Valiant’s relaunch has been an incredible success, but what’s been most interesting is that the company have been able to balance commercial success with creative success. If you look at reviews for any of their titles, you’ll find that the reaction to every single one has been positive. And that goes for their newest launch, Unity, from Matt Kindt, Doug Braithwaite, and Brian Reber.
Taking the name from an event storyline in the previous iteration of Valiant’s Universe, Unity is pitched as being the big event book. The first arc has seen a collection of Valiant characters, led by Harada from Harbinger, lead a mission to stop X O Manowar from invading European soil. As written by Kindt, the story has been excellent – high action with a strong sense of personality and exceptional pacing. Which is why I leapt at the chance to talk to him about the series.
We spoke about the first arc of Unity, as well as what comes next – and Valiant have also provided artwork from the second arc’s artist, CAFU. We also talk a little on his Dark Horse series Mind MGMT, which unexpectedly crossed over with the Valiant Universe recently, as well as his creative process.
Steve: Unity feels like a Matt Kindt story using Valiant characters rather than a Valiant story written by Matt Kindt, if that makes sense. How much freedom have Valiant given you in the creative process?
Matt: Well, I’m glad it comes off the way you’ve described it. My interaction with Valiant, and Warren [Simons, Valiant Executive Editor] specifically has been fantastic. They’re really super-accommodating.
Issue #1 of Unity specifically was a situation where there was so much that needed to be packed into the story that it was just hard to do it right within the 22 pages. I was going to jam it all in there but then they just gave me an extra eight pages to make it absolutely right. So that extra eight pages makes that first issue really work. You get that opening story with the journalist that grounds the entire thing that there just wasn’t room for in a 22 page first issue.
That’s the kind of thing that Valiant always touts in their marketing – the idea of story first, etc…but I can honestly say that it’s not just a marketing ploy. You know, everyone in that office comes from a story-first point of view and it makes it a very easy place to come up with fun stories.
Pages from Unity #5, by CAFU
Steve: This first arc has seen them working to take down X-O Manowar – and what I thought was interesting was how the team are all agreed with that central mission. How did you choose the team for the series, and how do you view their dynamic?
Matt: It was tough choosing the team. You know, the Valiant U. has a lot of history and a lot of great characters. I’ve got pages and pages of back-story that I wrote for some new characters that I’d thought about introducing and lots of tangents and paths not taken. But ultimately I really wanted X-O, Ninjak and Eternal Warrior on the team or I didn’t think it’d work. You gotta have the big guns on a book like this – plus, selfishly, Rob [Venditti]’s never going to give up X-O so this was the only way I’d get my hands on that character!
The fourth character to me simply presented itself. Livewire is an interesting character and the highest profile female character that Valiant’s got (not including all the great Harbinger girls.) But you can’t just have a team of dudes flying around punching stuff. To me that’d be kind of boring to write. And I’ve always liked writing strong female leads – not for any political reason, but honestly, because it’s harder for me to write. It’s the opposite of everything I’m used to, you know? So when I write a female character it is just more of a fun challenge to me rather than writing somebody like Ninjak or somebody I can channel pretty easily as my 15 –year-old self all grown up.
As far as their dynamic goes, I really want them all to NOT get along. It makes it more interesting to write and read I think. So no matter what enemy their fighting, they’re always going to be fighting themselves as well. I really always thought the Unity logo should have been in quotes – you know – an ironic title.
Steve: You’ve written a few team books now, for various publishers. What do you view as the difficulties of a team series, where several characters are fighting for attention? What do you think is the key to handling an ensemble?
Matt: I think the key is just balance. Giving each character a chance to have their voice heard. And maybe you can’t do it with every individual issue but over the course of two or three, you’ll get to spend some time with each one to the point that you feel like you know them all pretty well.
The team books are the easiest to write in some ways. There’s definitely no room for filler or double-page spreads. It’s like a tightly wound clock where everything has to be in the right spot ticking away to make it work. I guess that makes it sound hard. I don’t know. I honestly never thought differently about a team book vs. something else.
