A quick content note: This is the complete text of an interview that will be up at Bleeding Cool in a few days. This version contains info not directly relating to 44FLOOD or TOME, but is nonetheless very cool and interesting.
On the hottest day yet, of the longest triple digit stretch in decades, I had the opportunity to sit down with the guys from 44FLOOD, with special guest and honorary 5th member of the team, Steve Niles (30 Days of Night). The core that makes up 44FLOOD is Nick Idell, Ben Templesmith, Kasra Ghanbari and Menton Matthews III (Menton3). Their studio in Chicago is exactly what you would want it to be, full of art, smoke filled rooms and ideas. Advance copies of books they are working on (Frankenstein, Alive Alive! and the Monocyte hardcover), and examples of art and creativity literally laying all over the place. By now most everyone reading this is probably familiar with the Kickstarter campaign for the group’s new art book TOME. If you are not, here are the highlights…
Started July 25th, the campaign is to crowd source funding to publish a 12″x 18″ hardcover book of comics, art, photos and anything else the guys want to put in. The theme of the first of these annual volumes is vampirism, and with the horror pedigree of some of these creators, you would think there would be few surprises, but the list of artists involved continues to grow. A mix of graphic storytellers, fine artists, sculptors and musicians are rounding this amazing group out, with the only real mandate that it be vampirism-centric material. While the full list is available at the link above, a quick sampling here should tell you that this is NOT some fly-by-night deal. These are serious creators…If you don’t know some of these names, consider it a challenge. Go find out about them.
- Alberto Ruiz (fine artist, art book maker)
- Andy Belanger (artist, writer, illustrator) – Kill Shakespeare, Black Church
- Ashley Wood (artist, writer) – Lore, Hellspawn, 3A Toys
- Becky Cloonan (artist, writer, illustrator) – Wolves, Demo, Conan
- Ben Templesmith (artist, writer) – 30 Days of Night, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, Fell
- Bill Sienkiewicz (artist, writer) – Elektra: Assassin, Stray Toasters
- Chet Zar (fine artist, SFX artist) – Tool music videos, Hellboy I & II motion pictures
- Christopher Mitten – Criminal Macabre, 30 Days of Night, Wasteland
- Collide (musical group) – Independent Music Award nominee, soundtrack of Underworld: Awakening
- David Stoupakis (artist) – Korn album cover artist
- Edith Lebeau (artist)
- Edward Ka-Spel (musician) – The Legendary Pink Dots, The Tear Garden
- Fink (singer, songwriter, DJ) – four studio albums, collaborator with Amy Winehouse and John Legend
- George Pratt (artist, writer) – Enemy Ace: War Idyll, Sandman, Wolverine: Netsuke
- Guillermo Rigattieri (fine artist)
- Jill Thompson (artist, writer, illustrator) – Sandman, Beast of Burden, The Scary Godmother
- Kasra Ghanbari (writer, art agent) – MONOCYTE, Drawing the Line Again Anthology
- Kevin Allen (composer) – opera, chamber, orchestral
- Matthew Bone (fine artist)
- menton3 (artist, writer, musician) – ZvR, Silent Hill, MONOCYTE, Saltillo
- Molly Crabapple (artist, writer, activist) – Dr. Sketchy’s, Puppet Makers, house artist at The Box
- Monica Richards (singer, songwriter) – Strange Boutique, Faith and the Muse
- Richard A. Kirk (fine artist, illustrator) – Korn album cover artist
- Richard Walters (singer, songwriter, musician)
- Riley Rossmo (artist, writer) – Proof, Green Wake, Rebel Blood
- Saltillo (band) – solo music project of menton3
- Scott Radke (fine artist) – Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland
The campaign went live July 25th and reached its funding goal in a few hours. With more artists and backer rewards being added every few days, this is a project that certainly looks like the momentum and goodwill of the internet and fans of these creators will carry it through to be an immense success. We talked about TOME, 44FLOOD, individual projects and even the industry as a whole.
Taylor: Guys, we will jump right into the current info. As of this interview you are 364% funded and well on the way to a great outcome. I was a little surprised at the amount you were initially asking for, $18,500. That does not seem like very much. Was there a lot of debate and math that went into that number?
