A Very Special Interview with Project Rooftop co-creator Dean Trippe! We talk with Dean about his latest comic, Something Terrible an important must-read that is spreading like wild-fire nationally. We'll also cover the course of his career leading up to Something Terrible's debut.
Ladies and Gentleman I Present to you...Mr. Dean Trippe!
Hi Dean, before we get into your latest book Something Terrible, let’s go back a little bit and talk about some of the other things you’ve worked on.
For our audience can you recap what books/strips you’ve done?
I’m the co-creator of Butterfly, a superhero parody web comic about a sidekick of a sidekick.
I'm also the co-founder and co-editor of Project: Rooftop, along with comics journalist, Chris Arrant, an art blog devoted to superhero redesigns,
- the artist of the Power Lunch books with writer J. Torres, published by Oni Press,
- the co-host of The Last Cast podcast with writer and future robot Scott Fogg
-contributor to the Harvey and Eisner award-winning anthology, Comic Book Tattoo,
and general nerd-about-the-internet, known for my obsession with Batman and his family of super heroic allies.
One of your original creations, “Butterfly”, is the sidekick of a sidekick! Is this an “all digital comic”?
Pretty much. I've posted new strips of it online sporadically since 2005, which makes it an interesting timeline of my style development. There was one published story featuring Butterfly, which first told his secret origin, co-written by comics’ genius John Campbell, back in Superior Showcase #1, from AdHouse Books. John and I also made a short mini-comic featuring Butterfly a few years later, which printed a story from the web comic, called “Burger Night."
I saw this and I thought, “What a breath of fresh air. People complain about not enough all-ages comics. Well, fly no further, here you go." What was the philosophy behind Butterfly and its intended audience whoever they may be?
Butterfly started off as a joke about a naive little sidekick tagging along behind an angsty parody of Robin, named Birdie, and his own superhero mentor, Knight-Bat. I was thinking one day about how sidekick names are typically less-threatening versions of the heroes that mentor them. So on a spectrum from “bat” to “bird,” I went one step further into the anti-macho distance, and found another flying creature that started with the letter B: Butterfly. The strip started as part of the Daily Grind Iron Man Challenge, but broke off after a couple of months and became more and more infrequent.
So, I come from the school of Garth Ennis and grunge, the era of Beavis and Butthead humor and cynicism, or maybe I just read too many R.Crumb books. Either way, I probably would’ve put the poor sidekick's sidekick through the ringer but you’ve gone the opposite way and have done a light, fresh tale of wide-eyed wonder with characters not afraid to smile.
I especially like how you’ve flipped the script giving us a nice quirky spin within the genre of superheroes. Where does Butterfly draw its influences from?
In the first few strips, Butterfly was kind of the butt of all the jokes. He’s a dumb kid in a Butterfly costume, but there was a turning point just a few comics in, when I realized the optimism and good-heartedness of the character appealed to me much more than cynically poking fun at someone genuinely invested in helping people with whatever abilities he had. He was a little idea fluttering around in my own head that made me realize I, myself, was being too cynical about life. Pretty soon, he was the proper lead of the stories, and an inspiration for his friends and, clearly, his creator. My earliest Batman was the Adam West show, but even at the time of Butterfly’s creation, I hadn’t yet become a fan again. And I’d had a fair amount of disdain for the brighter, shinier, sillier Silver Age superhero tales. But Butterfly grew into this little light of hope for me, and when I started looking back on those things, I finally realized how wonderful they were. Heroes who were happy to help, comfortable in their sparkly tights, willing to leap into danger to thwart the cheaters, liars, and bullies, because they themselves were incorruptible. I’d accidentally become a Silver Age comics creator in the 21st Century. And I loved it.
It’s beautifully drawn as is all of your stuff. Even when you’re not able to tackle it head on you’ve brought in some friends such as John Campbell, as you mentioned, but also Ryan Estrada, Vito Delsante, Mike Laughead, and Jemma Salume, and even rising writing star, Ed Brisson, on letters.
What was that experience like working with others on this story?
Fantastic. I've thoroughly enjoy collaborating on stories with my best pals, and as you can see, I run in a circle of hyper-talented comics wizards. I’m constantly in awe of the great luck I’ve had in finding friends to join me in the Butterfly universe.
Let’s talk about your approach to artwork. It appears to me; in the foreground you display nice clean and quick strokes approach with bold instincts on the line art. While in contrast, you employ no apparent thick line work, almost vector-like backgrounds, and serene choices regarding the color palette and tone.
Can you elaborate or fill us in on the thought process of your foreground/character bold line art vs. light, non- inked background images.
What’s the appeal?
Thanks, man. That’s exactly what I’m going for. My work typically depends heavily on color, and I try to use very few lines to convey as much action or character as I can. The backgrounds are usually just shapes these days, which is a fun challenge, but also saves time, and lets the characters pop a little more. I think it gives the comics a bit of an animated-vibe.
This strip ran from 2005 to 2011, (correct me if I’m wrong), and I’m seeing a lot of your slickness maybe represented in some of the animation out today. I’ve got two questions in relation to this topic.
