New York based graphic novel publisher "Z2 Comics" has quickly arisen as a place where creators with more "alternative" pieces of work can find a safe haven for publication. The latest such creator to capitalize is Dean Haspiel, a long time artist and illustrator who has earned an Emmy award for his work with HBO's "Bored to Death" and several Eisner and Ignatz awards for a career which stretches back all the way to 1987. One of his first creations for the anthology series "Keyhole" was the character of Billy Dogma, a hulking "last romantic anti-hero" who has since starred in his own comics and graphic novels from the 90's until now and graced the mediums of both print and digital comics. He's also worked on a number of more mainstream comics as an artist, including Archie Comics' "The Fox" and DC Comics' "Batman '66", and may also be best known for collaborations with Harvey Pekar in "American Splendor".
Released earlier this month, the latest "Billy Dogma experience" is "Fear, My Dear", which actually collects two tripped out, action packed, and very sexual adventures of the aforementioned hero and his love, Jane Legit. This is far from the first Billy Dogma story, although after reading this, one may wonder if any knowledge of previous ones would aid in the "experience" at all. And the term, "experience", is a perfect one to use when describing reading this work (which is entirely written, drawn, and colored by Dean Haspiel). These are less stories with a beginning, middle, and end of a plot and more of an expression of feelings and metaphors mingled with action and no end of quotable non sequiturs. The first story is called "Immortal" and involves Billy Dogma being so in love with Jane Legit that he pummels a crook in a bar for insulting her, causing his arrest (which the brute allows). However, Jane quickly arrives to liberate him and their love romps awaken an ancient space giant with a missing heart. The pair then go about trying to fill it with the mementos of others so it can return to space with love. The second story, "Fear, My Dear" involves Billy and Jane going on a mind bending trip to come to terms with Billy's father's death and on issues of role models, legacies, and fear of the future.
Beyond a few rare splash pages, Haspiel employs a simple four-panel-a-page style to his work, as well as smooth lines with iconic figures. Billy Dogma is very much the epitome of masculinity, while Jane Legit is very much a combination of modern femininity and butt kicking. His use of color is simple and often to color the hue of an entire story; "Immortal" is red, while "Fear, My Dear" is yellow. And as more of an "experience" than a story, it can be best described as a comic which may not always make sense in terms of a clear narrative most are used to, but which still provides an entertaining ride. The language is full of swear words and healthy doses of nudity, alongside plenty of butt kicking. The dialogue may seem bizarre, but it quickly becomes memorable - especially Billy's usual exclamation of, "S***! F***! P***! Karate!" While Billy may be a philosopher and a brute, Jane is more than capable of keeping up with him in both love making, philosophy, and stomping opponents.
Some may fault this in terms of having a confusing narrative, but that's akin to faulting a music video or a poem for lacking a precise narrative. This work is all about Dean Haspiel using his figures and lines to embellish some very visceral emotions, fears, and doubts about the human condition. It's not for everyone but those who choose it will be in for a brass knuckled, love soaked and philosophically explosive adventure into the weirdly familiar.