Menton3: We initially had a backlog of investors for the book, and what the kickstarter has allowed us to do is not have anyone else have any control over anything. So we are able to do the book the way we want to, 100% now. But we were shocked, the reason we initially asked for 18k was that that was the money we legitimately needed to print the book. We are talking about a 12 x 18 book, with 180 pages, it’s not a cheap thing to print in any way, so that was the reason, we tried to keep the number as low as possible since we had backing investors going into it, and we wanted to ask the crowd sourcing people for the least amount we could and get the book printed. We were all shocked when we reached our goal in less than 4 hours. Absolute shock and awe, there were tears, there was hugging. We are completely in awe and stepped back by the response from people, it’s amazing for us.
Ben Templesmith: But this means we can now upgrade the book in such ways that we couldn’t before that are…rather more expensive to do.
Taylor: One of the things that surprised me was the format itself. Books of this size have a niche appeal from the perspective of publishers. They don’t see the audience being there in a lot of cases. Are you concerned that past those backers and people who are particularly interested in this that you will have a hard time reaching others with it?
Ben: Well I can definitely say that we are not aiming at the gigantic bookstore market. This is an exclusive book, with a very small print run compared to most.
Kasra Ghanbari: We are not so much concerned as concentrated by that. I think it is our goal to hopefully reach people who like books like this, but we consider this a very different book drawing from the comic book, illustration, art gallery and music world so we are getting this massive pool of talent from so many artistic platforms, so we ask can we take that and penetrate these new markets, and not so much assume who would buy it but look for new people to find it and sort of spread it out as far as we can. With the numbers that we are dealing with that Ben alluded to, we are not looking to sell 20 thousand books; this is a very limited edition book. So we are dealing with something of extraordinary quality that will hopefully have some longevity that people will cherish as an artifact and keep on their shelf to share with others. I think we can reach those people.
Menton3: Our interest isn’t selling a massive amount of books, what we really want is a direct connection with the people who want these books. One of the things that have been great with kickstarter is that we are able to talk to almost everybody who is buying this. Because in a lot of ways me and Ben and Steve, we do books and they go off into the ether or this black hole and we get a number back of how many we sold. This we are actually completely involved with the people buying it, some people might call them fans, I don’t like the word fans like I like the word friends but we have a direct connection with every one of them which has been really amazing. That’s kind of our business model. We’re not as concerned about selling as many books as we can as we are about making something that we truly want and that were excited that other people would want that as well.
Kasra: What we figured out is that between social networking and kickstarter with crowd funding, with all the creators involved and our websites, that what we do actively as artists, we are effectively hand-selling this book. And it works.
Taylor: Do you have an eventual price point in mind for the book after the kickstarter?
Kasra: We’ve had a lot of discussion about that internally and we have an idea about how much a book like this would cost, but we have not decided on that yet because we were surprised and it was incredible. We have it up there for $50 plus $10 shipping, which we think is a really strong price. That is a considerable discount off what retailers would expect to sell it for. But we’re kind of reserving the setting of that price until we see a little bit more about how the book plays out on the kickstarter.
Taylor: Anthologies are kind of a challenging format, as many people like it as are intimidated by it, are you concerned at all about the anthology format, or is the goal to have people step out of their comfort zone?
Menton3: Well the whole idea here is that we are pitching this to people not publishers. A lot of times publisher think that anthologies don’t do well but actually they kind of do do well. I think if you look at a book like Spectrum, which is an amazing art book it does very well and that is the epitome of a crazy anthology. I think one of the things about anthologies you’ve got to consider is that a lot of times they are not themed, they are just kind of chaotic stuff and TOME is a themed art book and there is an amazing array of artists–exclude me from that statement–doing something on the same theme. This is pretty astounding. Me as a fan of all those artists like Bill Sienkiewicz, and Ashley Wood, I get to see these guys do something with a particular theme. Alongside of that, every artist is going to be interviewed by another artist, so you are going to get a very personal interview with some of your favorite artists. This is something that we all just want to see on the shelf. We all want to buy this. So the anthology thing really never scared us and I think with things like TOME and Womanthology on kickstarter it’s kind of proof that anthologies DO work.
Steve Niles: The thing with anthologies I think works for movies as well as comics, is that it’s a bad word until somebody does it right. As soon as somebody does it right, then suddenly anthologies work. We just had that with Creator-Owned Heroes, we were told that anthologies don’t sell and it did great numbers. I think the same for this; it’s all about the content.
