My Evening with David and Dean – A Conversation in Five Parts (Part Four) | FanboysInc

My Evening with David and Dean – A Conversation in Five Parts (Part Four)

By Jeff Ayers

PART 4 – Save The Cat

This is the fourth part of a conversation between David Greenberger, Dean Haspiel and myself. If you allow a conversation to dictate where it wants to go, you will arrive at some wonderful talking points, as can recap in Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. This time, we delve into more of what makes Dean tick as a creator, and also some comic and TV talk.

Dean Haspiel: So, to get back on topic, you were talking about writing?

Jeff Ayers: Yeah, but the dichotomy of doing both writing and drawing, as well as collaboration versus doing it all.

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Dean: Well, again, with Mark Waid on The Fox, he brings such an awesome voice to this character, I can only hear the way he writes it now. In fact when I am plotting the story out, now that we have done it before, or once you start working with anyone, I can start working towards their strengths, and I can also push them a little bit. I throw down the gauntlet, get to find out how it’s going to come back to me. I mean, I write the story, I provide the “page one, panel one” ideas, I provide it for me, to draw, and I have to provide it to the editor to be approved. But then I have a conversation with Mark, sometimes about a tonal thing or something, but then he sees the artwork, and he reacts. That reaction comes back, and here is this thing that he wouldn’t have otherwise written. He has actually said that to me, I don’t know if it’s a compliment [laughs]

Jeff: Right, like “I would NEVER write like that” [laughs]

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Dean: But, it is that old school Marvel style, with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and all those guys, you know, Stan Lee couldn’t write all those comics at once, so he would rely on the artists. He might write dialogue on top of it, but he has famously said, “For the fiftieth issue of Fantastic Four, why don’t we have them fight God?”

Jeff: Right, which then led to the creation of Galactus.

Dean: That was the note. So Kirby creates a herald, the Silver Surfer, and then a “god” that eats planets. Not “God” like a Jesus Christ or what have you, but I guess that is a springboard, a challenge. Stan Lee threw the gauntlet down, and Jack Kirby goes and creates these characters. So, I love that, and again, with storytelling mediums, you do have to rely on the artists. Marvel recently said “These are the architects of our comics now” and the list was only writers. I was a little pissed at that.

Jeff: Me too!

Dean: I mean, what are they talking about? You are also working with some amazing artists, who might only be able to do one comic series a year, while the writers write four to eight comic lines a year, because of the labor alone. I guess because the artist shows up less, even though they are more profoundly in your face when you are reading the material, it doesn’t seem fair. There are definitely a lot of artists that are as equal architects, and custodians of these characters.

Jeff: So, you do like collaboration, but you do have a a lot of projects where you wear all the hats. Does that come from necessity? Is it easier to get something done, rather than find a collaborator?

Dean: I think originally, it was just me testing the waters, trying to build that confidence. You know, a four pager here, or an eight pager there, then my occasionally my creator owned stuff, where I was just dabbling as a writer. Now, as I get older, it’s harder for me to read someone else’s script, and the way they might stage a scene, versus the way I might want to stage a scene. I usually try to talk to the editor, and I ask if I can come up with something that works better for me, if I can have that latitude. Usually editors allow that. They just want it to look good, and the story to be still there. But as an artist, you could yeild and be lazy too, saying “Well, the writer said to draw that, so I will draw it that way.” I look at a script though, that I haven’t written, and I try to exploit the virtues of that. So there is a slight change, and I would prefer to be able to talk to the writer as well, and engender that relationship. Communication always makes for better comix collaborations.

There are also the instances though, like, I had to draw a Justice League Adventures, from the cartoon show, and it was an inventory script written by Keith Giffen, and I didn’t have to change a damn thing, because he is an artist. He knows how to write, he had already been vetted by the editor, Steve Wacker – who went on to do Spider-Man. It was just an interesting thing, because ultimately the narrative was there, and sure I might need a little reference from the cartoon show, but it was cool.

I have also worked with writers, that were only writers and not into other mediums, and couldn’t write a comic book to save their lives, because they don’t get it. It’s visual first, and ‘less is more’, and all that stuff. It was really interesting to also confront that.

Jeff: A lot of your work, whether it’s the creator owned stuff or not, you have an innate ability of acute observation, and the world you create draws you into the page. Where do you – as a creator, artist, and writer – where do you draw your inspiration from?

