Last week, I sat down with artist Scott Kolins to talk about his and writer Matt Kindt’s new Dark Horse series, Past Aways. Set in present day 2015, this darkly humorous series follows the adventures of five time travelers from 10,000,000 years in the future who’ve found themselves marooned in our “crude” world. They’re pissed. They’re bored. They’re immortal. Past Aways is both a rousing adventure title and a critique on the less admirable elements of our society.
I originally promised that this would be the second of a two part interview with the creators of Past Aways, but my conversation with Matt and series editor Brendan Wright went into so much depth that it had to be split into yet another article! Here’s the first half of our conversation, where Matt, Brendan, and I discuss Past Aways, our relationship with technology, collaboration in comics, and spice things up with some diarrhea and butt-acid. Who said comics weren’t entertaining?
Alex Lu for Comics Bulletin: Brendan, this isn’t your first rodeo with Matt. You’ve been his editor on Mind MGMT. How did you two start working together?
Brendan Wright: Well, when I started at Dark Horse, I was working with an editor named Diana Schutz who brought in Matt on some of the Escapist anthology stuff and was the editor his graphic novel, 3 Story. I was the assistant editor on that. Matt and I first met at Emerald City whenever that was to go over the final proofs of it together and that’s kind of the beginning of our working relationship. When my management came around, Diana was really swamped the gigantic Manara Library program. So since Matt and I had a pretty good working relationship, the book just went over to me. And we’ve kind of been feeding on each other’s crazy ideas ever since.
CB: One of the big things about Past Aways that I noticed is that it’s a lot more zany and casual than Mind MGMT. Both books are fun, but this book is fun in a sort of crazy, out there, you do whatever you want to do sort of way. Would you say that your dynamic has shifted at all from working from this tightly plotted Mind MGMT sort of thing to Past Aways?
Matt Kindt: I’ll say yeah to that. Understand that for Mind MGMT I was really focused on an idea of what it needed to be. There wasn’t much work for Brendan to do. But on this one, I was like, “Oh, I want to do something more fun, a little more cosmic, a little lighter.” I think the first few scripts I turned in, Brendan was like, “I thought this was going to be a lighter sort of fun romp, you know.” I was like, “Oh, yeah. I freaking totally forgot.”
He’s been able to steer me a little bit on this one as far as tone goes, which is kind of nice. He knew what I wanted to do and I had forgotten what I had to do with it.
Wright: We spent a lot more time on the scripts back and forth on this, but it’s still pretty much the crazy stuff from Matt and then my notes like, “And don’t forget to be funny.”
Kindt: It’s the worst possible note. I’m like, “Oh my god.”
CB: Were there moments where you would write something that you thought was funny, but it ended up being a little bit too dark?
Kindt: No, it was mostly just too dark and there was nothing funny, you know. I had to go back in.
Wright: Scott [Kolins] brought a ton of that, too. We told him early on that some of this stuff is kind of heavy, but we really wanted it to be spritely as well. He just ran in that direction. He’s added tons of background details and he’s made sure that there’s always something crazy going on. Scott’s been essential to keeping the tone.
CB: Yeah, I was talking to him earlier and he mentioned in that in the opening scene where the dinosaur spits the acid on the guy, Matt originally envisioned it coming out of the dino’s mouth, but Scott decided to show the acid coming out of its butt instead.
Kindt: That’s true. When I first saw that, I was like, “What? No. NO!” I think we sent those pages to a preview in San Diego. I was on a panel and they threw those up there for the crowd. And then I saw the crowd’s reaction to those pages and I was like, “Oh my god. It was totally the right decision.” Everybody was shocked and then kind of laughing. It totally worked better than I thought.
Wright: It pays off great later when they plug the acid spore.
CB: I discussed this with Scott, and I wanted to bring the topic up with you guys as well. The incident between the boy and the dinosaur, as hilarious as it is, also reads as a subtle jab at the way that we interact with technology and how it can takes us out of the moment. Later on in the issue, Matt, you call the contemporary present a crude state. How do both of you relate to technology and the societal expectation that we always be available to other people around the world?
