For about a month now, comic book creators and fellow comics internet community writers have been buzzing about Dept.H from Dark Horse Comics. The book, which debuts this Wednesday, was pitched as a murder mystery taking place in an underwater research lab. Those two things were my greatest fears; being murdered and being dunked underwater, so there was no way I’d subject myself to a story combining the two. That was until I found out this is Matt Kindt’s new creator owned story. His previous series Mind MGMT was one of the best cloak-and-dagger stories ever told in comics.
After reading Dept.H #1, it was everything I dreaded it would be; suspicion, uneasiness, and addicting. Dept.H’s debut is instantly consuming and readers will want to know how Mia’s tale ends as she searches for answers to uncover who murdered her father in the world’s most advanced undersea laboratory. We went behind the story for a bit of Q&A with Dept.H creator Matt Kindt and his wife colorist Sharlene Kindt:
COMICS BEAT: Thanks for taking the time for this. We loved Dept.H’s first issue here at The Beat. Personally, I have a deeply rooted fear of the ocean and being trapped underwater. The book pushed every one of those nerves like a truck landed on my chest, kudos to you both.
It seems like you can’t go ten minutes on twitter without a creator talking about how much they love Dept.H. What are both your feelings about all the early reaction Dept. H has been receiving?
Matt Kindt: It’s gratifying to say the least. I think this is probably the most accessible thing I’ve worked on for a while. MIND MGMT was four years in the making and it’s designed to be decoded and read over time. Something you’ll return to every couple of years to get a little something more out of.
Dept. H is really my reaction to MIND MGMT in that I wanted to try something a little more focused – something that starts at the beginning and just pushes forward relentlessly without taking a breath, so I think it’s a nice counter-point to what we did in MIND MGMT. I think in the back of my mind I was a little worried after I finished MIND MGMT about what I’d do next. I literally poured every thought and idea I had into it. To the point I wasn’t sure how to follow it up. I’m always trying to beat my last project and do something better. What I finally figured out is that I can beat it if I just change the rules
BEAT: For those who don’t know; what’s the story of Dept. H?
Matt: It’s a locked-room murder mystery that takes place 6 miles deep in the ocean. Mia (our protagonist) heads down to solve the crime and realizes the victim is her father…who also happens to be the smartest man on earth. Mia has about 24 hours to solve the crime and get out of there before the base fills up (it’s flooding.) So the entire series kind of takes place in “real time” – as much as you can do that in comic book form.
BEAT: What is it about the books protagonist Mia that makes her such a compelling character?
Matt: She’s dealing with a lot of complex emotions (not to mention life-threatening peril) that involve the loss of her father and the relationship with her brother (who is a researcher and a suspect in the deep-sea base.) So all of that background and history is going to color how she goes about investigating the murder. At it’s heart, we’re sort of catching the tail-end of a decades-old family drama and Mia is left to pick up the pieces and take action. I think if anyone’s suffered the loss of a loved one or had difficulties with family or siblings…there will be some familiar notes that Mia will hit.
BEAT: A science fiction story tends to reveal their hand early where a murder mystery peels back the information as necessary. How do you balance the two elements in Dept H?
Matt: The sci-fi is subtle. It’s all really grounded in reality – our world but tilted maybe 10 degrees. Ultimately the sci-fi and the murder are the genre trappings I love – the stuff that gives great visuals and a crazy premise – but Mia and her family’s story is the soul of the story. All of the sci-fi, all of the mystery – is all in service of character and some kind of deeper truth.
BEAT: If Mind MGMT showed us anything it’s that your creator owned work isn’t just a book on the stand, it’s a full on endeavor. Now with Sharlene on the book and sharing this one with you; how has this collaboration been different from any you’ve had before?
Matt: It really feels natural. We’ve worked in the past on countless projects – since we met in art school until this. We really have a good short-hand and honest approach – brutally honest sometimes but I think that’s what keeps us sharp. And it keeps us grounded. Comics can be a lonely business – but we’ve been in it together from the beginning and I’m so excited that I was finally able to coax her into using her talents (publicly) to make comics a better place.
BEAT: Sharlene, the ocean is such a desolate void, yet you mange to give it a subtle richness in Dept.H . Could you tell us a little bit about your watercolor process?
Sharlene: I approach this book differently than I do my personal work. My personal work is more abstract and loose, so I can let the watercolor do it’s own thing… allow colors to flow into others, creating beautiful “accidents”. With Dept. H. I need to have a lot more control of the water. I went in to this book knowing that I wanted to use a limited color palette so I can show the isolation of the characters, and could also leave room for certain things to stand out when needed. For example, I might make the water darker/murkier when I want to exaggerate the brightness of the sea creatures.
[Sharlene shared an exquisite piece of art with us which will be on display later this month.]
Sharlene’s work will be part of the 33April exhibit at The Old Orchard Gallery the weekend of April 29. For additional information visit myslart.org
39 South Old Orchard Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63119
Free & Open to the Public Opening Reception Friday, April 29th, from 6 to 10 pm
BEAT: If someone offered you a chance to experience the surface of a distant planet or the bottom of the ocean floor which would you choose?
Matt: Distant planet for sure. I’m terrified of drowning, the ocean, and being trapped under water somehow. I hyperventilate when I use a snorkel. I’m probably the worst “diver” ever. I hold my nose when I jump in a pool. Seriously. I’m the worst. Sign me up for the distant planet! What’s interesting is, that is a major point of contention in Dept. H. It’s the conflict between Mia and her brother – Mia wants to explore space and her brother thinks it’s pointless – that all the life we need is contained in the ocean. That’s an argument I’ve always been fascinated by. The idea of spending billions of dollars to travel to a lifeless planet rather than spending those resources to explore and discover the very living planet we occupy. I see both side of the argument so I’m letting the characters fight it out.
BEAT: I know it’s still early for Dept.H, but you’ve previously talked about how ideas for stories form for you while you’re working on other projects. Has working on Dept.H already given you you’re next story? Maybe something deep in the rain forest or the arctic?
Matt: I love exotic locales and travel – so a lot of ideas do come out of that. So yeah – I have a long list of ideas I’m getting to which is why I’m trying to eat well and stay in shape – it’s gonna take me another forty years to get them all done.
Dept. H opens its hatch this Wednesday when it arrives in comic book shops and online everywhere. Now that we’ve read issue #2 as well; it’s sure to be one of the best series launched over Dark Horse Comics 30th anniversary this year.