Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fireside Chat with Matt Kindt of Mind MGMT

Matt Kindt is a name you should be paying attention to.  He's been working hard at comics for over 10 years, releasing plenty of graphic novels and comics in that time.  More recently, he's been having some success in the arena of monthly comics, writing titles at both DC and Marvel.  A true writer / artist in his heart, much of his time this past year has been spent hard at work on Mind MGMT, his mystery thriller from Dark Horse that's filled with conspiracy and superspies.  He was kind enough to sit down to chat comics with me.  An intelligent guy, he had plenty to say on such topics as experiments with the comic book medium, his creative process, and of course, lots of Mind MGMT talk.  I'd invite you to get comfy and join us on the other side for our latest Fireside Chat.

Matt Kindt is an accomplished comic book creator with plenty of quality books to his name.  He has a full career of writing and drawing his own graphic novels, including such gems as Super Spy, Revolver, and many more.  More recently, he's been doing some work over at both DC and Marvel, writing Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., the backup to Justice League of America, and more.  Of course, a big focus for him at the moment is Mind MGMT, his excellent ongoing from Dark Horse Comics.


Grant McLaughlin: How are you doing today?

Kindt: Good. The weather just turned awesome today, so it's like 70 degrees and sunny. So I'm sitting outside, because I want to be outside.

GM: To start us off, would you mind giving a bit of a summary of what Mind MGMT is about for readers who might not be entirely familiar with it?

Kindt: The short answer is spies with mind powers. The long answer is it's a woman who is trying to track down this mysterious disbanded organization full of agents that were trained to use different mind powers. So she's trying to find them and it's about her adventure and the problems she runs into, with some bigger mysteries and secrets folded into that.

GM: Awesome. So this week has us going into issue #9. How long is the series going to be? Do you have an end point in mind?

Kindt: There's a big story and I have it planned out for 36 issues. There might be a few more in there, depending on how it goes, but 36 for sure. When I pitched it to Dark Horse, I pitched it complete. So I have a beginning, middle, and end, and I know where it's going, which lets me set stuff up in these early issues that will pay off in issue #30 or even #36.

GM: Right. And was there a particular reason you pitched to Dark Horse? What about them made you think they'd be the right company for Mind MGMT?

Kindt: I had a relationship with them before, and Mike Richardson [President of Dark Horse] actually called me up and said, “Why don't we do something?” And I was all, “Okay, let me think about it and see what would work.” Really, I've been kicking around the idea of doing a monthly book for a while. I've always kind of wanted to do one, and when they asked, I said, “How about this? How about a big, long monthly book?” They agreed to do it, and I was surprised, because I thought the monthlies were starting to die and that no one was really doing them anymore. Or if they do do them they end up being written as monthlies but designed for trade paperbacks. So I thought it was sort of a dying art form in a way, because people aren't practicing it like they used to. So I didn't think they would be interested, but they agreed to do it, and the beauty of Dark Horse is that they are letting me do exactly what I want. There's no interference, there's no marketing that's trying to push me in a certain way, there's no ads unless I want ads.

It's been a like a dream come true.

GM: That's great. Mind MGMT is your first time working on a monthly book, right?

Kindt: Yeah. I've been writing some stuff for Marvel and DC, but nothing where I'm writing it, drawing it, coloring it, lettering it.

GM: And so how are you finding it – we're about a year in at this point – how are you finding the experience of working on a monthly? And your own monthly for that matter?

Kindt: It's great. It's actually weird, because I finished the first six issues before they started coming out, so I kind of had this period where I'd done the first six and I'm sort of waiting to see how they do. Part of the thing was if it tanked by issue #3 there wasn't going to be more than six issues, but it took off. So I was waiting and hoping and then when it did well I went ahead and started the next six. It was a weird rhythm to begin with, because I had a lot of it done up front, and then I had to get into this monthly rhythm and I've been doing that since. It takes about three out of my four weeks of the month of working on it on and off. I give it to the editor, wait for him to proof it, get fixes, and then I do those. And in between I end up writing some stuff for DC and writing some books for Marvel. It's my full-time job, so I just treat it like a job. This is what I have to do, this is what I have to accomplish during the day today, and this is what has to be done by the end of the week, and I keep working until it's done.

