Comic creators Marie Enger, Matt Kindt, and Brian Hurtt—who have a wealth of experience in the comic book industry—form HEK Studio, a project to make a full-time independent comic book studio in St. Louis. Just two days ago, the artists launched a Kickstarter for their newest project, The HEK Treasury, which will highlight works from each creator and give them a chance to experiment with storytelling techniques and ways to tell their tales. And the studio intends to go all-in on extras to make reading that much more immersive: The treasury will come in a large hardcover format and be packed with full color art, story cards, and a tri-fold narrative poster.
In addition to funding The HEK Treasury, HEK Studio hopes to form a space for visiting creators and eventually to make workshops on creating comics open to the public. They want to make their decades of comic publishing experience available to the public so that a wider array of people can benefit from their stories in the industry.
Ms. Enger, Mr. Kindt, and Mr. Hurtt were kind enough to speak with me recently about the launch of The HEK Treasury Kickstarter, what readers can expect to see in the compilation, what appeals to them about working together, and making a space for other creators to do their art.
FreakSugar: For folks reading this, what can you tell us about the conceit behind The HEK Treasury?
Marie Enger: I think we all just wanted to work together! We’ve been in the same studio since like…2014? But we’ve always been doing different projects. Even the ones we worked on together (like Dept. H) still felt largely separate from each other. We were doing all this work… together? But not really together? This is the first thing we’ve sat down, planned, and made truly together.
Matt Kindt: Yeah — we’ve been working next to each other but not really together. So this is all new. Really, we just wanted to do some kind of big book with tons of room to explore sci-fi and fantasy and do our kind of Heavy Metal or 1984 book… but with stories that have a little more weight to them and some art and design that break the mold – not just breaking the mold of those old-style treasury magazines and books – but just breaks the mold of comics in general. Playing with format and delivery system and storytelling – all at once in a big bonkers looking book.
Brian Hurtt: The most important thing, as Marie said, was that we wanted to work together. The second most important aspect was having COMPLETE creative freedom, both over our stories and over the production and design of the book. So we started by imagining what that would look like. We had an idea to do a graphic novel but we decided that wasn’t audacious enough. [laughs] We eventually pivoted toward doing a magazine… then it was a conceptual art book, and finally we landed on what it is now–a strange hybridization of the two.
FreakSugar: The pitch is flipping perfect: “What is The Twilight Zone and McSweeney’s made a baby?” My interest was immediately piqued. What was the genesis behind the idea?
Marie Enger: I wish I knew! I think maybe because we’re all doing very weird comics, trippy things – sci-fi, fantasy, horror… twisting things… but it’s also an art artifact. So it’s nice? But weird? And The Twilight Zone/McSweeney’s embody both of those things.
Matt Kindt: Yeah – I don’t quite remember. Maybe Brian does? Because I remember him talking about doing some kind of sci-fi or fantasy magazine – in the mode of 1984 or Heavy Metal – but OUR take on that kind of thing.
And it sort of just grew and evolved into a big hardcover oversized book with a LOT of extra surprises inside. Foldouts and some more interactive storytelling elements. It really ended up being a big pot that we all shook our favorite ideas into and then stirred it up. We also bought an old 1950s garage that we fixed up and made into St. Louis’s first full-time comic book studio and we wanted to do an official kind of project to usher in this new studio… and pay for it. [laughs]
But we did want to make this studio and our space sustainable and we now find ourselves with a lot of extra space and that made publishing more viable. We have room to store and ship books, and combined we have all the knowledge and experience to print and fulfill it. It’s really just a great chance to make a more direct connection to readers and retailers.
FreakSugar: What is it about the format of The HEK Treasury that appeals most to you? What kind of tales can we expect to see in the collection?
Brian Hurtt: I’m most excited about working on a larger canvas. Our book is around 9”x12” (approximately the size of a standard European comic album) and that allows for all kinds of new approaches to the page. It changes the pacing of a comic for starters and it allows more room to let smaller, more intimate scenes breath and also gives me the room to go BIGGER than I’ve ever gone before.
As for stories, my feature story is set in a future where our world has been transformed through the immoral implementation of genetic engineering. A landscape covered by rot, or giant mutant fungus and occupied by humans fighting for survival against the genetic monsters they’ve created. Of the short pieces I’m doing, I’m really excited about an epistolary story of a child robot–the City’s protector–who has fallen in love with his enemy, a terrorist/freedom fighter. Tonally, it’s different than anything I’ve done before and I’m really hoping people will dig it!