Kasra: Frankly, I think a lot of publishers don’t like anthologies because they are a lot of work to put together. Internally, to use corporate language, “their resource allocation” for a project like that doesn’t justify the financial upside. For us, we are not getting paid. We are completely immersed in this and this is what we love, and we are putting 12 to 15 hours a day to put an anthology together. We don’t have to worry about the inner corporate workings of a publisher putting an anthology together we are doing it because we love art.
Taylor: The list of those artists is growing every day. Have you had to do much recruiting or have they been lining up to do this with you?
Menton3: Really both. We are curating it; we are not going to put something in the book that we don’t believe in. For me, the definition of art is, “does it move me?” I don’t care if it is photography, a poem, a painting I don’t care. It has to move us. And the four of us, and really the five of us, have to really love what is going in the book. We do have to like it and so in that way it is curated, and thus far we have been very lucky to get involved with some of the people who we like the most.
Taylor: I was surprised to see the diversity of names. When you put some of them, Jill Thompson comes to mind; I kind of had to do a double take. Is it deliberate or just the way it has worked out?
Menton3: Jill is amazing artist and an amazing person, and we are lucky enough to have her in the book. We have hung out a lot, she lives here in Chicago, and I’m a big fan from way back. It’s an honor to have her in the book. There isn’t anyone’s name going into this book that we are not honored to have be a part of it.
Kasra: Each one of them has a story too. Jill has a deep story and she also has a particular Vampire piece that she has written and is pretty eager to do, and we were excited by it.
Taylor: Is there any particular editorial mandate beyond “vampirism”? Or is it “here is the subject-run with it.”
Ben: Pretty much [run with it].
Taylor: Ben, you have said before that the concept of vampirism is deeper that the bloodsucking fiends idea, that it is more about the parasitic relationship.
Ben: It’s a part of it, yeah. That is what we are going for, is the overall. You can pick and choose which you want.
Taylor: Now included in the mix are some sculptors. How will that be translated into the book?
Kasra: It is a little bit of a trick to deal with sculptures, but if you can pull it off people have a novel experience. And the artists are excited to make something based on a theme and have it appear in the construct of a book like this. We dealt a little bit with that in Monocyte in how we had to capture the essence and the emotion and even the narrative potential of a sculptural piece, and we are going to try to carry that a little bit further with TOME.
Taylor: I notice that there is now an accompanying CD included. I loved the music that went with Monocyte.
Menton3: Thank you very much; you have terrible taste in music. [laughter]
Taylor: That felt like a soundtrack and flowed very well with the book, is that what you are going for with TOME?
Menton3: Well, with the Monocyte soundtrack was particularly difficult to do because a lot of the stuff that I would normally like to do wouldn’t fit. Like as soon as you put any lyrics next to a narrative, it can really come across very Disney very quickly, so that was actually one of the hardest records I’ve ever made. When I made it, I tried to make the sound of that world that me and Kasra created and I feel like I did a decent job at it to a certain extent and I’d love to do it again, but I think music is always like that. With the TOME, it’s not really a soundtrack. We love art, and that comes in music, poems, storytelling, paintings and photography and music is a big part of the emotive process of externalizing the internal, which is what I’m all about. So for us it was like a no-brainer to go immediately into music and some of the artists including the musicians are outstanding. One guy named Fink I’ve been listening to him for five years straight and he is an outstanding musician. We have got Richard Walters, Monica Richards, we’ve got a song from Collide we have Tony Wakeford of Sol Invictus so obviously we are curating as much as possible. The music I want to put on it is music that I like and I think goes with the theme of the book. A lot of the artists are very excited to do something in that vein and be a part of a project that’s about art and that showcases music as art.
Taylor: Recent comic book history has not been real kind to the creators taking control of the business end of things. In many cases the business side of things kept creators from doing what they set out to do. Do you foresee the size of this project, and the logistics of it having a negative impact?
Ben: I personally don’t think so because between all of us we have a lot business [experience] to bring to this. Steve and I have been doing this, bringing projects to fruition, Kasra has a huge business background, Nick runs his own store, started from the ground up, and Menton has a huge background in the music business. We are not just normal creators who just want to sit there, do some art and have someone else take care of it because we are too scared or bored with that side of it because we know we have to sell what we make which is different from a lot of artists I think that potentially just want to get some money for what they do and then sit in their studio and not worry about anything else, because we do want to get out there and sell to the fans. To me that’s half the fun.