And it's fun.

GM: How about storytelling-wise? How do you find the challenges of the pacing for the 24 pages you get each month?

Kindt: I think when I first started – you know, before I'd done those first six – it was different. I remember on Revolver and 3 Story I would come up with an idea while I'm working on it. I'd go, “Oh, I'll just add two more pages here and it'll tie 'em up right and it'll be no problem.” You can't really do that with a monthly book, so I'm definitely a little more tight with my script and my layouts up front to make sure it works out. So by the time I'm penciling it it's pretty much locked down. I've figured it out in the thumbnail stage. There was a little adjustment period. If I get an idea for a great splash page or a great image, there's nowhere to just jam it in there.

GM: True story. You also put in a lot of extras in your monthlies that only exist in the single issues. Why was that important to you?

Kindt: Because I don't really read monthly books, and part of the reason I don't do it is I don't feel like they're written for a monthly reader anymore.

I was telling somebody else that I remember going into the grocery store to get my X-Men comic and that would have to last me for the month. I would go home and I would read it over and over again and it was really densely written. Probably in a way that doesn't hold up so well today, but the point of that is that it was written so that it could last you for a month. You'd study the art, you'd read all the words – there was a lot in there. It was really juicy. And so I wanted to do a monthly book in today's climate for the modern reader. Something that would still be juicy but also still read well. Not just captions with a bunch of description and everything, but something that's dense and takes you a while. That you can read a few times and get something more out of it. So that was sort of my goal – to trick people like me who don't read monthlies back into the story.

GM: Yeah. Well it's certainly a very dense read, and I've definitely been going through those issues a number of times. I'd say it's working out pretty well.

Kindt: Thanks. I'm a little worried – issue #9 is the most I've ever asked from anyone reading the book. Honestly, I'm trying to build the book in a way that you can go through and read it in 15 minutes and you'll get the main story no problem. But at the same time there's enough stuff in there that if you go back maybe you'll find some other layers and things that work on a different level. I want it to be that if you're not in the mood to do that you can just sit down and read it and then when you're in the mood you can go back through it and look for the extra stuff.

GM: It's funny. The first few issues I read, I didn't notice there was all that writing on the left hand side of the pages, so I had this of realization after the fact of “Oh, I should probably go back and read these again.”

Kindt: That's exactly how it should work. Even my wife just sat down and read the first six issues a few weeks ago. And so she's reading them and she asked, “Do I have to read this text on this side?” And I was like, “You don't have to...”

GM: And your issues also have letter columns, which is something that has had a bit of ebb and flow in other publications, especially from the Big 2. What about letter columns matter to you? Why did you want to have that?

Kindt: I guess it's one of those things that, if you're a creator my age and you grew up with the comics that always had the letter column and the little note from the editor, it's always kind of a dream to have one in your own book. And I think it encourages people to interact more, and I get a lot more emails and mail than I ever have. Part of it is because it's a monthly format, but part of it is that there's a letter page that you can put it on to. I get a lot of funny email. I get a lot of email with secret codes embedded in it, and I was telling my wife that I need to hire an intern to just sit and decode the fan-mail I get to tell me what the secret messages are.

GM: That's brilliant. Following that, how important is interacting with fans for you?

Kindt: I like it a lot. I did an interview with Brian Wood. It was a co-interview where we were being interviewed at the same time and interacting, and he was like “You've got to get out of the habit of reading reviews and interacting like that.” Not necessarily the fan-mail, but more with reviews. But I enjoy them. Even a horrible review, there's something in there that's interesting to me, and usually there's a kernel of truth in all of that anyways.

So I enjoy it because I come from a background of ten years of graphic novels where I disappear for a year, a book comes out, I get reviews and feedback. There's that initial burst when it comes out, and then I disappear again for a year. And now there's something coming out every month, people are reacting every month, and people are guessing what's going to happen, and that's the fun part to me. It's like watching a really great TV show where everyone is watching at the same time every day and then talking about it the next day. That's sort of wanting to be involved in something like that. It does make me more careful – I mean, I totally want to spoil everything for everybody because I'm so excited about it, but then I have to bite my tongue half the time.

