Interview: 44FLOOD Talk TOME

PrintE-mail Written by P.M. Buchan

What do Eisner-award and Emmy-nominated artists like Bill Sienkiewicz, Ashley Wood and George Pratt have in common? They’re all contributing to TOME, a new annual anthology showcasing world-class artists using comic-books, painting and music to express an original theme, the first of which will be Vampirism.

TOME was conceived by 44FLOOD, a collective comprised of MONOCYTE co-creators menton3 and Kasra Ghanbari, 30 Days of Night co-creator Ben Templesmith and comic-shop owner Nick Idell. Only the first in a long line of publishing plans, TOME will collate original art by creators that have been associated with titles like Silent Hill, Hellboy, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, Elektra: Assassin, Popbot, Sandman, Criminal Macabre, the Korn albums and Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland. With a range of exclusive art and prints offered as rewards for pledging towards TOME in advance, 44FLOOD need your help to bring their dazzling vision to life.

Visit their Kickstarter HERE to learn more about the project and see videos that express their intentions better than words ever could, including the making of a joint Death-themed tarot card by Templesmith and menton3, and keep reading our exclusive interview with the four creators at the heart of 44FLOOD to find out why they all feel driven to offer creative freedom at any costs to such a range of figures from across the film, music, fine art and comic-book industries.

Starburst: Who are 44FLOOD?

NICK IDELL: 44FLOOD is Kasra Ghanbari, Ben Templesmith, menton3, and myself. We’re a group of friends that got together and decided to start a company whose primary purpose is to make amazing books, books that we would buy and that we can’t easily find on the shelf, if at all. We want to make books that try to show the world that it doesn’t matter what kind of art you use to tell a story or convey meaning, just as long as it speaks to your soul. I believe that TOME is a great example of the kind of books that we plan on producing and distributing consistently.

BEN TEMPLESMITH: We’re a group of rebellious young upstarts drawn from various different yet useful backgrounds that want to share art and creativity with the world. We’re people not afraid to try.

SB: Define TOME for us. From all the possible creative outlets that you could choose to start out with why did you decide on the format for TOME?

MENTON3: The initial idea behind TOME was to create an anthology that artists could basically do their best work in. I know as an artist who works with comics and commissions that the tighter you make a subject matter for me to work on, in the sense the less you’re going to get out of me. And that’s not the way it should be, but it is, because it becomes more and more your idea and less and less the idea I see in my head.

Me and Kasra initially had the idea for TOME because we wanted to give our favorite artists and the people we think are just amazing free reign to do whatever they wanted to do given a certain subject matter, and we thought that in and of itself would be an amazing book. The reason we picked this book first is because we kind of felt like it’s our flagship of what we’d be capable of doing as a group.

There is a great deal more to come. This isn’t the only book we’ve talked about doing, this is not the only book we have confirmed that we’re doing. This is just the initial book that we thought would kind of show people what it is that we truly want to do. Me and Ben both have collections of Juxtapoz magazines and comic books, and for us there’s kind of a gap there. And we wanted to make a book that is a hybrid of both of them. And one of the things you hear from a lot of people is that doesn’t sell, and that’s very difficult to sell, and we wanted to give it a shot anyway and kind of go out on our feet rather than on our knees.

SB: What sort of artists can we expect to be contributing to TOME?

KASRA GHANBARI: TOME will have artists from all over the comic book, illustration, and fine art/gallery worlds. You’ll find sculptors, figurative painters, writers, dark art icons, B&W artists, mixed media artists, sketch Gods, graffiti artists, oil painters, and more.

This first volume of TOME will draw largely from our circle of incredible friends and collaborators who are willing to take on some of the heavy lifting needed to will a conceptual project like this forward. That said, we’ve already had a surprising amount of interest from artists whose work we admire but don’t know personally.

As an example, I’ve followed Chet Zar’s work closely since at least 2004, and I have friends who’ve shown his work in their galleries and even published one of his books, but I’ve never met him in person nor have any of the other 44FLOOD partners. But Steve Niles was kind enough to introduce us, and Chet liked what he saw with MONOCYTE and with Menton’s personal work, and the conversation moved fast and easy from there. Chet is a very cool and generous guy who totally gets what we want to do, has his own ideas to make it even better, and is 100% on board. That’s exactly what TOME and 44FLOOD are about.

SB: The theme for the first installment is Vampirism – how did you come to this theme, and what does the concept mean to you?

MENTON3: As far as that concept, it’s an extremely personal concept to me. I have a difficult time talking about this subject without sounding like a woman who collects cats. I met a person throughout the course of my life who believed in vampires, and the way that he believed in vampires was very different. And this was not a belief that he specifically wanted to have, it was actually a horrible thing that he experienced in World War II and then there were later events throughout his life that confirmed this to him. And it was something that really haunted him and bothered him.

When I met him, he was a much older gentleman, and the conversation I had with him has stuck with me my entire life and has been something that has influenced me on many, many levels. And you know in the current climate, I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but there’s a lot of vampire depictions out now with True Blood and Twilight. And I think that’s all awesome, but I definitely wanted to do my idea of this and the way that this gentlemen saw vampires and the way that I’ve come to see vampires is a much more intriguing artistic area for me. And everybody kind of jumped on board with that idea, thank God, because I think it would be a really great theme for a book. For me, I can’t wait to see Sienkiewicz go wild with this kind of thing and other artists involved like David Stoupakis.