Taylor: I have seen you guys at shows before and you do something that a lot of creators don’t do. You interact and move your product. A lot of creators are just interested in sitting there and signing books or they have no interest at all in interaction with the fans.
Ben: To go to the heart of that, every single person that you meet should be a potential customer or at least like your work. You have got an audience and building an audience is one of the best things you can do as a creative person.
Menton3: For me it’s an honor. Anyone that is even thinking about looking at my work, it is an honor. Before I started making comics, I would go to conventions and I was surprised at how some of the artists and writers would treat the people who come up to their booth, and I would walk away from the booth and would have a bad taste in my mouth. Anyone who walks to my booth, I never want them to feel that way. I’m not above you or below you, we are on the same level and if you enjoy my work at all, that’s amazing to me and thank you so much. It’s an honor to be able to make a living doing this. Its hard work and we work long hours but I live a dream and the people who buy my artwork help me do that they are my bosses and they allow me to do this.
Steve: I have a thing with conventions where if somebody brings up a long box full of stuff, as long as they are not a retailer, I will sign every single book. But I have sat next to creators who the same person goes to them with a long box and they will tell them to pick two. You can see it on their face that they have lost a little bit of respect for the creator. My attitude is that if somebody brings up a long box, that is at least two months’ rent. That they paid my rent for me, and if all they want is for me to sign their books and talk to them for a little while I consider that part of the job.
Menton3: We all love doing conventions and what we are trying to do with 44FLOOD is turn the internet into a convention for everybody so that we are able to interact with those people at the same kind of level off our website. To us, that is the goal with 44FLOOD; we are pitching this book to you. Do YOU want this?
Steve: That is something that you addressed earlier, that we are now dealing directly with our fans. We are not dealing with publishers or distributors as much. We WILL, but the main part of what we are doing is hand selling these to individuals. That is the really exciting part of it actually.
Ben; To add to that, the whole reason I wear suits is because I respect the fans and want to give them this and provide them an experience. Presentation matters and I think a lot of people forget that.
Taylor: Is 44FLOOD as a company an ongoing thing in its own right? Or does it exist largely to serve TOME?
Nick Idell: No, it is ongoing. We have a slew of projects that we are going to be coming out with and this is basically a full-time job for all of us now.
Taylor: Does it supplant more of the existing properties like Wormwood or 30 Days of Night or is it an eventual vehicle for those properties to be released through down the road?
Menton3: That is a dangerous, dangerous question. [laughing] Everybody please answer very carefully. Oh please don’t print that. [more laughter all around].
Ben; You are asking about more individual projects, but ideally we would like to do new projects under a banner which is potentially 44FLOOD. It is a new way for us to create a platform for us to reach an audience as much as anything. That may incorporate other things, but it does not mean we are not doing anything else.
Menton3: Even working with the best companies that are out there like IDW or Dark Horse, there are great companies, but even working with them with creator owned books, we come up with a pitch, we wait several months to hear back about it we then do the artwork, then it goes into a black hole. We love working with them and want to continue working with them but we also want another situation where from pitch to your hands, we are involved with you. While that does not exclude us from working with other people, we love working with other people, but we want that interaction.
Taylor: That is clearly the impression that comes across with the kickstarter pitch. The video was very well done by the way.
Menton3: Thank you. I have no idea what I’m doing with that by the way.
Taylor: Is there a maximum size to the book? There are a lot of people involved. At what point to you lock it in and say “everything else is for next year’s book”?
Kasra: Honestly, we have pretty much finalized the specs on the book. It’s going to be 12 x 18″ and about 180 pages. But TOME is going to be an annual book, and we want to up the ante every year. Be it with the content or the structure of the dimensions or even the materials but this year we are pretty much set with the size and format.
Menton3: When you have this book open it will be 18 x 24″ and that is up at the size of an actual painting or at the size they really mean something. So when you have a double page spread in this, you are going to be able to see this like you would see a painting in a museum. From a narrative standpoint, a storytelling standpoint, typically me and Ben work with basically 9 inches at the most and we have to tell a story within that. When you are given this opportunity to use this large a format, it opens up enormous potential for storytelling, there’s negative space and an amazing amount of stuff you can do with that. We want to print the biggest book possible. This book is going to be very expensive to ship, so 12 x 18″ is about the maximum we can do without destroying people and ourselves with shipping. I don’t think anyone realizes how big this will be until it is in their hands. You are going to have to sit down with this book. I don’t think there will be anyone walking around looking at this.