GM: Do you find that that monthly reaction impacts the work you do? Or is it more of a kind of rejuvenation?

Kindt: It's inspiring. It gets me excited to get back to work. I would say as far as the big picture and the stuff that's going to happen that's already set in stone. So everything that's going to happen is going to happen. People who are going to die are going to die no matter what people say. But it is interesting to gauge what's working and what people are picking up on. Am I having the reader work too hard and they're not getting some stuff? Or is it too easy and do I need to make it a little harder?

And there's been a few things where I've gotten emails where people point something out and then I'll tweak a line of dialogue or put a little something extra in there to sort of respond to that. Whether they get it or not, I don't know, but that part is fun to me to think about.

GM: Right. Looking at the Mind MGMTwebsite, you had an in-depth process post for issue #1, and you were talking about how a lot of people pointed out the mistake of the changing cantina sign. You wrote that it would be explained later and then it came up in issue #6.

Kindt: Yeah, that was one of those things where I don't know what I was doing when I was drawing and the editor didn't catch that the sign said something different, and then it gave me the idea for something that could happen – those flux safe houses. So that was one of those happy accidents that gave me an idea for something else.

It's funny. I didn't notice it the whole time when working on it, and then when the issue came out, it immediately jumped out a me, and I was like, “Agh! Why did I do that?”

GM: A good portion of your past work has been spent telling spy stories. What appeals to you about the genre? What excites you about it?

Kindt: Honestly, I get that question a lot and I wish I knew how to answer it, but I don't know. I'm the worst person to ever be a spy. I'm oblivious to everything, because I'm daydreaming all the time. So it's not like I want to be a spy or like I could have been one, you know? I would have been the first dead spy.

Depending on the day you ask me, I'll have a different answer. Part of it is that I grew up reading superhero books, so you always had the hero and their alter ego and the idea of the secret life. So I guess espionage and spies had that built in too. Where you have this real person but then they're living this government sanctioned secret life where it's okay to go ahead and lie as much as you want because it's your job. There's something sort of liberating about this “It's okay, I can be deceptive and lie and do these things under the guise of it's my job and I'm doing it for a larger purpose.” So there's that aspect that's sort of appealing to me.

It's just ripe for mining good stories out of a character. What are they like? What are they really like? What's true? What's not? All that stuff. There's a lot of things in there that I feel like I could never get tired of.

GM: Fair enough. One of your earlier projects that really caught my attention was this small little Flash comic called Treasure that you have up on your site. What motivated you to do that? And are there other similar tales that you're wanting to tell? Are you wanting to move in that digital direction at all down the line?

Kindt: That was sort of a one-off thing I did. I talked to a friend of mine who is a web designer / developer and he knew a lot about Flash, and I was talking about how I wanted to do a story that you could read in any direction: backwards, forwards, top, bottom, left, right. Just go around and loop this big story around in circles. He offered to do the programming and put it together if I did the story, so I was all “Okay, this is awesome. Someone who can do the technical part.” Then when I was trying to write a story that could work like that, it was really hard.

So it sort of came out of that. That was when I was writing and drawing Super Spy. And Super Spy I actually did as a weekly online comic for a year. So I did about 52 weeks, where I put up a new story for a year and then put it together in a book later.

I'm interested in that kind of storytelling and I think there's a lot of things you can do with comics on the iPad and everything. Nobody's really delved into that too much yet. But there's still a few things I want to try with regular print books first. But eventually everything's going that way, and I do have some general conceptual ideas of things you can do with storytelling that would only work on an iPad that would be cool. Like if there's a picture frame on the wall and you touch it and you go into the backstory of the person that's in the picture on the wall and then you come back out into this story again.

There's different ways that you can visually do some neat things. But I'm not quite there yet.

GM: I find it's really interesting that even with regular comics there's so many things that haven't been done yet – so many possibilities that exist and then it's just multiplied tenfold when it comes to the digital landscape.