Kindt: Just the other day I was at breakfast with my daughter and a friend of mine. My friend got his phone out and she said: “If my dad gets his phone out during dinner or while we’re eating, he owes me a hundred bucks.” I made this deal and she’s all excited. She’s constantly watching me and hoping, you know.
CB: Is she a millionaire yet?
Kindt: No. I haven’t paid her once. I won’t do it!
Wright: It’s an incentive to keep your phone in your pocket.
Kindt: Yeah, it takes a conscious effort to do that when there are whole other tables where everyone is looking at their phones. I’m like: “how about we just sit and look at each other?”
So, I have a love and hate relationship with technology. Mostly love, though. I love every gadget, whether I need it or not. I was discussing with my wife whether I needed the iWatch. I don’t, but I really want it.
Wright: You want one of those?
Kindt: I have no idea if I am going to [get one]. I was going to buy Google Glass and my wife was like, “You are not buying those.”
Kindt: In hindsight I was glad. I don’t want to be one of those guys walking around with [Google Glass]. I’ve been at a convention where a guy walked up with those on and it started glowing while he was talking to me and I’m like, “What’s happening? What are you doing?” It kind of bothered me and then I was glad I didn’t have them.
Wright: I would probably fall into that same love/hate because I love having digital stuff for my job. I print out a lot less than a lot of other editors. I love digital comics and read much more on my iPad than I do in print. The flip side of that is that I’m really slow to adopt all of the parts of technology that involve talking to people. I’ve had a smartphone for less than a year. I’ve been seriously using Twitter for about a month and I’m still terrible at it. The idea that you need to be able to answer a question or talk to people at any moment of the day is still very foreign to me.
CB: Do you ever feel bogged down by the expectation that everyone should be able to talk to you at any given moment?
Wright: I do, yeah. Usually, when I start to text somebody something, I’ll have that moment of, “Is there any reason I can’t tell them this tomorrow when I see them?” and then delete the text.
CB: And then they’ll get mad at you tomorrow and say: “Why didn’t you respond to me in the moment?”
Wright: No, I’ll just forget whatever I was going to tell them and never say it.
Kindt: That’s funny. People get mad at me because I don’t answer my phone all the time. There’s certain times I’m doing things or I just don’t need to be on the phone; I don’t need to be talking. Usually it’s because I’m writing, I’m working, or whatever. It’s hard. I have to make a conscious effort not to be interrupted because it is so easy to be.
Wright: It’s virtually impossible to draw for the whole day if people are constantly tweeting at you and texting you. Do you have to have [your phone] in a separate room when you are at your studio or do you just get interrupted all day long?
Kindt: It’s funny because I will [keep it with me]. I’ll start out the morning and check Twitter every ten minutes and then I’ll say, “What am I doing?” Then, I’ll shut it off for the whole day. Not literally shut it off, but I’ll just blackout on everything but what I am doing. But it definitely takes a conscious effort. I have to flip that switch, you know?
CB: Brendan, you mentioned that you are mostly reading digitally nowadays. Now, I’m a bit of a luddite in that regard, as I mostly enjoy reading my books physically. However, I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends have started primarily reading digital editions. Do you think that the medium shift has changed the way that we read comics?
Wright: I think that it has had a Netflix binge reading effect where I’ll buy the first issue of a series, like it, and then just immediately hit the next button. Another $1.99 has disappeared from my bank account. It has allowed me to be as lazy as I like to be. I’ve actually bought comics that I already own just to not have to get out of bed and find them.
Another part of it is that many comics are produced digitally now so they’re more pleasing to the eye on a sharp iPad screen. I remember seeing Dave Stewart giving a side-by-side demonstration: “Here’s what it looks like on screen. Here’s what it looks like when it is printed.” There’s a subtlety in the colors that just doesn’t make it to print, so books look that much better on a tablet.
CB: When you look at a comic page in comiXology or in Marvel Unlimited, they’ll put you in a guided reading format where you see one panel at a time rather than the whole page. I feel like that changes the way you process information. Matt, since you’ve done art for Mind MGMT and other books in the past, do you think it has or it will change the way you shape your layouts?
