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Brothers in Art
On this episode of The Comics Alternative, Gene and Derek turn a critical spotlight on the upcoming releases from the small press, Hang Dai Editions. The guys begin with a brief conversation with Dean Haspiel and Gregory Benton, two of the founders of the Hang Dai Studio, a collective that they founded along with Josh Neufeld and the late Seth Kushner. In this interview, they describe the origins of their publishing line and share many of their experiences in getting it off the ground. Hang Dai Editions began as their studio imprint back in 2013, and up until recently the creators had limited their publications to smaller, personal projects available mainly through conventions and local events. But as announced earlier this year, Hang Dai became part of Marc Arsenault’s Alternative Comics publishing co-op, and with wider distribution, the Hang Dai folks wanted to up their game with longer and more ambitious projects. The first three releases since becoming part of the co-op, all being releases on September 15, are what Derek and Gene discuss for the remainder of the show. They begin with Haspiel’s Beef with Tomato, a collection of autobiographic shorts that reads as a sequel or follow-up to his 2001 comic, Opposable Thumbs. As with the earlier work, the stories in this new Hang Dai book are woven together by particular themes or gain cohesion through a shared tone. In the case of Beef with Tomato, that commonality is largely the risks and the unexpected occurrences of close urban living. The book also includes a variety of short prose pieces and previously published comics that, while similar in subject matter and tone to the first (and newer) twelve stories, stand apart in style yet provide a nice coda to the collection as a whole. Next, the Two Guys turn their attention to Gregory Benton’s Smoke. Much like last year’s B+F, this is a large-format wordless comic featuring Xolo, a large skull-faced dog based on Xolotl, the Aztec god associated with fire, sickness, and death. The story follows two brothers as they work on an industrial tobacco farm, and the hazardous conditions they work under spawn a surreal journey into another dimension, something dreamlike while at the same time darkly foreboding. Benton’s vibrant, beautiful art is front and center in this work, and Gene and Derek point out his strategic handling of art styles when straddling the book’s different narrative worlds. Finally, the guys look at Seth Kushner’s Schmuck, a collection of twenty-two autobiographic stories, all written by Kushner but each illustrated by a different artist. Derek and Gene recognize many of those whose art is featured in the book — e.g., Haspiel and Benton, but also Noah Van Sciver, Nick Bertozzi, and Josh Neufeld — but there are several illustrators who are new to the guys. All of this gives Schmuck a feeling of both fragmentation and cohesiveness. Each artist provides a unique visual lens through which to interpret the book’s protagonist, Adam Kessler, the fictional persona of Kushner. Yet at the same time, all of the stories unfold along one trajectory: Adam’s attempts to find a meaningful relationship with a woman. Seth Kushner passed away earlier this year, but Schmuck was a life labor, ambitious in scope, that becomes fully realized next month. It, along with Smoke and Beef with Tomato, marks a new beginning for Hang Dai Editions, and one that Gene and Derek are excited to discuss.