Kindt: Yeah, exactly. In ten years, I'm still trying to figure out everything that comics can do that you can't do in any other medium. And then comics that are in print form that you can't do in any other comic book format. There's a lot you can do, and I'm having fun doing that.

GM: I think a lot of people are having fun watching you do that, so that's a good news story.

Kindt: Yeah, that's good. It's nice that people are picking it [Mind MGMT] up, because honestly, I'm having the most fun I've ever hard. I can't tell you how exciting it is to just sit down and work out the layouts for the next six issues and then to try to figure out what crazy thing I could do next. I control every piece of the comic, so it's so exciting.

GM: On that note, what's your relationship with your editor, Brendan Wright, for working on the book. What role does he play?

Kindt: He's great. We sat down in Seattle at the convention – we try to meet a few times a year to have a face to face conversation – and we were talking about it. He was telling me that his take on being an editor – and I've never heard an editor talk the way he does about editing – he said if the reader is thinking of the editor's hand in the book then something's wrong. That that's not really the editor's role, and I was like, “This is great. I've never heard an editor describe themselves this way to me.” And he's great. He's there when I need him, and when I don't, he steps out of the way.

When it gets down to me focusing on the next six issues in the series, I'll send him an outline of them explaining what I'm thinking. And then sometimes he'll have a little idea or a suggestion, but it's always a take it or leave it. It's fun to work in a vacuum and do what you want to do, but it's also fun to have this sounding board to be like, “What about this? Do you think this will work? Or do you think this is too difficult? Do you think people will pick up on this?” So it's good to have him as sort of the sanity to talk me down or rein me in a little bit. Honestly, he's the best guy I've ever worked with, and the book wouldn't be as good without him.

GM: That's a good feeling to have.

Kindt: It's great. In issue #9 [the issue coming out today] there's a section in it that when I gave it to him, I was all “No one's going to get it.” I asked if he saw the Morse code, and he had no idea. I was like, “Aww, dang.” I pointed it out to him – how it worked – and he said that nobody's going to get that. So then he came up with a great idea of how to drop a clue for the hidden Morse code in the issue. We're going to drop that clue into issue #10, so you're not going to get it until then. We'll give people a month to figure it out, and if they don't, there will be a clue in issue #10 of how to do it. But that's the kind of thing where I think this is great – it honestly took me forever to figure out – and when he didn't get it I was heartbroken. It's not gettable I think, but with the clue I think you'll be able to get it.

GM: I look forward to seeing issue #10 then.

Kindt: I'll give everyone a hint: look at the parts without words. Look at the panel borders and the panel shapes or whatever. That's a clue that I guess I can drop.

GM: I'll keep this in mind when I'm going through this week's issue. I also want to ask where your style comes from. There's not a lot of people in comics to my knowledge who use as many watercolours as you do.

Kindt: It's funny. I teach a class one day a week called “Comic Book Creation” to college kids, and that questions comes up a lot. “How do I get my style?” Your style ends up being whatever you end up being able to do. Someone was telling me that your real style is what you draw in your sketch book, when you're not doing it for someone else to see. And all those things are kind of true, but initially when I started, I was drawing artsy comics about my day job and how miserable it was, and I was just starting to use a brush and everything was real painterly and really rough. I guess people could still say that today, but my early stuff was really rough.

I was a big fan of Jeff Smith and Bone was just starting to come out. I loved that clean line, so I tried to clean up my line and get a smaller brush to do that, and what ended up coming out was kind of what I'm doing now. You can see it more in Pistol Whip and those early books. The line's a little bit cleaner. So I ended up aiming for one thing, and when you aim to do one thing and don't hit it, where ever you end up ended up being where my style was.

I met my wife in college and she was a really good watercolorist and I was terrible at color – everything I did was black and white. I hated color, I didn't want to deal with it, I didn't know how to do it. And then I watched her paint and thought it was great. So she just showed me how to do it. It took a few years, especially in the early days. Publishers didn't want to take a chance on a color book from an artist that nobody knew about, so everything was black and white anyway.

