What if the Twilight Zone and McSweeney’s made a baby?
And what if the baby was one hardcover treasury of comics — curated and created by three acclaimed creators — featuring over 100 pages of story and art?
Brian Hurtt, Marie Enger and Matt Kindt present The HEK Treasury, a deluxe collection of all new epic, experimental science fiction, fantasy and genre short stories. The HEK Treasury will showcase each creator as they unleash new ideas, using experimental art and storytelling techniques. If funded through Kickstarter, pledges will be delivered to backers this fall. The HEK TREASURY Kickstarter campaign is live now and runs until September 11, 2019.
The HEK Treasury will be presented in a large prestige format hardcover (8 ¾ x 11 5/8 )* and offer readers an immersive experience, featuring full color art, a tri-fold narrative poster and loose-leaf story cards. Hurtt, Enger, and Kindt began sharing a studio in St. Louis in 2015 and have been creating graphic novels and comic books side by side for the last four years. This is their first truly collaborative effort and the inaugural publication by their new collective, HEK Studios.
Brian Hurtt, Marie Enger and Matt Kindt took some time to speak with Forces of Geek about their new collective, the Kickstarter, their influences, and what the other team members bring to the project.
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FOG!: You’ve worked side by side while sharing a studio space since 2015, why was now the right time to launch HEK Studios?
MARIE ENGER: I think a lot of things aligned to make this the “right time”. We moved into a new space so we’re really thinking about and looking towards the future, we were all excited about doing these stories, and we were able to make time in our schedules for it!
MATT KINDT: I think the biggest factor was really space. We moved into an old 50s historic Route 66 service station and now we’ve got enough to room to work…but also to ship and store larger quantities of books. Being able to physically handle and distribute our work? It kind of harkens back to my earliest days in comics, making minis and hand-selling them. But this is now on a much larger scale. Deluxe, oversized hardcovers with pull-outs and tri-folds and add-on sticker sheets is a long way from stapled mini comics.
But our hearts are just as much in this as they were back at the beginning. We’re reaching out directly to readers. Every book we sell? We personally handled it. One of us probably packed it. And every label that goes on these? We are gonna shout out the name of the person that backed it. It’s a tradition I started on my first Kickstarter – the MIND MGMT book and record…and I’m intent on continuing it.
Your first book, The HEK Treasury is currently campaigning on Kickstarter. How would you describe the project and what was it’s genesis.
ME: We’ve been using the “McSweeny’s and the Twilight Zone had a baby” descriptor for a reason. We’ve all had a lot of sci-fi and fantasy (umm…and horror, sorry guys) stories building up for a while, and before we moved we all kept pulling out those old Heavy Metal magazines…one thing just kind of led to another! And we decided we wanted to work in a similar kind of style.
BRIAN HURTT: Publishing something as a studio has been a long-time goal for us–something we’ve been talking about for a couple years, at least. But in the past year we’ve been slowly refining what, exactly, that project would be. As Marie already mentioned, the sci-fi fantasy mags of the late 70’s/early 80’s were one of our earliest inspirations. Mags like Epic, 1984/1994, Heavy Metal, etc. Similarly, we’re also inspired by European genre comics, manga, and zines, oh my!
MK: I remember a friend of mine telling me about this story that Steranko did in Heavy Metal years ago. It was an adaptation of the movie Outland starring Sean Connery. It sounded like the strangest thing for Steranko to be doing. And in Heavy Metal? I hadn’t picked up an issue of Heavy Metal since the early 90s. I always felt like the stories were kind of lacking something. All great art and artifice but no weight to them.
But I found these Steranko issues – it was just 20 pages or so over 3 issues. I bought them and was blown away. He did these big wide spreads with elaborate panel layouts. It was crazy. I’d never seen it before and they were hiding in the pages of Heavy Metal. I think that was the first seed…and then Brian started bringing in old issues of 1984 that I’d never seen before. And we started talking to Marie about what we could do together.
What’s our first HEK book? Where do we overlap? Genre for sure. Sci-fi, fantasy, with a dash of horror. It seemed like the natural progression of our collaboration. Why not do a Heavy Metal style book but the stories have real weight. And they’re big. Bigger than anything we’ve done before – in scope and in actual print-size. If you leave three artists alone in a room to dream up their dream project? That’s what we did…and that’s what this book is.
Can you tell me about your contribution to the Treasury, and what do you feel your other two studio mates bring to the project?
