Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dean Haspiel's Anatomy Of An American Splendor Cover

In the summer of 2008, I was hired by a collections editor at DC Comics to draw the cover to Harvey Pekar's second American Splendor collection, originally published by Vertigo as a mini-series, which featured stories drawn by me and various other artists. The first collection was titled "Another Day," and the second one was going to be called "Another Dollar." I laughed, accepted the gig, and then struggled with a concept for the cover. I initially drew four ideas for consideration.

Inspired by the "another day, another dollar" analogy, my first idea was to show Harvey bartering his original comic script for food at a grocery store. Insinuating that his wares were, at the very least, worth the same price as a bag of groceries. My second sketch shows Harvey thinking about something that happened to him, ergo, the light bulb going off atop his forehead, and writing a new comic about it, which is his livelihood and procures him the proverbial dollar.

With this second set of sketches, I decided to veer from the obvious. In the third sketch I drew Harvey drawing his signature stick figure on a calendar book hip-checking Pekar's previous American Splendor: Another Day collection. This idea was more abstract and would've encouraged Harvey to write new dialogue for the cover, possibly commenting on the economy or the state of the industry or something like that. With the fourth sketch, I went completely off-topic and was inspired by a famous photo of scientist, Percival Lowell, observing Mars. Only, I replaced Lowell with Pekar, our man about town looking through a gigantic microscope and staring at his own mug with paper and pencil at the ready to record whatever was going to happen next. This was my personal poke at the naval gazing aspect of semi-autobio comix and memoir, which I often dabble in to fair success.

The editor dug my second sketch and asked me to expand on it. I'd heard legend that the painter, Pablo Picasso, would go to restaurants and order expensive food and wine and, when the bill came, would ask if he could pay with a check and, almost always, the checks would never get cashed because Picasso's signature was worth more money than most anything he ever bought. So, Picasso's fame could let him eat for free for the rest of his life. Working with that concept, I added an extra panel to the bottom of the cover idea to express, in close-up, the notion that one's art and/or fame can pay the bills.

The editor and I went back-and-forth on the reworked concept and I started to get neurotic. I felt like I was failing the project and, in a fit of frustration, I designed a completely different idea with a new title and proposed it to the editor. Suffice it to say, he never responded to that idea and, instead, we decided to blend the two-panel cover concept into one single image and show Harvey sparking the brilliant idea to pay his bills with his signature art. It was a subtle solution and kept within the nature of Pekar's quotidian sensibilities.

I penciled the 10"x15" cover art on two-ply bristol board with a rough vellum finish. I've been drawing with erasable blue pencils for many years now and often convert my scans into grayscale so they look like traditional lead pencils.

Once approved, I inked my pencils with an expensive Japanese brush pen that uses disposable ink cartridges.

Coloring isn't my forte and I was running late on a concurrent job drawing a six-page Giant-Sized X-Men First Class story for Marvel. So, I asked my good pal/cartoonist/author, Bob Fingerman, to help me out and color the cover for me, which he did a great job on. I still owe Bob a dinner at Peter Luger's Steakhouse in Brooklyn, NY.

And, finally, here's the print version with added production logos and text copy, etc., that sold in stores worldwide.

Dean Haspiel is a native New Yorker and the creator of BILLY DOGMA, STREET CODE, and ACT-I-VATE. Dino has drawn comix for the New York Times, Marvel, DC/Vertigo, Dark Horse, Scholastic, Toon Books, and other publishers but is best known for his semi-autobio collaborations with Harvey Pekar on THE QUITTER and AMERICAN SPLENDOR, and with Jonathan Ames on THE ALCOHOLIC, and HBO's "Bored to Death." Dino is a founding member of DEEP6 Studios in Gowanus, Brooklyn.