44Flood’s latest project Lust reunites writer Steve Niles with artist Ben Templesmith while adding Menton 3 for a mix of prose, art, and comics. The two-sided 9X12 book has each artist doing art on one half of the book with Niles weaving prose throughout to create a unique storytelling approach where the story meets in the middle after exploring the interplay between chastity and lust.
With a rather modest goal compared to their project Tome, Lust strictly focuses on the collaborations between Niles, Templesmith, and Menton 3. In that regard, the project has a stronger focus despite the looseness in developing the story within the project.
“I’m working very differently then I usually do,” says Niles. “I’m almost entirely taking my cues from Ben and Menton. They are creating images, I’m writing to those images and then also writing and scripting based on what we come up with. I don’t like bashing people over the head with themes and messages so the stories will be accessible and hopefully entertaining.”
Like Tome, Lust also has an escalating reward system for its backers dependent on how much they pledge to the campaign. While this isn’t unique in of itself, what 44Flood offers sets them apart from comic related Kickstarters. Lust promises many art extras, but will not add extra creators to the mix due to the nature of the project.
“TOME is a completely different animal,” says Kasra Ghanbari, a partner in 44Flood. “It’s a massive 12×18” anthology with a music CD bringing together 100+ creators. It’s an enormous project with commensurate production costs. With LUST, everyone is working to create this book and simply receiving a percentage of sales. So the actual out-of-pocket money required became manageable and has already been considerably offset. Our goal is to do the work to best present what we feel is an interesting project, and then see if people feel the same way and want to pre-order it.”
Having said that, the group has learned a lot from the Tome fundraiser and the many pleasant surprises that came out of taking a project directly to the people.
It was a shock for me completely that people responded to what we were trying to do,” says Menton 3. “You see, most of the time we work in more or less a vacuum. We get our scripts and hear the editors comments, we sit in a room for a few weeks, do the work, then we send it back to the editor. And after that all we see is numbers.”
Working under best intentions in this vacuous state can be a bit disconcerting comparatively to having a direct lifeline to the fans and marketplace interested in projects. This new approach has been a new way to see a project through.
“The only place we see the book again with someone who liked it is at a convention months and months later,” says Menton 3. “I learned that I could be completely connected to the people that were truly excited about the same ideas. It gave me the largest since of community I have ever had in my life. The people buying the books were no longer numbers…they had names, Facebook profiles and thoughts on what we were doing. I guess to sum it up, it was amazing to let a project build with their ideas as well as ours.”
For Ben Templesmith, the lessons have been similar, but different in their own unique ways based upon his approach towards creating projects and art.
It’s made me more conscious of promotion… though not too much more,” he says. “Ultimately, artists must themselves promote their work anyway. It gets a bit ridiculous when you have more social media and presence than a main line publisher as to the logic of why they deserve the traditional financial benefits of what we bring to projects. It alters the dynamic. I think crowd sourcing has been proven to be altering the dynamic and we’re certainly riding that wave. It’s entirely liberating as a creative with an eye to the business side.”
Pushing the envelope by merging the mediums of fine art and comic books, 44Flood offers a decidedly experimental and bold ambition in redefining sequential storytelling. It ‘s fair to say that Lust may in fact be more ambitious than Tome because of the level of experimentation taking place, elevating the form and audience typically buying comic books. The story started in some ways as an abstract concept working towards concrete reality by having the story development work in reverse from the orthodox approach to storytelling.
“The fact that they are supplying me with images and characters to kick start me is pretty fun,” says Niles. “The challenge will be tying it all together into some sort of cohesive narrative. I’ll be covering a lot of genres and themes and delving into some concepts I really haven’t before.”
The chances of a project like this happening with a major publisher are remote at best with the climate of today’s comic market. Taking chances means taking Superman’s red briefs away, not radically changing the approach to developing story.
However, 44Flood has shown that the marketplace is ready for the bold and daring while showing how an effective crowd funding campaign can open up channels to the marketplace that didn’t previously exist. In essence, 44Flood’s approach to developing story and art doesn’t need the conventions or constraints of working with major publishers, but does that mean they can or wish to avoid dealing with them at all?
“I have no urge to replace publishers,” says Niles. “I work with many and I want them to thrive. That said the freedom to do what we want and deal directly with fans and readers is incredible. I don’t think one will replace the other, but it adds another dimension, another way for creators to get work out in the world.”
It also gets projects out there that fans want. Niles and Templesmith had a run similar to Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely where they worked with each other non-stop. After exploring different projects for a decade, opportunity presented itself with the possibilities of developing something new, unbridled, and unchained from traditional publishing.
“Ben and I did A LOT of work together back when 30 Days (of Night) broke,” says Niles. “From Hellspawn to Criminal Macabre we wound up producing over 600 pages of comics together. We needed a break. Now, it’s been 10 years and we’ve had our break.”
“For me, it’s a sign of coming full circle,” says Templesmith. “New beginnings, the time feels right and it’s part of a grand experiment. We made magic happen once, when we were bored and sitting around waiting on approval for another job. Now we get to revisit things, a little older, a little wiser, hopefully having learned a lot in the interim and are able to bring a little something special back for LUST.”
It just took a new idea to reinvigorate a fruitful partnership. The key to bringing the two back together for another opportunity at breaking more new ground is another frequent collaborator of Niles and Templesmith.
“The idea of working together again falls on Menton,” says Niles. “It was his idea. He got Ben and I talking and once we started talking the floodgates opened. I’ve always loved collaborating with Ben so I’m looking forward to the future right now.”
Having worked with Niles on a regular basis, Menton 3’s respect for both artists has made for an experience he’s honored to be involved with.
“Well, being a huge fan of them both, it has been amazing to see, and I am extremely excited,” says Menton 3. “But to be able to be a part of it has blown me away. The fact that these amazing artists thought highly enough of me to allow me to be a part of this is humbling to say the least.”
If history repeats, this artistic grouping could be producing another prolific run of projects for the foreseeable future. Considering the modest goal Lust has in comparison to Tome’s off the charts success, it stand to reason that it will produce enough interest to keep the creative fires burning for a long time to come.
“I think it’s very possible,” says Niles. “I plan on doing a lot with Menton, Templesmith and 44Flood. If this works it will only solidify my making 44Flood my home and family. I kinda love these guys.”
And maybe that love instead of lust will be what makes this latest project another big hit commercially and critically. To hear it in the artists’ own words, check out their video clip for Lust below.