Dean: There is a lot of stuff that I like that is really corny – I love Italian horror films, I love noir, I love reggae, electronica. I get inspired by lots of different things that may not have story, but may capture a certain feeling, like I am trying to draw feeling. I did learn a long time ago, for myself what I needed, and I hope I am conveying in the work, and maybe saying the word ‘love’ is too strong, but I always say you have to fall in love with your characters, and you can take them anywhere, and they will follow you anywhere. There is a term in film called ‘Save the Cat’, have you heard of this?

Jeff: I have heard that term used before, but I am not familiar with it.

Dean: So the idea is that if your character saves a cat in the first scene, they could literally go and machine gun down 20 nuns later on, and not that you would be happy with that, but you would be like “ Why did they do that? I need to find out why.” Because they saved the cat, versus if they just gunned down the nuns, you would think that was just a bad person, they are evil. So there is this idea of seeding the character, so they can do whatever you need them to do later on.

David Greenberger: That is like public speaking, you start with a joke, and you break the ice and you establish trust.

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Dean: Exactly, it’s a trust thing. So I always think about, how can I, as a creator or writer, make you trust these characters, so I can hold your hand and take you on this journey. The other thing I have thought about, that is going to sound equally as sentimental and corny, is during my angsty years, there were some bleak stories I wrote with some sad endings. If we are putting these stories out there into the universe, I want them to end on a sense of hope. Hope is so important for all of us. I mean, I love these horror films, and for example, Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t very hopeful. I mean she does get away in the end.

Jeff: Yeah, but she will never have a normal life. She is screwed up forever now.

Dean: Yeah. So even though I enjoy the absurdity of that stuff, I kind of put it over there. To me, horror is like comedy, just a little sadder. [laughs] It tickles certain feelings. But if I am going to invest my time, sitting at an art table and not hanging out with people, I want there to be a sense of hope, or a reason to live, or to get through a journey. There can be some dark shit that happens along the way, but I wanted to start to promote things ultimately through my work that were semi positive. I think that if I have those ideas going on – to create characters that we love, and go through a hardship, and then end on a note of hope – that dictates a lot of what I want to put out. We have a power, story is power. When you have no TV, no cellphones, and just a fire, with people sitting around a fire, they will start to tell stories. We will still always have that. I guess that the older I get, I am polishing that idea.

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I realize that I am not the guy that is going to write five comics a month. If you said to me, “Dean, I will give you a million dollars to work on Billy Dogma for twelve issues a year for the next twenty years.” I couldn’t do that either, because it is a very special thing I am doing with that character. I don’t have a monthly character, either. I don’t know how those people do that. I guess there is a lot of regurgitation, a lot of death and resurrection, which is just marketing. It’s lazy to me.

Jeff: Well, if we are talking about the big two (Marvel and DC), you have writers that set out to tell a story, like say Jonathan Hickman, who went to Marvel three or four years ago, and said he had this story to tell, that has played out for years now and is culminating in the recent Secret Wars event.

Dean: Right, which is crazy.

Jeff: But then you have other writers, who just show up and say “What do you want me to do?”

Dean: Sure. There is editorially driven, and their there is the author’s vision. For instance, one of my favorite series was Scalped, that has since ended. It had bad guys and good guys, but everyone was grey. Everyone had a reason to cheer them, or be interested in them, because no one was perfect, and it was this beautiful tragedy. Did you read it at all?

Jeff: I have seen an issue or two, not too familiar with it.

Dean: Dude, the first six issues is the HBO kind of pitch, and it’s good, but then it gets really good. It becomes a whole other thing, and it’s beautiful, trust me on this one. Did you like Breaking Bad?

Jeff: Honestly, I never got into it.

Dean: Oh really? Interesting.

Jeff: I love that genre, and it’s nothing against the show, I just never got into it, because I was busy at the time watching other things.

Dean: Well, that show does the same thing, where you are watching it and it grows, and you realize you are watching a guy go bad, and it’s beautiful. Like with Game of Thrones, and I’m not, spoiler alert, I haven’t seen the last season –

Jeff: Everybody dies! [laughs]

Dean: [laughs] Apparently there was a big uproar because of a rape scene with a main character, and I am saying “Are you kidding me?” That is all they have been doing for the first four seasons, so why is this any different? How is this an extra special rape scene? If I would hazard a guess, it’s because you actually care about the character.

David: It is furthering the narrative.

Dean: The rape actually transitions in a way. They are talking, rapeing, and beheading in this show, all at the same time. To the point where you are just like, it’s so weird! It has changed our culture in a way. In the 70’s, you had to go to Times Square to catch a slasher horror flick, but now it’s on television!

Jeff: Hell, it’s on cable!

Dean: It’s been intellectualized a little bit, and it’s desensitizing.

Click Here for Part Five.

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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