[Interview] 44Flood Talks ‘TOME 2’, Melancholia, And Art

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44Flood is a name everyone should know by now. The company, founded by Ben Templesmith, menton3, Nick Idell, and Kasra Ghanbari, has only been around for a year and they’ve already made quite the splash in the art world. The guys recently launched the Kickstarter for the second volume of their biennial anthology series, “TOME”.

The theme for the second volume of “TOME” is melancholia, and the list of artists involved in the project is overwhelming. They have some of the best artists in the world contributing to the book, and not just comic artists. There are painters, sculptors, musicians, writers, the list goes on.

44Flood took the time to chat with me about “TOME 2”, the current state of art in contemporary culture, and the crowd-funding process.

BD: For those who don’t know, tell us a little bit about TOME and your plans for this anthology.

KASRA: TOME is a biennial, limited run themed anthology at a massive 12×18” and 200 pages with an inserted CD that attempts to have art be presented and experienced in a way that would be almost impossible outside of standing in front of the original work itself. Featured Artists have between four to eight pages to show us their perspective on the theme, which includes a one-page interview conducted by another artist.

We put our first volume of TOME out last year with the theme of VAMPIRISM, defined as the misuse of power and the objectification and exploitation of others. For TOME 2, the theme is MELANCHOLIA, being the condition more akin to the alchemical phases the psyche passes through for our self-discovery and evolution…NOT depression or mourning, but something far more essential and ultimately beneficial to us all.

So you can already see that with TOME it’s important for us to pick a theme that has a modern understanding we find incomplete, often over-simplified, and even outright wrong and then bring in artists from all walks of life and disciplines to explore this attempt at a renewed presentation.

BD: So it’s melancholia, but it’s not about mourning or depression. Can you tell us more about this? How did you settle on this theme?

MENTON3: Depression is more akin to sadness and entropy and more akin to a lack of will to live. Melancholia is when the things that are important to others and the things that you feel like should be important to you stop being as important, and maybe having a picket fence and a expensive car, and 3.5 kids is what you dreamt of your whole life and you finally get it and it’s not what you wanted it to be. That’s more like melancholia. Because, in all of us the human spirit is meant to soar and do amazing things and we grew up believing in the mythologies of our teachers and preachers that, you know, having money and this and that and the other will make us happy. And when it doesn’t, we feel like we’re depressed and it’s not actual depression, it’s the other things that are important inside of you trying to come through. And if you can register on a psychological basis that these things are worthless what then becomes of worth to you?

It’s kind of like if you had all the money in the world and you had bought all the houses you had wanted and all the cars you had wanted and you had all the businesses you had wanted and you had given to charities and cured hunger, you woke up the next day, what would you do? A lot of people would say “paint” or “make music” or “write a book” because these are things that I think to the human soul have more value than the numbers in your bank account or the amount of women who want to sleep with you, which is not what society teaches you as a whole, movies, and by people’s behavior. They teach you that the things that are worthless are worth more, and melancholia is way more in tune with the idea that the things that are supposed to mean something to you and that you think mean so much to other people don’t mean that to you, and from that I think that most artists, whether you’re a writer or a fashion designer or a painter come from that stand point. They want to garner actual self worth, personal honor, and self-wealth, and that has nothing to do with riches and gold and so forth. In a way of looking at it, on your death bed what are you going to be really proud of that you’ve done? Are you going to be really proud that you made a bunch of businesses and money, or are you going to be proud that you made your wife laugh for twenty years? What becomes worth something?

And, I think melancholia is the lack of worth and the beginning of understanding what you need to do individualistically to become something that’s worth something to you. Because, it really doesn’t matter if you’re worth something to someone else, what really matters is if you’re worth something to you and you alone. Why the theme? I think a lot of it has to do with the generation of art and I want to do the best I can at exposing people to the idea that you might not be depressed, you might be melancholic. And the pills that you’re taking or the therapist you’re seeking help from might not know the difference and these are ancient ways of looking at things that we no longer look at. And for me personally, there are many times I thought I was depressed and was really down about that when it wasn’t really depression. It was, something else was trying to come through me. So I thought that would be the perfect theme for TOME 2, exploring how artists really make art, not just what they make but how they make it.

