HEK Studios has been operating out of St. Louis, Missouri, for some time, but it’s only more recently that the comics-focused studio has relocated into larger digs and begun presenting themselves more formally as a collective. Their latest enterprise cements that relationship with a gorgeous, oversized, hardcover “treasury” edition of their work, serialized in large, full-color chunks for reader enjoyment. Each studio member is likely to bring their own fanbase to the support of this project, with Matt Kindt (Dept. H., Mind MGMT, Rai, Ninjak, Divinity), Marie Enger (RPG Casket Land, Nosferatu, Adventure Time, Invader Zim), and Brian Hurtt (The Sixth Gun, Shadow Roads, Manor Black) all established professionals with many credits in the field of comics, and even more particularly within creator-owned comics where they have explored personal artist vision in their work.
The HEK Treasury is debuting through a Kickstarter campaign that brings with it a host of rewards for backers, ranging from buttons to pins, original art, and more, and this group’s collective knowledge of crowdfunding is bound to serve them well in bringing a high quality product home to supporters. Content in the HEK Treasury will include over 100 pages of story and art, but true to the experimental tendencies of these creators, the book will also include “tri-fold narrative poster and loose-leaf story cards” to boot.
Matt Kindt’s contributions will entail: “The Great Mech Wars,” three interconnecting 10-page chapters presenting the tale of an old, sad war-mech. Marie Enger’s work will include stories that explore “a dystopian theme of bleak, fantastical, ruined worlds and great despair — leading to new, dangerous, beginnings.” Lastly, Hurtt’s contributions will involve “three interconnected dystopian tales, featuring weaponized flora and fauna, suspended animation and mutants.”
Matt Kindt, Marie Enger, and Brian Hurtt all subjected themselves to some questions from Comicon.com about the campaign and their new project. Hear what they have to say below!
Hannah Means-Shannon: Tell us about the large format choice and chunky hardcover concept. Obviously those are gorgeous choices but what makes them integral to the project for you?
Matt Kindt: I really believe that the story should dictate the format. And the format should always be working to reflect and help tell the story. And with this – we’re all doing some really big bombastic world-building stories. It’s gonna be a visual feast. It’s gonna be a lot of crazy stuff like you’ve never seen before – and like we’ve never drawn before. Big mechs battlefield fights? Not something I ever thought I’d want to do a story about…but then I had this idea. And then that idea meant that we needed bigger pages. We need FOLD-OUT pages. We need stick-page add-ons so you’re helping to build this thing with us. That’s how big it is. I want readers to get lost in these pages like the characters are lost inside these gigantic mechs…diving into the depths of the ocean and putting out forest fires…and just making breakfast for the kids in the mech-kitchen. I’ve never seen a kitchen in a mech before. I need to see this. I need to draw that!
Brian Hurtt: I think the larger format is just something we’ve all wanted to work in for a while. None of us has done a book at this size and being that our number one dictate with this project was to go to places we haven’t been before (creatively) so it only made sense that we started with the format! Personally, working at this larger size has me invigorated! It’s breaking me out of my old habits and has me looking at the page in a whole new way.
Marie Enger: I mean..if no one is stopping you from having all that extra space, why wouldn’t you grab it? Those double page spreads are going to be amazing, we’ll have so much room to experiment with art and design…
HMS: How much influence are you taking from Weird Tales pulp style traditions? Just where do you draw the lines on genre, or a lack of boundaries part of the idea?
Marie Enger: I mean, I’m not taking too much. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I haven’t personally read a lot of that stuff. Just a little bit here and there! We talked about making sure that none of our stories were “current” – that we stuck to sci-fi and fantasy as much as possible. (I snuck a little horror in there, you’re welcome)
Matt Kindt: We started picking up old Heavy Metal and 1984 magazines at conventions the last couple years. And those magazines are just crazy. The stories are kind of insane and the art is always amazing. So I think we were influenced by that – but what if the art and the story were crazy/great. I think a lot of the old magazines had the art but the story wasn’t always quite there. Comics has evolved a lot since then. Storytelling can be more nuanced and readers have grown up with comics as well so we can really push the format and ask more from readers when it comes to story.
Brian Hurtt: I find “genre” is a word that is subject to interpretation–everyone draws that defining line somewhere different. When I use the word genre, it’s usually to help give a flavor of what the story is as opposed to setting up any guidelines of what to expect. In a lot of ways, “genre” is like the seed of the story for me and, hopefully, it grows outside those limits and goes to places unexpected.
HMS: How do you see the different stories in the Treasury fitting together or relating to each other. Did knowing what other people were creating influence your own creative choices at all?
Brian Hurtt: At this point, the main way they’re influencing my work is through inspiration! Being able to walk into each other’s spaces and look at what one another is working on is like rocket fuel for my creativity. Of course, we’re also careful that none of us are doing any stories that are similar in theme or story to one another’s.
