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Comics Artists Latest Victims to Get the Boot From Gowanus Building

By Leslie Albrecht | September 7, 2016 8:45pm
 Dean Haspiel, whose comic
Dean Haspiel, whose comic "The Red Hook" was inspired by gentrification in Brooklyn, is one of about 20 cartoonists losing workspaces at 112 Second Ave. in Gowanus.
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Dean Haspiel

GOWANUS — Nearly 20 cartoonists and comics artists must leave their workspaces on Ninth Street and Second Avenue by the end of the month, the latest in a series of displacements that's hit hundreds of creators, one of the artists told DNAinfo New York.

Cartoonist Dean Haspiel, who collaborated with well-known comic writer Harvey Pekar, is among those who will lose their studios at 112 Second Ave. on Sept. 30 because his landlord didn't renew his lease, he said.

"We are scrambling to look for another spot that’s hopefully affordable, but we can’t find that within the area," Haspiel said.

Other cartoonists losing workspaces in the building include Christa Cassano, who illustrated actor John Leguizamo's "Ghetto Klown" memoir; Reilly Brown, who draws Marvel's "Deadpool" series; Khary Randolph, who works on DC Comics; and Simon Fraser, who draws Dr. Who comics, Haspiel said.

The displacements were first reported on the comics blog The Beat.

Haspiel and six other artists known collectively as Hang Dai Studios have shared a space at 112 Second Ave. for the past three or four years. Haspiel and a few of the other cartoonists are looking at a new space down the block that's twice what they're paying now at 112 Second Ave., he said.

112 Second Ave. is part of a complex of structures, all of which were leased last year by developer Eli Hamway. Since then, the buildings have gradually been emptied of painters, filmmakers and musicians, including the band Yeasayer.

Hamway plans to renovate the inside of the building. He did not respond immediately to a request for comment Wednesday.

Haspiel discussed the displacement in a recent speech at Baltimore ComicCon. 

"Our family is breaking up," he told the crowd. "As independent freelancers, there is nothing we can do. What was once $25 per square foot a few years ago has become $45 per square foot — if we’re lucky."

Haspiel has even created a fantasy universe inspired by Brooklyn's gentrification — his free weekly "The Red Hook" series is based on the premise of a broken-hearted Brooklyn seceding from America. In the comic, artists can trade their work for goods and services, something Haspiel did once to pay a dentist for a root canal.

Haspiel grew up in Manhattan and moved to Carroll Gardens nearly 20 years ago. His mother was deputy director of the New York State Art Council and he spent his childhood surrounded by artists who inspired him to pursue a creative career.

He says people sometimes tell him that being an artist is a "privilege" because "it's not a real job," but he said he grew up in a time when artists could make a living in New York and hoped to do the same. He's been successful, winning an Emmy in 2010, but still struggles to make ends meet, he said.

Now some of his colleagues are planning to move to Philadelphia or elsewhere, but Haspiel hopes to stay in New York.

He said the studio at 112 Second Ave. provided not only workspace but a real sense of family that he'll miss. Haspiel said he can work out of his apartment and interact with fellow artists online, but he prefers face-to-face interactions in a shared studio.

"I want to be around people because that's the energy, that's the unexpected," Haspiel said. "There's a tension, there's a conflict that makes you do things you wouldn't otherwise do in the safety net of your own home hiding behind a screen."

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