BD: On your Kickstarter page you say, “The artist is born into a state of inspired MELANCHOLIA and exists within it”. Is this something that you feel rings true for all artists?

KASRA: I believe that truly creative, innovative, extraordinary, unprecedented ways of seeing the world, and the states of being that are introduced and made possible from that, find their genesis in what we’re calling the process of inspired melancholia.

Artists go through this “otherworld” and bring back their experiences within inspired melancholia to us, providing those images, symbols, and light posts for our collective benefit, so that we may learn and not have to go through what it is that they have gone through. Our belief is that this influences the collective in a deeply meaningful and critical way, that this determines a society and culture’s ultimate health, well-being, growth, and relevance.

Editorially for TOME 2, I’ve decided to focus a great deal on simply presenting melancholia in this manner with some emphasis on the entrance into, and early stages of, inspired melancholia, with the artist shown as being both Dante and Virgil taking the “Hero’s Journey” on our collective behalf.

BD: There is an insane lineup of artists involved, coming from an array of artistic backgrounds. How did they all get involved? How do you choose who gets to be part of the project?

KASRA: Thank you very much. It’s been incredible to have so many brilliant people be involved and give of themselves to create something like this.

The true answer is that it’s hard to explain and there’s no easy formula behind it all. I’ve been involved in the arts for most of my adult life functioning as an agent, working with galleries, curating shows, developing my own stories, and producing books. And on one level, it’s just been a matter of talking and connecting with people through the years.

Outside of that, I started intensely doing research on possible creators for TOME 2 back in February, right about the same time that I started researching melancholia itself. And as my understanding of inspired melancholia grew and my hopes, wishes, and desires for TOME 2 began to form and shape and mature, so did my wish list for who I wanted in the book and the sorts of perspectives that would best serve the theme.

But at that point, all you have is strong opinions on an esoteric subject and a wish list. I knew I wanted to have at least half the contributors to TOME 2 be new to the series, so roughly speaking I started talking to and recruiting who I knew best and worked my way out from there. Then you get to witness all the really good stuff…the strange coincidences, the chance run-ins, the synchronicity, the artist you managed not to say hello to for 10 years because you were chicken shit and that you run into buying a coffee at a convention, all the weird and wonderful that you just try and stay out of the way of and let happen.

What I’d like to believe it comes down to is intent meeting generosity of spirit. All of us at 44FLOOD truly care about TOME, the melancholia theme, art, artists, and attempting as best as we can to articulate our beliefs and to be the change we would see in the world. And the creators we talk to often feel the same way, know that they can add to that articulation, and then give of themselves to make it happen. It’s just plain awesome.

BD: Because of the diversity of artists, this is not strictly a comic book anthology. How will all the different art forms coincide throughout?

TEMPLESMITH: It’s definitely not a comic book anthology, it’s art in the true sense. Comics are but one facet of art, an oft-neglected one I might add. But the book is rich in painters and photographers and even musicians. On what I think, is a level footing. Which is important. No comics just snuck into the back. It is, after all, one of the great American artforms.

BD: With TOME you seem to be asking people to think about art, and comic books, on a different level. Do you feel this is something you’ve been able to achieve?

MENTON3: I don’t know if I could pretentiously say that I’ve achieved that. I can say that it’s something I’d like to achieve. It’s almost like calling a person a philosopher, I’m not even sure you’d be able to say that anyone’s done it until they’re dead. But, it’s definitely something I’d like to throw out there into the world, not to say the comics I make or the comics I’m a part of making are this high art. Of course, I strive for that, that doesn’t mean I meet the mark. I’m a long way from where I want to be but I do think as artists we should strive towards that and I’ve said this before like, “what is the Sistine Chapel but a graphic novel all over the walls of an amazing building?”

Our common understanding of what generates or what justifies calling something a comic book or a graphic novel is strange, you know. I think Bill Sienkiewicz’s Stray Toasters, I think it’s really hard to call that “not art,” “not high art,” and that’s kind of what I grew up with and what, you know, compelled me to get further and further into it. I would love to live in a world where I felt everyone was striving for that, because I do read comics and I do read stuff sometimes and go through comics and I don’t really see the point of them. I don’t want anyone to read a comic I’m a part of and feel that way. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to, but at least for me to strive in the direction of attempting to do something that’s important and that I love, if I can sit back for a minute and I think it’s worth something, I’m hoping it will be worth something to someone else.

