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Baker's Dozen
Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.

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BAKER'S DOZEN for 08/09/2006
I first became aware of John Fleskes' series of fine art books a few years back. At that point, he'd mainly been doing titles which featured the incredible work of Joseph Clement Coll and Franklin Booth, volumes which showcased for a new generation of budding artists and fine art lovers the simply brilliant illustrations of gentlemen whose work would have been otherwise largely unseen, if not forgotten. Then, as if that wasn't enough to pique my interest, Fleskes announced that his company would begin publishing sketchbooks featuring work by the likes of Mark "Xenozoic Tales" Schultz and Steve "Nexus" Rude, and my and others' level of excitement rose accordingly.

This year looks to be one of great promise for this small, but increasingly mighty art book imprint, with several titles poised on the edge of a real break out, sales-wise, in both comic shops and mainstream bookstores alike. All of which means that now's the perfect time for me to sit down for a short conversation with publisher John Fleskes, so he could fill in the details about what his company has planned for the rest of '06...and for a little further on down the road.

And I gotta say, I am really excited about what's going on now, and what's coming. I suspect that you, too, will share a bit of this excitement after you have a chance to read what John has to say concerning...

The Fine Art of Making Fine Art Books
John Fleskes on Flesk Publications' 2006 Releases and Backlist

Bill Baker: While doing research for this interview, I realized that your company had recently changed in a couple of fairly significant ways. First, you decided to include books on contemporary artists in your catalogue and, second, it seems that you've also decided to publish at least one book written by someone else. Why don't we deal with these in chronological order? What lead to Flesk Publications doing the Mark Schultz book last year, and the Steve Rude volume you've got in the works?

John Fleskes: I enjoy good art, regardless of the time period, or genre. My three books, one on Franklin Booth and the two volume Joseph Clement Coll titles, were a result of my passion for their artwork, not to create a company that focused on the Golden Age of pen and ink illustration. As I weighed my options as to which artist to focus my energies on next, I selected Steve Rude.

The reason for my decision is twofold. One, I personally am passionate about Steve's artwork (I would not get involved with an artist if I did not enjoy their artwork, even if I thought the book would be a hot seller), and second, I did not want to create a company label of being tied to one genre. I want my company to represent great art. Whether that is Franklin Booth or Mark Schultz, it's the same to me, excellent art. I will place much of my focus on the fields of illustration and comics, since I enjoy them both. But, I will not be limited to them either. I hope to surprise people with my publishing ventures and not limit myself. As long as I continue to have the support of the public, by buying Flesk Publications titles, I will continue to educate them through high quality collections.

To get to your questions about Mark Schultz, I've known Mark for a few years now. I've always admired Mark as both a writer and illustrator, and now since I have been able to get to know him on a personal level, a gentleman. I think what's brought us together is we both do not have limits in the areas we would like to expand in. We share a certain set of ideals and beliefs. His career has traveled through comics, illustration, writing novels, and more. Mark was also looking to retain a certain amount of control in his work, which I am not only willing to give, but encourage. We talk in great detail about the design of the book and the way the artwork should be reproduced. Through this process the end result is one we are both extremely happy with. And that is our first goal, to satisfy ourselves.

Working with Mark also fits into my business plan of expanding upon the types of books I publish. I hope those who have supported me in the past, trust my judgment and are willing to come along for the ride and explore different areas of art.

In case anyone is worried, although the title is not ready to announce, a new pen and ink book will be out in 2007.

Jamas Bama: American Realist

BB: Well, how about the James Bama: American Realist book by Brian M. Kane? Why do a book on this particular artist, and--more importantly for our purposes--why not do your own book on Bama? Why publish a book built by another writer, however good they might be, when you are a great writer, yourself?

JF:: First of all, let me say, Brian is a terrific guy. I got to know Brian after I finished my first book, Franklin Booth: Painter with a Pen, and at the time, Brian had recently finished his superb Hal Foster book. We were naturally drawn to one another as two guys with the same passions about artwork, and we both had one book under our belts. We were going through the same feelings of excitement and accomplishment. We swapped stories, shared techniques, and kept in touch, developing a friendship.

When the opportunity came up to publish a book on James Bama, I was ecstatic. I was eager to see a collection of Bama's entire career, from his early days as an illustrator to his second career as a fine artist. This has not been done before. Previous collections on Bama have focused on his fine art, his western art, excluding his illustration career. This book will focus mainly on his illustration art, with a final chapter on his fine art, to round out Bama's amazing career.

Brian approached me with the James Bama book project. Since I have a tremendous amount of respect for Brian as a writer and designer, and I am a big fan of Bama's, I was able to accept the proposal immediately. This book was Brian's baby from the start. It is his hard work that has made it possible.

