The Atlantic Center for the Arts: Residency #147

By Dean Haspiel

(NOTE: Please give the website a minute to upload the gallery of pictures and click thru with the left and right arrows.)

In October, 2012, I spent three weeks as a Master Artist at The Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where I helped select, mentor, and impart comix-making wisdom to eight amazing, willing, and dedicated cartoonists from America, Ireland, Canada, and Australia. Like a tropical think-tank, we steeped in my associates long-form tales and I helped each of them excavate the narrative gold within their tales to identify the meaning of their work while exploiting the virtues of the medium in order to best serve their stories. And they, in turn, helped each other out, including me. We rummaged in the vigor of sequential storytelling and partook in several group activities. We called ourselves Studio YOLO (You Only Live Once).

My desire was to successfully impart personal comic book making experiences and wisdom. By the second day, I knew that I was going to give more than the required two hours a day. I needed to germinate with my associates. So, I wound up steeping in their projects, got inside their heads, and helped them to better understand the power of the medium and exploit the virtues of the form while serving the thesis of their unique stories. I believe, I wound up doing that for my group and to associates from the other two groups (taught by Ellen Forney and Megan Kelso) who, by word-of-mouth, sought me out for some of my counsel. It was an exhausting and, sometimes frustrating workshop but exactly the kind of comix think tank I was hoping to indulge and learn from.

I wanted to be as available a mentor and friend of the process as possible. Except for Sunday’s [when I visited my mother in Flagler Beach], I worked with and around my associates 12-hours or more a day, six-days a week. I was there to be encouraging and challenging yet brutally honest. Even when there were disputes, I wanted my group to understand that I was giving my 110%. At the end of the day, this residency wasn’t about making friends [which, I ultimately did make] but more about walking away with new tools to scrutinize your own work in the confines of your own home/studio — away from the oasis of the residency.

I believe I was able to identify the core meaning to most of my associates projects and work intensely with them to define their narrative path. Most associates reinterpreted their projects while others developed the look and style of their stories once they felt secure about their concepts. I suppose only time will tell if I made any kind of long-lasting impact or if it even matters. What I learned is that discussion, like embedded landmines, yields its own rewards in its own time. We also had the honor of getting an inking demonstration from Eisner and Harvey award winning inker, Joe Rivera.

I didn’t get much of my own work done as I had hoped for. However, I did manage to discover a genre-specific shorthand that I’d been wanting to develop for awhile; a “Silver Age” cross-between Alex Toth and Jack Kirby, and I drew a few pages of a new comic book idea. I also partook in several group activities that helped break me out of my usual comix making.

My studio conducted a group activity where I wrote an original piece of text for a comic book story with all the visual descriptions removed and asked everyone to interpret said text into a fully realized comic sans supervision. It was an experiment meant to indulge a certain type of collaboration, challenge the boundaries of story, and reveal something about the artist. Please click through the images above and enjoy the many variations of “A Letter Lasts Longer.”

SHIFTY GOTH, a parody loosely based on one of my associates, was also born in my studio through a series of character designs, one panel gags, a 24-hour comic, and short comix strips, which eventually spilled across to all three studios, generating many iterations, including prison style tattoos, and currently lives on Facebook and beyond.

Overall, ACA Residency #147 was an intense comix camp that will live with me forever.

“YOLO! That’s what she said. Comix!”

–Dean Haspiel

Studio YOLO is dedicated to telling quality stories and expanding upon the language of comics. Studio YOLO consists of Christa Cassano, Fionnuala Doran, GeorgeJurard, James Greene, Meghan Lands, Gregory MacKay, Jp Pollard, Jess Ruliffson, and YOLO emeritus, Dean Haspiel.

Photographs by Dean Haspiel and ACA Associates + Others.

Please be sure to click the PLAY BUTTON above and listen to the podcast interview I did with Annemarie Boss, a student of Professor Joseph “Rusty” Witek at Stetson University in Florida, where I also gave a lecture of my comix career. Below is a transcript of what Rusty said when he introduced me to his class.

Professor Joseph “Rusty” Witek’s Dean Haspiel Introduction at Stetson University on 10.16.2012

“Good evening, everyone, and welcome to tonight’s artist’s talk by Dean Haspiel. Thank you all for coming. I’m especially delighted to welcome all our friends from the Atlantic Center for the Arts who have joined us from New Smyrna Beach tonight. This event is part of the Atlantic Center’s Master-Artists-in-Residence Outreach program, and is sponsored by the ACA and Ed & Jeanie Harris, by the Stetson University Artists & Lecturers Committee, and by the Stetson Humanities program. Please join me in thanking all those who have made this talk possible.

Following the talk this evening there will be a short reception in the foyer of Sampson Hall, which is located just across E. Michigan Ave., where Dean will be signing books and have some books for sale; I am assured that there will also be chocolate-chip cookies. So Dean will talk about his work, we’ll have a short question and answer period here, and then you’re all invited to join us across the street for punch, cookies, and conversation.

And since Dean’s talk will give you an overview of his distinguished career as a cartoonist, illustrator, and graphic novelist, I thought that rather than just recite his impressive professional resume, I’d start us off tonight with some academic critical interpretation instead. Having known Dean since the mid-1990s, I would argue that Dean Haspiel and his work embody the concept that Sigmund Freud called the “polymorphous perverse.”

It’s polymorphous, that is, having many shapes, because all of the following statements are true:
He’s best known for his black & white alternative comix, and for a long time he’s been one of the mainstays of the small-press movement in American comics. He also makes mainstream superhero comics like Spider-Man, Batman, and the X-Men, and he’s steeped in their lore and history. He makes autobiographical comics, and he often presents himself in those comics as a hard-living, street-fighting tough guy, but in those very same comics he’s as deeply and hopelessly romantic as any poor sap in a 1950s romance comic like Young Love or True Confessions. That tough yet romantic guy is also a sharp-minded intellectual who is highly articulate and analytical about comics in general and about his own craft in particular. And in a profession that still doesn’t get all that much cultural respect, he holds an Emmy Award for his work on the main title designs of the HBO series Bored to Death.

Now, the “perverse” part of polymorphous perversity isn’t entirely what it sounds like—for Freud it’s the stage in human development where the libido knows no rules and respects no boundaries, where everything that exists is fair game for sensual pleasure and for love. Back in the 1990s, if you would go to the Small Press Expo, which is the comics convention devoted exclusively to alternative and independent comics, you’d find plenty of Dean’s cartoonist colleagues taking to heart the phrase that even then was a cliché: that is, “comics aren’t for kids anymore.” Their goal was to make comics that were serious, that were art with a capital A, and that were, it went without saying, comics that didn’t have any superheroes in them. However, if you stuck around the convention until the end of the day, once the cartoonist-led punk bands got set up and the cash bar got flowing, you’d find another group of young artists with the rather striking habit of taking off their clothes in public. Chief among these at best partially clad hedonists was Dean Haspiel. To tell the truth, I myself didn’t quite know what to make of this phenomenon at first. But after knowing Dean as a friend all these years and after seeing the palpable delight he always takes in living life and in making his art, I find in Sigmund Freud the answer: what I was seeing was not a young guy with his shirt off trying to pick up chicks at a comics convention, but a human being aspiring to make love to the entire universe. And as it turns out, it’s pretty clear that the universe loves him back.

Please welcome Dean Haspiel.”