Interview: Matt Kindt, Writer and Artist For ‘Mind MGMT’

You’re on an airplane and you suddenly forget who you are. And it’s not just you; the stewardess, the guy next to you, the whole plane, including the pilots, have all forgotten who they are and what they’re doing there. This is the imagery that opens Dark Horse’s new ongoing series, Mind MGMT.

Written and drawn by Matt Kindt , a master of off-beat espionage storytelling, Mind MGMT tells the story of Meru, an investigative reporter and bestselling author who delves into a fact-finding mission to uncover what cause of the strange flight, a journey that will take her across the world and across the path of dangerous rogue mentalists.

Depending on who you ask, Kindt (3 Story, Super Spy) is either one of the most indie guys working in mainstream comics or one of the most kick-ass dudes working in indie comics. We chatted with him about his career, doing his first monthly title and hiding Easter Eggs on his pages.

Geeks of Doom: So much of the story is about memory, how did you approach exploring memory and the loss of it in the comic book medium?

Matt Kindt: I feel like I’m always tackling memory in every book I’ve done in some way or another. Usually it’s because that’s how I’m trying to think of how my own memory works. What do I remember? Why do I remember that? That kind of thing.

What confounds me is dreams. In the first few pages I put the line in there: When you’re in your dreams and it’s one of those story-type dreams and stuff happens. You get surprised in your dreams. Something happens that shocks you. But your brain is generating that so how are you able to surprise yourself? It’s such a conundrum to me. But I think it’s sort of one of the themes I wanted to tackle with Mind MGMT. There are spys and they all have their powers, it’s a lot of action but also How does your brain work?

GoD: You’ve worked as both a writer and an artist, separately and together. Does any mode come more naturally to you?

MK: Yeah, I’d say my least favorite would be drawing for another writer, just because I like storytelling so much, I miss that part of it. The drawing and the art is the best, I get a little bit of both. I’m probably most satisfied that way. The writing I’ve been doing for DC has been so much fun, it’s been so much easier to just go ahead and dream it up, write it and hand it to someone else to draw. There’s this sort of weird relief when I have to turn in a script and I think, ‘thank god I do not have to draw that.’ There’s something about the writing that I love the most because there’s the thrill then of having the artist e-mail me pages and then having the story revealed to me, that step I don’t ever get, yknow? Because usually I’m just laboring over the art for days and days and days until I’m just sick of looking at it by the time I’m done.

But, I don’t know, the writing and drawing both? I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that when I’m sixty years old, I know that I’ll always be able to write so I think there will come a day where I just want to be a writer. I think I probably have about twenty more books in me.

GoD: Interesting. I read you were a graphic designer before doing comics full-time.

MK: When I got out of school I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to do comics for a living, it’s not the easiest job to make a living at. So I got into graphic design and did comics after work …or at work if they weren’t watching, and I did that for a bunch of years and got a lot of design experience. My rationale at the time was that graphic design would feed into my comics, half of me thinking ‘Is this just a lie and I’ll end up being a designer and miserable for the rest of my life?’ But when I started doing comics full time, when it took off, it really did help. I can’t imagine not having that experience now, I’m so glad. That, to me, is as much as the writing, how the book looks. I don’t just want the cover to be pretty I want the cover to be integral to the story. Having that control, that experience lets me do that.

GoD: What were the big influences growing up as far as being a writer?

MK: I read a lot of books. I’ve got more books then I know what to do with. But, yeah, when I was a kid I read a bunch of Doc Savage, The Shadow, Conan. Every pulpy thing you can think of. And then Heinlan and Arthur C. Clarke. I read mostly genre stuff growing up and as I got older I started reading Nabakov, Lolita is one of my favorite books, and Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.

GoD: It sounds like you had a similar growing experience with comics as well. Going from genre stuff to, denser… I don’t want to say more grown up stuff-

MK: Yeah, yeah. A lot of people do that, especially people my age. I was reading Daredevil when Frank Miller was doing it, that was my introduction to comics. It was Marvel and DC and nothing else. By the time I got to high school I was reading other stuff, like Crime and Punishment and I thought, ‘wow, I’d really like something else from comics now, I feel like I’m growing up.’ And I don’t think I thought those thoughts at that age, it’s only in hindsight that I realize that I was looking for something with a little more story.

And then the first two issues of Eightball came out, I don’t know what year that was but I picked those up at the Chicago Comi-Con and I remember reading those. Then the first few issues of Hate came out around the same time so I read those on my way home and I was like ‘This is it! This is what I want to do!’ You can do this, and it doesn’t have to be superheroes all the time and the stories can be a little weird. The Velvet Glove story started around that time and I I liked it. I liked that there was a dog that had a secret message on his head and they had to shave the dog to find it. It was so weird, but it was totally inspiring. Even the drawings- I was starting to draw a little differently and I didn’t think it fit the Marvel or DC style, so it was like, what do I do? That sort of showed me that you can do something else.