But with Super Spy I started working with color, and 3 Story, the book after that was full color painting, and that's when I figured out that's what I'm most comfortable with – ink and watercolor – and by then I'd done a ton of watercolor. My wife taught me well. And I experimented. I tried color on the computer and other things, but honestly I like watercolor. It seems more immediate. You can see the hand of the artist on the paper, and I like that.

GM: It was semi-recently announced that Mind MGMT has been signed for a movie deal with Twentieth Century Fox with Ridley Scott attached to produce. I know it's still early days, but is there anything you can share with us about that process?

Kindt: I don't have much news to report other than I talked to Ridley Scott before I signed they really got the series. They really liked it and they liked what I was doing. I gave them my outline, so they're the only other people on Earth other than my wife and editor who know how it ends and where it's going. I told them so they'd know ahead of time what they're getting into. Even before I signed with them I knew that they had a good take on it. They have a couple of writers they're talking about, so I'm going to talk to them in the next few weeks, but other than that there's not much – they don't allow me to say anything. But it's all good.

GM: Fair enough. A topic that I'm certain you could certainly talk a bit more about: what is it about comics that excites you? Why is this what you spend your time doing?

Kindt: I think if you take out the fact that I grew up reading the medium – the nostalgia factor of growing up reading comics all my life – if you take that part out of it, just from a creative standpoint I like that I have complete control over the final product. My vision ends up coming out exactly as I want it to. There's nobody else interfering, there's no other cooks in the kitchen trying to put their two cents in or have their say or try to get their vision put into mine, you know? So in a way it's the only art form other than painting or writing prose that you can have a pure vision as an artist.

And movies doesn't work that way. When I was younger I watched movies all the time, and when I thought about what I'm going to do when I grow up, I realized there's too many people involved. I never would have been satisfied. I would have picked one element of that movie making process and then give up the rest. But with comics I don't have to give up any part of it unless I want to. So that's what's kind of appealing.

And the other thing is that I love writing and I love drawing. There's no other job where you can write and draw put together. So that part of it is great.

Also, comics can do stuff that hasn't been done or can't be done in other mediums. I feel that comics is still a relatively fresh medium. It's really young compared to everything else. What new ground are you going to break in painting really? And with prose, you can, but it's been around for so long and so much has been done that I feel that it's harder to do. Where comics is still fresh. Not a lot of people have taken a stab at it over the course of all of history. So I feel that I can really leave my mark and do something unique.

GM: Building on that a little bit. For people who are really digging Mind MGMT and wanting more things for you, do you have any other projects coming up that you can talk about?

Kindt: Yeah, I finished a crime book for First Second called Red Handed that's coming out in the first or second week of May. It's a hardcover 250 page crime book that I finished probably a year and a half, two years ago, right before I started Mind MGMT. Luckily, because there's no way I could fit that in now.

When I was done I was all, “This is great! My first crime book. I've never really done one of those – it's been spies and that sort of stuff.” But I'd forgotten that my first book, Pistol Whip from Top Shelf, was a crime book. It had been so long ago that honestly I didn't really think of it as a crime book. When I went into it I wasn't thinking it would be my take on the crime genre. It was just a weird story that happened to have crime in it. So it's interesting because it's like 10-11 years later, and I'm kind of a different person than I was then. It's interesting for me anyway to look back and see how I've changed artistically and with the writing and everything. And just my ideas on comics and crime and all that stuff, so it should be a fun book.

GM: And to close our chat, we have our Literary Rorschach Test. I have ten words for you and your role in this is to say the first thing that you think of in response to it. It can be whatever you want: a word, sentence, or whatever.

Espionage – Danial Craig. I just watched Skyfall last week for the second time.
Hero – Villain
Conspiracy – Lies
Process – Hard work
Adaptation – Filter
New – Ideas
Exciting – Ideas
Collaboration – Let's say “pitfalls”.
Deadline – Good
The End – Start over.

GM: That's everything I have on my end. That you for taking the time, Matt. Much appreciated.

Kindt: Thank you. Have a good one.

Mind MGMT #9 is available from local comic book shops today, and I would totally recommend checking it out.  And if you're dying for more Matt Kindt goodness, you can find out more at his website.


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