Sunday, March 28, 2010

FYC Replay: Dean Haspiel's BILLY DOGMA

For Your Consideration: Billy Dogma in “Immortal”

By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE: Warren Ellis has called him the heir to Kirby. As one of the founders of the Act-i-Vate webcomics site, Dean Haspiel has been working to expand the boundaries of what is possible with the comics medium. His latest Billy Dogma adventure, “Immortal,” does just that. A fun action-adventure romance that incorporates so much more, this is a comic you should be reading. Check it out.

The 411:

Billy Dogma: “Immortal”

Story & Art by Dean Haspiel

Available as one half of the split-book

Brawl from Image comics

3 issues, $2.99, b/w & red

Also available online @

Act-I-Vate and


What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

Enraged, Billy Dogma sends a man to the hospital for the capital offense of flirting with his girl, Jane Legit, an action that lands Billy in lock-up for the night. Though he could easily force his way out, Billy “indulges this ruse” and settles in for a long night alone. Being apart incites the love within his and Jane’s breasts for one another to a fever pitch.

But Jane, unwilling to accept this estrangement for a single night, breaks Billy out of the jail, crumbling the outer wall of his cell into a pile of cinderblocks and dust. Reunited, they embrace, and then something strange happens. The floor beneath their feet shudders as a crack spreads out away from them releasing a giant alien that has been hibernating beneath the city.

Though formidable singly, and even moreso as a pair, Billy and Jane have no luck against this new creature. The quick battle results in heart-shaped shards of brick and concrete scattering over the two lovers as they lay battered and beaten. Exiting the confines of the jail cell, the giant rises high above the city, staring down at Billy and Jane and a host of others wandering into the street. Jane recovers and yells for Billy to dispatch this beast as he did the fellow at the bar, but instead the alien drops Billy down its gullet, engulfing our hero in complete darkness.

Luckily, Billy has certain skills and uses his optical rays to ignite his shirt, which is wrapped about a stalactite, and more easily make his way around the insides of the beast. There he discovers, carved upon the creature’s intestinal lining, hieroglyphics that give Billy the entire story. This immortal arrived on earth and discovered a world built upon hatred and mistrust. Compelled by its nature, it sacrificed its heart in order to try and spread love, irradiating the sky with a deep red hue. But this sacrifice caused an unforeseen circumstance, mutating the giant into an empty husk. Confused and lacking a heart, it instead spread destruction across the land, killing thousands of people. Overcome with grief, it chose to bury itself under the city in the hopes of regaining that which it had lost.

A second result of this alien’s sacrifice was that the fallout from the irradiated sky sparked the fire of Billy and Jane’s love, igniting the hot embers that burn within each of them for the other. A violent and unrelenting love affair, their “war of woo” – in a cyclical irony – is what results in the waking of this monster. And now that it is awake, how will these two heroes save the city? More than brawn will be needed in order to see this to a happy end.

Dean Haspiel has been chronicling the romantic adventures of Billy Dogma and Jane Legit for twelve years now, and his characters have survived the intervening years quite well. This latest tale of lust and violence – along with the partially completed second chapter, “Fear, My Dear,” of a proposed trilogy – is as entertaining a comic as one can find. Haspiel propels readers along a roller coaster ride, refusing to pull back on the throttle, hurtling his characters toward a dynamic conclusion that is inspired.

Originally serialized on the Act-i-Vate site, “Immortal” is broken into crisp, bite-size chunks that keep readers on the edge of their seats while meshing together seamlessly to tell a grand cosmic tale firmly rooted in Billy and Jane’s world. Despite the surface sheen of action and violence, Haspiel imbues this story with far more than the typical “Hollywood blockbuster” plot. Dealing with thematic elements as diverse as jealousy, inherent human fears, and sacrificing that for which one cares deeply, Billy Dogma’s “Immortal” is a multi-layered tale that satisfies in so many ways. But for all these layers, at its heart, “Immortal” is the continuation of the love story of Billy Dogma and Jane Legit, a love that has grown and evolved over these many years.

Upon reading “Immortal” online, Warren Ellis was prompted to name Dean Haspiel the heir to Jack Kirby, and I can definitely see what he means. Like the best of Kirby’s work, Haspiel’s “Immortal” is a very personal story brimming over with wild ideas that many creators might milk for issues on end, but which Haspiel utilizes briefly within the greater context of his story before moving on. Eschewing the self-imposed boundaries of the medium, Haspiel – like Kirby before him – is working to expand the possibilities of comics with the tools afforded him, and one can only wonder what Kirby could have accomplished within this newly burgeoning medium of webcomics. And if any doubted that Haspiel were a worthy heir to “the King,” one should look no further than his artwork on “Immortal,” which bursts off the page – and computer screen – with an energy and vitality that can be matched by very few artists.

