By Nikolai Fomich
The world is changing – and Brooklyn has had enough. Its heart broken by rapid technological changes and the ensuing shifts in social behavior, the sentient borough declares independence from New York State, becoming its own country. Among those most affected by these changes in the Borough of Churches are three local heroes – the Brooklynite, the Purple Heart, and the Red Hook, a former super-thief who finds himself doing good against his will. I spoke to cartoonist Dean Haspiel (Billy Dogma, The Fox) about New Brooklyn and how this project came to be.
Nikolai Fomich: Dean, what is New Brooklyn?
Dean Haspiel: New Brooklyn is an umbrella title for a web-series that will feature three new superhero characters – The Red Hook, by me, The Brooklynite, by the late Seth Kushner and Shamus Beyale, who was one of the artists on John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Klown, and The Purple Heart, who I co-created with Vito Delsante and Ricardo Venâncio.
We’re going to start off with my series, The Red Hook. The Red Hook is a character that I created as a way to cleanse the palette when I went to Yaddo, the artists and writers’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 2012. The reason why I say that is because I treat my time at Yaddo as a time of extraordinary privilege, and I use it as a way to not do comics but write novels and screenplays instead. I try to shrug off my comics inklings and attitude by the first night, and that first night, I created this character, which was basically, “What if Jack Kirby and Alex Toth got together and birthed a new superhero?” So I created this character, and then put it to the side.
Soon after, Seth, who was a basically a photographer, and who in his comics work was doing autobiography via Schmuck, decided he wanted to create his own superhero. He created something called the Brooklynite. As the years went by, we tried to figure out a way to do a two man anthology – we were going to call it Brooklyn Comics, and I was going to do Red Hook, and he was going to do Brooklynite. But to be honest, I felt like that was kind of boring. The stories were fun, but the concept was too on the nose.
It took me awhile to figure it out. And I started thinking about Brooklyn as a city. One of the influences, of all things, was actually Escape from New York. I liked the idea of New York being quarantined, but rather than taking making Brooklyn a prison, we went with a different direction. Something happened last year on the Brooklyn Bridge, where the American flags were replaced with white flags. And it gave me an idea that Brooklyn gave up – but rather than giving up in a bad way, it was actually a way of saying “f-ck you” to new technology, and to the way people are acting and behaving today in 2015. It wanted to go back to the days of old. I made Brooklyn a sentimental place, because I decided its heart got broken. It literally pulls itself away from the other boroughs and becomes its own island, its own country. I talked to Seth a lot about this. Could Brooklyn survive on its own? We figured out it probably could. It could probably farm food, and offer certain things for trade, and one of the things I thought of – and this might be the leanings of Eisner in me, because I’m so sentimental – is that it could probably trade its arts. It could barter art. And so that was the genesis of New Brooklyn.
Phase One of New Brooklyn is telling the story of the Red Hook, who’s basically a bad guy, a thief, who is forced against his will to become good, because of what happens in the story. The Brooklynite is kind of a more regular hero. The way Seth described him is that he has Superman powers with Spider-Man problems. He’s more lighthearted, more humorous, and he fights a villain named Billy Burg (named after Williamsburg). I also wanted to give Brooklyn its own Silver Surfer, and that’s what the Purple Heart is about. The Purple Heart is basically the guardian of Brooklyn, a former Navy SEAL back from war, and we’re going to get more of what happened to Brooklyn and why through his story.
NF: Why has Brooklyn decided to declare independence from New York State? Is this break up the cause of its broken heart?
DH: I think it’s better to keep it a mystery right now, because I think some of the best stories are those where you can insert your own ideas into why something happens, as long as it’s a big picture idea. But we do have plans to introduce a fourth character, if there’s a Phase Two, that’s going to introduce more of what New Brooklyn is actually going through with its broken heart and why. And that may lead to a team of sorts. It’s the Avengers – it’s the Brooklyn Avengers basically. But for now, we’re only going to allude to what’s happened.
NF: Is Manhattan also sentient?
DH: I actually don’t know that answer. It’s possible, depending on the direction we go. But for right now, for Phase One, we’re focusing on these heroes and villains who have arisen and reacted to the fact that Brooklyn is sentient and independent.
NF: Who is The Red Hook, and what’s his relationship to the Brooklyn borough of the same name?
DH: The Red Hook is a guy named Sam Brosia (like ambrosia). He’s a super-thief, who’s pretty narcissistic and selfish, and who only cares about himself and his girlfriend, his partner-in-crime the Possum. He lives a certain quality of life. He’s has a nice setup in Red Hook, where he’s from. But a character called the Green Point – I’m using a little Brooklyn stuff there too – bequeaths the Omni-Fist of Altruism to the Red Hook in the last seconds of his life against Red Hook’s will. He’s basically forced to become heroic or he will die – he can’t let bad happen around him, because it will literally kill him.
NF: What exactly is the Omni-Fist of Altruism?
DH: Exactly what it sounds like, and exactly what comics allow it to be!
NF: How does this drastic change in Red Hook’s character relate to Brooklyn’s own transformation into an independent state?
DH: That’s an interesting question. You know I’m getting tired of bleak comics – the apocalypse, it happens every Wednesday. It’s getting boring, which is why when I make stories, I want to readers to be left with a sense of hope. Maybe it’s a way for New Brooklyn to rehabilitate its bad guys in a subconscious way, to take their abilities and use them for good, like how great hackers get hired by governments. In the case of Red Hook, at first it feels like a gun is pointed to his head – he better be good!
NF: Finally, where can readers follow the adventures of New Brooklyn and its heroes?
DH: You will be able to find us next year over at WebToons. I got approached by Tom Akel, who I knew in the days of ACT-I-VATE and Trip City. I pitched him Red Hook and expanded his offer from one comic to three. Hence, New Brooklyn was born.
There will be a late March 2016 launch with The Red Hook, and then The Brooklynite, which takes place a year after Brooklyn’s seceded. The Purple Heart will start halfway through, and that story begins with the event that creates New Brooklyn. Red Hook and Purple Heart will run for about 26 weeks, and The Brooklynite about 16, using the material Seth left behind.
Thanks to Dean for taking the time to talk about this project. You can follow Dean on Twitter @deanhaspiel.
Nikolai Fomich is a teacher and a writer in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @brokenquiver.