BD: You guys are adamant about the power of art and the importance of it in culture. Yet you feel that many have forgotten how to engage with art. Why do you think that is?

MENTON3: That’s a very difficult thing to articulate quickly. It is a very simple thing, like, you know, articulate to me why you love your wife. You could say she has beautiful hair or she’s sweet to you but none of that’s going to really encompass the actual emotion that you have toward her. I can say that, you know, generally speaking I can take friends of mine to an art gallery or to a museum and I’ll expose them to paintings they’ve seen before in a different way and there’s kind of an “ah ha” moment.

But even at a museum you’re only going to stand and look at a painting for what, maybe a maximum of three, five hours at the most. I mean, normally speaking, people will sit in front of a painting at a museum for a half an hour at most. But you’ll get a lot out of it, you’ll learn something about yourself, you’ll feel things, you’ll feel maybe an identification with the artist or see things in a different way. Imagine owning that painting. You wake up everyday with it. It fills you with a particular feeling as you’re leaving your house for work. People have forgotten what art can do and they think that computers and television have taken its place and it’s really not that way.

As an artist, as a painter, you spend years upon years, upon years learning how to articulate paint in a certain way and you put so much of yourself into it. Every David Stoupakis painting has a piece of David Stoupakis in it. The prints are beautiful, and I have prints that I love, but nothing compares to the actual painting, and owning artwork is a very strange thing that we basically as a collective have forgotten to think about. As to why, wherefores, and how to fix it, I really don’t know. All I do know is to try and speak out about what I’ve learned about it and show people what I think. Some of that sounds like I’m on a pedestal talking down and I’m not. It’s more like, “hey, I’ve discovered this really cool place, come check it out with me.”

BD: This is your third project, all of which have been successfully funded. What have you learned and what do you plan to do differently this time around? Will you continue using crowd funding as a pre-order method?

TEMPLESMITH: Heh, logistics, streamlining rewards, the crucial component of packaging and how a simple upgrade can add thousands in a ripple effect. Shipping costs… compartmentalizing each Kickstarter project as an entity… and generally how to engage people online and get feedback and the enthusiasm of people who actually seem to be really into what we try to do. The list goes on. It’s a humbling experience to raise your hand and ask the world to go on a journey with you… and have them say yes.

I think currently there’s no alternative to the size of the Kickstarter community/platform as a pre-order mechanism, if one wants to try to use it that way. It’s not really about fan bases, or who you are. (Although those things can hugely add to it obviously.) People look at the projects. If it’s good, it’s going to get support.

BD: How has 44FLOOD grown since inception? Did you ever imagine you would receive the amount of support you have thus far?

TEMPLESMITH: We’re getting older and wiser. It’s a long hard slog to profitability really. One thing we won’t do though is turn into the rather faceless management types wanting to cash in on a fad, a license, or a straight gimmick for a buck. It’s about art and for me, a direct connection to people I want to show my comics to.

BD: You guys are also doing a gallery show opening September 28 in New York at Last Rites Gallery to celebrate the release. How did this come about and what can we expect from the show?

KASRA: I knew from the start of 44FLOOD that I wanted to tie our projects into galleries and curate more shows. We thought about a gallery show for TOME 1, but honestly we were all way too overwhelmed with the amount of work and effort it took to make that first volume.

So right from the start of TOME 2, I decided to try and secure a show and make it part of the book’s development, story, presentation, all of it. Last Rites Gallery was one of two dream settings I had for the show, and they couldn’t have been cooler about it. They took the time to look at TOME 1, find out what we wanted to do for TOME 2, and make it work within their schedule. I’ll be co-curating the show with them, and Last Rites has opened up their entire gallery for us to put on an insane show.

So the TOME 2 show opens September 28 at Last Rites, but we’re also throwing a party at the gallery on Saturday, October 12 during New York Comic Con. We’ll all be there along with a bunch of artists in TOME 2…and everyone is invited!

BD: What’s next for 44FLOOD?

MENTON3: That would be telling.

Interview by – Lonnie Nadler