Dean Haspiel’s “Immortal” is a brilliant example of the type of story comics can tell when editorial edicts are dropped for creative freedom. A breathtaking adventure that stands up under repeated readings, anyone that has already experienced this story knows what I am talking about. And if you haven’t read it yet, click on over to Act-i-Vate or Dean and find out what you’re missing. Or, better yet, go to your local comic shop and pick up a copy of Brawl from Image comics, which includes both Haspiel’s “Immortal” and Michel Fiffe’s “Panorama” in a split-book format similar to the old Marvel titles Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

An Interview with Dean Haspiel:

Chris Beckett: Why comics? What is it about the medium that drew you into this career of yours?

Dean Haspiel: My childhood love affair with comic books was so profound I must have subconsciously surrendered my soul to the medium and let it rule my career path as I never embraced any other work more passionately than I do comic books. If memory serves me right, C.C. Beck's Shazam was my first introduction to comic books. Soon after, I read a ton of Marvel & DC superhero comics during the 1970s/80s while discovering alternative comix the likes of Chester Brown's Yummy Fur, Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, and The Hernandez Bros.' Love & Rockets. In 1985, my senior year in high school, I was afforded the opportunity to assist Bill Sienkiewicz, Howard Chaykin, and Walter Simonson, which had an eye-opening impact on my picture making process. Other cartoonists who have heavily influenced me are: Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Frank Miller, Baru, Max, Katushiro Otomo, Michael Golden, and a slew of others.

Beckett: At its heart, Billy Dogma is a love story, but it is also about big ideas, giant ideas. Was this latter aspect always at the heart of what you wanted to do in comics or a happy byproduct of the stories you were telling?

Haspiel: No matter how many genre curve balls I throw into the mix, Billy Dogma will always be a bruiser romance comic. "Immortal" is the most cosmic Billy Dogma story I've told to date and its sequel, "Fear, My Dear" is a psychedelic origin of sorts that gets to the mind of Billy's heart. The improvisational nature of telling these tales online without a fully realized plot keeps my characters personal and fresh.

Beckett: In comparing “Immortal” and “Fear My Dear” to Daydream Lullabies from 1999, it is obvious your storytelling has evolved. In Lullabies, Billy and Jane Legit are quite verbose and very direct in stating what is on their mind. But with your newer work, the pictures convey the story and its emotions more than the words. Is this a conscious change on your part or a matter of story dictating style?

Haspiel: At their base, comix are a series of informed pictures and the more I "show" the less I have to tell. Thankfully, I've been granted the time and space to evolve my storytelling chops and learn my creations without getting fired by the Comix Gods. I needed to go through my punk phase before getting into disco.

Beckett: With this latest Billy Dogma foray, you have chosen to publish it on the internet. Why did you choose to go the online route first, and what would you say are the benefits and the drawbacks of producing comics, and specifically Billy Dogma, for the web?

Haspiel: Five years ago I started working on a 48-page Billy Dogma story called "The Devils Muumuu" that was supposed to be published by Top Shelf. I got as far as page 21 when I scored Muties #3, my first Marvel Comics effort, and I've been working fulltime freelance on other people's stories ever since. The time that has passed forced me to abandon that ill-fated Billy Dogma story but I'd been itching to write again and to return to my own creations. When I reread "The Devils Muumuu," I discovered that the story no longer resonated for me and my avatar had traveled a different road. Meanwhile, during my freelance career, I'd been keeping a blog and when I decided to launch Act-I-Vate in February of 2006, I realized that this was the right forum in which to revamp the Billy Dogma mythos. The digital age has served my sensibilities quite well as regular feedback from fans, friends, and peers helped me make a better comic.

Beckett: For people that do not normally read an “independent” comic, what do you feel they are missing and what would you tell them to encourage them to try something outside the superhero genre?

Haspiel: The lines between mainstream and independent comics have blurred considerably since the days when 64-color superhero comics were sold at newspaper stands and black and white underground comix were sold in head shops. With the exponential expansion of the modern graphic novel into local bookstores and the rise of webcomix, I don't see that much of a difference between Marvel Comics' World War Hulk, DC Comics' All-Star Superman, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, and Josh Neufeld's A.D. – New Orleans After the Deluge. Readers are limiting their enjoyment by placing comics into categories and I see no need to polarize genre from journalism and memoir. With comics you get it all. Literature, art, pathos.

Beckett: Do you have any other projects on the horizon you might want to tell readers about?

Haspiel: I'm currently illustrating The Alcoholic, an original graphic novel written by Jonathan Ames for Vertigo Comics due for release the Fall of 2008, and I hope to soon announce a kids book I drew in collaboration with legendary underground cartoonist/writer, Jay Lynch, for Francoise Mouly at Raw Jr. Other than that, I recently drew a Hulk for fun and had fellow DEEP6 studio mate, Mike Cavallaro, color it. I'm slowly chipping away at my free webcomic, Fear My Dear, and the first issue of Brawl, my new split-book mini-series with Michel Fiffe from Image Comics hits comix shops Oct. 10th.

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