Curio and Company
Nostalgia,is defined as a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. Whether we admit it or not, everyone of us has something in our lives that calls forth that warm fuzzy feeling from the past. For me, lately, it’s been photos from the early to mid 20th century.
The Curio and Co. team, using the power of nostalgia, have created what they call “genuine fakes”. Sounds confusing right? Fortunately I had the chance to speak with Cesare Asaro and Kirstie Shepherd, and they explained it to me.
Their art style is intentionally retro. They create memorabilia, souvenirs from a history that never existed. Instant nostalgia eliminates the ‘middle man’. As Kirstie said “Your child hood home is never as big as you remember it to be. There’s a kind of disconnect between what we remember and what really happened. If we can eliminate the middle man you can never be disappointed.”
They are so interested in nostalgia and maintaining the fictional world filled with their eccentric characters, that the website itself is part of the experience. Curio and Co, “is one of these imaginary properties we’ve created. It functions as our company but it’s also a portal into this alternate timeline”. Their own names are not on the website, but there are clues/hints everywhere. The characters have their own email addresses and business cards. Those same characters get spam and email and will often reply to emails. This is a fantastic idea. Extending the make believe of the concept, to a more ‘real’ level helps draw people in.
To maintain the illusion as much as possible they want everything connected to the concept to look and feel like a prop. This is where the ‘genuine fake’ bit comes in. Products come with ‘certificates of authenticity’, provided one is willing to play along with the idea.
Curio and Co, based in Vienna, Austria, is getting attention from the entertainment industry. In fact, their first book, ‘Finding Frank and His Friend’, was nominated for an Eisner Award! “It was really exciting… It’s a coffee table book of the ‘lost’ images of a comic that nobody has ever seen before”. It’s just like finding an amazing book, comic, or movie that falls in the middle of a series, and how the reader has to discover more. Imagine ‘Calvin Hobbes’ author Bill Watterson, had died young and left fans of his work hungry for more? How would ‘Charlie Brown’ fans react if Charles Schulz’ family discovered long lost/hidden works?
Within the books there is a love for the history of comics, combined with the other aspects inherent in their work, Curio and Co. feels that may have helped them earn the Eisner nomination. Additionally, one of their properties has been optioned to a Hollywood film studio. Fingers crossed in the next two years there will be a working script. Since the internet is full of spoilers, they were unable to go into detail. Non-disclosure agreements are becoming far more frequent. It’s rather sad, especially since it would be awesome to share the info right before San Diego Comic Con! Since they can’t share it yet, we will all have to wait until an announcement is released. Cesare described their experience in Hollywood as amazing. Kirstie said that one studio exec told them “I don’t see anyone else doing the complete immersion that you’re doing”.
Innate nostalgia satisfies a craving for something retro, the mystery of a backstory, even if the whole thing is completely fictional. Regarding the nostalgia factor, cultural background plays a huge role. Cesare is from Italy, but moved to the States at 14. Kirstie is from San Diego. What they miss (besides friends and family) are small cultural connections, TV shows, inside jokes, and radio. For example Fonzi from ‘Happy Days’, is one of the biggest and funniest gaps between Cesare and Kirstie.
Another cultural ‘shocker’ for Cesare, was that music in the US is sectioned off by genre. Apparently in Europe music isn’t confined by type. Childhood television shows are vastly different around the world. Because it’s hard to share those culture specific experiences, they created an entire world for everyone to remember for the first time together.
Just this month they started a Kickstarter to secure printing and production for an illustrated field notes journal related to their ‘AZR-0: Robots in the Wild’ title. These “adorable yet elusive robots” were described as ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ meets ‘I, Robot’. Imagine a small band of wild robots on a distant planet. Now imagine a scientist is sent to study them. Like Jane Goodall, this scientist kept notes. To maintain the nostalgic feel, the journal sketches are being hand drawn, and the text is hand written. This allows for genuine flaws to appear throughout the book. While it could be done digitally, both Kirstie and Cesare said eventually the program would repeat itself, and subconsciously we the readers would notice it. They have done this before with other products. In ‘Finding Frank’ Cesare made each pin mark as real as possible. For the Tarot of Musterberg cards, every single had one to be ‘worn’ individually to give them that antique feel/look. In the ‘Spaceman Jax’ comic, they recreated mistakes common to rush releases related to movies decades ago. Cesare worked diligently on that because their computer systems kept trying to correct the errors.
They’ve never done a Kickstarter before this. Lacking the funds of the larger comic houses, Kirstie said the Kickstarter allows them to accept pre-orders and use the money that comes in for the production.
This year’s Comicon in San Diego will be their 6th. It is their hope to get in touch with people because “creating is so isolating”. Creators love seeing fans get excited. They are also hoping for feedback, which is very important business wise.
In the meantime, I’ll see you at the next con!