Ben: The attraction of doing the kickstarter is that we can evolve the project with the amazing success of it. We didn’t think we would be able to do that and now we can. I don’t think in the regular way of doing business you can do that.
Menton3: We are building our own website with these kinds of ideologies for 44FLOOD. We don’t know exactly how it is going to work yet, but it is in the process of being made, so keep your eye out for that.
Kasra: Facebook has been a positive for us too. We had Monocyte up there for a year, Ben has used it for some time now, but we have never seen anything like this reaction before. People are sharing this and if you look at the number of posts and shares, I have never seen this before on any page. The number of people talking about the page, it’s kind of a Facebook metric, is just astronomical. Maybe they are looking at the videos and they like the art or the ideology and see that we are totally into the project and they share.
Menton: I know I can’t stop talking, but it’s like all of these people are a part of the book. Every time you share one of these links, you are a part of creating this book. It has given me faith in humanity again. There are other people out there who would like this book. We are not insane people just sitting in a room saying “this is what I would love” there is a bunch of other people who would love this too.
Ben: People can smell authenticity. We are not just trying to do this to make a bunch of money, we actually wanted to do this anyway and people are enabling us.
Menton3: It would be nice if there was one publishing company out there that was not just trying to get rich off of publishing. We are not. We want to make a place where creators can come, make what they want to make and they get and own what they have and do. We just want to know there is a thing like that in the world that exists. We would love to become rich off what we make with the publishing company but we are not going to own any of the material that is coming out from 44FLOOD. When you get the book from us, [the content] is coming directly from that creator. Period.
Taylor: Are the contributors getting paid in the industry standard way at a page rate or is it on the back-end or what?
Kasra: TOME as a flagship project, it ties into the kind of ties into the ideology of the company as a collective, and building a collective across artistic platforms. Everyone is actually contributing. In fact a lot of them are emailing us and thanking us for considering them and that they would love to be a part of this. They have tapped into the collective idea of the project and one of the things that kickstarter has allowed us to do is print extra copies that we are going to set aside and give as comps to all the creators. So everyone is pretty happy with the collective model that we are using for TOME.
Taylor: Nick, you have what to every fan-boy out there is probably the coolest job in the world. From the purely romantic vantage point owning and running a comic shop is just IT for many of us. Has that put you in a good position to work with the distribution model for this?
Nick: Yeah, that is a lot of it. A lot of talks have been centered on how this distribution will work. Forgo the middle man and work directly with the fans and the people who want what we are making and so far that has gone really well.
Ben: I have just done 3 conventions in 3 weeks and I have met a lot of retailers that are really open to working with us to get the material as opposed to going through the one distributor out there. It’s more like the real world where you do source product from various places.
Nick: And that is something that we are really going to shoot for in the future is get a hub of retailers across the country and some internationally, that we will work with directly, and have a really personal relationship with those guys.
Ben: A good retailer knows their customers and their base. They create an experience now, because you have to in order to survive as a retailer. So we really want to tap into that.
Kasra: Comic book retailers are a cornerstone of our distribution model. They are under enormous pressure to focus on a single provider of books and working outside of anything other than a pre-order catalog is hard for the retailers so one of the things we are trying for with 44FLOOD as we produce these books is to have tremendous transparency on the production of these books with the retailers to take that pressure off of them and have them consider these books on an individual basis.
Taylor: Does TOME or any part of it translate into, or set to be distributed digitally?
Menton3: No but we have talked about digital. We like digital. I worked in the music industry when digital kind of came over and ate. I think that as there are more iPads, and I have one, are out there, the things like oil paintings are going to matter more, because they are going to become rarer. The things that we want to make is about art, and the way you should experience that, at least initially is by holding it. But we intend on doing straight up comics too, and we will do art books plus comics, but we are going to do those so that we can make them available to anyone that wants to read them. Part of the business model we are trying if we can pull it off, is we are talking about making all the books we do digitally free. Boom. Again, we are not trying to become rich off this. We are trying to make art. What we are doing is a little bit rebellious and a lot crazy and we think that the people I refer to as friends, the word they use is fans, I always feel weird using the word fans because no one knows who the fuck I am, but hopefully these fans are able to have a direct relationship with it. We don’t want to rape you.
