"What if The Twilight Zone and McSweeney’s made a baby?" The answer to that thought-provoking question is explored with an abundance of creativity and experimental storytelling in the HEK Treasury, a new comic book collaboration from Marie Enger, Matt Kindt, and Brian Hurtt. To celebrate the launch of the Kickstarter campaign for the HEK Treasury (which just announced its first stretch goal of dystopian paper dolls), we caught up with Enger, Kindt, and Hurtt in our latest Q&A feature to discuss the eclectic stories within the HEK Treasury and the creative processes that made their collection a reality.
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, and congratulations on the launch of your Kickstarter campaign for the hardcover comic collection, the HEK Treasury! How long have you had the idea to team up for a project like this, and what can readers expect from this collaboration?
Marie Enger: Oh man, our pleasure! And thanks! We’re all really excited to get going on this. So, the whole idea for the book? That started happening last year when we realized we were getting way too big for our old studio space and we needed to go somewhere else. We ended up getting this big ol' garage off Route 66, and talking about doing a European-sized book where we all work together to make something weird and wonderful. But, we’ve been working in a studio together since 2014!
Readers can expect to get something big and beautiful, stories that we’ve been saving for something special. Our fans, who might not have had a lot of experience with the rest of our art, will get to experience us as a team instead of individuals. From me, they’re gonna get my favorite things: cults, blood, isolation, monsters, and insanity. And then one really weird, trippy, funny story that I’m gonna write for Brian.
Matt Kindt: We’ve kicked some ideas around for a long time. And this is finally what we settled on. One of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to collaborate, since we’re all capable of writing and drawing everything. And this ended up being a good way for us all to sort of mix and match—do 90% on our own and share a theme—and then another 10% where we write and draw for each other.
Brian Hurtt: One of the things that is most interesting about our studio is how different we all are from an art and storytelling point of view. Just between the three of us, there is a diversity of storytelling approaches and art styles. But instead of clashing or competing with one another, I believe each of our work complements the others. This whole project is a collaboration from cover to cover as we are constantly in discussion about design elements or about what any one of us is doing in a particular story. But one of the more exciting aspects of this book is going to be the story collaborations that Matt mentioned. There will definitely be an effort to create stories and art collaboratively, in ways that we’ve not done before. For me, that kind of work creates a sort of magic—a story or an art style that had not previously existed or that no ONE of us could have made. It’s an invigorating way of working with the end result being just as fun and unpredictable to us as it is to anyone else!
The HEK Treasury has been described as The Twilight Zone meets McSweeney’s. Did you give each other any creative or genre guidelines coming into this, or was everything fair game?
Marie Enger: We pretty much said nothing in a current setting, and something you’d see from Heavy Metal. Lots of sci-fi and fantasy, sometimes mashed together.
Matt Kindt: Yeah, pretty general. More of a look and feel—something that gives us a chance to world-build and draw some really fun stuff. No people in suits talking on cell phones.
Brian Hurtt: As Matt and Marie said, we only gave ourselves the vaguest of themes to hang this book on: non-contemporary genre work. If there is any guideline, it is that we should be constantly pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone and past our own self-imposed expectations.
How important was it to find innovative, experimental ways to tell your stories in the HEK Treasury?
Matt Kindt: Every project I start needs to be something different. I’ve been working in comics so long that I get bored with traditional format and storytelling. Approaching this book was really refreshing—the sky was the limit as far as size, page count, color, production, design, and add-ons. We have interactive sticker-stories, fold-out narrative diagrams, and some sneaky storytelling even hidden in some of our papercraft/paper-dolls that we’re including with the book. I love the bells and whistles, but I hate that kind of thing if it’s just a bell or whistle. It also has to feed into the narrative. It needs to help the story, and I think with this book, while we have a lot of experimental things going on with form and format, it’s all in service of the story.
Brian Hurtt: I’m letting each story dictate how it should be told. Some stories will be pretty straightforward in their execution, while others might take the path less traveled. That said, my approach to this book is all about innovation and experimentation. It’s the reason this book exists. I’m looking forward to switching up art styles and working in different mediums. I want each story to be unique from one another as well as from any of my work that preceded this. What’s so great about this project is that the only impediment to what I can do would be the limits of my own imagination!
Marie Enger: That’s a hard question for me. I’m not taking the same kind of experimental approach that Matt and Brian are art-wise. I like pretty standard panel layouts and stuff, but for me the fact that I’m able to tell these stories at ALL is really important. I like working in short stories, but it’s hard to find a traditional publisher that will take all of those and roll them up into a book.
Are the stories in the HEK Treasury ones that you recently came up with, ones that you’ve been thinking about for years, or a mixture of the two?
Brian Hurtt: Well, my feature story is a new story, but one that is set in a world I’ve been slowly building up in my sketchbook for the past year or so. Another one of my shorter stories is actually several years and has been pretty fully formed in my mind for a while. It’s a story that I’m really excited about telling, but that never really had a proper place to be printed... until now! All the other pieces that I’m doing for this book are ones that have been written with this book in mind.