Marie Enger: I think our common thread will be collaboration. Matt is writing a story for me to draw, I’m writing a story for Brian to draw. I think we all chose personal themes to work in (Brian – weird and mutated world, Matt – giant robots, me – cults and dangerous influences), but I don’t think we’re necessarily tying all our stories together. I’m running by all my stories with them of course, but no one has told someone else “No! You can’t do that!” just “Hell yeah, this is gonna be so cool!”
Matt Kindt: I’m just walking by to ostensibly get more coffee and then watching what Brian and Marie are doing so I can see what I need to beat. Oh, it’s a competition. (laughs) But joking aside, I think we are pushing each other to try harder, to make it crazier – to turn up the volume on what we’ve all grown comfortable doing. And I gotta tell you. When you’re writing the check to the printer for the printing bill? It does change things psychologically. I want to squeeze every last inch out of every page and make sure I’ve poured everything into it. We are going to use ALL of the ink on this thing.
HMS: What’s the appeal of creating a book entirely together from design to letters and all in between?
Marie Enger: Haha! I think we’re all control freaks (a little bit) and having complete freedom, start to finish, is really…amazing. I know I keep using that word but it’s true! This is amazing! If I want to do a gold foil stamp on the deluxe edition cover, all I gotta do is make sure Matt and Brian know how awesome it’s gonna be. If we want to do tip in pages? Pages with stickers? We can DO THAT! It’s gonna be time to experiment, do what we’ve always wanted to try.
Brian Hurtt: The three of us making a beautiful mutant baby together! This book’s DNA is going to be like no other out there and I’m so excited to put it out into the world!
Matt Kindt: Our new studio space has a lot of storage area. We can actually print and fulfill a few thousand books now and we have the space to do it. It’s one thing to have creative freedom but it’s another to have absolute publishing freedom. We have all of the skill sets. But we’ve never really had the space to fully take control. I’ve always been a bit of a “control freak” so the idea of having this total control is really appealing to me. We can have our hands on every step of the process now. The book you get from us now? It’s our absolute vision – not limited by anything.
HMS: Related to that, in an age where working studios are on the wane, what do you think they bring to creative life and process?
Brian Hurtt: Working with disparate voices–and we are all very different artists/creators–brings us in touch with different life experiences, different creative approaches, and different threads if institutional knowledge. Sharing a studio with other comic creators also brings a level of sanity. We can lean on one another in ways we can’t with our friends and family who don’t work in this crazy, beautiful industry!
Marie Enger: Oof. Look, I’ve always been honest about needing to have a space to work. I need to be around other people, I need to have a place to go that isn’t home every day otherwise I go nuts. I think we’ve found this weird little comics family, people who will be there to help you figure out a problem, deal with the anxiety and frustration that comes with being a comic artist (it’s really real…and when I try to complain about work to other folks they just don’t understand). We are here to help each other try new things and grow. We’re here to be excited for each other. We’re here to WORK TOGETHER!
Matt Kindt: I don’t really see us as a throwback to a bygone era. It really feels like we’re a start-up. But instead of Silicon Valley we’re in St. Louis. And instead of some million-dollar tech idea, we’re crafting super personal stories and art and dressing them up in sci-fi pulp genres. I think it’s the kind of thing we could only do now. We’re an independent studio of three and without Kickstarter and the internet we’d be reliant on distribution and I don’t think it’d be as viable. But with Kickstarter we can reach out directly to readers. We can get our book to places that don’t have a local comic shop.
HMS: What can readers get from an anthology experience that they can’t get anywhere else? Or is it an anthology? I know people have different definitions of that, from “collection” to “themed content”…
Marie Enger: We’re not really an anthology – we’re a Treasury. We’re showcasing our work, but we’re not really bound by a common theme. I’ve been part of other anthologies – and the process is different. You’re creating stories about the same theme, but aside from the people I’ve worked with (shout out to Danny Lore and Mark Bouchard!) it hasn’t been a truly “collaborative” experience. We all work on our stories, they get put it together…This is different. This is us coming into work every day, working on THIS project TOGETHER.
Matt Kindt: Yeah. This is very different than an anthology. We labored over what to call this for a long time. Because it’s not an anthology. And it’s not exactly a collection of short stories either. It’s something else. In anthologies you get a huge collection of stories from a really wide swath of creators and it’s really hit and miss. This is just the three of us. We’re building this book kind of like a band builds an album. We’re putting the stories in a certain order. Our stories are spread out so we can get call-backs to theme and character as you progress through it. This isn’t a book you skip around and read some of it and then other parts of it. It’s going to be crafted to be a complete reading experience from beginning to end. But it’s ultimately a cohesive work of art. Sometimes Lennon and McCartney wrote together and sometimes apart. Harrison wrote some…and Ringo too. So it’s kinda like that. Except we might be short a Ringo. There’s just the three of us.
Thanks very much to Hek Studios for taking the time to talk to us at such length!
Here’s a further preview of work appearing by Hurtt and Enger in the Treasury:
Go and support their exciting Treasury campaign right here on Kickstarter until September 11th, 2019 and check out the campaign trailer below!