GoD: Speaking of the big two, you’ve worked or are working with both. Writing Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. for DC, and you also did a terrific Black Widow piece in Strange Tales for Marvel a few years ago. How was working in that larger universe? It seemed like a good fit for you what with your history of doing espionage stories.

MK: Yeah, that was great! I would love to write a larger Black Widow comic for Marvel. Do it as a spy book. Why is there a spy in this world when something like The Hulk is running around? Why is she in The Avengers? It doesn’t make any sense on the surface of it. I always thought there were good stories you could tell with that.

GoD: Going back to Mind MGMT, did the original pitch change at all from what you’ve ended up doing?

MK: The original pitch is pretty much what the book is going to be. So, I basically outlined three years worth of the story, which starts with the first six issues, which is what you’re going to get in the next few months. The only thing is I built in something where if the series sold terribly at first I’d be able to end it after six issues. It wouldn’t be as cool, like ‘here’s two years of stuff we wouldn’t be able to get to.’ I did have a way-

I didn’t want to start something and not be able to finish it, like Firefly, one of my favorite TV shows. It’s a bummer, it’s just like, if they could have given him one more season to wrap it up… So, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get that or not. So not knowing, I sort of built the story in two ways, one that would work as a three year plan and one that would work as six months and done. Luckily I’m not going to have to use that six month plan.

GoD: So you’re locked in for the series?

MK: It looks like it. They’re waiting on order numbers for issues three and four or something but the word is that the numbers on the first few were really good so far. So it’s looking good.

GoD: That’s great. You’ve also said you’re making an effort to encouraging monthly readership for the title. Care to expand on that?

MK: Yeah, well, when I pitched it I really wanted to do a monthly book. Never done one before, loved the idea of doing one. It’s a different art form then graphic novels. It’s the difference between TV and movies. I wanted to try my hand at that. I thought there was something fun that could be done with that format that you can’t do with graphic novels. Where, like, where the readers are following month to month. They’re basically growing, getting older with you as the series progresses. Rather then you sit down and you read it in one sitting, and it effects you only for that short amount of time that you’re reading it. If you can keep something going for two years I think as a reader you have more of an emotional connection to the characters and story. It becomes something greater.

GoD: It’s funny, I don’t read much of anything monthly for various reasons but growing up I certainly did and I wonder if there’s a connection with that and how viscerally I felt about, say, Spider-Man growing up.

MK: No, I know, I certainly agree and- oh what books do I read monthly? I read the Sixth Gun and that’s mostly because I’m friends with [creators] Brian Hurtt and Cullen Bunn and they hand it to me [laughs]. Otherwise I’d just wait for the trades to read them. But that’s another series that really works as a monthly. They do a great job of giving you a nice story in every issue. It leads to bigger things. I think if there were more comics like that. If there were maybe five or six series then that would lure me back in every week to pick up monthlies again, but I don’t find that most comics are written that way anymore.

One of the things I was doing here was I was thinking what would get me back into the store. What would I make that would get me back in? I think if I can just do something that’s dense enough that’s worth paying four bucks for twenty four pages- cuz it’s going to take you more then ten minutes or longer to read it, I think that’s what makes it worthwhile. That’s why inside the front cover there’s back-up stories, I don’t know if you’ve read them but I’m doing these things that run up the side of each page. The Mind MGMT field guide. So, I’m writing this whole field guide for Mind MGMT agents and then trying to cue those with the actions on the pages. So when you’re done reading the comic, go back and re-read, there’s more fun that’s hidden.

GoD: On the sides of the pages?

MK: The blue type that goes up the sides? Those are little excerpts from the guide book. They’re real small. I did them in that non-photo blue that you use for giant comic art pages.

GoD: Hmm, let me look that up. That leads into the next thing I was going to ask you about, though. One of the things I really like about your work is the amount of thought I see on every page, in every decision.

MK: I guess I want you to feel like you’re not picking up a comic with story inside it, I would like for you to pick up the comic and to feel like you’re picking up the story. Rather then ‘ok I’ll open the page and the story is inside there,’ I’d rather you open the comic and it’s holding the story. I don’t anyone to relax, like, I want you to get to the last page and you think you’re done, but I want you to know that you’re not done. There’s going to be something tricky on every page.

GoD: Wow, I’m seeing the field guide now.

MK: Yeah, see, that’s what I’m going for! That’s why I think a lot of people don’t read monthly books, though. Why read 24 pages at a time when you can wait for a trade and read 150 in an afternoon. I’m trying to do something crazier then that. I can only imagine when this book is collected – I don’t think it’s a one sitting book when it’s done. That’s what I’m going for.

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