What if any future lies "in the wings” for the Butterfly characters and story?
Butterfly will return in 2014 in Butterfly Lark and the Possibles, which will be basically bonkers. And he’ll finally take off his mask. Just for a minute.
We move on from big-hearted, small-statured hero, up to his taller counterparts that grace the rooftops giving hope to the dreamers that look in the sky below: Project: Rooftop.
If I recall, there were a lot of nice projects or collaborations that came out of the old Failure and the Crown Commission message boards. Do you remember all of that, [laughs]? How was your experience back then?
It’s funny, the message board and Live Journal days were so vital to finding comic pals and sharing your work back then. I guess Twitter and Tumblr have replaced those little enclaves, but they really were great places to learn and grow as an artist and as a person. The best thing you can do if you want to get better at anything is surround yourself with the best people you know doing that thing and keep trying to raise your game. The CC board in particular did a lot for me.
Did Project: Rooftop come out of that experience?
Directly. My pal Jamie Galey and I were chatting about a brilliant, rejected Andi Watson Batgirl reimagining, and kinda fell into a dare to quickly make and post our versions on Live Journal within the hour. The next day, eight of our friends had posted their own Batgirls, and the day after that, there were fifty, most from folks we didn’t know. By the end of the week there were over a thousand who’d posted theirs to Jamie’s original page. We got interviewed by Newsarama and the “Draw Batgirl Meme” even made it into non-comics media. I issued similar challenges over the next few months, and they were all fun, but then I had the idea, while talking to Chris Arrant, Chris Pitzer, Joel Priddy, Eric Stephenson, and Vito Delsante, to start a site just about indie or fan redesigns of superheroes. I called it Project: Rooftop as a play on the Project Runway TV show.
Hah, I know Jamie, I've slept on his couch before even!
What would you say as a creator are the benefits and challenges of being involved with Project Rooftop?
I mean, basically, the benefit is eyeballs on your art. Creators like Ming Doyle, Mike Maihack, Joe Quinones, Maris Wicks, Kris Anka, and Jamie McKelvie would all still the be the hotshot art geniuses we know and love today, but we’re proud at P:R to have helped get them some viewership when they were less well-known. The challenge sounds simple, but it’s not. You have to make an instantly recognizable version of a character, but in a totally new way. I’ve always loved superhero redesigns, and I think it’s an under-appreciated skill in its own right. Just being able to draw doesn’t mean you can create a look that would really suit a well-known character across their various media platforms. I really think we’ve done a good thing with P: R, both in promoting the idea that this is an important skill, worthy of more consideration than the companies used to give it, and in getting serious talent that hadn’t been considered for superhero work, onto the computer monitors of comics fans and editors.
As a fan what are the benefits of checking it out?
We run great art and fresh takes on characters you love. It’s just cool, man. We made a free, cool thing for everybody. Anyone can check it out at
Now as a judge, how hard was it for you to decide the fate of other people’s artwork?
Super easy. I love seeing all the entries, and as an artist and a huge superheroes fan, in at least this one area of expertise, I believe my judgments to be, basically, 100% correct at all times. I sincerely appreciate the effort of everyone who submits art to our site, and we hold events like Fan Art Friday and the Honorable Mentions posts after contests to highlight the folks still finding their artistic voice, but when we highlight something and give it our stamp of approval, it’s because it’s genuinely good.
Where do you see something like Project: Rooftop going potentially? Do you think it could ever work in printed form, maybe as a benefit book?
We talk about that kind of think sometimes and maybe someday, but right now, I’m just happy to have this little force for good in the superhero art community. I think there’s been a noticeable uptick in redesigns in superhero comics since we started running the site, and while they’re not ALL winners, there are some seriously great stand-outs that make me feel like the fact that we put a spotlight on this very particular type of job has been a good thing. Jamie McKelvie and Kris Anka are doing killer costume design work at Marvel, for example, and even the redesigns coming from folks outside our community’s talent pool isn’t happening in a vacuum.
Your love of heroes and heroines is also featured in your latest work, Something Terrible. Can we talk about that?
I've said it to you before, and I’ll say it again, because I mean it, this story, Something Terrible, is something that had to happen. It was very brave of you to tell this story, Dean.
Before we head into more serious territory, I want to ask you about the gorgeous artwork and your approach to this. Can you describe your process for ST?
Sure. I did three rounds of thumbnails for the story, trying to figure out exactly what I needed for to both convey the weight of the childhood trauma that haunted my life, but also how to pull readers along with me out of it, with the help of the heroes who have meant the most to me, most notably, Batman.
I decided on a digital release, both as a $0.99 download and a free half-page per week web comic strip, after the hybrid idea was proposed to me by comic’s creator and cool dude, Kyle Starks. And since most readers would be on their laptops or tablets, I decided to make the pages landscape, like Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin did for their (awesome) digital comic, The Private Eye.I needed to control the pacing of the story, to keep the reader feeling safe, so I chose a four-panel grid structure for the entire comic, save the two splash pages.
