What do you get when you combine a Kill Bill-esque revenge story with a government conspiracy and a heavy dash of Slavic folklore? The answer is Crimson Flower, the new Dark Horse Comics series from writer Matt Kindt, artist Matt Lesniewski, and colorist Bill Crabtree. The series follows a young woman as she takes revenge on the men who murdered her family when she was a child. Along the way she uncovers a vast plot to weaponize Russian folk tales as a way of turning kids into super-assassins.
The project is the latest at Dark Horse for both Kindt and Lesniewski. The former has had a string of series from the publisher, including projects he’s drawn himself like Mind MGMT and Dept. H, the Wilfredo Torres-illustrated Bang!, and the recently-announced Fear Case with Tyler & Hillary Jenkins. For Lesniewski, Crimson Flower is one of two titles from Dark Horse debuting early next year, the other being an original graphic novel, Static, which Lesniewski is writing and drawing himself.
The Beat had the opportunity to chat with Kindt and Lesniewski about the forthcoming Crimson Flower, collaborating as writer/artists, and why Dark Horse was the right home for the project.
Joe Grunenwald: Matt Kindt, how familiar were you with Slavic folklore before you started developing Crimson Flower?
Matt Kindt: Not much. I was reading these amazing mini-comics by Artyom Trakhanov and he was adapting some amazing stories. It sent me down a very long research-rabbit-hole. I read a TON of books and old stories for inspiration. It’s a subject I’ve always been interested in. When I was younger I read this book “Uses of Enchantment” and I really was intrigued by how dark REAL fairy tales were. And also loved the idea that these tales weren’t just for entertainment. They were a way of conveying information. Of changing the way you think and molding your behavior. Which is really just a hop skip and jump away from one of my other favorite topics…brainwashing and assassins…!
Grunenwald: What made Matt Lesniewski the perfect artistic partner for the book? Did you ever consider drawing the series yourself?
Kindt: I would have LOVED to draw it – but my schedule is just too insane right now. I committed to write some new projects and between those and the MIND MGMT board game and a screenplay…I don’t have time to draw lately. But I’d picked up Matt’s The Freak book the year before in Charlotte at Heroes Con – from my buddy Chris Pitzer at Adhouse. I didn’t read it until I got home or I would have gone over to Matt L’s table and immediately chatted him up. He’s amazing.
Grunenwald: Matt Lesniewski, what drew you to wanting to work on Crimson Flower?
Matt Lesniewski: I’ve always been open to working with a writer on a comic, and I’ve done it in the past, but not always had the best experiences. One of the many reasons I prefer writing for myself. But, working with Matt Kindt has been a dream collaboration. Not to mention his concept for Crimson Flower. I remember first being presented with three different possible stories we could do together and this was easily the idea that jumped out the most. I loved how grounded it was, but also had fantasy/psychedelic elements too that would give me the opportunity to get experimental with the way I drew a lot of different things.
In a lot of my own work, I tend to write stories that revolve around or begin with one troubled character and Rodion fit that mold while being something completely new for me as well. And, working on a comic where I’m only doing the drawing gives me a chance to go wild with the art and not worry about keeping the entire train on the tracks singlehandedly. I’m still doing a lot of heavy lifting, but I have a team with me and I can do what I’m probably best at and have fun with it in a different way. That being said— everything about this experience was perfect. Me and Matt and Bill [Crabtree] will team up again.
Grunenwald: Your artwork and storytelling are immediately eye-catching, with fantastically proportioned characters and often wild ‘camera’ angles, both of which lend themselves well to the story of Crimson Flower. How did you go about designing the world of the series and its characters?
Lesniewski: Well, thank you! It’s sometimes difficult for me to get an accurate read on how my work actually comes off, so I’m glad you see it in that way. I know people will have different opinions on it, but I try not to think about any of that and just follow my own path. To be honest, I just take things page by page and try to do my best at telling the story in a way that makes it something you don’t want to stop looking at. And at the same time, something I’m going to have fun drawing every bit of. I think that a lot of the time, that translates to readers.
