Here’s another one for the “better late than never” category! I’ve been waiting quite some time for Dean Haspiel to finally bring his rough & tumble love-struck brawling philosopher Billy Dogma back into print. I finally got my wish when Z2 Comics published Fear, My Dear: A Billy Dogma Experience earlier this year. The volume collects two tales originally presented online at the ACT-I-VATE webcomix collective.
I picked up my copy of Fear, My Dear at this year’s MoCCA Arts Festival in April. Why wait so long to review it? Well, as with Dean Haspiel’s prior accounts of the romantic misadventures of Billy Dogma and Jane Legit, the stories in Fear, My Dear are not really linear narratives that progress from one plot point to another. Rather, they are surreal chronicles replete with allegorical symbolism, possessing a significant emphasis on emotion and atmosphere. Fear, My Dear is undoubtedly intriguing reading, but it certainly left me perplexed as to how to pen a coherent review.
I undoubtedly think that the two tales within this volume, “Immortal” and “Fear, My Dear,” are fertile ground for analysis. As with many other works that are also not easily interpreted, I believe that Haspiel’s examinations of the dynamic between Billy and Jane are ones that will reveal further layers of meaning upon subsequent re-examinations by readers.
At its heart, the book is an examination of relationship between Billy and Jane, seemingly equal parts devotion and anger, an explosive cocktail of raw emotions percolating within each of them. The stories, especially the second one, also delve into Billy’s mind and soul. Haspiel addresses that oh-so-fine line that divides love and hate, the all-too-similar nature of the passion of love and the passion of violence.
For the most part Haspiel’s artwork is drawn within a four panel grind. It is interesting to see how he frames the action within this strict structure. Varying his layouts between close-ups, long shots, and everything in between, with numerous angles and perspectives, Haspiel demonstrates his strengths as a storyteller. A single color is utilized for each segment, red in “Immortal” and yellow in “Fear, My Dear.”
Haspiel’s illustration is beautiful, as well as beautifully grotesque. I’ve always found his art to be impressive, but this is undoubtedly some of his strongest work.
You can certainly see the influence of the two gods of Silver Age comic books, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, in Haspiel’s work. At times Billy brings to mind Kirby’s two iconic tough guys, Ben Grimm / The Thing and Sgt. Fury. Jane somewhat resembles the curvy, wide-hipped, big-haired groovy gals that The King so evocatively rendered. The “space-god” which is awakened by Billy and Jane’s tempestuous love recalls something from one of Ditko’s Doctor Strange stories.
Nevertheless, despite those clear influences, Haspiel possesses a style all his own. Like all the best artists, he is inspired by elements from those who went before him, experiments with them, takes them in different directions, and creates something new & distinctive in the process.
Haspiel’s scripting for the Billy Dogma stories, the cadence of his dialogue, is undoubtedly unique. In his introduction to this volume Haspiel’s long-time friend & associate Josh Neufeld describes it as “part hard-boiled slang, part beat poetry.” That is a brilliant articulation that sums up Haspiel’s utilization of language. I’m happy Neufeld made it, since that saves me the trouble of attempting to explain it in what probably would have been a much less coherent manner!
So, welcome back, Billy Dogma and Jane Legit. It’s been a while, but it was well worth the wait.