Interviewing Matt Kindt at WonderCon brought with it some unusual circumstances. Just prior to speaking to Kindt, I had the opportunity to hear him talk about his career history in a mammoth 90 minute panel interview, which I later covered for The Beat. This posed a serious question: what could I possibly ask him about that he had not already covered during the panel? Fortunately, hearing about Kindt’s life and work in such detail was a good springboard for posing some strange queries and I tried to get off the beaten path a little in the subjects we discussed. Not only was Kindt engaging, despite talking about himself at length for such long periods that day, but he allowed extra time for our chat, which was more than gracious of him.
Last week the first collected edition of his phenomenal series MIND MGMT (about the dark aftermath of a psychic spy organization) was released from Dark Horse, and this week, another new issue hits the stands. It’s an opportunity for new readers to jump on board and find out what all the clamor is about, but it’s also a season in the sun for fans who have been following Kindt’s long and unwavering career bringing his personal visions to light as both a writer and an artist. The more you hear from Kindt about his life and work, the more compelling his journey becomes for fans, and it’s easy to see why he inspires readers to stay with him for the long haul to the heights of comics stardom. For some, he’s a rising star, but the inside story behind the success is that he’s been shining brightly all along via a methodical commitment to his craft.
Hannah Means-Shannon: We’re starting off with a big question! Why do you think people need stories? Are they just entertainment, or is there something more than that to it?
Matt Kindt: I don’t know. There are so many answers to that question. People read to escape and people read for whatever reason. Like the reasons I read are for ideas. And it’s because I guess I just like pure ideas. So one of my favorite authors is Phillip K. Dick, and it’s not because his writing is so good. It’s not like it’s so great, frankly, the novels aren’t that fantastically written, but he puts so many ideas and different concepts in those books that that’s what I like. So, while I don’t recommend that everybody read his books, I think that he’s got more ideas per page than anybody, so that’s why I read. And again, it’s not so much about the story as it is about pure ideas. So that’s why I read, and honestly, that’s kind of why I watch movies, and that’s why I take in any sort of entertainment. Because I’m just on the hunt for a unique way of looking at something or a different perspective. I don’t know if a lot of people read what I do, but I’m glad they do. Is that vague enough for you?
HM-S: You read for “pure ideas”. Is that because that’s what your mind wants, or is it literally for your own work?
MK: I guess my mind wants it. I want to be able to think differently something, whatever it is. There are only so many stories, and they’ve been told a million times, so I like a story that’s told in a way that I haven’t thought about, or it’s showing me something in a different way, whether it’s just different visuals…Because after awhile, I feel that I’ve caught up on comic books, in a way, because I’ve read all the ones I want. Part of it is because it’s still a new medium, in a way, relative to prose and even movies. There have been so many more movies. I think you can catch up on comics. And that’s a bummer in a way, but it’s also exciting as a creator. Because there’s still ground you can stake, and that Wild West mentality, like, “I’m going to find the territory that nobody has staked out yet and then figure it out”.
HM-S: It’s almost like if you want to stay entertained, you have to write the stories for yourself, because you’ve run out of material elsewhere.
MK: Yeah, I do. There’s a drive where it’s almost like I’m trying to make a comic that I would love to read. The Catch 22 is that it takes so long, the process is so time-consuming, that I’m sick of looking at it when I’m done, so I don’t. I don’t read anything I’ve done. After it’s printed, I don’t ever read it again. It’s too late anyway, it’s already in print. I know what it’s about.
HM-S: The thing about “ideas” you said is probably the best that I’ve ever heard anyone express that concept. I’ve heard other people try to say that, but that was really clear. That’s why I bother to flip through the channels, myself. That’s why I bother to turn anything on or pick anything up.
MK: Yeah, exactly. It’s exciting when somebody taps into something in different ways.
HM-S: I recently reviewed TIME WARP from Vertigo and you had a short story in it. The theme in that seemed to be that people need violence, or need conflict, but they also want boundaries to stop conflict. They don’t want to kill each other. At the end of the story, the characters won’t kill each other so ritualized combat can continue. So, people needing conflict, but wanting boundaries, does that relate to MIND MGMT at all? Because the character Lyme wants to take down the organization since it’s out of control, and spying is a conflict game.
