In comics, the separation between writing and artwork can be difficult to pinpoint. Oftentimes the artwork directly informs the narrative, and vice versa. This is particularly apparent in the work of cartoonist Matt Kindt, whose unique comics play with everything from panel sequence to page number to deliver a dynamic reading experience. His comics may be fun to read, but they are in no way a passive form of entertainment.
Kindt’s work spans multiple formats, from graphic novels, web comics and monthly serials to the Super Spy “Treasure Box”, a collection of single panels whose correct narrative order must be pieced together with the aid of a map. He has published many highly regarded graphic novels, including Super Spy, Revolver and 3 Story, which is currently in production as a film as well.
This May will see the launch of Kindt’s new series MIND MGMT, which promises a new set of puzzles and surprises. MIND MGMT is previewed in this week’s release of 3 Story: Secret Files of the Giant Man, a single issue comic that collects three short stories set in the same world as the 3 Story graphic novel. We took the opportunity to speak with this busy creator about his working process, multiple projects, and the connections between design, format and narrative.
You specialize in espionage-themed comics, in which both text and image are sprinkled with double meanings and hidden messages. What is your working process? Do you start with a story idea and create artwork to complement it, or do your stories grow out of your artwork?
MK: My process is something that I would describe as haphazard…or I guess to put it nicely, “organic,” in that every project I’ve ever done has started in a slightly different way and my process from beginning to end is always a little different.
Sometimes an idea comes fully formed and I just type out an outline and work on it. Other times I struggle with the outline and then jump to thumbnails and then build on it and add pages all over the place via thumbnails. And other times I just jump straight to thumbnails and then add dialogue when I pencil it. I can honestly say that every project I’ve done has been slightly different. It usually all does come together though once it’s penciled. Inking and painting and lettering are pretty systematic. But the path to pencils is always a little nuts.
Your style is fairly unique in comics. What are some of your artistic influences?
MK: I love Dave McKean and the storytelling of Darywn Cooke. But I also have deeper-rooted debt I owe to Dick Tracy (Chester Gould). But I would say that I read more prose than comics at this point in my life. I read a lot of different things. A lot of time travel sci-fi of all things and Catch-22 is my favorite book of all time. Philip K. Dick is another of my favorite authors. I just love ideas and I love ideas that are presented in a novel way.
3 Story pieces together the story of giant man Craig Pressgang’s life from multiple outside perspectives. One of the ways you do this is to incorporate different design elements into the narrative, such as pages styled after a gallery program or a vintage magazine advertisement. How big a role does design play in your storytelling process?
MK: I think it’s really important. From the cover to back cover I think everything needs to be considered. Even page numbers play a role in Revolver. Part of what I’m trying to build is a more immersive reading experience, so you’re not just glancing at art and flipping pages as you read — I like the idea that the book creates an experience and slows you down a little bit. But one of my pet peeves is big blocks of text pages that break up the comic — which is a way to slow the reader down, but I think there’s something your mind does when you’re reading comics — when you hit a big block of text, you tend to resist reading it…it’s more trouble somehow. So I’m trying to strike a balance there — keeping it comics but giving you more text to read as well.
The new 3 Story comic examines Craig Pressgang from three additional characters’ perspectives. How do these fit in with the graphic novel? What distinguishes them?
MK: Well, these are some of Craig’s “secret missions” that are alluded to in the graphic novel but I never really show. They were ideas I’d had but they didn’t fit the structure of the novel since it’s built around the POVs of the three main characters. So I decided to do a few stand-alone stories that break that mold, but keep them safely out of the graphic novel so it wouldn’t compromise it. And I felt like the novel has a lot of sadness to it so I tried to put a little humor into some of these stories as a sort of “pick-me-up” after you’ve read the novel.
Your work often plays with visual and narrative composition, such as in the nonlinear story sequence of SuperSpy, the parallel interactive universes of Revolver, and the use of scale in 3 Story to show the main character’s literal and figurative distance from other people. How do you challenge yourself to keep things interesting, both in terms of storytelling and artwork?
MK: I always put a set of rules or constraints on myself for every project I do. Sometimes it’s the challenge of telling a story of one person from three different POVs (3 Story) or in the case of 2 Sisters it’s more of a formal constraint where I decided to tell a story using no captions or scene changes. There are no “cuts” from one scene to another. In Super Spy, the biggest constraint was to make each chapter be able to stand on its own, but also work as a larger book. I usually just set up a constraint like that to help me look at a story or character or even the art of comic books in a different way…to try to stretch what comics are capable of.
Your new series, Mind MGMT, is coming out soon. How does creating a serial comic differ from a web comic or a graphic novel?
MK: It’s very similar to Super Spy, which I did as a weekly on-line comic before it was the book. The schedule is tight and I’m weaving a bigger story in installments, so there’s really no room for error when it comes to timeline and storytelling. The most fun part for me is trying to craft these 24 page comics into satisfying reads on their own, but still keep them part of a bigger story. And I’m designing these comics in a way that’s kind of going against the grain of what’s happening in comics currently — I want you to spend time with each issue, not just read it in 10 minutes and then wait for the trade. These issues are designed specifically to work as monthly comics. It’s going to be essential to read these in this format — for a lot of secret reasons — one of them being the back cover ads. There are some hidden puzzle pieces that you’ll have to…figure out. That’s all I’m gonna say!
What’s next for you?
MK: Well, hopefully 3 more years of MIND MGMT in addition to writing Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE for DC (starting in June) and I’ve got an original graphic novel from First Second that will be out in 2013 called Strange Crimes.