By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Dan Buckler and Pat Maple were sitting in an environmental studies class at Youngstown State University, listening to a lecture on HAZWOPER – a federal certification program for hazardous waste-handling.
If this were a comic book, here you can put a lightbulb over both of their heads.
Because that was when the idea for The HAZWOPER – a vigilante character who metes out brutal justice to those who destroy the environment – was born.
Buckler and Maple would later develop the character, and a full cast of colleagues and villains, and turn it into a comic book.
Issues No. 1 and 2 were published in 2016, with issue No. 3 released in May – just in time for this weekend’s Youngstown Comic Con.
HAZWOPER, by the way, is an acronym for “hazardous waste operations and emergency response.”
Buckler, a Poland native, now lives in Wisconsin, where he is a forester. Maple, a native of Toronto, near Steubenville, is an environmental engineer in Northeast Ohio.
The two co-write the story, and contract out the artwork to J.C. Grande, a freelancer who lives in El Salvador.
Both Buckler and Maple will man a booth at the Comic Con on Saturday and Sunday at Covelli Centre.
Buckler is a Poland High School graduate, who earned a bachelor’s degree at Wooster College and a graduate degree at YSU.
He said that he shares the pro-environment activism of the HAZWOPER – even if the character usually goes way too far in getting results.
“We created the character as a defender of the values we believe in, but in extreme form,” said Buckler. “He is a Punisher-like character, and very much someone whose perspective and methods I don’t agree with. He’s a jerk, he’s violent, and he’s not someone with a great moral compass ... But it is liberating to write a character that is beyond your own ideas and perspectives.”
The HAZWOPER has plenty of weapons but no super powers. But the monsters – both literal and metaphorical – that he battles usually do.
“They were created by greed and gluttony,” said Buckler. “The destructive nature of man is manifested in these monsters.”
In the first two issues, the HAZWOPER takes on a toxic sludge monster.
While the comic book is a fun side project for Buckler, it deals with issues that he and Maple take seriously.
“We’ve paved the earth, and we’re cooking the planet, destroying life forms, and we need to do something about it,” said Buckler. “We can only do something with our voices and at the ballot box and with money. But in this fictional world, we can have a lot of catharsis with a man who’s not bound to moral limitation.”
While The HAZWOPER is set in an unnamed Midwestern city, Buckler said it is very much Youngstown.
“The place names, objects, the way we describe it to our artist, it’s all in Ohio terms,” said Buckler. “A couple of pages are set in a little-used industrial warehouse like you’d see in a Mahoning River town, a cavernous building that used to have thousands of workers. It’s a post-industrial world.”
To learn more about The HAZWOPER, go to thehazwoper.com.
Or, check out the booth at the Youngstown Comic Con, where you might find Buckler and Maple dressed in a scary-looking hazardous materials handling suit, like their character.
“We did it last year, and we were the only comic-creators there who dressed up like their character,” said Buckler. “It’s a very visual way to promote, and we’ll do it again this year, although we did learn there is a downside to it. To small children, the HAZWOPER is scary.
“After we saw some small kids recoiling into their mother’s arms, we had to tone it down a bit.”