Marie Enger: So... two of mine are new-ish? Loam is fairly new—it’s a story based off the Guide character in my TTRPG game Casket Land—REGOLITH, too. It’s a story I’ve been kicking around in my head for about a year now. I’ve wanted to discuss mental illness and desperation for companionship and communication for a long time, hiding all that sad sack stuff in a horror guise, so I’m gonna strand a man on an abandoned (but for all the corpses) lunar mining base and make him decide to doom humanity now or later.
But my big one is Fen, which is a story I’ve been telling in some capacity over and over again for as long as I’ve been doing comics. It’s the story of Tignermas and Crom Cruach, the rise of this nightmarish blood cult at the hands of someone trying to bring stability to an unstable community. I’ve been obsessed with cults (I only like the fake ones, not the real ones) for a long time, I’ve been obsessed with the story of Tignermas and Crom Cruach for a long time. I’ve been waiting so long to tell this story the right way, and finally I’ll be able to do it.
Matt Kindt: These are all new. I’d been kicking some ideas around for the last year about giant robots or mechs or something. Just really vague ideas that started with this image of a giant old mech, rusted out and old, standing in the forest. What’s that image about? Why is that mech there? And it all grew from that. The idea of mechs that are re-purposed after the “great mech wars” for different peaceful endeavors. All of that just started to flow from that first image. There are deep-sea exploration mechs and mobile-garden mechs and homes for displaced people... living in these literal mobile homes. All of those stories sort of weaved themselves together and I just started drawing it.
Now that you’ve all worked together in the same studio for several years, do you offer creative input on each other’s work, or do you keep your projects relatively separate?
Marie Enger: WELL. I’ve not been real great about sharing what I’m working on recently (I’ve done about two conventions every month this year since March, so I’ve been GONE and I forget if I’ve told them about something or not yet)... But usually, yeah! I’ve always asked Matt and Brian a million questions about work, how to make this better, what do you think of this... I’ve worked as a colorist or letterer on some of Matt’s projects, and I was Brian’s assistant for about a year before we got the studio, so I am VERY familiar with the stuff they’re doing.
Matt Kindt: My creative input is usually “don’t travel so much!”, but really, we all have pretty brutal travel schedules. We outgrew our old studio last year and the new place we moved into needed a lot of work, so it’s been pretty hectic. But yeah, now that things have settled down, we’re nosing into each other’s business again. Sometimes it’s just “can you look at this page?” or “what do you think about this idea?” or “should I work with that guy?” That kind of thing. What we do is pretty singular, so it’s really a boon to be working side by side with creators that know how it all works.
Brian Hurtt: We are definitely in the habit of critiquing or soliciting advice from one another. Even when it’s not asked for! [Laughs] It’s one of the great upsides of sharing a studio. A lot of times you just need fresh eyes on something you’ve been staring at all day. Maybe you know it’s not working, but you don’t know why. That’s when it’s nice to just holler out for someone to come take a look. We also tend to wander into one another’s work space just to see what they’re working on. There’s also that shared creative energy that can be infectious and help get you over a hump or a bad day.
Based on how the Kickstarter campaign does, are there different versions of the HEK Treasury that readers could experience through various perk levels?
Marie Enger: Shhhh, some of these things are part of our secret stretch goals, but I’ll talk about the awesome deluxe cover that we’re doin’. Stamped gold foil, art penciled by Brian, but inked by me set on a pitch-black background, premium paper, vibrant colors... okay, I’ll stop because now I’m drooling over this book.
Matt Kindt: There will be two different versions of the book—with different covers—but all of the core story content will be the same. The critical thing for us is hitting the goals. We would LOVE to pack even more pages into this book and if we can raise enough money, the page count is going to balloon—it’ll be a really fat book full of stuff. We have the stories ready. I would love to see this thing blow up to 150 pages or even more.
What are you the most excited for readers to experience in the HEK Treasury, and do you have any other projects that you’re already planning together?
Marie Enger: Honestly? I’m really excited for them to see all our work next to each other. My fans are not usually Brian and Matt’s typical fans, and vice versa on their fans for me. I’m excited to introduce each other to everyone else, get people excited for ALL of us. I learned what I know about comics from Matt and Brian and I’m excited to get to stand as an equal (not just a student) with them in this book. I’m also, honestly, really excited for people to see my Fen story. I know that’s selfish, but I’ve been waiting so long to put this out there.
I think we’re always gonna be working together, but right now I’m focusing on our first book!
Matt Kindt: Marie is no student anymore. She’s got so many new projects going—she’s putting my work ethic to shame. I think what I’m most excited about is for readers to just see this thing for the first time. To get that rush when you open a book and you just flip through it and see all of these crazy worlds and characters and colors and even more that you don’t understand until you sit and read it. This is not going to be your normal kind of reading experience. We’ve loaded it with a lot of immersive stuff. I think the thing I’m most looking forward to is the story I’ve designed that you read twice. The first time, you passively read it. The second time, you go through and add sticker-captions to the panels and then read it again. It’s something that’s never really been done before and I think it’s a fun way to interact with a story that will force you to sort of change your perspective on the original meaning of what you read.
