BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Flying High With Hang Dai – Panel Recap | FanboysInc

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Flying High With Hang Dai – Panel Recap

By Jeff Ayers

*Author’s note: There was supposed to be an audio companion piece for this story. But, I am absolutely terrible at audio recording, that is why I write stuff with pens on paper, because I know the words will be there after I close the book. I wanted to have a kickass recording of this panel to go along with this article, but alas, the recording did not come out too well. I hope my words work well enough to convey the celebration of this wonderful artist collective. Thank you.

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Flying High With Hang Dai - Panel Recap

On the final day of the Baltimore Comic-Con, a panel showcasing the incredible talent coming out of Brooklyn, New York held court. I can’t express enough how small panels like this one are the true gems of a growing comic convention, as those in attendance get an intimate view into the process of creators. In the same room were luminaries like Dean Haspiel (Beef With Tomato), Christa Cassano (Ghetto Klown), Swifty Lang (Plunder), Vito Delsante (Stray), Gregory Benton (Smoke) and Chris Miskiewicz (Thomas Alsop). If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite, this extended family from Hang Dai Studios also read from their work, adding another facet to the experience.

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Flying High With Hang Dai - Panel Recap

Moderated by Hannah Means-Shannon from Bleeding Cool, the panel started with the lights dimming, as Gregory Benton’s newest work, Smoke, took the stage. Much like some of his previous work, this graphic novel has no words, which adds to the hauntingly beautiful imagery of the book. His artistic style is something that everyone needs to experience, and this panel gave an added treat by pairing the imagery with well placed sound effects. The premise is based in reality, as many people are working in terrible conditions on industrial farms throughout the world. This story follows two brothers, and after a mishap on the tobacco farm where they work, they get unhinged from reality. Thankfully, Xolo, the Aztec’s protector of souls helps the brother inevitably find peace. Seriously, to truly grasp the way that Benton crafts a story with his incredible imagery, you need to pick up this book, or his previous works like B+F.

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Flying High With Hang Dai - Panel Recap

Next up was a group reading of Seth Kushner’s Schmuck, which is a semi-autobiographical piece that Kushner wrote about his own “mishaps and mortifying memories.” A founding member of Hang Dai Studios, sadly Kushner passed away in May of 2015. But the book, which was illustrated by a ton of artists including Josh Neufeld, Christa Cassano, Gregory Benton and Dean Haspiel, was able to be completed before his death and was released through Hang Dai Editions. Again, this panel was in for a special experience because the story that was read was done by multiple panelists that day. Cassano handled the part of the stripper, whom Kushner has a awkward, yet endearing experience with. Swift Lang read the parts of Seth, both his dialogue, and inner monologue, save for the word “pussy” which was energetically screamed by Vito Delsante in a truly humorous moment. You just had to be there. The story really was raw and unfiltered from the mind of Kushner, and seeing the imagery flash on the screen with loving narration made the entire scene come alive. Schmuck is one of those wonderful perfect storms where a story that is helmed by one person (Kushner) is then given up to the artistic talents of so many awesome illustrators in comics today.

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BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Flying High With Hang Dai - Panel Recap

The final “performance” piece was from Dean Haspiel, as he read from his new auto-bio book, Beef With Tomato. This book is a window into Haspiel’s true being and nature, as it pertains to the city he resides in and resembles. It is as much a love letter to New York City and Brooklyn as it is a “heart on the sleeve” type edict from the one person qualified to put the words and imagery on the page. Haspiel has been giving himself to many different projects as of late, including The Fox with Mark Waid, but this piece is the one that really flexes all his creative muscles. Hearing him read one of the stories, “Buyer Beware”, gave more life to the page than one might think it could contain. Hassle’s booming and confident voice added the spice the character of himself needed, and his penchant from acute observation was front and center in this short tale of a lover’s quarrel. (If you would like to hear more about Beef With Tomato or Dean’s inner workings, check out my five part conversation with him by clicking on the first part here.)

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Flying High With Hang Dai - Panel Recap

The panel then shifted as the literal lights went up, and we got a figurative light shed on each of the panelists in turn. What is so exciting and infectious about a collective like Hang Dai, is that everyone involved is immensely talented and has their hands in multiple projects. Some of the standouts were Christa Cassano’s newest work Ghetto Klown. This is a graphic novel representation of John Leguizamo’s one man stage show that chronicles his life with the triumphs and trials he has endured. It is a pretty incredible thing to lay yourself out on the stage like Leguizamo did, and Casino takes her talents to the upmost heights in depicting his stories in amazing artwork. She also talked about how she met Haspiel when he was teaching a master class, and was given the homework to depict a story that Haspiel posed to the class. She went a little off the reservation and turned in a very avant-garde, accordion type short comic, which evidently peaked the interest of Haspiel, because she later became a part of Hang Dai Studios.

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Flying High With Hang Dai - Panel Recap

The audience got to see glimpses of everyone’s current work, and even some things that haven’t been released yet, making the entire experience a memorable one. Chris Miskiewicz talked of his book, Thomas Alsop, a tale about a supernatural detective out from Boom! Studios, as well as his current exploits as an actor in hollywood. Swifty Lang told of his newest work, Plunder, which looks really fun and a little scary. Lang loves to use horror as a window into larger issues, and you could tell he really has a love for working in comic in general. Finally, Vito Delsante showed images from Stray, and talked about how he loves superheroes. Delsante is a traditionalist in more ways than one, and his simple line structure and amazing illustrative depth shows you exactly what he means to do in each panel. He is currently working with Action Lab to create a six issue crossover event with multiple superheroes in that universe. Delsante said that you can learn a lot about storytelling with the art of collaboration, and that sentiment rings totally true on this panel.

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Flying High With Hang Dai - Panel Recap

From Swifty Lang’s PLUNDER

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Flying High With Hang Dai - Panel Recap

Hang Dai Editions has a lot to offer, from a myriad of talented people who are involved in the imprint and studio. They joked, and carried on throughout the panel, but also all had nothing but good things to say about each others work and their creative process, no matter how different from their own. The similarity of being in a band with other people was brought up a few times, and that metaphor works very well for a comix collective such as Hang Dai. You have to work together, and dig working with each other, because in the end, you are all stuck with one another. A small imprint and studio collective, with a focus on independent graphic work featuring personal experiences and interactions. A name derived from a saying in the famed Deadwood television series from HBO, that loosely translated to “brothers”. I can only say that once again, it is panel’s like these that you should seek out at comic conventions, whether they are small cons or big ones, like the upcoming New York Comic Con. (Which you can find a lot of the Hang Dai Group there as well!) It was truly an eye opening experience to sit in the audience of this panel, and we all left happy and yearning for more creativity in our own lives because of this experience.

Jeff Ayers

Both my parents instilled in me at an early age the awesome power and incredible wonder of the written word. My father sat with me when I was four years old and taught me to enjoy reading with classic comic strips like SPIDERMAN, PEANUTS, B.C. and, later, CALVIN AND HOBBES. My mother exposed me to such classics of literature as Poe, Tolkien, Stoker and Doyle, and I started my own comic collection with allowance money from mowing lawns. I liked Wolverine before it was cool, I watched as Superman died and returned, and huddled under the covers as I turned the pages of SANDMAN. Reading is like oxygen to me, and all genres and formats are welcome and devoured equally. I am the co-host of The DW and Incredible Jeff Show, CEO of Permian Productions, and a reviewer at Graphic Novel Reporter. I am 34 and live in scenic Saratoga Springs New York, where I haunt coffee shops and dive bars and the best comic shop anywhere, The Comic Depot.

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