MK: There’s a bigger story in MIND MGMT that I don’t want to spoil, but the story, generally, is, are you protecting people from themselves, or are you helping them do things? Is that’s who’s watching the Watchmen thing, in a way, where, is it your duty to do this because you can, or should you leave it alone, and just live your own life? That’s the big, fancy answer. The smaller answer is, that story, to me, came from just from me. If you’ve never played paintball before, I like playing paintball because it’s fun to shoot at people, and try to dodge the things coming at you. Physically, it’s just a fun thing to do, but I’ve never wanted to hurt anybody ever in my life. I’ve never been in a fight or have punched anyone in anger, but the idea of throwing stuff at each other and there being a game to it, I like that. I think there’s probably some primal thing there that people like to fight. I like the idea of fighting, but I don’t like the consequences of it. If you could strip out all the consequences and just have the fun of cool gadgets, and there’s a winner at the end and nobody hurt, that would be ideal. That’s my paintball story. I put that in there.
HM-S: Now that you say that, the color tones of the costumes and armor in that story do remind me of paintball, which is often military-green in color.
MK: Maybe it was the movies I was raised on, but I’d go out with my friends and we’d play war all the time and so you’re always running around and hiding behind trees. And setting up little traps, and shooting at each other with toy guns. There’s an aspect to that which is still in me as an adult. We just walked through some open-air shopping plaza down here in Anaheim, and I said, “This would be a great place for paintball. Because there are places to stand up there and then you could run around, and it would be really fun”. And my wife just shakes her head and says, “What are you talking about? How old are you?”
HM-S: You’re going to hate me for asking this question. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Are there still goals that you specifically know that you want to accomplish over a long period of time? I know it’s an unfair question to ask you because you’re just breaking into what you want to be doing right now.
MK: I told my wife that I think I need to have set my goals higher or something. The only change between this year and last year is that more people are reading the books. I’ve been doing the books and the work I’ve wanted to do for basically five or six years. When I got laid off from my day job, and I just did comics for a living. All my goals were met at that point, so more people reading it, and having more money is great, but that wasn’t one of my goals to check off. My goal was just to be able to live modestly and do comics, so in 10 years, I assume I’ll be doing the same thing. I have a long list of books I want to do, so I’m just going through and checking off, but every time I check one off, I get an idea for three more, so I’m never caught up. So in 10 years I’ll be doing the same thing.
HM-S: I don’t think people will mind you doing that!
MK: Good. Excellent.
HM-S: This is a little technical, but I wanted to know if, now that you’re in the monthly format, does the feedback and reaction as those books come out have any effect on the issues that you’re currently working on? Is change happening because of this monthly format, or is it fully written already? You said earlier in your panel discussion that it’s really finely scripted, so maybe there’s no room for that.
MK: I know all the characters and where they are and where they need to be. I know what needs to happen with them, so it’s connecting the dots for the whole run of the series. But in between the dots, there are always little spaces. So I do try to slip some things in there every now and again, to either reply to something somebody said or an idea that I’ve gotten. I debated whether I was even going to tell anybody this, but I think I’ve already said this to people: there was a mistake in the first issue of MIND MGMT, where you’re zooming in on Meru and there’s a hotel room above a bar, and the bar has a name. And when you zoom in, three panels later, it’s a close up of that same shot, but then the letters are different on the bar name. And I don’t know why. It just happened. In a flurry of inking or getting the book done, it happened. I didn’t know until the book was done. And when it was done, I flipped the book open, and looked at it, and thought, “Oh, crap!”. It was only obvious to me. Nobody noticed it. Actually, one guy noticed it and he said to me, “Did you notice…blah, blah, blah?”. And I hate it, once the book’s in print, to see that. And I thought, “We can fix it for the trade”, but I then thought, “No”.
So it gave me the idea to do these “flux safe houses”. There’s a one-page short story I did that explains that they are called “flux safe houses” and they are these safe houses for these MIND MGMT agents to go when they need a safe place to crash. And it’s like the restaurant you never go to, and when you do go, it’s closed, or the hours are weird. And then it’s something different next week. There’s never a business that stays there. And that came from where I live. There are always one or two places that are a Chinese restaurant, then a bookstore, then a smoothie shop, and it’s constantly changing, and I’ve never gone in to any of those. So, the mistake, and that guy pointing it out, and me thinking, “Do I fix it?”. So I decided I’m just going to own it, and make it something cool, and it added an extra layer to MIND MGMT that wasn’t there before
HM-S: This is something that Neil Gaiman says a lot, that no matter how far you go as a writer, or as an artist in this case, you will inevitably open your new trades from your box, and there will be a typo right in front of you.
MK: The first thing you see! It’s always the first thing you see. It’s only happened to me two times. That’s one of those things that I hesitated to even say in public. Because secretly I just wanted the one guy that wrote me the letter to look at that and wonder whether I did it because of him or did I have it planned all along.
