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Dean Haspiel is one of the most visible creators working in comics today, and his style is equally recognizable, whether he is creating superhero comics or his own Billy Dogma stories at ACT-I-VATE, the webcomics site he co-founded in 2006.
Even when he’s working on someone else’s property, Haspiel has a way of making it his own, and this is particularly true of his revival of The Fox for Archie Comics’s Red Circle imprint. One of the earliest superheroes in comics, The Fox made his debut in 1940, back when the publisher was still called MLJ Comics, and has resurfaced several times since then; a new version of the character appeared in the 1980s in Blue Ribbon Comics and Mighty Crusaders.
In Haspiel’s hands, The Fox is a reluctant superhero, a “freak magnet” who can’t avoid getting into trouble but won’t run away from a fight. The third issue of the series, scripted by Mark Waid, arrives Jan. 8; Haspiel will be doing a signing that day at Forbidden Planet in New York City. We talked to Haspiel about his version of The Fox, and Archie sent along some art from Issue 3 to go with it.
Brigid Alverson: Who is The Fox, and what interests you about him?
Dean Haspiel: Part of what inspired me was to tell a classic pulp story, but the consequences would be kind of inspired by Apocalypse Now and The Island of Lost Souls, aka The Island of Dr. Moreau. When we meet The Fox, he is kind of iffy about being The Fox. What we posited here is he is quitting. He wants to focus on his family and have a nice domestic life and focus on some of the issues of being a father and husband and having a day job. And then the kind of job he has, photojournalist—what does that mean in 2013? If we have a chance to do a second series, that is something we will deal with.
He seems sort of timeless, or rather old and new at the same time — he uses a film camera, for instance.
I wrote that in the first issue in the backup feature. He prefers to use film. He likes to take and develop pictures.
I have been trying to ape the feeling I got when I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. The first 10 minutes of Raiders is the last 10 minutes of another story. That’s how we get introduced to this character, Indiana Jones, and I remember I was so blown away as a kid by that last 10 minutes, and when it ended I got up to leave because I was so wowed by it, and my dad pulled me by the shirt and said “There’s more.”
I have been trying to capture that sensibility, arrive to the story late but with just enough information that cascades as you go along that you know what happens. In fact, the second issue of The Fox was what I intended to be the first issue, but it was the sensibility of the editor to pull me back and say “We have to have more,” and that’s how I got to play with Madame Satan and have a silly story and say the impending apocalypse will happen through social networking. Which I believe is true.
The chapters are short — you really pack a lot in there.
Doing these in 18-page chapters is a challenge, but I think I give enough information, I have read enough comic books to be able to pull it off. Part of the trick is to make it feel breezy. You have to cut a lot of fat, but if the reader has a question you have to insert an answer. In the first issue, you have one page of The Fox at home and you have to address a lot of stuff. Thank God for Mark Waid, he brilliantly pulled it off with the conversation, so you get the sense that he is a guy who still wears his costume under his shirt, he has a wife and a son and an estranged daughter, and he is starting a job as a photojournalist at The Gazette after being away in Japan.
I love stories where there is some physical action happening and the protagonist says “How did we get here?” and there is a flashback.
The Fox is unusual because he is a reluctant superhero. Was that part of the original concept, or did you add it in?
That’s something I believe I brought to the story. I remember Alex Toth’s Fox was very pulpy, but there was no way I was going to try to ape that or even pay homage. I can’t fool myself into thinking I could even do something like that. If anyone is familiar with The Fox, they would think I am going to do pulp gangster type of stuff. I intuit that in the first issue but quickly push away — as much as I admire noir, it is not really my wheelhouse in terms of story-making.
In terms of my resources and the history of The Fox, there wasn’t much I could find. I know there are a lot of little Fox stories out there. I think at one point he was more of a ladies man; he wore the costume to try to get chicks at times. But he is a family man now.
You have some really remarkable layouts in these comics. How do you come up with them?
I think about the shape of the page. The hardest part of the job for me is not even coming up with the story, it’s how does it look on the page. I probably spend more labor time trying to figure out the thumbnail layout than making the actual page. It’s like a control freak symphony. Everything has a purpose.
I almost wish I had more latitude to allow breathing room, but I also pay homage to the comics I grew up reading, where you could read one issue of a comic book and there is a story. Now that issue turns into six issues. I’m not saying [the Fox stories] are heavy and deep, but I think I have given enough, even in 18 pages. It is a 24-page comic — the backup story does matter. I built that into the pitch to have the Shield backup done by another team for a very specific reason, which will reveal itself at the end of Ossue 4.
Every issue has something new in it while carrying the football, as it were. I’ll introduce a character, and you will only get a few panels of who they are, but it’s through action and behavior that you learn what people are. I don’t care what you say, at the end of the day it’s what you do that speaks to who you are.
The magic of being able to work with Mark Waid — this is going to be moving this way, but let’s fill in some of the holes and the gaps — that’s where the virtues of writing and art get married and exploit each other.