Interview with 44FLOOD
44FLOOD, a new publishing company consisting of Ben Templesmith, Menton3, Kasra Ghanbari and Nick Idell recently launched their first project in the form of a Kickstarter. The campaign will fund the creation and publication of the first book in a yearly series called TOME, which collects a huge array of artists and musicians. The Kickstarter for TOME blew away all expectations by reaching its goal in less than a day. I was able to get all four members of 44FLOOD together to talk about what they’ve been working on and what we can look forward to.
Melissa: First of all, I want to say congratulations to all of you. The Kickstarter blew my mind. I know you all went into it feeling very humble, but were you shocked by how fast that thing progressed?
Menton3- I think we’re all in a state of shock and awe. I think we’re way more humbled now than we were to start out with because seeing the people who are willing to support a project like this, honestly brings me to tears. The fact that people still care about art like this and didn’t think our ideas were stupid. That there’s a community of people out there who want to support a project like this gives me a whole new faith in humanity.
Nick Idell- It’s one thing when you’re sitting around for 3 or 4 weeks brainstorming, the four of us thinking ‘yeah, this is great, people are really going to like this’, but there’s still that part of your brain telling you that it might go horribly wrong. When it finally comes through and you see that you were right all along, it’s pretty insane.
Ben Templesmith- I’ve made a career out of ignoring what people want and just doing what I want, so it’s nice to occasionally be right. It was either going to really be good or really be bad, I don’t think there could be any in between.
Melissa- Were you guys all just sitting around, watching the screen?
Menton3- Well, Ben wasn’t here, he was at a convention.
Ben- Can I just tell this story? At the point where we crossed over the Kickstarter amount needed, I was in a public restroom changing my pants because they had just split. I was half nude when we hit the goal.
Kasra Ghanbari- We were all on the computer watching it, partly out of shock, wondering what was going on. Also, we were answering just dozens and dozens of emails from people with inquiries and who wanted certain rewards. We were working about 15 hours a day for three days straight to manage the campaign and try to respond to people immediately and hopefully honor their interests. But we did have a lot of fun refreshing the Kickstarter and seeing people respond.
Menton3- The goal we set was 18,400. And we sat at 18, 200 for about 10-15 minutes then we shot up to 18, 500. I was like ‘guys, we did it!’; we all started yelling and hugging, there were tears. It was amazing. We legitimately thought that we were going to need 44 days to make the goal. We launched the campaign at 10:30 and we hit our goal at just short of 4 hours.
Kasra- We celebrated, but then immediately mobilized. We felt like we needed to give people more. We scrambled to come up with other art, exclusive prints, more rewards to get their interest and possibly get them to come back and continue to support TOME. That included upgrading the book as quick as we could out of respect for that tremendous support.
Melissa- I’ve helped promote a few Kickstarters, and I’ve never seen someone jump in there and up the rewards as quickly as you did. That was impressive.
Kasra- That was incredibly important to us, because we have so much respect for people taking the time to look, let alone support the project at the speed and depth that they did. When we announced the book getting bigger in size, that was important to us because TOME and what it represents was even better realized at those dimensions. Announcing the music CD was only possible because of the tremendous support. It was critical to us to let people know that this was possible 100% because of them.
Melissa- Do you guys plan to go back to Kickstarter for future projects, or do you have something else planned for next time?
Menton3- It’s an extremely strong possibility that we would be doing some more Kickstarter ideas, but we are trying to start a company. We have an awful lot of books already worked out that we’re going to do for 44FLOOD, we’re just trying to strategize at this point the best way to do that. We think going to people and asking them what books they want is a really good idea. We love the idea of the people who want the books being directly connected to the people making the books and the people making the books getting directly rewarded from the people who want the books. It’s a direct relationship, there’s no third party. Within the first few hours of this Kickstarter, we had a lot of people who wanted different packages so we made those packages and got those rewards up. That interaction, to me, has been priceless. It would be silly of us not to continue with a little more Kickstarter stuff but at the same time we realize this is not a way to sustain a business, rather a way to know what people want and how to run our business in the future.
Ben- I’m disillusioned a bit with the distribution model of the industry, so to speak. The reason I do a lot of conventions is I actually like meeting the people who buy and support my work. If we can come up with another way to give people books that has that personal experience, that’s what I’m all about. I don’t want to be just some guy who sits there counting how many copies he sold, I want to sell to people who I actually know love my work and get to see what they actually think of my work, honest grassroots feedback.
Menton3- This is the whole strategy behind 44FLOOD, is we’re going to actually listen to the people who want these books.