To answer your question about why not work on the book myself, or other books for that matter? Well, it's simple; there is only so much I can do by myself. I can't accomplish my business plan by doing everything without help. I require a good team to help me. Flesk Publications is not just John Fleskes. It is through the help of talented individuals, like Brian, that I can expand the business. With all this in mind, I agreed to publish the Bama book.

I would rather publish 100 books over the next 10 years, than publish a handful of my own. Once again, the goal is to put out great books on art. If a talented person approaches me with an idea I like, I will give them my support and publish their book. I look forward to slowly growing the business, and building a strong loyal team that I can support.

As for my writing, I have a great editor who catches my mistakes. I don't feel I am a great writer, or great at any one thing. I have much to learn. I do feel I am versatile, I don't limit myself, and I believe in myself. That's what keeps me going.

Jamas Bama: American Realist

BB: On the surface, all the artists you've featured might not seem to have much in common, aside from their high level of skill; is there perhaps an unseen thread running through their work--and would it be fair to say the same about your entire line?

JF:: I think much of this has been answered already. Basically, if I like the artist's work, I will be open to publishing the book, regardless of the genre. Your observation is correct though; the common thread is their high level of skill, in my opinion.

BB: So what lead you to this particular position at this point in your life? When and how did your passion for fine illustration take root, and how'd that lead to your direct involvement publishing fine art books under your own imprint?

JF:: My passion with art started with comics. I began collecting comic books when I was twelve. I enjoyed the field, and read fanzines. Occasionally I would read about an artist's influence, which led me to the world of illustration. I have always been a collector, eager to pick up the latest art books on artists I enjoy.

Flesk Publications happened unexpectedly. While working on the Franklin Booth book in fall, 2001, I was not thinking beyond the one book. My focus was simple. I had a strong desire to see a book done on Franklin Booth. I was tired of waiting and did my own, just for fun. I had no previous experience with design, writing, and publishing. I learned what was necessary, and put out the book. From the time I started, to when the book was available to the public, it was a time period of about six months. I enjoyed the process and decided to continue with the business. I feel there are more terrific artists that are past due for a book. I aim to correct this.

Jamas Bama: American Realist

BB: How hard was that whole process of making your dream a reality, and what kind of unforeseen costs or hurdles did you have to overcome along the way? And what were some of the hidden benefits or small but special pleasures you might have discovered along the way that have helped make it all worthwhile?

When starting your own business, the work is always hard. When you think you've given your all, and you're tired, you have to give another 200%. There are always unforeseen costs and hurdles. I expect these things and I don't let myself get surprised. I do my best to resolve them quickly and move on.

The pleasure that I derive from all this is the feeling of personal accomplishment. The moment a book arrives from the printer is an incredible feeling. Of course, I see many things that can be improved upon, but instead of harping on past oversights, I apply the lessons to future publications.

I enjoy the book shows the most. It is the only time I have the opportunity to get feedback from my supporters directly, face to face. It's funny; no one ever buys my books within the first few hours of the show. No one wants to have to carry around heavy books all day. I use a real thick stock paper on my titles, which makes them heavier than your average book. Realizing this, I remain optimistic throughout the day.

BB: How about important lessons, be it in your role as a writer, designer, publicist, salesperson or whatnot, that you learned along the way? Anything of import that you'd like to share in any of those areas?

JF:: There are lessons to be learned every day. Mainly, there are a lot of firsts for me. There are constant challenges requiring me to take on something new. The trick is to not let challenges stump you, but to face them, deal with them, and move on.

BB: Well, what's next for Flesk Publications in both the near and far future? What's the next year or so hold, and where would you like that to lead in five, or perhaps ten years?

JF:: This year will represent significant growth in that I will publish four books. Each book touches upon different fields of art.

The James Bama book will represent illustration from the fifties and sixties. It will also be the first of many new books in color. The Steve Rude book will showcase his incredible paintings for comics, for the illustration world, and private commissions. The Schultz book will touch upon comics and illustration also. Then the Bob Peak book will span forty years of movie poster work, special assignments, fine art, and illustration. Each artist is unique in that they can appeal to a wide range of people and are not limited to one genre.

I have four titles planned for 2007 already, with more to come in 2008. One title I am particularly excited about for 2007 is Mark Schultz's new book, tentatively titled, Storms at Sea. Mark will both illustrated and write this book. Mark has been doing a lot of scripting and writing over the last eight years, but hasn't done much of both at the same time. Illustrating his own book will be a first for him. I've seen a few of the preliminaries for the finished illustrations, and it is the best work I've seen Schultz produce to date. He is really growing at an accelerated rate. This book will be something that will appeal to all ages. I feel very fortunate to be publishing this title.