I mean, even something like X-O is a team book…but the team takes the form of supporting characters that all sort of harmonize together to paint a picture of the lead character. In a team book – all of the characters work and harmonize together to paint a picture of something less concrete – a family or a dysfunctional family dynamic.
Steve: The first arc has been huge in scope. How do you balance Unity, story by story? Is it difficult to keep a momentum up when the first story is so big?
Matt: I don’t know. I think the idea of momentum is impossible to keep going. I get really bored during action movies and even within action scenes…because at some point you just become numb to the entire thing. A bigger explosion followed by an even bigger one isn’t really building tension or ramping up the excitement.
To me it’s sort of that punk rock idea of music – the quiet/loud/quiet pattern of storytelling. The big moments are only as good as, and only matter because of those quiet bits that come before. I think it was important for Unity to come out swinging and big a big bombastic adventure…and then arc 2 starts out a little smaller but then builds up again.
Steve: There feels to be several themes weaving out of this first story – one of which is of authority, who has it, and who should be wielding it (this seems to be a theme of the Valiant Universe as a whole, actually). Was this an idea you wanted readers to come away thinking about?
Matt: I honestly don’t think about the themes at all. Everything that’s in that story is really just character driven. If you think about themes too much then you start putting messages into your work and that’s something I really don’t intentionally do.
I do have a set of core beliefs and ideas about the world and people and that informs everything I do but when I’m writing a character like Harada, I’m just imagining what it would be like to be him. What would motivate him to do what he does? How would he really react? How does the world react to him? I think the key for me is to just be able to have this intense empathy with each character as I’m writing them so they come off as real human beings. It ends up creating a lot of grey area and muddies the waters between who’s good and bad, but to me there’s more truth in that rather than having a villain to just despise outright.
So short answer – there are recurring themes in all of my work but I don’t talk about ‘em and most of the time I don’t know what that theme is until it’s 90% finished.
Steve: You’ve said in interviews that this is the first project where you feel there is no set ending already planned out. How do you approach Unity? Are you going to plan it out one arc at a time, and see where each one leads?
Matt: Yeah – I’m gradually working further and further ahead. I LOVE seeding ideas early and paying them off later so I’ve already done that a little bit with some small things here and there in the first arc. I have a lot of great ideas for the food-writer that shows up in issue #1. I’m basically two story-arcs ahead with a vague idea of what the third one will be…but eventually I’d like to work it out even further. I think the trick with an ongoing is to work out a big master plan but leave room for new ideas along the way so you don’t get bored.
Steve: Speaking of – the second arc will set the team up against Dr Silk and Webnet, which would seem to put Ninjak in the spotlight. How does Dr Silk come into the sights of the Unity team?
Matt: That’d totally spoil it, but Silk will take up a big chunk of the next arc – we’ll get a glimpse of his entire back story – which is heart-breaking and horrible at the same time and we’ll see how he has been tied into the Valiant U. for a long, long time…and maybe get a hint at some earlier incarnations of Unity…or something. Ha! I don’t want to spoil anything!
Clayton Crain’s cover for Unity 6
Steve: The first arc put the team up against a threat which had to be addressed, forcing them to assemble. Now they are together, how will they operate as a unit?
Matt: Horribly. At least that’s the idea. To me, it’s like trying to get a bunch of Type-A guys together on a football team. They aren’t going to function very well as a team until they figure out who’s who, and who can do what and actually train together…but there’s no time to really train and practice. They don’t have a danger room – their Danger Room is the real world and they’re just getting thrown into it.
Steve: After working with Doug Braithwaite for the first arc, CAFU will be coming on for this second arc. What does he bring to the storyline? When you have arc-driven stories with rotating artists, do you find you start to hone in on their strengths and interests and start to write towards them, at all?