Melissa- Kickstarter is the purest form of creator-owned project. And I think the fact that you guys put so much personal attention into it, adding rewards and making changes in the process, is really what makes you stand out right now.
Menton3- It’s an honor to do that. This is how I feed my child. I want to be in touch with those people and know what they like and what they don’t like. For me, it’s been an eye-opener, almost a religious experience.
Melissa- Ben, you just recently made a comeback of sorts after taking a little break from comics. Was there some experience in particular that made you want to work with this group versus the big company promoted work you’ve done in the past?
Ben- When I came back to America, Menton got me enthused about art again, enjoying and doing it, and then I got my enthusiasm back for comics. I’m certainly a lot wiser now about how I want to do my work and, in theory, what I want to do is completely do things myself instead of relying on middle men. If I can sell direct to fans, and be in complete control of my own work, that’s what I’m going to do. Integrity means a lot to me, so if I can maintain that, going forward, then I’ll be the happiest person on earth. I think that’s what any artistic creator wants is to have their integrity respected, be empowered to do what they want to do, and get people to support it.
Melissa- Can I ask where the name 44FLOOD came from?
Menton3- We’re going to keep that a mystery for now because it’s tied into some stuff we’ll roll out later. There is some numerology involved and we’re four guys. I think from Monocyte everyone knows I’m some weird little esoteric, crazy person. And no, I don’t collect cats.
Ben- Mississippi Gandalf!
Menton3- Ben likes to call me that. Anything I do, I feel like it has to have a couple meanings in it. But the name 44FLOOD is very significant to us and to how we want to move forward as a group of people.
Melissa- Menton, your name has blown up since Monocyte. How does all the new recognition feel? I mean, you just did Silent Hill a couple years ago.
Menton3- Almost to the day. To respond to your question, I didn’t know that was going on. Is that really happening? It’s awesome to me; I’m very humbled by it. The fact that people are willing to look at my images and say anything, negative or positive, is an honor. I have the best job in the world, but I work really hard. If I make a good image, I look at it as a gift. Any response to that is amazing to me.
Ben- Menton’s crazy, he thinks he only has eight fans, but I keep trying to impress on him that he’s actually quite good and he’s gaining a lot of attention for the great work that he’s doing. He actually deserves the success because he gave up another career just because he wanted to do this, make art. I think he’s had great success so far in it.
Melissa- Nick, you’re kind of the wild card because you’re the only one who hasn’t been in on some kind of project with this group before. I’d like to know what pushed you to get involved in 44FLOOD and what you want to gain from it?
Menton3- Let me respond to that first. He went from nothing to owning to his own comic book store in less than four months, and it’s an amazing store. Anybody who meets Nick loves Nick. He completes us as a group. Without Nick, none of this would be happening. The guy is simply a genius, and my life has been enriched by having him here.
Nick- That’s very kind, Menton. Like he said, I own and run AlleyCat Comics in Chicago. Every day I sell comics to people and hear what they like and don’t like. I just think we’re making books for the right reasons, books that we think other people like us will enjoy. I think we all have some really great ideas on the way and the Kickstarter was proof that at least the first one was actually good.
Menton3- The best images people get from us as artists are when we’re not watered down, when we can do what we want to do. 44FLOOD is about doing that on a bigger level. We’re working very closely with Steve Niles at the moment, and I think we’re getting his best work, cause we give him a small subject matter and just say ‘go crazy with it’. The stuff he comes back with is outstanding! We’re taken aback by it.
Melissa- On a technical level, where does Nick fit in, in the development of 44FLOOD?
Menton3- Nick runs a comic shop. Not only does he know what people want, but he knows how to treat people. One of things we hold of utmost importance is customer service. If something goes wrong, we want somebody on top of it right away and dealing with people in a kind way; Nick’s that guy. All me, Kasra and Ben are going to worry about is making the projects we want to make, Nick is here to mother ship that whole thing. Nick also has some phenomenal ideas for comics and he is a writer; we would love to bring that out of him and exploit that with him.
Melissa- has it been challenging to get artists involved in TOME or have people jumped on this enthusiastically?
Kasra- The response from artists has been tremendous. They saw where we were coming from, where our hearts are and our intent. We’ve been contacted by so many artists who would be happy to contribute and do future projects with us. We tapped into some sort of artistic collective, which was our hope for 44FLOOD. It happened much faster than we could have imagined.
Melissa- Is there somebody in particular that each of you are really excited about working with?
Nick- How much time do you have?
Melissa- What if you had to pick just one, for the moment?