The basic construct is to take vampires seriously, as if they actually existed. Not some fantasy, not something sexy, but something that was real and tangible. What kind of artwork would you produce out of that theme? And to me that was very compelling, and I think it compelled everyone else involved.

BEN: Vampirism can be many things. To me, it's about things of a parasitic nature. One thing living off another, codependent in a sick and probably unjust embrace. It's never fun to be the host to a parasite! Be it in nature or business or social settings! There’s so much to play with this theme rather than just Dracula.

SB: We've spoken at some length before about the creative processes between Kasra and Menton3, so I have to ask, what other themes did you consider for TOME first? How did you even begin narrowing down your choices?

KASRA: If there’s one thing Menton and I do, it’s talk and debate and play chess and see what’s left behind other than two smoke-infested dudes. Early on with TOME, we came up with three or four ideas that got us excited to the point that it made the book seem much more real and possible. I can’t say what they were as that would be telling, but I will say that “Vampirism” wasn’t necessarily one of them.

I can try and give some insight into the nature and kinds of themes we’d be interested in exploring with TOME. It may sound subtle, but to us there’s a massive difference between “Vampires” and “Vampirism.” And similarly, the vices and virtues are fertile ground for an anthology, but TOME would be more likely to explore the peculiar interactions between a vice and a virtue. There’s a figure who’s been the subject of extraordinary intrigue through the centuries, who’s seemingly popped his head in and out of strange places centuries apart. How is that possible? Is there any historical basis for this being true? Well… yes. And who wouldn’t like to know more about a possible real-life motherfucker?

For the first volume of TOME, we didn’t want to go off the deep-end of esoteric. With any luck, there will be a time for that.

SB: Assuming that the Kickstarter for TOME is successful, where do 44FLOOD go next? How will you share with the world this vision that is essentially a direct collaboration between the artists and funders?

MENTON3: I see 44FLOOD more as a band than anything else. I grew up in bands, I helped produce bands, I spent most of my life in and out of bands and working with bands. I don’t see this any differently. The fact that we’re producing art and writing, I don’t think that’s any different than producing music. We’re four individuals who all have something to say, and to me that’s compelling on its own, to me that acts as a band.

As far as the Kickstarter being successful, right now it’s Friday, and we start the Kickstarter on Monday, and I think I can speak for all of us that we’re pretty terrified of it going badly. We respect and are humbled by any support that we get. We don’t know what’s going to happen with it, we have no idea if it’s going to be successful or not. We’re not going to stop, if the Kickstarter is a failure we have plans to continue forward doing things. But we have many, many books that we want to put out. There’s at least 12 right now we’re extremely interested in and 6 that are definite. Some of these books may be revealed during the Kickstarter campaign.

NICK: Yes, TOME is just the beginning. We have our own new ideas, as well as other great opportunities coming to us all the time, from creator-owned comic books to stunning hardcover art collections. The great thing about 44FLOOD is that we’re not just dedicated to one medium. But as of right now, we have a ton of projects lined up that I can’t wait to get out there, mostly because I can’t wait to sit down and read them.

SB: I know that during the creation of MONOCYTE there was a feeling of family, that close collaborators were more than just workmates. Does that apply equally to 44FLOOD? How heavily are you all investing in this?

MENTON3: I think having a personal relationship with who you work with is really important. Art is something that comes from specific areas of the psyche, and the way I see it is that various people play different notes, it’s just who they are. And sometimes those notes harmonize, and sometimes those notes are dissonant, and I feel like all four of us play notes that are extremely similar and harmonize with one another but aren’t in any way distinctly the same. I think, for example, mine and Ben’s artwork is extraordinarily different from each other, but I still think there’s a theme running through both of them that is the same.

I can only speak for myself. I’m extraordinarily and heavily invested in this. To me, it’s become what I wake up thinking about and what I go to sleep thinking about. I’m seriously concentrated on the paintings I’m going to make for it, the pages I’m going to do for it. To me, it’s the most exciting project I’ve ever been a part of just because of the enthusiasm that we all share.

SB: To me it feels completely natural to see you all standing together optimistically, talking about self-reflection and hope for the future at the same time as being surrounded by images of darkness and death. How do you feel about this contradiction? Would you say that your art leads you to dark places, or is it more the case that you overcome adversity through your art?

MENTON3: On the surface, I’d have to say that I think that it’s because if I paint it I don’t have to live it. But, that’s a funny thing to say. I don’t really view my art as dark. And I know that sounds crazy to some people and that I sound delusional. At the same time, I can see how people see it as dark.

I pull images from the subconscious, a lot of times that’s shadow imagery from the Self. But a lot of this stuff is to me very similar to dreams where you’re being chased in. You know there’s some horrible monster that’s chasing you and you turn around and typically in these dreams it’s just a child that wants a hug. I think a lot of times what people view as horrifying is something that just needs to communicate something. But I don’t think there really is a juxtaposition of the imagery with us.

But I will support the fact that we all are optimistic and we all are very excited about the project. But as far as the artwork being dark or not, you the viewer are the judge of that, not us the artists.

BEN: Death isn't the end. Well, not ultimately. Death also means renewal, rejuvenation, changing things into another form. From the day we're born, we begin to die. It's what you do with what you've got that counts. Death makes life precious. So really, without being afraid of it, it's quite uplifting.

KASRA: Every convention we set up at, without fail, a six year-old girl or five-year old boy will run up to our table and point to MONOCYTE or Menton’s paintings or Ben’s prints with excitement and curiosity and purity while their parents sit back hesitant with confusion and sometimes even genuine fear. There’s the contradiction.

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