The next five years will be focused on not only great books, but also on building a stronger team at Flesk Publications, to handle the increase in workload. A few talented people are coming on board to help Flesk Publications grow.

Besides reprinting great material from the past, Flesk Publications will also feature more new work from artists.

Jamas Bama: American Realist

BB: When all's said and done, what do you hope that your readers get from your books?

JF:: Pleasure, enjoyment, satisfaction. A break from reality. A greater appreciation of an artist.

BB: How about the authors?...assuming that they all could still appreciate the books, of course.

JF:: Personal satisfaction that they gave their all to the book, and that I did not let them down. I want the experience leading up to a book's release to be a positive and memorable one, for all parties involved. Appreciation from those they desire it from. And, of course, I hope to sign large royalty checks so they can feed their families.

BB: Aside from those things mentioned earlier, what do you get from doing all of this work?

JF:: My workload can be tough at time, but it brings me immense pleasure when a project is wrapped up. I really enjoy supporting the artists and creative talent. To provide them with a venue to showcase their terrific work, and to hear them call me and appreciate my involvement, that makes it worth it for me. The business is fun for me and I am passionate about it.

Jamas Bama: American Realist

BB: Any other thoughts you'd like to add before I let you get back to work?

JF:: Well, on top of the many new book projects coming out from Flesk Publications in the near future, I will be making some major modifications to our website. I will be adding interviews with the writers, artists, and designers, and showcasing more biographical information on the artists, along with more images posted in the galleries section.

I will also be keeping all of Flesk Publications titles in print. I want them to be available to the public as more people learn about us. I am happy to say the Franklin Booth book continues to be our top seller. I think this is because Booth's work appeals to the widest audience and is soothing to look at. I am confidant that the new James Bama book will knock it off of it's best seller list. Brain Kane sent me the finished book recently, and it is dynamite!

Finally, I am also excited about a recent deal made with filmmaker Paul Jilbert.

The signed and limited edition of the Bama book will include Paul's 60 minute documentary on James Bama. Paul spent intimate time with Bama to assemble this documentary. It is an amazing film. Included are interviews with top illustrators, and of Bama. One highlight of the film is when Paul filmed Bama as he visited a Pow Wow, selecting a model for a portrait painting. The film shows Bama in his studio, and features a captivating biography spanning his entire career. The book and DVD together make for a terrific package!

******


James Bama: American Realist is offered on page 390 of the August, 2006 Previews catalogue. I've read it, and got to see just about every illustration being reproduced, and I gotta tell ya that this is one gorgeous, well designed career retrospective of one of the most significant and influential artists of the last century. I believe it'll be worth every penny you spend on it. The same holds true for the Mark Schultz sketchbooks, both of which I own and treasure. And I hold equally high hopes for the forthcoming Steve Rude volume.

You can learn more about this and the other excellent titles offered by Flesk Publications by visiting their website at www.fleskpublications.com.

On a more personal note, my first creative work in over a decade is included in Wicked West II, which is being published by Image this October, and is currently available for preorder on page 143 of this month's Previews catalogue. But don't just buy it for my work; there's plenty of reasons for grabbing a copy of this puppy, and including the likes of Mike Oeming, Mike Baron, Tommy Castillo, Mark Ricketts, Mike Hawthorne, David Michael Beck and J. K. Snyder. And, as usual, there's reason enough to buy this one for the tales by series creators Todd Livingston, Bob Tinnell and Neil Vokes.

Finally, I thought I'd mention that my second book, Alan Moore's Exit Interview--a brand-new 3-plus hour interview with the master storyteller, this one exploring his experiences and ideas concerning the business side of comics--is offered on page 219 of this month's Previews.

Now, at the risk of sounding like I'm bragging, I've got to point out that not only is Alan Moore's Exit Interview one of the Featured Items this month, it's also part of Diamond's "How to Draw" promotion. So not only does Paul Michael Kane's sweet cover appear alongside books like Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library Volume 17 and Tania Del Rio's brilliant reimagining of Archie's Sabrina The Teenage Witch at the start of the indy comics listings, it's also pictured among Will Eisner's Storytelling and Visual Narrative, The Vault of Michael Allred #2 and various other "How To" books similarly spotlighted in the "How to Draw Month Checklist" at the front of Previews.

How cool is that?

Yeah, it's that cool. It's all that, and a whole lot more.

Many thanks to the good folks at Diamond Comics for that kindness, and for their continued belief in my books.

And still more thanks go to you, the reader, for following my work.

Thank you.

- Bill Baker

<< 07/19/2006 | 08/09/2006 | 08/23/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me in World Famous Comics' General Forum.
Read my weekly blog, Speculative Friction, on my website BloodintheGutters.com.


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