Nearly a decade after breaking into the world of comics, Matt Kindt is fast becoming one of the most exciting original content creators in the industry. From original graphic novels like Red Handed to the cerebral psychodrama of his ongoing series for Dark Horse, Mind MGMT, Kindt’s unique art style and penchant for visceral action coupled with heady introspection are making him a hot ticket item among major publishers. Yet, of all his works, it is Mind MGMT that keeps drawing me back in, with its winding storylines, layered mysteries, and gorgeous watercolors. To take a peek inside Kindt’s mind, I caught up with him to talk about his love affair with mid-century espionage culture, murderous dolphins, the Ridley Scott film adaptation, and more.
Nerdist: I read the first hardcover collection of Mind MGMT and one thing that immediately leapt out were the watercolor backgrounds, which give the whole proceeding a sort of washed-out wooziness, an almost amnesia-like quality that mirrors what the characters are going through. Tell me a bit about how the project came into being and creating the visual look of Mind MGMT.
Matt Kindt: Well, it started with the title, which is the first time I ever started a book with the title first. [laughs] So, I got the title and I was like, “Well, what are those stories going to be like?” That’s what I normally do – bullet-point different stories and ideas and see how they’re going to fit together. One of the main things I was concerned with was these trainees, these agents with mind powers – what were their powers going to be? What was in the realm of believability for me? I didn’t want to have people flying around with superpowers; I wanted them to have these abilities that, if you pushed your natural abilities to the absolute limit, what could you really do? I think I pushed it way past that, but it was certainly a starting point.
As far as the style goes, that’s how I normally work. [laughs] I have a small window of range; I push myself to be a little cleaner, a little rougher. The color could be a little different, but that’s sort of what my style evolved into.
N: I think, in particular, the painting works quite well for this series because it immediately sets the tone. This is your first solo monthly series. What attracted you to writing a monthly after doing more self-contained original graphic novels? Did it affect the way you worked at all?
MK: Yeah, definitely. I was attracted to the format because I’d never done it. I grew up reading comics monthly like that. That’s what everybody – well, at least my age – grew up on. I was worried that the era of monthly comics was going to pass me by before I got a chance to do it, so that was my sort of deeper, angsty motivation to do it. I wanted to tell a bigger story that I could stretch out over a few years. I sort of had an epiphany a few years ago after I finished the graphic novel 3 Story for Dark Horse. I was at a convention and selling the book and a guy came up to me, bought the book. He came back 45 minutes later and was like, “Oh, I just had lunch and read your book and I just wanted to tell you how awesome it was.” It had taken me a year to do that book. This guy just read it over his lunch – not even an hour. [laughs]
It sort of made me think differently about comics and books and being an author, you know? I’m spending a year on this – I disappear for a year, then it comes out, you buy it, it’s done. It kind of drove me crazy. I wanted to do something bigger that takes you longer, something that you spend time with. I want you to think about it over the course of a week, a year. That’s why a monthly comic was perfect. Hopefully it takes you at least 30 minutes to read every single piece of it. Then you read it again the next month. And at the end of the year, you’ve spent some time with it, thinking about those characters. It makes it a richer experience. It’s like watching a TV show as it airs rather than watching the DVDs all at once.
N: Right. You get to spend many lunch breaks with it as opposed to just one.
MK: [laughs] Right, right, exactly.
N: I can imagine how that would be a bit frustrating.
MK: Yeah, right? I spent a year of my life on that!
N: In your works, espionage – especially mid-century stuff – seems to be a recurring theme. What is it about that genre that fascinates you?
MK: I guess, in particular, the low-tech nature of an earlier age. Also, it’s just more fun to draw clothes and things from that era. Honestly, when I imagined it, it was set in modern day, but I hate drawing cell phones, so I try to avoid it if at all possible. It’s boring, for one thing, but also in ten years, what are we going to be using? Everyone’s going to be putting a finger in their ear. If you set it in an era that’s already happened, it’s immediately outdated on purpose.
N: It’s unintended future-proofing.
N: Mind Management and Henry Lyme seem to have a sort of “Who’s watching the watchmen?” dynamic going. Is this intended to make a larger statement about the role of governmental agencies and individual liberties, or am I reading into it too much?
