“The chronology in “Beef With Tomato” loosely documents my escape from my native Manhattan to my adopted Brooklyn, roughly covering the time when I made the leap across the Hudson River in 1997 until I attended my second artists’ residency as a writer at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, NY, in 2013. However, the book only hints at my life, probably because career-wise I was making a concerted effort to abandon memoir after collaborating and illustrating a few profound yet highly satisfying semi-autobiographical graphic novels: Harvey Pekar’s “The Quitter,” Jonathan Ames’ “The Alcoholic,” and Inverna Lockpez’ “Cuba: My Revolution.” Plus, a bunch of “American Splendor” comix and a brief collaboration with author Jonathan Lethem.
I think I became allergic to making “slice-of-life” comix for a while and, instead, wanted to draw superheroes humping each other’s legs and punching each other in the mouth while nosediving into the emotional truths of things like “the last romantic antihero” via my creator-owned character, Billy Dogma. But, after a long break, I’m happy to return to my semi-autobiograhical roots with the publication of “Beef With Tomato,” coming out the same time as Seth Kushner’s “Schmuck” and Jennifer Hayden’s “The Story of My Tits.”
“There was a brief time when I was convinced that I was a bonafide freak magnet (which I would later use as a theme for my spin on Archie Comics’ “The Fox”). Every time I went outside the confines of my apartment, something bizarre or tragic would happen. Every single time. It was weird. My late night evening’s were often devoted to scribbling notes, recording what I witnessed or partook in. I was mortified. Jotting it down was a kind of coping mechanism.
There was a particularly ghoulish month in the early 1990s where people were dying around me. I remember walking down a street in Soho and hearing a loud crash but couldn’t immediately identify where the noise came from or what it was. Suddenly, a hubcap came rolling down the block and hit me in the shin. I followed the path of the hubcap trail backwards only to find a car wrapped around a light post. Dead people twisted about in the metal carnage.
There was another night where I was drunk, walking home in Alphabet City, when a car almost ran over me as I dove across the street within inches of being crushed. That night, a man jumped to his death from a rooftop and landed in the very spot I dodged death. Other crazy stuff happened, and it became the basis for a screenplay I wrote about a spectre of death called “Die! Die, Again!!” I’ve written four or five different screenplays since, and half of one was produced last year into a play called “Switch To Kill,” wonderfully directed by Ian W. Hill. One of these days I aim to either illustrate my unproduced screenplays or publish them as a collection.”
“Thanks for the sincere cheer, but winning an Emmy didn’t upgrade my stance in the comic book industry. It didn’t get me more comix work or a better page rate. If anything, it sparked a fallacy among the ignorant that I was rich and carefree, which is not true. I’m proud of the acknowledgement, and the Emmy looks good on my resume, but I work just as hard as any other struggling freelancer trying to score fair work. With the exception of co-producing ten issues of “The Fox” in two years, I have never worked on a regular series. I have never drawn or written anything that made a significant impact on the cultural zeitgeist, much less shown up on the annual Top Ten list. I don’t have anything that makes me money while I sleep.
I’m currently making efforts to own what I write and draw because I feel it’s important to finally invest in my personal sensibilities. A paycheck is great and allows me to share a studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn, with other great artists, but most of the comic books I get involved in are just another blip in the perpetuating franchise machine. I believe in the concept of good and healthy publisher participation, and I cherish the opportunities to take a stab at certain characters I loved reading when I was a kid. I believe collaboration is an artform unto itself, and has been an important learning lesson for me. I have negotiated ideas and drawn things I would never have assigned myself. I have been challenged by every job I’ve ever taken. But, at the end of the day, I must invest in my own ideas or forever wonder, “What if?”
“New York is what I know best and has been my world view all my life. I’ve claimed before that I don’t really live in America because I live in New York, which could be a country unto itself. It’s been a great “melting pot” of cultures but I don’t know for how much longer, as pharmacies and condominiums and banks kidnap our streets and push away our artists. It’s nearly impossible to make a living as freelancer here anymore, and I sometimes feel like it’s time to raise the white flag. But my love of and loyalty to NYC is fierce and deep-rooted in my blood, no matter how abusive the relationship can get. I’m Stella to NYC’s Stanley.”
“I’ve started down a precarious road of autonomy that I wasn’t confident travelling until recently. I almost prefer to collaborate because it lifts certain burdens while manifesting creations that couldn’t otherwise exist. A good comix team is like a good band. But I’m also a one-stop shop and I like to mix up my collaborations with solo stints. A way to riff. Kinda like Jack Kirby doing “New Gods,” “Kamandi,” and “O.M.A.C.” after quitting “The Fantastic Four” and “Thor.” Or Frank Miller rocking “Ronin,” “Sin City,” and “300” post “Daredevil” and “Batman.” “Reach for the brass ring, Dean!”
Read the entire interview here: http://www.comicbookresources.com/article/interview-dean-haspiel-shares-his-nyc-love-in-beef-with-tomato