Steve: There are models in the music industry like this that have worked. [Take] Dischord Records, a company that has existed now over 30 years and they still sell records for $5 apiece, and they had sort of accidentally become millionaires, and it can be done. You can build a company if you stick with it and are slow and methodical. You can do it; you are just not going to get that overnight cash flood.
Ben: I don’t think we are trying to cannibalize one base for the other, which is kind of the trap that a lot of digital gets into, which pisses off a lot of retailers. But we are really all about physical books. That is what we want to make is artifacts. But we hope the digital will serve to augment that, hopefully.
Taylor: Are digital mediums reinforcing the perception that comics are trash? They are every bit as disposable now and nothing like as precious as something that you can physically own. Are we still at a point in the industry where we are still eating our own children?
Ben: Well for a long time they were literally trash. At ten cents they were every bit as throwaway as they are now.
Menton3: That is a very hard question to answer. I think that almost anything that is too easily said almost sounds offensive. I know we want to make books that are art. A Chet Zar piece or a Steve Niles book, that’s a piece of art. And we are talking about one of the most prolific painters and one of the best writers of our generation doing a book together. As a fanboy, I can’t wait to see that. If you want to get that digitally, fine get it digitally, but to hold that hardcover with the paper stock we choose, looking at Chet’s art and Steve’s words in that way, those are the kind of people we are trying to attract. The other thing is that comics, and I am not naming books, are a very incestuous thing as an industry. We basically sell comics to the same people. Trying to make books for people who like X-Men is impossible, and there is enough people doing it. We are not doing that. If those people like what we are doing, that’s great, but there is a whole other generation of people out there who buy High Fructose and go to art school and spend 25 grand on a painting that walk into a comic book store and say, “this is crap, I don’t want to read about spandex”. I have met people who only know Bill Sienkiewicz from New Mutants and they didn’t even know about Stray Toasters, and I say stop what you are doing, don’t walk, run and go buy a copy of that, it will change your life. Comics can be art. But if you want to preview our book digitally, go for it. It will not be anything like holding it in your hands.
Ben: There is that strange growing trend of the people who only buy hardcovers. They want the physical, big “proper” version as opposed to the floppy or the digital. But that does not really fit the current model in the industry of distribution. We are trying to say something about that with this book.
Taylor: Is the current state of the market such that any new readers have to come from other things, like art books.
Steve: Well we have been losing readers pretty much since the advent of the direct market. What we did was we made it so that people had to go to a comic store to get the books and we have learned that very few of them do that, unlike video games or something like that. [The publishers] wanted to get away from the returnable market because they were getting crushed by returns. When the direct market started there were 13 distributors and it has shrunk. Now when you see a report of market share, it is the same people on the pie, all just taking different chunks back and forth in a tug of war. It is an absolute necessity that we bring in people from the outside. Menton and I were talking about this, that there are a lot of people that are out there that want comics, that are open to it, that just have not been exposed to the right material.
Menton3: Add to that there are a lot of people out there that want comics that don’t know they do. If you showed a lot of people Stray Toasters, they would freak out, they just didn’t know that is exists.
Steve: Most people think that comics are Snoopy or Spider-Man, and we have had that experience with just our stuff. To this day I have people go “30 Days of Night, I had no idea comics looked like this” they had no idea about the language, the content, whatever, they think comics especially American comics are one thing basically Superheroes.
Kasra: So if you have a book that has a painting by a fine artist who is telling a story through full-page oil paintings, next to a comic book artist, next to a photographer, nest to a galley represented artist who is using panel storytelling and prose and black and white sketches to tell their story and you have these all together and they work, you are starting to break that perception barrier.
Ben: There are over 300 million people in America, and less than 1% of them currently read comics, so it has to be pretty easy to just boost that slightly.
Taylor: People tend to forget, back when the direct market started; a book that sold “only” 100 thousand copies was on the bubble.
Steve: I remember having a book cancelled because it only sold 70,000 copies when I worked for Eclipse. I remember getting that phone call and just now thinking back, I’m shocked at 70,000! From an independent, an indie publisher. It was M, the Jay Muth book. It came in on the 3rd issue at “only 70,000.