BH: My “feature” story is set in a near future where the planet’s ecology has been catastrophically changed by mad science. There are all manner of new flora and fauna including whole new species of humanoid life. What is left of the human race is fighting for survival in the world that they have remade.
My story follows a mutant woman whose loyalty is questioned by other mutants and the humans she has chosen to help. It’s a world I’ve been building in my sketchbook for a little while now and one of the things I’ve having the most fun with is the “primer” to this world that will precede the story. It’s turning into a mix of illustration, prose, and comic sequentials and I’m really excited about how it’s coming along! I’ve also got a shorter story that I’m looking forward to as it is an epistolary story. It’s called Letter to Red Tiger and is about the relationship between the protector of a metropolis–a boy robot–and his arch-enemy, the terrorist, Red Tiger.
Matt is, like, the godfather of comic innovation. His entire life in comics, he has always been pushing himself and the medium in unexpected ways. So, if this guy is doing things he’s never done before, then it’s time to pay attention! Sharing a studio with him is a constant reminder of what the possibilities for the medium and a reminder that there is still a lot of undiscovered country out there.
Marie’s work offers such a great counterpoint to either Matt or my work as she brings such a singular voice to this book. Her stories are full of darkness and pain and humor! And all presented through her own unique lens. Matt and I have both watched her grow by leaps and bounds as both an artist and a storyteller over such a short period of time and I’m so excited to see how she continues to grow over this project–and beyond. I can’t wait for an even broader audience to discover her!
ME: I’m bringing you CULTS. Like, a lot of cults. I’ve been trying to perfect the story of TIGNERMAS – a leader of the cult of Crom Cruach for a while now – and with the HEK Treasury I get to tell the story of the blood soaked death cult the way I really want to tell it.
I’m also getting a chance to explore the Guide character, LOAM, from my TTRPG CASKET LAND. The last story I’m doing on my own is REGOLITH – a space horror centered on the only “surviving” human on a rotting moon. Quaker pulls up something nasty…something that can communicate with not only him, but every other living thing in the universe…and now he gets to make a choice for humanity he never wanted to make. Brian is bringing mutants, Matt is bringing Mechs! They’re also…you know, bringing a ton of experience and growth to their comics. And we all bring our very different styles and methods to it of course!
MK: I’m doing a series of three interlocking stories set in the near future after the “great mech wars.”
I wanted to tell a larger story but also fit the format of the book so my chapters will be broken up…we’re mixing this book like a band would mix an album. So my stories will sort of be call-backs to earlier chapters. There is even some tie-ins with some of the add-ons we’re doing as Kickstarter exclusives.
I have a paper-craft robot that you can build – and in the instructions of the papercraft robot…is an extra little story that ties in to the main narrative of the book. Every inch of this book is being considered and is serving to tell our stories. There’s nothing in it that is just design for design’s sake. It’s going to be an experience where hopefully you sit down with it like you would a new album and read through the entire thing. Take an evening. Relax…and fall into it.
Brian is doing some crazy fantastic world-building. He’s been drawing and sketching on some of the things I’m seeing in his stories for years. He’s giving me a crazy Moebius vibe mixed with Miyazaki. And I love to see him coloring again. He’s got such a good eye for it. His palette is really singular.
Speaking of singular palette – Marie’s stuff looks really crazy. She’s pushing herself had on this book and her lettering, of all things, is what I’m excited about. Not just the letters – but her panel layouts and the way she’s incorporating text into panels. She approaches comics in a completely different way than anyone I know and I love it. If you’ve read comics for over thirty years it’s really hard to find a comic that can surprise you. Not just with story but with execution. And she’s constantly surprising me.
Who or what have been the biggest influences on your work?
ME: Ahhhhh hahah oof. Well, um. I learned to draw by doing Invader Zim fanart in therapy…so…Jhonen Vasquez? At least at my start. I take a lot of inspiration from Mignola, Guy Davis, James Harren, and punk music. And sad music. Lot of music. Hell, Casket Land might as well be my love letter to Murder By Death’s album “WHO WILL SURVIVE AND WHAT WILL BE LEFT OF THEM?” I know it’s sappy – but of course Brian and Matt…who taught me you can totally cram 12 panels in there and how to make someone real, real sad with your sci-fi writing. Also uh…I’d been a fan of Brian’s since the Damned…and then I got to look at an original the Damned page every time I went into the old studio’s bathroom.