HM-S: I’m surprised you didn’t get even more letters of people trying to decipher it already, who just assumed it was there with some meaning behind it.
MK: That’s something I have to be really careful about, since asking readers to pay that much attention means that they’re really paying attention. So it makes me stay on my toes.
HM-S: Last big question: Were there ever any terrible moments that you’ve faced where you really considered giving up comics?
MK: Yeah, I would say that! I’ll tell you that I was doing the first issue of MIND MGMT and I was sitting at my table and I’m thinking, “What am I doing?”. I was reading and looking at the numbers and figuring out how many issues would have to see for it to be a viable monthly book, and I thought, “How am I in an industry where it’s like this?”. I don’t know, it was just a bummer of a moment. I’m not even going to tell you all the thoughts that I had, since there’s so much complaining about everything in comics anyway that there’s no point. So I was just like, “I’m going to just try to make good comics and hopefully it’ll find an audience”. There was a moment when I was doing the first issue when I thought, “This might be it. If this doesn’t work, or people don’t like this…I mean, I’m pouring everything I love into this…If there’s not an audience for it, then I don’t know what to do”. But luckily there’s an audience for it, and now I know what to do.
HM-S: It’s eerie. I’ve heard this story from a couple of prominent creators, that the moment when something finally works on a bigger scale for them was the moment when they were literally about to walk away. And they have said to themselves, “This is it. This is literally the last thing I am going to do”. Warren Ellis, that’s his famous story. He was published via Archie Goodwin’s recommendation for a Batman story when he was literally about to get thrown out of his house, was starving etc.
MK: That was the thing with me. The thing is, if you do freelance work in general, in comics specifically, there are months where you are thinking, “I don’t know where the money is going to come from”, and it always seemed to magically work somehow for me. And that was one of those things where I thought, “It’s going to work out”. My attitude was always super-positive, just in general. If you try hard and you work hard, eventually something will click.
HM-S: Well, that’s certainly clear from your publication list, seeing that you’ve published in every possible format, ever since the beginning. It’s like you’re not going to take “no” for an answer. You’re going to find a way to keep getting it out there, like all the web stuff you’ve done.
MK: Yeah. I keep plugging away. And, honestly, working with all the different publishers, and doing different formats, there’s a business part of it, but it’s also that I’m going to try something new. Let’s try this, or let’s try that, just for my own curiosity to see how it works. I’ve always wanted to do a monthly book and then it seemed like monthly books are dying, and everyone is doing trades or graphic novels, so I was thinking, “I still kind of want to do one, at least one time. That’s what I grew up reading, so I really want to do it”. So it just sort of happened.
HM-S: Were you afraid it might be your last chance, if monthly books stopped happening?
MK: I was. I thought, “This is my last chance to a monthly, because no one’s doing them”. And I pitched them to Vertigo. They were doing graphic novels at the time, and when I spoke to Dark Horse, it was just the right time. And they were really open to it. Honestly, of all the publishers that I’ve worked with, they are the only ones who have given me a blank check in terms of work to do exactly what I wanted to do. I wish more publishers did that, depending on the creator. But if more publishers did that, I think you would see so many good books with a pure vision. I think comics, generally, of all art forms, are like that. You get more of a pure vision. Dark Horse, I love them. I can’t say enough good things about them.
HM-S: Earlier today, you mentioned BLACK BEETLE as a comic you like? It’s getting a big readership right now.
MK: Oh, yeah, it’s so awesome. Francesco Francavilla, I’ve known him awhile. And he’ll do post cards, these little prints and everything, and it would be for a comic that wasn’t, you know? I thought, “Those are so cool. I want to read that comic”. And then when it came out, it’s just awesome. Those helicopter jetpacks and things. The best! It’s great. It’s like he’s channeling Will Eisner and including all these cool gadget things I like. It’s an awesome book, and he’s a super nice guy. I like that too.
HM-S: Kindt put so much time and personal energy into this interview that simply thanking him just doesn’t seem to cut it, but that’s the kind of guy he is. He doesn’t really ask for thanks. He just wants to keep doing what he set out to do in the past, keep surviving while making comics for a living. That’s no small task, but it’s a relief to know that he can keep on doing just that. And still find time to paintball now and then, too, we hope. Best of luck from The Beat, Matt!
Photo Credits: The photos in this article were taken during the interview by pop culture photographer Michele Brittany. You can learn more about her work here.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.