Taylor: It must have been something to work on.
Steve: It was on his Dracula book that he used a shot of Peter Lorre looking back over his shoulder from M so I already knew he was a fan, so I just went to the Library of Congress and secured the rights, went back to San Diego and told him I have the rights to M and then it was just cut him loose.
Taylor: Is it a deliberate goal to put out something really special in a presentation sense? There are a lot of great looking books out there. Once this comes, are they all going to look like crap next to this?
Menton3: We are just making stuff that we really want, and we don’t know if there is a market for it or not. It is just like music. There are a lot of bands out there trying to write songs that they hope people will like. There is enough of that. There is enough of that in comics too. We are trying to make something that we would love and we hope that you would love it too, but that’s it. There is not going to be one book that comes out of 44FLOOD that all of us don’t love. If we are going to go out, we would want to go out on our feet, not on our knees.
Taylor: So if you are not deliberately going to cater to a market, and the subject is vampirism, there are people out there that will ask, “Are there going to be sparkly vampires?”
Menton3; This is where I start sounding like an old lady with red hair who collects cats, but this is a subject that is very close to me. I have a friend who went through some insane events in his life and he was an older gentleman, he was in World War II and was not the kind of guy who would play around. He legitimately believed in something that lived for a long time. He wound up calling them vampires, but these experiences that he had floored me and some of the evidence that he had was actually fairly compelling. That’s what this is about. It is not about the Rainbow Bright version of these things. We are presenting artists saying “what if vampires were actually real, all bullshit aside, what if this was really? And in some cases it is. There are certain governments that surely look like a vampire, and treat us like a flock or like cattle. There are situations that we are put in on a daily basis, that make us feel less than human. Everyone has the right to a great life and vampirism explores the misuse of power and the things we do to each other. Comics are a great example. Coming from the music industry, I was shocked at the pretension when I would meet comic guys that had done a few issues and they would act like they were in the Rolling Stones. You give somebody a little bit of power and they misuse the crap out of it. That is a very compelling place to start with for art.
Taylor: Do you think of art as a form of power?
Menton3: I think it’s a power, but I think that if you forget what an audience is for you immediately lose. Kings make shitty music. Throughout history we have had kings listen to Beethoven or Bach and they go back and think they can be a composer because they are inspired, because they are so up on themselves they are not allowing themselves to see. So they make really bad music. When I make a painting that’s good, it’s not just me, its everyone that had any influence on me. It is a set of synchronistic events. It is also part of the people that get to look at it. There is no point in making art solely for yourself. Art is for us all to experience, if you look at modern advertising, they are using ancient iconography and symbolica to entice you to buy something. Van Gogh didn’t do that, he used that to make you feel. That’s what we are trying to do. We want to move you while with what moves us. One of the things that we have done with are is we have shoved it into a corner, made it expensive, made you have to wear a suit to go into this gallery, or in comics you have to really love spandex. I think that what we have not done is humbly say “here is some art, what do you think?” I want someone else to start talking! We have gotten narrowed views and allowed forms and people who get really anal about stuff to dictate what we get from comics. Take Ben’s stuff. I have had people look at his art, and it’s phenomenal, look at it and not understand it because it is not what they think of as comic art and that should never happen.
Ben: That happens in a lot of ways. Everyone on the planet wants something creative. If they cannot create it themselves, they look for it. Everyone consumes music, every culture has something that they come up with to entertain themselves, everyone needs that, so we want to tap a few of those people and hopefully they like our stuff. Menton Matthews III has just gagged himself [laughter].
(It was at this point that Menton3 got up from the table we were at, walked behind me and across the room, got out blue painters tape and covered his own mouth to keep himself quiet and calmly sat back down. After we were all done giggling—but the other guys were not at all surprised by this, we continued.)