The comic was drawn digitally, with a Wacom Intuos 3, and I used a grayish blue for the spot coloring. Working digitally let me use the spot color in some cool ways I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, and having only the black, white, and bluish gray to work with offered some challenges, but I think gave each panel a feeling of weight, or importance, which of course, they’re meant to, as I chose them carefully. This is the most ambitious comic I’ve worked on, so I spent way longer on it than I normally would. Page twelve, the most complex, took thirteen days straight, working eight to fourteen hours per day.
If you don’t mind, can you describe for our readers what Something Terrible is about?
Something Terrible is my own secret origin, beginning with a violent, three-day event that took place when I was six years old, when I was sexually abused and shown the gun that would be used to murder my family if I told anyone. But the majority of the story is about my journey to recovery, helped along by the greatest superhero borne of childhood trauma, Batman. It deals with my fears of being trapped in the oft-repeated misconception of the “cycle of violence” of these cases, perpetuated by ignorant film and television writers. It’s just one of those things people think because they heard it on a show or in an anecdote in a public speech. It’s just not true.
When did you decide that it was time to tell this story?
I knew I had to tell this story once I found out that the whole idea of that was false, but it took me a while to figure out how to do it. Thanks to my dear friend, Ben Acker, for pushing me to find a way, so that the news that had finally freed me of my imagined personal demons could help others. I’d been trying to explain to Ben why I hated stories about Batman being this still-traumatized psycho, unable to move past the pain of his parents’ death. Trauma can have that affect, I’m sure. But Batman specifically built himself into the solution for others. He can’t change his past. But he can save others’ futures. That idea has resonated with me my entire life.
Was it something you kept to yourself or did you discuss it with those around you?
While I was working on it, I started to open up to my very closest friends about the project. I needed to dip my toe in the water, I guess. I’d kept this secret from nearly everyone my entire life, so opening up about it meant accepting that it might go horribly wrong, and people could change the way they see me, possibly for the worse. I’ve been overwhelmed to find that my friends and the wonderful people I believe them to be, and have supported me the whole way, as I worked to make this comic a reality.
Traumatic childhood events tend to stay with us even into adulthood, influencing us in ways we can’t predict, even when we have children of our own.
Your story is a visual interpretation of that experience. Were there moments of hesitation or was it all in, full steam ahead when you decided you were going to tell THIS story?
I had moments of doubt. I mean, I’m an extremely open person, I think probably because I had such a huge secret taking up all the space in the secret locker in my brain. But I knew what it had meant to me to find out there wasn’t something terrible lurking in my subconscious, so I knew I had to tell this story to free others. I pushed through the doubt. I knew this might be the most useful thing I ever do in comics. It was actually the first time I’ve ever been afraid of dying, working on this, because I was afraid I might not get it done. If something happened to me, how long would it be before someone else was able to tell this story in a similar fashion? It is so rare in life to be able to see that this task is specifically a job for you. This was a job for Dean Trippe. And I’m incredibly glad I was able to do it.
Back to the mechanics, I love the moody blue, then what happens later. Obvious question: Was it methodical or just something you felt your way through?
I found it while I was working on it. I’d considered full color for the story when I was thumb nailing it, but the first panels looked right in black and white. Then a cover test looked cool with the bluish gray spot-color, which added depth, but didn’t cheapen the weight of the story. (That cover test became the fourth panel on the page when I get my first Batman shirt.) And when I got to page twelve, the big shot with all the superheroes, I couldn’t see it in any other way but full color, which gave me the idea for the color light introduction on the previous page’s final panel.
Are there any “go to” tools for all of your projects? Old faithful? I’ve got artist friends that even name their favorite instruments of creation.
I use a Wacom tablet and the pencil tool with a simple round brush shape in Photoshop for basically everything, from sketching, to inking, to coloring. I know almost no one else that works with the pencil tool, but I have to tell you, it is the BEST.
How has the response been for Something Terrible? The reviews I’ve come across so far seem to be highly respectful and positive.
Pretty wonderful, so far. I mean, I suppose it’s a bit critic-proof, really. You’re not going to see a review that says, “Trippe really phoned it in on this panel” when the following line would have to be “when he ripped his heart out and threw it on the page in order to help other victims of sexual violence,” you know? But the reviews have been kinder and warmer and more thoughtful than anything I’ve ever experienced as a creator, and it means the world to me that so many folks are sharing it, so others can benefit from it. I’ve been getting letters almost every day from other former victims, so I’m honored and humbled to see it’s having the effect. It worked.
Any plans to go to a printed format with Something Terrible?
What’s next for Dean Trippe? Where do you go from here or anything you’re currently working on that people should keep a look out for?
Next up, two superhero stories. My five-year-old son and I are working on The Balance, a short superhero team story with a time-travel villain, and then it’s on to Butterfly Lark and the Possibles.
Once again Dean Trippe, thank you for talking with us, we look forward to more inspiring creations from you!
You’re very welcome, and thank you so much!