Last week Flesk Publications launched a Kickstarter for a new book, “Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea” (Studio Edition). The book will explore the creation of the “Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea” original graphic novel by Mike Mignola, Gary Gianni, and Dave Stewart, which came out earlier this year. Joining us to discuss the Studio Edition Kickstarter is Publisher and Art Director John Fleskes.
John Fleskes: It’s pretty exciting. As a publisher, and from knowing artist/writers such as Gary Gianni and Mike Mignola, I tend to have these opportunities to talk with them, to gain insight, and to see the preparatory drawings that are normally kept within the studio. The idea behind this book is to essentially give a VIP back-stage access to the supporters of this book. My goal is that it serves as a premium art book, allows people the chance to gain insight into how graphic novels like this are made, and serve as inspiration for artists looking to refine their craft. I want people to feel as if the book was made just for them. I also take a lot of pride in the packaging, paper selection, binding materials to make this a prestigious art object in of itself.
I love getting into the process, but this Studio Edition takes it to a whole other level. I mean, it doesn’t just show a selection of page layouts, instead it covers the layouts from start to finish. In fact, we get to look at any part of the process from start to finish, complete with commentary from Gary Gianni.
John: That’s right, and we will be including some extra process things that we will let remain a surprise for now. I was talking to Gary about this yesterday, and one thing that we discussed is how much I engage with the artists for their participation in the bookmaking process—I almost insist on their involvement—which is highly unusual for a publisher. Lucky for me, I never had any experience working in publishing or design before I started Flesk. This let me develop my own way of doing things without any previous methods or limitations to inform me. It just seemed natural to me to put the relationship with the artists first, then work closely together to make a book. This is how I can make books that get into the very core of who an artist is, and I hope people feel that personal connection when they see this book.
This is your fifth book working with Gary Gianni now. How did that relationship start, and how has it grown over your past works together?
John: I tend to tell long stories, so I’ll try and make this short. I talked with Gary in the summer of 2001 at the San Diego Comic-Con and let him know about the Franklin Booth book that I was working on. This was the first book that I published. It came out in the spring of 2002. Gary was the first professional to believe in me and encourage me. This sparked a friendship that led to my being welcomed into the fold—so to speak. Gary introduced me to the Wandering Star crew including Jim Keegan, who invited me to sit with them at their Wandering Star booth at the San Diego con from 2002–2004. I met Mark Schultz this way, and also Mike Mignola who was set up right next to us. So, I got to know these guys right away, and they couldn’t have been more welcoming and supportive. It really is remarkable to think back on now that I’m looking at fifteen years as a publisher and got to know these guys right on day one. I’m incredibly grateful to all of them for seeing something in me.
Also in the spring of 2002 I helped Gary by scanning and prepping his “MonsterMen” art for his self-published “Corpus Monstrum” collection self-published by his Hieronymus Press that summer of 2002. I still remember getting home one day and seeing a package from Gary on my porch. When I opened it up there was the full set of “MonsterMen” originals!Continued below
A few years later we then began working on his color adaption of “Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “The Prince Valiant Page,” followed by “Major Thrill’s Adventure Book” and “Mysterious Islands” collections that were released over the years. And now we are working on three new books, this “Hellboy” Studio Edition collection, a collection of his Robert E. Howard art that was done for his three Wandering Star books, and a complete collection of his eight years working on “Prince Valiant.” So, we’ll be busy working together for the next few years. Once those are done, I’ll have to come up with another project idea since I enjoy working with him so much. He’s a great person, really, the best.
But back to this “Hellboy” book, Gary broached the idea with Mike, then myself in the summer of 2016. Once we ran the Studio Edition concept by Mike and got his approval, we got to work. As is usual, even yesterday, Gary and I came up with a new idea for the book and we’re implementing these changes. We’re constantly making things harder on ourselves, but knowing it will make the book better it’s worth it.
How involved is Mike Mignola with this book? Will it include iterations of his and Gary Gianni’s script?
John: At the moment Mike is fully occupied with the new Hellboy movie that is currently being filmed. Due to this he has left the day to day regarding this Studio Edition to Gary and I to manage. Mike has been very gracious with his time when we have questions, or when giving us feedback when we provide him with updates. All in all, he’s a terrific creator, writer and artist, and someone who we greatly respect, along with his “Hellboy” property. We want to make him proud and make sure that the book is of the highest standards.
Regarding the script, we have come up with a unique way to include the story while leaving the art free of text. In this way the full story text by Mike and Gary is included as well.
There’s certainly a strong sense of the fun you guys are having on this project, especially in Gary’s (and Abraham Lincoln’s) explanatory video.
John: We take our work seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.
