Comic book reviews: Dean Haspiel’s Fear, My Dear

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.

Fear My Dear pg 14

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.

Fear My Dear pg 87

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.

Mocca Arts Festival 2014: a convention report

Since I’m now working again, I was able to put together some extra money and attend this year’s Mocca Arts Festival, once again organized by Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art and the Society of Illustrators. Michele and I were there on Saturday afternoon. There were a lot of great creators and publishers with some really interesting books for sale. I wish I had more money (and room in the apartment) so I could have picked up more stuff.

It was also very crowded. On the one hand, that’s a pain, since it gets hot & difficult to move. On the other hand, it is awesome to see so many younger people of diverse backgrounds interested in comic books & graphic novels. As I’ve said before, most of the really interesting, innovative material nowadays is definitely coming out through smaller companies or self-publishing.

Mocca Arts Fest 2014 banner

My one big purchase at the show was the new Dean Haspiel graphic novel Fear, My Dear: A Billy Dogma Experience featuring, naturally enough, Billy Dogma and Jane Legit. I’ve really enjoyed Dean’s Billy Dogma stories in the past. It’s been some time since he published a new installment of the endearingly bizarre misadventures of “the world’s last romantic antihero,” and so I’ve been looking forward to Fear, My Dear since it was first announced a few months back. Dean had done a drawing of Billy Dogma for me in my sketchbook a few years back, so when he offered to do a quick piece inside the graphic novel, this time I asked for Jane Legit.

Jane Legit Dean Haspiel

I stopped by the Dare2Draw table and said hello to Simon Fraser, who has done a great deal to help organize & promote that program. Simon is a really good guy, as well as an extremely talented artist. He was kind enough to do a lovely drawing of the First Doctor in my Doctor Who theme book. He really captured the personality of actor William Hartnell. Simon had drawn the First Doctor in the Prisoners of Time miniseries published by IDW last year. Now that the comic book license is in the hands of Titan Comics, Simon will be the regular artist on the upcoming Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor ongoing series. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing his work on it. I also picked up a copy of the Dare2Draw Sketchbook, which has several beautiful black & white pieces by Simon, as well as a number of other artists, including one by my friend Fred Harper.

First Doctor Simon Fraser

I also saw Charles Fetherolf and Justin Melkmann. I’m not sure if I’ve had the opportunity to go to any of Justin’s World War IX gigs in the past year, so this might be the first time I’ve seen him since the 2013 Mocca Fest. I know I hadn’t seen Charles in the last year, but we’d been in contact on Facebook. He really felt that he did not do that good a job on the Madame Vastra sketch at the show last year. In his defense, he was unfamiliar with the character, I had limited reference, and it was a quick drawing. But Charles insisted he wanted a second crack at the character, so I arranged a commission with him. He did an absolutely beautiful illustration of Vastra on the cover of his sketchbook, and I picked it up at the show. I definitely recommend contacting Charles Fetherolf for commission work. He’s an amazing artist.

Madame Vastra Charles Fetherolf

One other creator who I was looking forward to meeting was Rachel Dukes. She was profiled on Comic Book Resources only a few days ago. Her mini comic Frankie Comics about her cat looked absolutely adorable, a really cute look at quirky cat behavior. I saw that Rachel was going to be at Mocca Fest, so I definitely wanted to stop by her table and purchase a copy of her book. She showed me a photo of Frankie, who looks very much like one of my two cats, Nettie Netzach. Judging by the antics Rachel portrays in her comic, they also act alike. Michele suggested they could be long lost sisters. You never know.

Frankie Comics #1

I also picked up the latest issue of Copra, a series by Michel Fiffe, whose work I first discovered several years ago in the awesome “Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies” back-up stories in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon. I stopped by Alisa Harris’ table and congratulated her on her successful Kickstarter campaign. I’m looking forward to receiving my copy of The Collected Counter Attack in the near future. I purchased one of animator & cartoonist Bill Plympton’s books as a gift for Michele. And, while we were walking around the show, Michele and I ran into Fred Harper, Jamal Igle and Steve Ellis. It was nice to catch up with them.

That’s about it. Here are a few photos I took at Mocca Fest with my crappy cell phone camera:

Dean Haspiel sketching in Fear, My Dear: A Billy Dogma Experience.

 

Rachel Dukes enthusiastically promotes Frankie Comics.

 

A giant Charlie Brown balloon hovered over the festivities
A giant Charlie Brown balloon hovered over the festivities

In conclusion, the 2014 Mocca Arts Festival was a lot of fun, as well as very well organized. As I said before, my only regret is that I wasn’t able to afford to purchase more of the cool books that I saw. But hopefully the large turnout of people meant that the numerous talented creators at the show did good business.