Brooklyn’s heart is shattered by America’s callousness. Brooklyn’s bridges are fractured, and its tunnels are flooded. The borough secedes and becomes an independent New Brooklyn — a republic where art can be traded for food and
other services, and where people are judged by their contributions.
This is the alternative Brooklyn that Dean Haspiel conceptualizes in The Red Hook, a comic series, in which a former thief named after the Brooklyn neighborhood is involuntarily burdened with an “omni-fist of altruism” and forced to become a superhero or die.
The Red Hook won a Ringo award in 2017 for Best Webcomic, and Haspiel won an Emmy Award in 2010 for his work on the HBO show Bored to Death. He has also worked on Batman, The Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Deadpool, American Splendor, Godzilla, Spongebob Squarepants, and Archie, amongst many others and in addition to another original comic series, Billy Dogma. Although he has worked on many successful comics, The Red Hook is of particular importance to Haspiel, who says this project gives him more autonomy as an artist, and a writer while also allowing him to shed light on an issue plaguing Brooklyn.
Haspiel is angry at New York for the way it treats its artists. He is a native Manhattanite but moved to Carrol Gardens more than 22 years ago. Brooklyn used to be a place artists could go and afford to live, but times are changing, according to Haspiel. Brooklyn median rent prices increased to $3,000 a month, a record for the borough, according to a report by Douglas Elliman Real Estate earlier this year.
The Red Hook resulted from Haspiel “anthropomorphizing my problem,” he said. “Do you not care about your artists. Do you just want to be a bunch of CVS’s and banks? Just rich people buying up lots, and apartments and never using them? Who’s supposed to live here?” he asked.
As Haspiel explores these questions, he incorporates whimsical Brooklyn references and characters. Iconic images, like the Brooklyn Bridge, can be found tucked behind battle scenes. The Red Hook also faces other characters like Benson Hurst; the lovers Sheeps Head and Flat Bush; and The Coney, Red Hook’s mother and an “architect of revenge.”
Haspiel drew inspiration for The Red Hook by frequenting Sunny’s Bar, first opened in 1890 on the very edge of Red Hook. In the comic, Red Hook’s secret identity, Sam Brosia, is a bartender at Sunny’s.
“I’m not a religious person,” Haspiel said, yet he found a kind of spirituality sitting in the small back room of Sunny’s bar, where musicians flow into the crowd with accordions and mandolins on Saturday night Bluegrass Jams, making it difficult to tell who is a part of the band and who’s not. Ultimately, it did not seem to matter much, since the owner announced at the most recent jam, “you are welcome to sing along with us. That’s kind of the whole point.”
Sunny’s draws in a large, and diverse audience. “There is a bunch of young people flocking here,” musician Brett Nuller said. “These old guys are finally appreciated for their work”
Although bluegrass artists may be receiving accolades long overdue, Haspiel may still have to wait for The Red Hook to gain widespread popularity. Haspiel said it is difficult for alternative artists like himself to break into the superhero scene due to the popularity of Marvel and DC comics.
Still, at New York Comic Con, Volume 1 of The Red Hook sold out by day three of the four-day event, according to a salesperson at Image Comics. JGU comics, a shop in Manhattan and a stop along Haspiel’s Summer Tour in 2018, sold 24 copies. Nick Guttilla, a manager at JHU comics, said that was more than most Marvel and DC comics. The physical version of Volume 2, War Cry was released on Oct. 9 and will be available on Amazon on Oct. 15. Volumes one through three are already available online and most readers access the saga digitally.
Haspiel is hopeful that, “his baby” will take off once the entire saga is available. “We live in a binge culture, so when there are enough of these out here, fans or Brooklyners or whatever, they are going to read it and get hooked, literally, forgive the pun,” he said.
What seems more important to Haspiel is that his ideas may one day make a positive impact on the world. “Look at Star Trek, a lot of our sci-fi, a lot of our superhero stuff,” he said. “Eventually some of these things become realized, these weird ideas. I realized maybe as an author, an artist, a cartoonist, if I put these ideas out there, maybe they will boomerang into real life.”