Matt: Yeah – it’s always hard on that first issue – having not worked together, but once the pages come in I can kind of get an idea of what each artist likes to draw and then throw in the kinds of stuff I like to see them draw and it gets better. My first script for a new artist always has a lot of stage direction but after I see how they react to that and how they handle the layouts, the rest of the scripts get easier for me and them…that’s the fun of collaborating really.
I love describing a scene in detail and then see it come in as something slightly different but even cooler. These guys are professional artists for a reason, so it’s fun to let them run with it.
Steve: At the end of issue #2, Valiant characters including Bloodshot appear in a one-page advertisement you created for your own series, Mind MGMT. How did that come about? Whose idea was it? I don’t think I’ve seen something like this before!
Matt: Warren Simons at Valiant proposed doing an ad swap…Valiant has been super-supportive of creator owned books in general – and definitely me specifically. MIND MGMT is the reason they asked me to do some work for them. So when he asked, I wasn’t sure.
I like having MIND MGMT be ad-free but the idea of doing some subversive sort of real ad was exciting to me and they loved the idea – Dark Horse of course, is so supportive as well – they give me free reign really so I had a TON of fun. I came up with the idea and then ran it by Valiant and Dark Horse and they both loved it.
I’d actually had the idea of doing a weird ad swap a while ago…I’d been talking to Brian Hurtt (Sixth Gun) about doing one with them but we never got around to it. And I’d thought about putting a Star Wars ad into MIND MGMT as well but I think the approval process on something like that would have been a little more stringent. So this was perfect.
Spent way more time on those ads than I probably should have, but it was worth it to do something a little different. It’s like Spider-Man selling a fruit-pie kind of ad…it makes no sense but it’s super funny to me.
Steve: This month sees a new arc of Mind MGMT come out, in fact, with a story about Ella the Animal Kid. What can we expect from the series over the next few issues?
Matt: This next arc is kind of challenging honestly. For me and probably for readers as well. I’m trying out a lot of narrative and story-telling ideas I’ve wanted to do for a while and I’m not sure how easy these issues will be to read…! Hopefully they’ll be fun and readers will dig them. I’m really just trying to do some things with the format and the story that I’ve never seen done before…stuff that is dictated by story but also just kind of out there.
Issue #21 is my “silent issue” homage to G.I. Joe #21. I was inspired by Sixth Gun doing that with their issue #21 and it just turned out that my issue #21 would work perfectly with that concept – but my idea was to do a silent issue jammed full of thought balloons! No one uses thought balloons anymore and I liked the idea of having the most text-heavy issue of MIND MGMT ever being my silent issue where no one talks…so there’s that…!
And after this arc I’m really in the home stretch. Everything has been building to this last year of MIND MGMT – issues 24-36 are basically the end…everything’s been building to that so I’m really excited. It’s like building a big rocket for two years and then getting to light the fuse and let it go off.
Steve: Do you think writing company-owned books like Valiant has affected the way you write your creator-owned work, at all? Or vice versa?
Matt: I’m not sure. I think I approach every story the same way. Who’s the voice of the story? What’s something interesting we can do with format or storytelling to mix things up? Those are the things I’m always working on. I think it’s definitely less work doing company-owned books simply because I don’t have to draw it.
Creator-owned stuff I am constantly questioning the format, the page count, the color, the design. With the other books that is set in stone. I don’t have to worry about paper stock or page count or marketing. It’s kind of a nice vacation in a way where I can just worry about pure storytelling and nothing else.
Steve: What else do you have coming up over the next few months? Where can people find you online?
Matt: I’m doing a 4-issue Star Wars: Heist limited series for Dark Horse that’s coming out this spring and another big #1 book that Valiant’s going to announce any day now…!
I’m also finishing up a kids graphic novel with my friend Brian Hurtt (Sixth Gun) called Poppy! That Dark Horse is publishing in 2015. You can reach me at: www.mattkindt.com
Many thanks to Matt for his time! And thank you to Hunter Gorinson for arranging the interview. Unity #4 is out on February 19th, and the second arc will start with issue #5, out on March 12th. You can also find Matt on Twitter right here, and Mind MGMT #19 will be out February 26th.