Since 2015, Brian Hurtt (Manor Black, Sixth Gun), Marie Enger (Rocko’s Modern Life, Casket Land), and Matt Kindt (Spider-Man, Dept. H) have comprised HEK Studio - and as of today, they’re launching their first Kickstarter campaign for the aptly-titled HEK Treasury anthology.
Presented in a large prestige format hardcover, HEK Treasury will offer readers full color art, a tri-fold narrative poster, and loose-leaf story cards. This will be the studio’s first truly collaborative effort and their inaugural publication.
Newsarama had the opportunity to speak to the HEK Studios team about what scares them, the haunted history of St. Louis, as well as what sets the HEK Treasury apart.
Nrama: So, Marie, Matt, Jeff, the tie that binds here is horror, as you all are known for your contributions to contemporary horror. What is it about being scared that can still be fun to you?
Marie Enger: I hate being scared in the real world! And I’m scared all the time! Contemporary horror lets me be “afraid” of something fake - it diverts my anxiety and fear away from the real things that weigh on me every day. It gives me an escape. I feel bad all the time. And when I get to read, watch, write, draw, or color horror, I feel less bad. So maybe the question is “what about being scared is still fun for me” and more “why being a little scary is therapeutic for me.”
Brian Hurtt: As I’ve gotten older I’ve let go of a lot of my belief in the supernatural but I still have a love for those sorts of stories. I think that I love reading and watching horror because I like to chase that “horror thrill” I used to get with those kinds of stories. And when I do find myself scared or unnerved it reminds me that I still have buried thoughts and feelings - deep in that lizard brain - that no amount of rationalization can overcome.
Real horror to me is the kind that taps into that existential dread that is so inescapable. That said, my stories in this anthology are more in the sci-fi/dystopian range but still contain an element of horror (it’s a theme I can’t shake). My main story for this collection focuses on a near-future world that has been warped and shaped by mad science so it has elements of biological and body horror. It’s a little creepy and a little gross and a lot of fun!
Nrama: You folks have over 100-pages of story with this anthology. Is it divided equally or is it more of a group effort, almost like mix and match among the three of you?
Enger: It’s divided, but also a group! It’s both! If we make some stretch goals, I’ll get to draw for Matt and write for Brian! I think we’re a team? We’re definitely in this together!
Hurtt: Like Marie said, we each have our own sandboxes to play in for this book and are each producing the same amount of pages. But, we also fully intend to do some “jam-piece” stories where we might write for each other as well as collaborate artistically on pieces. These are always the most interesting “experiments” because when two artists meet on the page the end result ends up being something that is truly unique and separate from their individual work. It almost feels like magic!
Nrama: Another connective tissue is that you're all from St. Louis. Marie, I believe you're still there, and it's interesting because when people think haunted America they probably don't think of St. Louis. However, it's the home of the story The Exorcist is based on, and even the Alexian Brothers Hospital where the exorcism took place is located there (with the room being permanently sealed). Do you have any ghost stories of your own while in the city?
Marie: Yeah I’m still here! I know with my con schedule this year it feels like I’m not calling any place home these days, but I still work and live in St. Louis! And, yeah, this place is haunted as hell! I’ve spent time in that Alexian Brothers hospital! Allegedly one of my family members was at SLU for the “real” exorcism! My story doesn’t come from St. Louis though - it comes from the place I lived in my teens. Enoch’s Knob (part of why I named one of my Fhtagn characters “Enoch”) is a haunted bridge outside of New Haven, Missouri.
I had a frenemy that I’d go out and do bonfires with out in New Haven and on the way to her house, I’d cross this creepy bridge called Enoch’s Knob. It’s got some grizzly history, but the “good” parts of it are a boy who fell through the bridge and drowned (you see his ghost reaching up for aid from the river at night), a teen who OD’d on alcohol and painkillers who will try to force you to OD, a “demon dog” who will appear if you flash your lights three times, and suicidal ghost animals.
I’ve never seen any ghosts on the bridge (or under it), or the dog, but I will say that every time I crossed that bridge, right in the middle of it I’d hit an animal (squirrel, possum, raccoon) that ran out of seemingly nowhere into the middle of the bridge. It was really creepy. Still is!
Hurtt: Growing up in historic St. Charles (St. Louis adjacent), everyone claimed to have ghosts in their houses so there was never an end to the ghost stories we’d tell. But the story that comes to mind for me that of the witch, Molly Crenshaw.
Legend has it that she had been killed and then dismembered - her body parts scattered and buried in several unmarked graves. It was said that every year her buried body parts would slowly move closer and closer to one another and ultimately be rejoined and she would rise from the grave. Half the fun of this story was that teenager - for decades - would claim to know of one of the sites and would go out at night with their friends to one of these apocryphal grave sites (always along a twisty, dark country road) and hang out/party as long as their nerve held. It was that giddy kind of communal scare - the kind where your fear is tempered by the fact that you’re experiencing it with friends. It was really a fun region to grow up in for that reason.
Nrama: Comic campaigns on Kickstarter are almost everyday occurrences now. What do you think it is about the HEK Treasury that will stand out for readers and your fans?
Matt Kindt: I think the design of this book is going to be something new to comics and graphic novels. We’re taking a unique approach that harkens back to the 70s and the classic age of Heavy Metal, horror, and sci-fi magazines. But we’re updating it with a collection of stories that all sort of interweave and connect either thematically or literally.
On top of that I know we’re playing with the format. I’m going to have a fold-out spread that works to tell the story as well as a section that you read once and get the story and then go back through and place stickers with captions that completely change the meaning of what you just read. On top of that, the design and production is going to go above and beyond - think of something more like McSweenys with some creative and surprising design and art choices that make having the hard copy of this book even more essential.
Enger: I think that all comic Kickstarters bring something new to people. You can do more experimental things in a Kickstarter. I think we’re all bringing really unique stories to this thing, even more unique styles.
Hurtt: I’ve always had quite a bit of creative freedom on the books I’ve done, but this project allows us to go wherever our imaginations take us and there is no one - editors or publishers - that we have to convince of the value of making these stories. Also, since we are each doing multiple stories, it allows us to each push ourselves artistically and creatively. We can afford to take chances - to experiment - and that is where the real joy of this project is for me!
Nrama: HEK has been together for four years now at this point. If this campaign does well, do you think you'll go back to KS for something like this again?
Kindt: We have some big plans for the studio and this is sort of our opening salvo. If a big quirky creator-owned project like this can sustain itself, then we definitely have more ideas loaded and ready to go for future projects. The beauty of the creators being in control of the shop like we are, means that we can interact directly with readers and retailers and also make sure our projects not only look exactly like we envisioned them, it gives us the freedom to try new things that break the mold of what readers normally think of as graphic novels and comics. All of this comes from a true love of the art form and this is the best way to push the medium forward.
Enger: It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Kickstarter. I think the studio will do great things - and I know that this won’t be our only Kickstarter.
Hurtt: We’ll definitely be back!