We recently wrote about the new 100-page anthology of comics from creators Brian Hurtt, Marie Enger, and Matt Kindt, noting that the trio was also opening HEK Studio in St. Louis. Since then, The Beat caught up with the trio to talk about the anthology, HEK Studio, and more.
THE BEAT: Can I start by asking each of you to tell me a bit about the stories you’re working on for The HEK Treasury anthology project?
MATT KINDT: I’m doing a series of interconnected short stories set in a not-to-distant future and shortly after the “Mech Wars.” So my stories are really dealing with a post-war situation and how several different characters are dealing with life after. It’s really a way to show mechs (or giant human-controlled robots) being re-purposed for non-war activities such as mobile habitats for displaced people, deep-sea diving and exploration, and fire-watch duty on mountain tops. It’s about the mechs but really just as much about the people that are inhabiting them. There’s also a serial killer, gigantic battle scenes, elaborate narrative diagram/cut-away views, and “legacy” story who’s meaning will change once you put the caption stickers on it.
BRIAN HURTT: I will have a handful of shorter stories in this book but my “feature” story is one that is set in the near future—in a world that is unrecognizable to us. There have been a series of escalating wars of “mad science.” Nations, corporations, and other organizations have thrown aside any consideration of morality in science and have played with cloning, gene-editing, etc., to catastrophic results. The world has been transformed by new flora and fauna and what remains of human life on earth is fighting it out with the new lifeforms that they (humans) have introduced into the world. This story focuses on a day in the life of a mutant woman who has allied herself with the humans. She is a woman apart–rejected as a traitor by her own people and considered “other” by those she chooses to help.
MARIE ENGER: I’m doing three stories at least – two shorter ones – one dealing with the GUIDE character LOAM from my TTRPG series CASKET LAND, and one called REGOLITH that deals with isolation, death, and sudden and terrifying communication on an almost dead moon. But the longest story I’m going to tell is called FEN. It’s about the rise of the cult of Crom Cruach, and the fall of self. I have been telling this story in some way or another (short comics, D&D campaigns) for years – and it’s something important to me. I want to tackle how it feels to start giving a piece of yourself to something bigger, and the pain of giving so much away that now you’re just a shell. I want to tell a terrifying story of blood and corruption, community and decay. I’ve been waiting to tell this story in this way…for so long.
THE BEAT: I understand you’ve been sharing a studio together for the past four years, and this anthology is the first collaborative effort between you. How has that close proximity given rise to this project?
KINDT: I think it was just a natural extension of some of our early experiments in collaboration. Marie lettered all of Dept. H and did amazing color work on Pistolwhip and 2 Sisters. Brian and I have done things in the past as well – the YA book “Poppy and the Lost Lagoon” and different art/writing mash-ups over the years. The impetus to really make this official came with the purchase of our new studio earlier in the year. We now have a large airy studio space with plenty of room to work and store books so this seemed like the next logical step. Also, this new building loan needs to get paid! (laughs). But seriously. In a way I think my stories sort of grew out of us working together and building this new space for us to live and work. The studio is not that much different than a giant mech. We’re each working in a section of it, fulfilling our responsibilities and making the big machine run.
HURTT: We’ve all worked together in different ways, and often on much smaller projects, but there are still many variations on collaboration that we’ve yet to do! I’m excited to have Marie write a story for me! Maybe I’ll ink one of her pieces or one of Matt’s? Maybe I’ll color one of their works? There are a lot of different combinations that will allow for that “creative alchemy”, or magic, that always manifests when two or more, very different, artists meet on the page. It really can be some of the most satisfying and mysterious work you can create.
ENGER: I’ve been working with Matt and Brian in some capacity for about 6 years! I met Matt when I was in college, and Brian in 2013. I think this is the first time I’ve ever drawn anything for Matt or written anything for Brian (it’s gonna be nuts). I’m sure, when we’re in the middle of working on all of this, we’ll start collaborating in ways we didn’t expect, helping each other tell clear and beautiful stories…I’m excited!
THE BEAT: How does the bigger, European-style format of the anthology enable experimentation in ways that normal American-sized comics otherwise might not?
KINDT: It’s freeing to me, to just go back to a graphic novel format. Something that is fully self-contained and not serialized. It allows for greater creative control and the ability to put out a big piece of work that is fully realized. You lose the ability to think on the fly and evolve a project as it goes along so I’d never turn my back on serialized work but it’s fun to revisit a graphic novel format. Also – with the larger size and page count that isn’t limited – we can stretch out. I’m excited about doing some double and tri-fold-out spreads. And if we need an extra page or three to control the pace of the story – we’re controlling that…not the hard page count. Plus – it’s gonna be on really nice paper and have a couple of amazing covers. We’re fully in control of the production as well so it’s going to look like nothing else out there.
HURTT: I’m a big fan of the European comics album format and I’ve wanted to really explore that format for years! The amount of “real estate” you have on a page totally changes the way you pace a comic. I’ve been working mostly in the standard, 22-page, American format for almost 20 years and there is a real need to challenge myself in that regard so as to be sure I don’t get stuck in a rut. And playing with that same real estate, visually is going to be another unique challenge. Like, I love the idea of having several pages of denser action and storytelling and then to turn the page and have a double-page splash, so MASSIVE, that your head explodes!
ENGER: I LOVE the European style format. All that extra space, those beautiful hard covers…I’m really excited to have the freedom of space and (kind of?) unlimited page count. I can let my stories breathe if I need to, and that takes so much pressure off. I’m…unbelievably excited to do these long, sweeping landscapes across a double page spread for FEN and REGOLITH. I’m toying with the idea of incorporating complex celtic knotwork into the interior covers. I’m not trashing “standard” comics, but I’m kind of bougie with my books. And my eyes are real bad. I want to work big! And have a beautiful book at the end of it!
THE BEAT: In addition to the anthology, I understand you’re working to create the first full-time exclusive comic book studio in St. Louis. What can you tell me about that space and your hopes for it?
KINDT: I guess we just did that. With the publication of this book and our logo on it, it’s official. The idea is to create a shared space with us as the core team…but with enough room to have guest artists come and work and also enough storage space so in the future we can work with some of our favorite artists/writers to publish small boutique style print-runs of their work with high production values and creative design. And also raise awareness of the creators we love and help them reach a wider audience.
THE BEAT: Might this anthology be the first of many collaborative projects to come out of your studio?
ENGER: Oh hell yeah!