MK: No, there’s definitely a bigger story there. I hesitate to say too much because I have three years planned out. We’re almost done with the first year, which to me is all about setting the table. Here are the players. The next year is all about “OK, here’s the bigger picture. Here’s what they’re playing for.” The themes are all about what you do with power and how do you wield it. There are two opposing viewpoints. It was important to me to have two sides that were both equally persuasive. I don’t want you to be like, “I hate the Watchmen! Ooh – you gotta watch those guys.” I love the idea of there being good on both sides rather than just good versus evil.
N: It certainly makes for a compelling read. You’re not quite sure who to trust; you feel a bit like Meru. You also take an interesting stance on mass media as a means of mind control. What inspired that?
MK: People are either on one side or the other – either you think advertising doesn’t work or you hate it because people are influenced by it. I’m in the middle there. I’ll be the first to admit – I’m one of the most impressionable people on Earth. I’ll be reading a novel and the characters will be eating spaghetti, then suddenly I’m hungry for pasta. It’s not even marketing! That’s just me being impressionable. [laughs] But I’m aware of it.
N: That’s good that you’re at least conscious of it.
MK: I’m conscious that I’m so suggestible in that way even when someone’s not trying to suggest something. I know I’m impressionable, but I just thought it was a fun idea.
N: Speaking of fun ideas, were the dolphins at all inspired by the 1973 George C. Scott film, The Day of the Dolphin?
MK: [laughs] I’ve never even heard of that.
N: Oh my God, look it up when you get the chance. The tagline is “Unwittingly, he trained a dolphin to kill the president of the United States.” I thought it might have been a little easter egg.
MK: That’s super funny. If you prefer to believe that, then by all means.
N: We’ll just retcon it in there. I also read that Ridley Scott is working on a Mind MGMT film adaptation. Can you tell us anything about that?
MK: Yeah, not much at the moment. I met with them and gave them an outline and conceptualization of the end of the whole series. So, I gave him that and talked everyone through it because I think it’s weird to do a movie where you don’t have an ending. I don’t think it’s fair to try to make a movie about the 13 issues that are out now, which is only a third of the project. I mean, they love everything in it. Again, I don’t know if it’s so much the story as the execution of the story. I told them to go ahead and make a crazy movie because I’m trying to make a crazy comic book. If they could do something with the film, that’d be great.
N: Even with the way you laid out the panels, it’s visually exciting, so I think the big screen potential is there. Who would be your dream casting for Meru and Lyme?
MK: [laughs] Oh, boy. I don’t think I have dream casting. I put Zach Galifianakis in there for Lyme.
MK: He’s already got the beard and the sunglasses, so there you go.
N: I’d like to see him take on something a little bit meatier, so I think Lyme might be good for him.
MK: I do, too! It started out as a joke, but the more I think about it, comedians usually make some of the best dramatic actors. We’ll get Leonardo DiCaprio to grow a beard and put some sunglasses on. Whatever – it doesn’t matter. I never think about that kind of thing.
N: In addition to Mind MGMT, what do you have coming down the pipeline?
MK: I’m doing a bunch of stuff for Marvel and DC that hasn’t been announced yet. Stuff that I’m just doing writing on. Honestly, I don’t have much time to write and draw more than one thing at a time, so Mind MGMT is pretty much it. I have a new crime graphic novel called Red Handed that came out from First Second. I thought I could do a monthly book and a graphic novel, which is not the case, so I’m glad that’s done.
N: On the other side of the coin, what comics are you reading and enjoying right now?
MK: Man, I don’t have any time to read. Honestly, I’m reading a bunch of Marvel and DC books, but just to get caught up for the stuff I’m writing now. I can’t tell you, though, because it’s so secretive.
N: That’s fine. I don’t want the Marvel SWAT team bursting through my window.
MK: Oh, recently I read all the Valiant books and I was really impressed. It was fun because when I was just a fan of comics in the nineties, I bought ’em all, so it was fun to read them even if it was just for work. I’m a huge fan of The Sixth Gun; that book’s awesome.
N: One last question – what’s inside your ideal burrito?
MK: [laughs] Ideal burrito… it’s so funny because I just had a queso burrito for dinner. It was awesome. Put some queso in there and some rice. Rice is my favorite food.
N: What’s the old Mitch Hedberg bit? It’s perfect if you want to eat 1,000 of something.
MK: Sorry if that’s a bad answer, but I just had it and it was really good. I can still kind of taste it.
N: No need to apologize – this is your ideal burrito after all.
Do you read Mind MGMT? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!