AN INTERVIEW WITH

JOSH NEUFELD AND DEAN HASPIEL

I first became aware of Josh Neufeld and Dean Haspiel during the time that they self published the mini comic version of their collaborative effort Keyhole that was later published by Modern Comics and then Top Shelf.  I have followed them though their careers and kept a good correspondence.  Through different circles than comics we have fellow acquaintances and at every event that we have both been at, Dean and Josh may have been the most cordial and enjoyable folks to be around.  Be it SPX, MOCCA, or the weird bump at another event they have always proven to be perfect gentlemen.  Now, Iíll admit this seems like high praise.  As a friend, I must express that everybody has their flaws.  Dean and Josh are not immune, cause they are human.  We ignore that though because  you also cannot deny that they are excellent writers and artists with excellent backgrounds.  Dean Haspiel is without a doubt the one with the bigger mainstream career.  Trained under the hands of Walt Simonson and Howard Chaykin, he did a Marvel miniseries and recently did issues of Batman Adventures and Justice League Adventures.  Josh and Dean have one of major connection other than Keyhole though, that being Harvey Pekarís American Splendor.  Both have drawn their share of Pekar scripts and are as synonymous with American Splendor as R. Crumb.

Josh recently won a Xeric, one of the most prestigious awards and shall be using it to help promote and publish A Few Perfect Hours, a collection of stories of his adventures in Asia and Europe with his lovely wife and co-writer Sari Wilson.  Dean is currently finishing a story for Vampirella magazine and will have work in Bizarro 2 and will be illustrating a Vertigo graphic novel story by Harvey Pekar.

Together they shall be publishing a collected version of Lionelís Lament in 2005.

Upon all this Iíd approached them for an interview earlier this year during what turned out to be a very busy and tumultuous time for both.  They were still willing to partake and answer three questions.  While some of the answers are now a little dated, such as Josh actually receiving the Xeric and Dean moving onto other projects then mentioned in this interview it is still a nice stand still "picture" of a time period in early 2004 for two accomplished comics creators. 
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PCS: 1.) How did your working partnership (originally in Keyhole) form (considering your very different styles and not related to your existing friendship) and what were you hoping to achieve?  How do you feel about its evolution to your current partnership and collaborative project? (Lionelís Lament AM and Lionel's Lament PM on Serializer.net)

DEAN: My relationship to Josh Neufeld has been integral to my understanding and making comix since we met in Harlem at Music & Art high school in the early '80s. We both grew up learning and dreaming about making comix and have taught, edited, and more importantly, encouraged each other for over 20-years.  KEYHOLE was a natural venture for us to collaborate on and every project I've worked on since has had to pass the Neufeld muster. LIONEL'S LAMENT is an extension of our commitment to invigorate each other and experiment with the theatre of sequential narratives.

JOSH: Dean & I have known each other since high school, when we were both aspiring superhero comic book artists. I don't think we actually collaborated on anything back then, but during my freshman year in college, we started a back-and-forth jam about a battle between Slash and Blade, our two characters. Dean started it by drawing a page and sending it to me in the mail. I responded with a page and mailed it back to him. The idea was to inflict the maximum possible damage and humiliation to the other guy's character! We kept up "Slash vs. Blade" for a bunch of "episodes" until the violence and perversion were so extreme we basically ran out of ideas. 

Later on, when we started KEYHOLE it was really just a matter of finding it easier to fill a 24-page comic with two creators than one on his own, and since at that point we were the only 2 cartoonists we really knew, it just made sense to partner up together. Later, during KEYHOLE's run, we started experimenting with collaborations like "Lionel's Lament" and "I Was Waiting For You, Daddy," a story we each illustrated separately to see how different our interpretations came out. 

I think we each get a lot from collaborating. For me it's the frisson between two different creative minds coming up with a third way; Dean seems to like the "battle" feel of it, the idea of one-upmanship. Both approaches lead to fruitful collaborations. 

Even when we're not directly collaborating, our working relationship has always been very close. We always run our scripts by each other for advice and editing, and we always send each other the pencils of our recent pages for feedback. We both joke that if the other guy likes and responds to our stuff, then it's basically been published, since that's more feedback than we tend to get once it really does appear in print! 

What we're doing with "Lionel's Lament" on Serializer is really fun. We've set up all these parameters and we're constantly being challenged by them to keep the story "logical." Each rule be butt up against causes us to be more creative in wriggling around it. And it's funny looking back on it to see how similar the basic concept of "Lionel" is to our old "Slash vs. Blade" battles. 