Marie Enger: I’m REALLY excited to see what it’s like to draw one of Matt’s scripts and write one for Brian (when he asks for “something that you’d see on Adult Swim” you KNOW I’m into it). I’ve been working WITH them for years, but I’ve never gotten to collaborate like this! It’s exciting! You’re gonna see mechs, wild worlds, and cults. Mostly cults from me. Big, scary cults. And some Casket Land stuff – so a lot of caskets and wrapped madmen! And then one weird space thing. Basically, I’m giving you some sad, dead, creepy stuff.
Matt Kindt: I think I came up with a story for Marie in ten seconds. I pitched it to her as I was thinking it up… and it just grew into this thing that she liked. Really I just thought, what would I write if I was Marie? But if it was me writing as Marie… or something like that? So it’s kind of my take on a sci-fi horror story. In addition, I’m doing a series of three short stories that interconnect – all set in the near future after the “Great Mech Wars” and they all focus on a different kind of mech/robot and how they got repurposed after the wars – everything from mobile homes that wander the American Southwest to a deep-sea diving expedition that’s harboring a serial killer being chased by bounty hunters. You know, typical stuff. [laughs]
FreakSugar: When you decided to take the approach to creating a treasury, what is it about a compilation such as this that stokes your fires as an artist?
Marie Enger: I think honestly it’s the collaboration? Once we sit down and start we’re going to be sharing a LOT of art and talking about stories we’re really passionate about. That’s exciting! This is the first time I’ve been turned loose to do EXACTLY what I wanted – and I’m excited to do it with Brian and Matt.
Brian Hurtt: I’ve come to think of this project as less an anthology and more of an “exhibit”. Three artists, one studio, all of us delivering work based around a loose theme. Thinking of it that way helps me to push myself out of my comfort zone, to approach each story, each page, with fresh eyes.
Matt Kindt: Yeah, I think this isn’t an anthology or compilation in a traditional sense. We’re literally working within a kneaded-eraser’s-throw of each other and we’re getting input and giving feedback through the entire process. I think it’s really going to give this book a more cohesive feel. And push us more than we normally push ourselves as we try to one-up each other with crazy ideas.
FreakSugar: Part of the focus of the Kickstarter is to build a space for creators to make art. What do you envision that space to be and why is it important for you to create it?
Marie Enger: AH! Dude, I have SO many thoughts on this. My dream would be to approach creators who want to do a print run of their book, their passion project, and say “Let me help you have that dream.” I want to create a place where people – all sorts of people who don’t get to have their voices lifted up as much by traditional publishing – can feel safe and excited about their projects.
The majority of my artist friends face a lot of pushback from traditional publishing – maybe because they’re POC, queer, differently abled, immigrants or AFAB. I got lucky and didn’t have to CLAW for scraps because I had people behind me to push me forward when people tried to push me back. I want us to be a space where that HUGE initial pushback doesn’t exist. We create better stories when we play on the same field, have the ability to do the projects we think are important. I look at Koyama Press (always in my heart) and Silver Sprocket and dream of how HEK could be on the same level as them someday.
I’ve always been VERY upfront about how I was able to dive into comics full time. I had Matt helping me first, then Brian, and from knowing them my network grew and I met more people who were willing to lift me up (when I was a MUCH worse artist and storyteller). I got those opportunities because I was in the right place, right time. I lived in a cousin’s basement, in an INCREDIBLY cheap city for years, eating bargain bin food, spending nothing on myself and everything on printing my books and going to shows. That struggle is hard and not uncommon… if it’s even an option for people (and often times it’s not!). I want to build something that eliminates that struggle for people. I want people who have cool ideas not to be shut down by the system! I want to lift people up just like I was lifted up!
It’s important to me because I want comics to grow and get better. If we don’t work to give people a chance to do their work, how can it? I love telling stories – but I love helping people tell their’s more. Growing HEK will give me more insight and ability on how to do that. ARGH! Sorry that this was a huge response but this is REALLY important to me and I get excited about it.
Matt Kindt: Yeah – all of what Marie said. And for me, I really just want to stay excited about comics. As the “elder” of the studio – I’ve got a LOT of comics. I’ve read so much over the years and I really just want to see more comics on the shelves when I go into the shop that I’m excited to pick up. I think the older I get, the harder it is to find that book that thrills you. The one that you have on the top of your to-read stack and you can’t wait to dig into it! I’m finding those less and less. But they’re out there. I want our book to give readers that feeling, and eventually I’d like to be a part of bringing other books, not just our own, to new readers. Creators like Chris Schweizer and Kyle Starks and Artyom Trakhanov — I could name a ton of creators like that — who I want to see just cranking out books all the time and just as they envision them. If we can be a conduit for that, I think that’s the ultimate goal.
The HEK Treasury Kickstarter, in just two days, has already exceeded its funding goal, but you still have over a month to contribute and get in on some of the great rewards for patrons! Be sure to check out the campaign’s page for more details, as well as the video below!