The Kickstarter video is hilarious. The concept was purely Gary’s idea. The simplest thing for us to do would be to make a video where the artists sits and talks to the camera about the book, and then show some of the artwork, and talk some more about who we are. But that’s boring for us. We wanted something silly that would make everyone feel like they were in on an inside joke. Gary donned his Abraham Lincoln mask and got right into character. It helps that he has that powerful theater stage voice.
At the end of the day we can’t make any failures. It’s impossible since the working stages are all enjoyable. We make the books without compromise. We lavish over every tiny aspect of them to a ridiculous degree. We have a blast working together, and when the book is released we have fond memories attached to the project. I hope we infuse some of that good energy into the book when people look through and read them. Funny thing is, during phone calls it’s oftentimes 70–90% talking nonsense, then, oh, let’s talk about the book! It’s definitely a fun experience. But a lot of hard work, too.
And you’re already funded now. In fact, you hit your goal a few hours after the Kickstarter went live!
John: I’m always pacing the floor right before launch time. You can always count on me tweaking the campaign for two full days around the clock, staying up late, hardly sleeping and going over every aspect of the campaign over and over again right up until the advertised start time. I never know what to expect, and have no preconceived ideas of how well it will do, or not. It usually takes me two weeks to build a campaign page, but those last two days I am especially focused.Continued below
It was unreal to see how well it did that first day. Here we are hoping the book will hit its goal after thirty days and we were funded in one day. In reality, our $15K goal is half of the real funding needed for the book. At $40K we can add all of the bells and whistles that we wanted to include. [As of publication, the Kickstarter has since passed 40K.] I always go into a campaign with the idea that I can self-finance the other half if need be to make the book happen. We may not be able to add all of the extras that we would have liked to, but if a campaign does well we spend that extra money upgrading everything. When the book comes out, it’s our reputation on the line. If we collect extra funds and don’t apply it to improving the book, then I would feel funny about that. We owe it to ourselves and to our supporters to make these books as special as possible.
Of course, now the Kickstarter is well into stretch goals territory. I believe you and Gary are working on a few surprises for your backers there.
John: First we added thirty-two pages to the book that include Gary’s “MonsterMen” story reproduced from the original art that was originally printed in the “Hellboy Christmas Special” in 1997, along with their respective pencil preliminaries, then we added some prints, and just today we have announced what I consider to be the best stretch goal ever offered.
If we hit our fourth stretch goal we will provide everyone who has made a pledge of $50 or more with a free copy of the illustrated edition of the classic story The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft. This is something that Gary was working on a few years ago, but it was shelved due to an opportunity to illustrate George R.R. Martin’s A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.
Gary and I were talking last week about ideas, and he told me he wouldn’t mind tightening up the pencils and making this version of the book available to our supporters as a stretch goal. At first I was concerned about his time and how much work it would take for him to get it done in a relatively decent amount of time to fit within this campaigns schedule, but he is confidant. We spent the weekend formulating a plan, getting printer quotes, determining the book size, and here we are. Who wouldn’t want a free bonus book with a hundred pencil drawings by Gary! I want it! He wants it! So, we make what we like and want and go from there. I’m very excited about this.
Another great thing is that, through the campaign, people can get high end prints of the original art pages at actual size that were done for “Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea” of any of the forty-nine pages. They get to pick. That’s a special treat for anyone. The original art looks amazing. To have a giclee print to hang at your house—wow, that’s nice.
Yeah, I can’t wait to get one of those on framed on my wall. And it’s rather fitting to have the “MonsterMen” material in there too, especially given its history with “Hellboy.” Obviously it was a big part of the “Hellboy Christmas Special,” but many of the other short “MonsterMen” stories ran as back-ups in “Hellboy” too.
John: Mike and Gary were first introduced to one another by Geof Darrow back in ’93 or ’94 right when “Hellboy” was just getting started. As the story goes, Gary once told me that he had seen some of the early “Hellboy” pages and was struck by the agony and the ecstasy in Mike’s work. Obviously, Mike admires Gary’s work too, which led to him inviting Gary to include “MonsterMen” as backup stories in “Hellboy.” Gary had told me that he wouldn’t have had the guts to suggest this idea to Mike.
I also enjoyed seeing “MonsterMen” appear in the back of “Hellboy” comics. Ah, that linework! Those monsters! Gary loves to draw monsters. I was already a fan of Gary’s from his time spent drawing “The Shadow” comics and from seeing his illustrations for the Solomon Kane book from Wandering Star, but anytime you see a creator working on his own material is always a pleasure to see. Luckily, Gary kept all of the originals and preliminary material so that when we had the opportunity to add a stretch goal that increased this “Hellboy” book by an additional thirty-two pages it seemed a natural fit to include Gary’s “MonsterMen” material. For anyone who has never seen or read these stories they will be getting a real treat!