PCS: 2.) You both have had projects/stories on the back burners for awhile, Dean with Devilís Muumuu and Josh with his New York Travel stories.  What is the progress and process been on finalizing these immense stories amongst your various other deadlines and projects; and as time moves on, how much harder does finishing these tales seem?

DEAN: I wrote the 48pp script for THE DEVIL'S MUUMUU a few years ago and finished 21-pages of it about two years ago. Working full time freelance and perpetually hustling the next gig takes up a lot of free time. The very time it takes an indie-alt cartoonist to make creator-owned comix. I have a few reservations that the art will look somewhat different upon my return to finish the project, but I'm so happy with the way the first half turned out that I'm not afraid it will affect the overall project in any severe way. Comix are such a process that a keen eye will always detect differences between the first panel and last on any given page. Luckily, the characters I've created in BILLY DOGMA have strong visual lexicons for me to adhere to. A slight nip and tuck is a natural progression. I hope to steal a month sometime soon and finish the book for a late 2004 release.

JOSH: Just to correct you, my travel stories are not about New York, but rather about Southeast Asia and Central Europe. After many years of telling these tales, I'm finally wrapping up a collection, which will include all my travel pieces from KEYHOLE and THE VAGABONDS and a new 20-page story about coming back home and confronting my grandmother's death & funeral. I'm applying for a Xeric Grant to finance the book, but even if I don't get it, I'll be releasing the book this year. It has been difficult to bring this book to completion, mostly because doing comics for free gets harder as you get older, your expenses increase, freelance work piles up and so on. But I'm excited to get this book under my belt so I can move on to other projects - and all my friends will stop asking me when it's coming out! 

PCS: 3.) Mainstream Vs. Indy: This is a discussion and topic for plenty in the scene.  Thereís been a cutback of artists from the indy scene being used in Mainstream (not counting Jeff Smithís upcoming Shazam), including the cancellation of Peter Baggeís Hulk; and mainstream pop-culture as a whole is practically ignoring the comics industry/scene, with mostly a lack of acknowledgment for the highly lauded American Splendor  (except for a screenplay nomination) and Hulk seeming to disappear into the midst, and cartoons on the WB and Cartoon Network playing, but not making much of a dent.  This is a long-winded sentence with no real ending to it, but basically, Thoughts, Feelings, Opinions, Perspectives?

DEAN: I've been working in the comix industry since 1985, and had my first creator-owned comic published in 1987. I've been doing this for almost 20-years and I'm still struggling. I was never a hot dog in the field and my ideas teetered between too bizarre for the mainstream yet too genre oriented for the alternative press. I sacrificed a normal life for dogma and stuck to my guns. What little career I've carved has allowed me to eke by and get some notice, but not the kind that lets me coast on my laurels.  I fear I'll be living hand-to-mouth/month-to-month until the day I die. BUT, I was lucky enough to secure the attention of a few publishers and editors and the best advice I can give is to keep doing what you do only do it better every time you do it again.

JOSH: I look at the situation differently. The movie of AMERICAN SPLENDOR, in my mind, had a huge buzz, though I was also disappointed it didn't get more Academy nominations. THE HULK was a terrible movie, so it deservedly disappeared. As far as the whole indy-mainstream crossover thing, I see that as cyclical. When alt-comics are in the cultural mainstream due to an "Entertainment Weekly" story or whatever, then DC & Marvel come calling. When those projects don't pull in big audiences, the money for them dries up. Such is life. In my opinion, the more separation there is between the mainstream and the alternative comics world there is, the better. I think they each they appeal to completely different audiences and what holds many people back from looking at alternative comics is their too-close identification with the mainstream superhero/fantasy genre. 

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The photos featured in this article were taken at Comiclysm.  An art event that took place at Sputnik Bar which featured work by Josh and Dean, as well as Sophie Crumb, Mark Bode and others.  It was a fascinating new concept and new step in independent comics becoming mainstream.  Joshís physical appearance can be blamed on the fact that heíd been up for the last day slaving over a story board for a 48 Hour Film.  Dean on the other hand, has no excuse for his appearance, so Iíll just blame the alcohol. 

Be sure to pick up "A Few Perfect Hours" when it comes out.  Be on the look out for Lionelís Lament, coming soon, or just go order it and read it at Serializer.net.  Hell, do both.  While youíre at it, pick up Bizarro 2 when it comes out and demand that Marvel collect Startling Stories featuring The Thing (which was co-written by Evan Dorkin) and buy the third issue of Dark Horseís The Escapist and buy comics that have the name Josh Neufeld and/or Dean Haspiel on them. 

Also, send me lots of money, so I can buy the comics as well.  Just send the money and/or comics to:

Reid Harris Cooper

105-40 62nd Rd

Forest Hills, NY 11375