Brian Hurtt: There have been many discussions on what the future might hold, be it future collaborations or projects with other creators. But as Marie said, we’re focusing on this book first, pouring all of our blood, sweat, and tears into it! We want this project to represent the very best of us and to be something that we will forever be proud of creating!
To learn more about the HEK Treasury, visit the collection's official Kickstarter campaign, which has just launched its first stretch goal of dystopian paper dolls. For more information, we also have the official press release, images, and trailer below:
Press Release: (August 12, 2019) What if….
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 as of August 12th and runs for 30 days.
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.
“My first book was published in 2001 and I’ve been publishing ever since,” said Matt Kindt, the bestselling creator of Mind MDMT and DEPT. H. “But it didn’t start that way. I did over 600 pages of mini-comics from the end of high school until I was out of college in 1995. And for the next five years I continued to write and draw and self-publish my own comics. I was playing around with the form even then. Using special papers and mixing paper and binding techniques to make some strange looking books. Once I was published, a lot of that formal experimentation got left behind. I’ve spent the majority of my career working within the covers and on the pages – trying to push comics into new territory within certain boundaries and limitations that traditional publishing requires.”
Matt’s contribution to The HEK Treasury is “The Great Mech Wars,” 3 interconnecting 10-page chapters presenting the tale of an old, sad war-mech.
“When Brian approached me with the idea of doing a studio project, I immediately said yes,” said Kindt. “It was a no-brainer. It was a chance to work with both Brian and Marie, and I liked the idea of the format – a big sci-fi fantasy magazine or European album formatted book. It allows us to use bigger pages and to play with the panel layouts in new ways that a traditionally sized comic doesn’t. Also the expectations of a large prestige style book are greater so it’s a chance to really blow out the art and do something really special.”
Marie’s Enger’s stories for the The HEK Treasury share a dystopian theme of bleak, fantastical, ruined worlds and great despair — leading to new, dangerous, beginnings. From death cults to telepathy, her stories push the outer limits of storytelling.
“I’m really afraid of change,” said Marie’s Enger, the creator of the table-top RPG CASKET LAND and the graphic retelling of NOSFERATU. “That is super weird to say, because I think if you want to make art, you have to...adapt to changes very quickly. I don’t. I get scared, I get anxious. I love telling stories about that kind of stuff too - things changing (and not usually for the better), people being thrown out of their routine into something strange, or rotten, or dust covered, or bloody. I sit with all these short little stories in my head, they’re not enough for full length graphic novels, or even a single issue sometimes.”
Brian Hurtt’s stories, like Matt’s, consist of three interconnected dystopian tales, featuring weaponized flora and fauna, suspended animation and mutants.
“This got dark,” said Hurtt. “But these stories will transport you, off our couch, out of your car, away from your phones and into…”
“THE TWILIGHT ZONE?” asked Kindt.
“OUTER PLACES” asked Enger.
“I was going to say amazing stories,” said Hurtt. “Our goal is to be the “McSweeney’s of comic book publishers – presenting challenging works in all genres that pushing the format and medium into new places.”
Last summer, HEK Studios purchased a vintage Route 66 garage (circa 1953). They’ve been working on converting it into the first full-time exclusive comic book studio in St. Louis.
“In addition to publishing through Kickstarter, HEK Studio intends to make a shared creative space for visiting writers and artists and eventually host boutique comic book creation workshops that will be open to the public and make available our combined 45 years of experience in the industry,” said Kindt. “We’ll continue to work with traditional publishers, but we have big plans for HEK Studios.”
The HEK TREASURY Kickstarter campaign is live now at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ohhek/hek-treasury
About The Creators:
Brian Hurtt is the artist and co-creator (along with Cullen Bunn) of the critically acclaimed comic series, The Sixth Gun and The Damned. He is also a contributor to the popular web and print comic Table Titans, where he was the artist and writer for Volumes 3 and 4 in the series. Brian is also the co-creator and co-writer of Shadow Roads (Oni) and Manor Black (Dark Horse).
Marie Enger is the creator and artist behind the eldritch stoner comic, FHTAGN and LOATHING, the table-top RPG CASKET LAND, and the graphic retelling of NOSFERATU! She largely self publishes, but has done comics and covers for Rick and Morty, Invader ZIM, Adventure Time, Rocko’s Modern Life, and is the artist behind PUP’s “PINE POINT” and “THE COAST.” She’s won no awards, but once won a bike for selling a lot of wrapping paper.
Matt Kindt is the New York Times bestselling writer and artist of the comics and graphic novels Dept. H, Mind MGMT, Revolver, 3 Story, Super Spy, 2 Sisters, and Pistolwhip, as well as Justice League of America (DC), Spider-Man (Marvel), Unity, Ninjak, Rai, and Divinity (Valiant). He has been nominated for 4 Eisner and 6 Harvey Awards (and won once). His work has been published in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Korean. The author lives in St. Louis, MO, with his wife and Dept H. collaborator, the colorist and artist Charlene Kindt.
* The standard comic book is 6 ⅝ V 10 ⅛ inches.