But the tape didn’t stop him…
Menton3: There is one other thing with TOME to say, we are going to make a full length feature documentary about TOME, 44FLOOD, art in general and the comic book industry. We are going to start making it immediately after the funding is done from kickstarter. We have some compelling, amazing people working with us that we can’t announce just yet, but we legitimately want to make a documentary that explores this entire thing, because it’s very complex and that I don’t shut up in these questions because I’m very passionate about this. I’m cutting over everyone and being terribly rude but the documentary is something that we will release and we are very excited about it. One of the things we figured out when we were doing the video for the death tarot was that it helped people understand what we are doing and makes it look important. We want to show people what Bill Sienkiewicz does. He is a compelling guy. Ben Templesmith is a very compelling artist. It will show what kind of people we are; we are not just our work. Our work is a product of what comes from our life and if you think about other documentaries like the one about Anvil, it showed you what it was like to do what they do, and we just want to show that with this. Steve in particular knows a lot about some things that have happened in this industry that shouldn’t and there is nothing to stop us from just going ahead and talking about it. I think the public at large should know the positive stuff and the negative stuff. People don’t know that as creator owned comics, we don’t really get paid for that. People think that you made a book so you’re rich, but none of us are rich. People don’t realize what goes into it. I’m going to shut up after this. You do not know what it takes to make a comic until you have made one. We want to show people who. When you pick up any book after this documentary you are going to appreciate it more. I’m going to shut up now.
Taylor; Are any of you going to be deliberately working outside your comfort zones at all with TOME? The difference with say, Ben between Wormwood and Fell. On Fell there was a huge difference in the storytelling with the 9 panel page structure, and that was clearly something different for you. Will you be challenging yourself to bring something else to the book?
Ben: That was in service of the story structure that Warren (Ellis) put in place. It was Matt Fraction who got me started with an 8 panel grid format, and nearly broke me and I nearly gave up because it was so restrictive but in that you find a new freedom of a pacing and a way to tell a story and comics isn’t just about pretty art, it’s about telling a story. If you place constraints on yourself it challenges you to rise above that and find new ways to do things. It trains you. I think a large part of this book is about perception changing and challenging.
Taylor: Is the mix in TOME going to be fairly even or we will see more comics versus other mediums?
Nick: I think we are going to have a pretty even mix.
Taylor: One last thing on TOME; the structure of the kickstarter is unusual for a project of this type. Most of the levels that backers can support at are completely different from each other. There is very little stacking of incentive. What made that the way you were going to go with this?
Kasra: Most kickstarters are structured where the next reward up you get everything that came before it and one new thing, the next up, everything before it and another new thing, but we felt completely limited by that kind of structure, which is as non-dynamic as it comes. We wanted to add more things. We wanted to be creative and respond to what people wanted, and the work around is basically 24/7 customer service Nick especially and the three of us as well respond to everybody’s emails and we figured out a way for people to get exactly what they wanted. The easiest solution is to just add the additional funds for the things you specifically want, and for us to just add that in by hand.
Menton3: The other reason was that Ben and I were offering original art too, and when you get to that level, and stack everything up, you are paying too much money in my opinion for something. We wanted to let people support the book but get a painting if they wanted. We are not trying to become rich. We wanted to add original artwork and sketches from George Pratt and Bill Sienkiewicz for people who might want that, without just destroying people’s pocketbook, and because we have to pay George and Bill and the others for that, we felt that adding that would put it at a point where the cost would be almost rude.
Kasra: We got advice from one crowd funding expert who said that if we didn’t go stepwise up like that, that the entire kickstarter would fail. Our response to him was that we care and we are going to talk to every single person that emails and wants something and respond to them, hopefully within five to ten minutes. He scratched his head and said “oh, I guess you could do that.” People don’t even consider that and really strikes back to what 44FLOOD is about; we care about what we are doing, we want to engage people. If there is cracks in it, people will tell us and we are going to figure it out and grow as individuals.
Ben: Social media is crucial to sell and to connect with people who like your stuff. What I find amazing is that a lot of creators have more of a presence and more followers than the publishers that are meant to be selling the stuff you do in the first place.
Menton3: I think that a lot of publishers and other companies just see the internet as a way of making more money. Our dream is for more of a collective community of artists and fans. People that can bust each others chops and support too. We want to be closer to the people, not further away. We are getting a phone installed today and the number will go up on the kickstarter. When you have questions or problems, you can call us directly and probably get Ben or myself. We want to be connected to you. Will that be a problem? Maybe will the phone not stop ringing some days? Yes, but what an honor that is, that so many people want to contact us. We are not rock stars; we make art, and we want to be connected to the people who enjoy that art.
Ben: And I will talk dirty one the phone to people if they want. [laughter]
Nick: For an additional pledge. The Templesmith Hotline!
Ben: If it’s not taken, yeah we should get that!