I also try not to ‘phone in’ anything, and create every page in a way that will make you want to go back and look at the art when you’re done reading the story. A lot of people talk about how the story flows with the art, and while that’s important, it still is a book, at the end of the day. And people can go back and look at it, so why not try to make it cool to look at? I don’t know if I achieve that with every panel, but I think approaching things with that intention makes a difference.
As far as designing the characters— I think there’s a fine line between creating a look that’s simple in a way that makes it not a chore to draw repeatedly, but not so simple it’s boring to look at. I also like to go with outfits that can be drawn in different ways over the course of the story— different textures, patterns, etc. There are so many ways you can approach drawing the same thing. There are no rules. That’s why I also try to think of outfits that are conducive to being drawn in different ways. I get bored with drawing the same thing over and over again very easily, so you have to make it fun. That’s one of the ways I do it.
Another thing I consider, is how the materials will be manipulated down the road— will their jacket rip? And how will that look? What about their pants? When the wind blows, how will their hair look after that? How will their shoes look after walking through the mud? All things I try to think about when designing characters.
Grunenwald: You’re both creators who have written and drawn projects entirely on your own as well as with collaborators. Which do you prefer, and why?
Kindt: I will always prefer some combination of both. If I write too much I get burned out and need to draw. If I draw too many days in a row – I need a break – and love to jump back into writing. It’s two different disciplines that each have their benefits. The best is when I get to pair with someone like Matt who is also a writer/artist – there’s a shorthand and an extra dimension that he brings that lets me give up control a little bit more because I know he knows how to put a narrative together. We both barely need each other [laughs].
Lesniewski: If I had to choose one, I prefer doing things all on my own. You just have so much more control. It’s a singular vision. There’s nothing like being able to dream up a crazy idea, take a pen and paper, and make something with just that. All on your own. I’m obsessed with how fulfilling that is. That’s not to say I don’t like working with others, obviously— I’m even writing a story for another artist now, which is completely new and exciting for me. So, I’m open to new and different ways of making comics/telling stories. I love it all. But honestly, there really isn’t one way that’s better to me, it’s all just different. Apples and oranges.
Grunenwald: You both have multiple projects in the works at Dark Horse right now. What do you enjoy most about working with them?
Kindt: I have a long history with Dark Horse. They believed in me and my creator-owned work from the beginning and have allowed me to explore every insanely harebrained idea I’ve ever had. I get the freedom of self-publishing with the steady backbone of professional editors and distribution. It’s no fun working in a vacuum and I’m proud of our books together and library of books I’m with. Black Hammer and Hellboy is some good company to be in.
Lesniewski: What’s not to like?! I never thought it would happen, but somehow I got lucky and [editor] Daniel [Chabon] brought me into the Dark Horse world. I’ve always wanted to work with Dark Horse. I get to do my thing and get payed for it. And they spread it everywhere for me. I’m living the dream… Seriously— pinch me.
Grunenwald: What’s something you’re each excited for readers to see in Crimson Flower?
Kindt: The last page of issue 4. But also — more generally — Matt L’s art. He’s a true original. There is no one like him. I think you can compare him to a lot of the amazing underground artists of the ’60s and ’70s – but it’s refined that kind of aesthetic and combined it with some inventive layouts and a much more cohesive storytelling style. It gets insane and frantic without losing the thread of understanding and meaning. This book and The Freak before it? It’s just the beginning – once you read this series? You’ll realize you’re just in on the ground floor of one of the most singular talents in the comic book industry.
Lesniewski: Matt Kindt’s crazy ideas! So good! When I read the concept, I was instantly hooked and had to draw it, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s going to fall in love with this story. And hopefully they don’t hate the scribbles I did. Would be cool if they liked those, too. Bill Crabtree made me look good, so I think they’ll like the art.
Published by Dark Horse Comics, Crimson Flower #1 arrives in comic shops on Wednesday, January 20th, 2021. Preorders for the issue are open until Monday, December 28th.