was re-reading that interview you did with Tom Spurgeon a couple of years ago, where you were kind of down on comics as a career and actually thinking of giving it up. A lot of things have happened since then, including your run on Archie’s The Fox. Where are you now, and what part does Hang Dai play in the fact that you are still, two and a half years later, making comics?
Haspiel: On the heels of that sobering, Oprah Winfrey-esque interview conducted by Tom Spurgeon a few years ago, I realized that freelance is synonymous with innovation. As a freelancer you’re constantly innovating. It’s like playing a game of pool; you’re shooting for the next shot and not necessarily for the ball that’s obvious. You try to sink all your balls in one turn if possible in hopes you get a good shot at the 8-ball. Otherwise, your opponent, in an effort to maximize their tactics, will most likely reposition everything you’ve been setting up and promote chaos. And, since nothing ever goes according to plan, we learn to create in chaos. I fight the freelance life most every day. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s gotten harder. It sometimes feel like I have to beg for a few franchise morsels and, after doing this full time for 15-plus years, that’s not fun. I’ve been offered the privilege to shepherd some company-owned characters through the next leg of their legacies but it’s not like I’m breaking new ground. In fact, a lot of what I do honors the classic stuff I loved reading growing up. And, since I tend to steep in the avant garde, my comix come with a weird wink and twist, and I’m not sure most publishers know what to do with me. Ergo, Hang Dai Editions.
However, as I type the answers to the interview from the second floor of an old mansion in the woods while on writers retreat in upstate New York, I must acknowledge how lucky I am to be able to steal time away from my normal grind so I can investigate other storytelling methods. So, I can write that novel, finish those screenplays and TV shows, and tighten up those pitches. Even though my heart remains faithful to the art of comix, the business of comix is a bitch and I need to explore my abilities in other media or forever stumble in four color books with a broken heart.
(Greg) You also had a difficult time, losing a lot of your work in a studio flood, before B+F came out. What part is Hang Dai playing in your life as an artist, and how has your work and your work life changed since you became part of it?
Benton: Yeah, in 2011 the studio I had on my own was flooded out. I was distraught. Fortunately not long after I ran into Dean at a mutual friend’s art opening. He mentioned the studio he shared with Seth (who I had never met at the time) and an old pal Nick Bertozzi. They had an extra desk if I wanted to work there. I’d never shared a studio before, and it turned out to be an excellent situation. Hang Dai has gone through several permutations since then: a rotation of artists and a move from Carroll Gardens to the scenic Gowanus Canal into a building with several other cartooning studios. On any given day, aside from seeing Hang Dai folks Jonathan Allen, Christa Cassano, Joe Infurnari or Swifty Lang, you can be swapping war stories with cartoonists as diverse as Jason Little, Sarah Varon, Ellen Lindner, Khary Randolph or Reilly Brown.
I really enjoy being around other cartoonists, talking shop and making comix. Hopefully we all get something out of it through the exchange of ideas and our different approaches to art and storytelling.
You can read the entire article/interview HERE.