Dean Haspiel: Emmy winner, Harvey Pekar collaborator, past guest on “The Hour Cosmic,” romantic.
“Fear, My Dear” is the collection of two Billy Dogma stories, both originally serialized online, into a gorgeous hardcover by z2. Dogma, for those unfamiliar, is Haspiel’s love letter to the “insanity of love.” Both of these stories take feelings associated with relationships – stagnation, silly fights, fear – and turns them into fantastical superhero tales.
The book is comprised of two stories – “Immortal,” a book bathed in deep reds, and its yellow counterpart, “Fear, My Dear.” “Immortal” shows the result of a couple’s small, minuscule fights, and the damage that can be done long-term because of them. Haspiel, of course, turns that into Billy and his love, Jane Legit, unleashing a cosmic deity from under Trip City, who can only be placated by ingesting mementos of love. “Fear, My Dear” is about Billy discovering an eighth deadly sin – love – and trying to understand, change, and fix both his past and his future.
Both stories have genuine laugh moments, as well as tenderness that may seem surprising. In “Immortal,” when Billy cries, his excuse made me snort laugh out loud, waking up my wife in bed: “My eyes are sensitive to feelings.” His troubled refrain, “Shit. Fuck. Piss. Karate,” might be my new phrase of choice when stubbing my toe. Even the tender moments between characters have some truly funny moments.
The entire book, aside from the initial splash pages, are presented as four panel pages, and as mentioned earlier, each of the two stories has a definitive color palette. Haspiel’s artwork, which recently was featured in “The Fox” from Archie and a page in “Fantastic Four” #5 from Marvel, is a perfect blend of pulp, superheroics, and the autobiographical, all rolled into one. The coloring choices are bold, simple, and perfectly chosen. “Immortal” focuses on a lost heart, and so the red is a perfect complement; “Fear, My Dear” begins in the desert, and is all about surviving the harsh landscape of our imperfect lives, and so the yellow suits it perfectly.
Upon first read, “Fear, My Dear” was the more gripping read – I’m a sucker for father and son stories, and this one had a really unique, hilarious, heartbreaking father/son component to it. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was also a story where Billy and Janet fought less, and perhaps that is a reason for my initial enjoyment.
However, upon subsequent readings, my favorite passage in the entire book is the “collecting memories” sequence from “Immortal.” Haspiel focuses on a number of Tripp City’s denizens, and in just a panel or two, gives them incredibly rich and deeply felt lives. The illustration is masterful, showing people’s pain mixed with glimpses of past joy. There is also an illustrator featured who looks an awful lot like Haspiel, perhaps cameoing in his own work.
The one stumbling block for me, initially, was the juxtaposition of the intensely personal and the surreal. This work goes further in both directions than I initially expected, and that, at first, caused the book to read differently than I had presumed it would. Struggling through that eventually brought me to appreciate the work even more so, and wound up meaning something quite profound.
I recently watched Before Midnight, the third film in Richard Linklater’s series about Jesse and Celine, and at times the film was physically uncomfortable to watch, due to both how real it felt, and how close to home certain interactions between Jesse and Celine hit. This is not like that in any way – my wife and I have never fought giant monsters, nor have I ever needed her to bandage my face after having it more or less burned off. But the emotions that anchor the book – the exhausting reality of nit-picky fights and lingering memories that can’t really be shared – hit me in an incredibly personal way.Continued below
And, honestly, what more could you want? An engaging story, masterful art, real emotion, surrealistic imagery, laughs, and a superhero raygun seem like plenty to me.