Menton3- Can I have two? For me, I grew up with Bill Sienkiewicz, anytime we get to talk to him or work with him, I love that. The fact that him and Ashley Wood are both going to be in TOME, that’s dream come true stuff.
Nick- I am so, so incredibly happy to work with Steve Niles. I’ve been a huge fan forever and it’s incredible to get to talk and work with Steve. To have him wrapped up in TOME and in 44FLOOD as a company is just huge. To get to hang out with Ben Templesmith and play D&D with him is pretty great!
Ben- Are we gonna have D&D talk in this interview? For me, George Pratt, basically. He sort of blends fine art and comic books together beautifully, so it was great to meet him for the first time this year.
Kasra- I’ve been an art agent for more than ten years now and my goal was to work with artists that I believe in as human beings, as much as what they’re creating. So, it’s hard to pick just one because we’ve literally built a platform for this type of approach at a level I could never have dreamed of being able to do. If I had to pick, it would be Ashley Wood, because for the better part of ten years I watched Ash and saw him as a role model of what a modern artist could be. It’s not someone locked away in a basement creating and sending things out in to the world, praying that things happen; it’s someone that’s taking action and creating change by being actively engaged in the world. To be able to work with him as a person, let alone as an artist, is just incredible.
Melissa- Menton and Ben, when is the baby due?
Menton3- I’ll tell you this much: we’re flying Steve Niles to Chicago next week to make a video and shortly after we make that video, there will be a huge announcement for the baby.
Ben- Did you just give an exclusive or something?
Melissa- Do you guys plan to do some convention promotion this year or just stick to online stuff?
Menton3- We would like to have a convention presence at C2E2 in Chicago. We’re definitely going to try, but it’s something we have to have the money to do.
Melissa- I love the idea of starting TOME with a theme and allowing each artist to interpret it. Was that an original, motivating factor behind the book or did that part develop over time, as the book became a reality?
Menton3- That was definitely in the original concept for TOME. We really haven’t edited or changed the concept much since its birth. We wanted a theme but we didn’t want to tell anybody what to do. Who doesn’t want to see Sienkiewicz make some artwork about vampirism?
Ben- I also think artists tend to think alike in some ways, in how they approach it, what would make it fun for them. We can get into an artist’s head a lot more than some other people, potentially, so if we can come up with a project that they would be enthused about from the get go, I think that’s a nice thing.
Melissa- Menton and Kasra, what do you think you guys have learned since watching the first issue of Monocyte hit the shelves?
Kasra- Monocyte gave us some confidence that we could create the book that we wanted. In every detail, literally every word, every font, every weird texture, design; the fabrication of that book was 100% Menton and I. We really thank IDW for just letting us go nuts. We did that and the response way exceeded our expectations; that happening let us transition into 44FLOOD, which is taking it up several more notches.
Menton3- I agree with that. Me and Kasra spent months layering that book and making it something we could be proud of.
Melissa- Ben, you have a few ongoing projects like Wormood and Fell that people want to know ‘when are they coming back?’
Ben- First of all, Wormwood is a miniseries that I intend to put out whenever I can. I will be doing a new one, hopefully soon. And Fell will come back! I have to find the right time to re-approach Wormwood, because of various factors. Fell will happen, I have a script I need to start working on, and then through the grace of Warren (Ellis) he has to write a few more scripts and maybe start putting the book out on a semi-regular basis. He’s my comic book daddy, so I must treat him well.
Melissa- So, do you have any goodies you can share as far as what’s coming next for 44FLOOD?
Menton3- 44FLOOD is going to try to do all kinds of crazy stuff. One of the things you hear is ‘anthologies don’t work’. Just trust in the fact that 44FLOOD is going to be putting out books that typically don’t work. It’s not going to be very long from now that there’s something new we’re talking about. I do think 44FLOOD will be doing a little bit more music; some of the bands and musicians that will be coming are phenomenal. We’re looking at avenues for a potential documentary that would not only be about 44FLOOD and TOME but about art in general. If people like what we’ve done thus far, we have an enormous amount in store for them. We want to push the boundaries and see what’s possible.
I want to add that we think getting your name in comics shouldn’t be as hard as it is. If you’re a good artist or a good writer, we want to be involved with you; we want to open our doors to looking at people’s work. We genuinely want to offer a shelf for people to make what they want to, as long as there is an audience for it. More than a publishing company, I would say that 44FLOOD is a philosophy about freedom of speech, freedom of art, knowing that art should be controversial, that comic books don’t always have to be literal but they can be symbolic. That’s what 44FLOOD is about.
Nick- We’re starting an international campaign to make lemonade legal again. Feed Mongolia.