BH: Where do I start?! With this project in general, every story has a different approach and/or genre I find that I have multiple influence for each! I can say that Moebius is high on that list–particularly his Arzach stories and his Airtight Garage work. Otomo’s AKIRA has always been a massive influence for me and I think that is apparent in some of my work for this collection. Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind has definitely been a big influence on my feature story for this book. I can also see the DNA of other artists and their work throughout my stories in the HEK Treasury: Christophe Blain, Quentin Blake, Jeff Smith, Declan Shalvey, Zander Cannon, Osamu Tezuka, Paul Pope, and many, many, many more!
MK: My biggest influence is really my last book. I hate repeating things or doing anything over. So every new book to me, is a reaction to the last thing I did. Sci-fi big robots is about as far away from anything I’ve done. But that said, outside influences? Recently, I’ve really fallen in love with the work of Christophe Blain, Blutch, Farel Dalrymple, and Frederik Peters.
What are the future plans of HEK Studios?
ME: I think we’ve got a lot to think about after we complete this first project. We’re excited to work together, and I know we want to create a space where other creators can feel excited to work on their projects, work with us. We want to build community and really really cool books, we want to push comics.
BH: World domination. Paying next month’s mortgage. Not necessarily in that order.
MK: Rent is do tomorrow – so that’s gonna dictate order. But after that? Yes – we have a lot of BIG ideas in the pipeline. Some of them already in the works – we don’t ever plan for failure so the wheels are turning on a couple big announcements in 2020. Stay tuned!
What are you currently geeking out over?
BH: Well, Matt and I just spent five days as the GenCon, the massive table-top gaming convention in Indianapolis. So, I guess you can say that we spent almost a week straight geeking out about board games. I’m sure Matt would love to give out some recommendations! I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies and television lately as I’ve been working on a horror pitch with Cullen Bunn. I finally got to see Hereditary and I was blown away! So well-crafted and well-acted–and so bat-shit scary! I also recently watched the Haunting of Hill House on Netflix and was super into that. I also binged Stranger Things, of course. And I’m a big fan of The Expanse (both the TV show and the books). Speaking of books, I’ve been working my way the the Miles Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold and I just finished Circe by Madeline Miller and I really looking forward to reading her follow-up next, The Song of Achilles. As for comics, I’ve most recently read and enjoyed Outer Darkness, by John Layman and Afu Chan and Gideon Falls, by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino. And, as soon as I get the chance, I’m diving back in to “Season Four” of Kaijumax, by Zander Cannon. It’s so fun, sad, unexpected–it might be my favorite ongoing comic right now!
MK: Oh yeah. Don’t get me started on board games. Too late. We played this really dark one called Abomination where you have to rob graveyards and build a Frankenstein creature. Maybe my favorite was Watergate which is a 2-player simulation where one player is the Press and the other player is Nixon – and you simulate the Watergate scandal. And we also test-played a board game version of MIND MGMT that’s coming out early next year.
I just started playing table top games a few years ago and it really opened my mind to this entire art form that I didn’t realize existed. I knew about games…but never really considered them as something that could be a way to tell a story or a way to deliver narrative. There’s something about that – the interactive nature of board games that intrigues me from a story-telling viewpoint. I can see its influence on this book and it’s fun to push my storytelling ideas into games as well. As for TV? We watch a lot of murder shows/true-crime. But hands down, my two favorite shows of the last few years (not counting Twin Peaks) are The Leftovers and Patriot (on Amazon Prime). Patriot is so good, I watched season 1. And then I started over and watched the entire thing again – back to back. It’s that good.
ME: I uh…worked at GEN CON slinging Casket Land (congrats to everyone who survived the play throughs we did). Lately, I’ve been really into the game My Friend Pedro (I can’t stop playing the soundtrack at work) – where you basically just…shoot and parkour your way through levels (the trailer is amazing and you should totally check it out). I’ve also been reading a lot of Rumble and weird horror books (esp. Blake Crouch’s book Dark Matter and Paul Tremblay’s Growing Things). I’m usually most excited about music, and to the surprise of no one, I’m still on the Morbid Stuff (by Pup), The Other Shore (by Murder By Death), and I Need Some Space (by Dollar Signs – so freakin’ good). I’m uh…also obsessed with “Nirvanna The Band The Show” so anyone who wants to talk about that uh…hit me up.