Kindt: Yeah, that’s a good question. I’m still doing comics specifically for print, you know. The digital version is like the bonus version, like if you can’t find it, you can still read it digitally. But I’m consciously trying to make an effort to make comics that work as print books first. Everything else is just secondary. And a lot of it is [incorporated] in the design and page layout. I am consciously making a decision, and I’m trying to design for print because I enjoy that.
I honestly read a lot of stuff digitally, too, but I read a lot of digitally because it is kind of designed to be that way or [the way you read the book] doesn’t really matter. There’s no bonus to getting the hard copy.
CB: That makes sense.
Kindt: So, I’m conscious of that and I’m trying to make something where the best way to read it would be in print because there’s crazy stuff in the margins or the covers are interesting or the paper is different. Just different design elements that make it print specific.
Wright: There’s the other sort of tactile stuff that you do where you have panels that are designed to be drawn in or cut out or set on fire. We are not at the stage where you can set an iPad on fire.
CB: I mean, you can but…
Kindt: But that’s not interesting to me, you know? To me it’s nice to write and draw and create and design a thing that is meant to be this object. A lot of books have little things that I can do to them in person. I’m all for digital though, too. If I do a digital only thing or if I do something designed [for digital], I would definitely take into account the layout and how you interact with it. Even the panel zooming and stuff, which I kind of hate, if I was going to do something that used that, I would figure out a way to use that would enhance the story rather than just change the format. Something that would actually make sense within the context of the story.
Wright: The zooming in on one panel at a time thing is still not something I’m ready for. Although as editors of digital books, we do approve the guided view for every single book. It’s really interesting to realize that every single image is kind of a splash page now. The moment that that really hit me was doing the digital approval on an issue of The Guild a few years ago. There’s a panel where the main character, Cyd, is throwing up and having diarrhea, sitting on a toilet and like taking drugs all at once. And it’s just one panel on a page, but on a phone it is suddenly the only thing you are looking at. It’s basically this really horrific background image for your phone for the couple of seconds you are reading that panel. I haven’t entirely figured out what to do about the fact that every panel now has that moment where it stands alone. However, it is something I am aware of as I look at individual panels. There’s now this extra weight placed on each image to work by itself in a way it didn’t used to have to.
CB: Do you foresee a possibility of a future where we end up getting two different versions of the same comic?
Wright: I think we’re already starting to get there, where you have things like the DC and Marvel augmented comics where in Batman ‘66 there’s limited animation and the sound effects pop out at you. Marvel does things that are even a little closer to animation with their Infinite Comics. Then there’s Dynamite and Valiant and other publishers who include pencils, inks, and other things in the back of their digital comics that aren’t in the print ones.
CB: While we’re on the subject of technology and making things for print, one of my favorite things about Mind MGMT was the little notes, the field guides in the margins. I see a corollary in Past Aways with the red notations that tell us about some of the technology from the future. Is this going to be a running thing throughout this series like the margins were in Mind MGMT?
Kindt: Yeah, I think Brendan was so irritated by the footnotes in Mind MGMT that I just really wanted to keep doing them…honestly I think it’s fun to write them, and I think it adds another layer. Comics are just so expensive and you can read them so quickly that I feel like I’m trying to do everything I can to just add a little bit more.
Plus, there are some fun storytelling things you can do with [the notations], where most of the time they will be fun; I’ll point out a funny little gadget and then I’ll explain it. However, as we go along, I can slip more story moments in there. It adds another layer of meaning to a moment or a part of the action that makes [the scene] a little bit deeper than it would have been otherwise.
CB: Is it sort of like the issue in Mind MGMT where Meru is coming close to stumbling upon the truth behind Mind MGMT in the first arc and someone is trying to communicate with her through the field notes?
Kindt: Yeah. I don’t know if it will be that specific. That sort of breaks the wall of what those things are, which works in Mind MGMT, but in this one I think it will just add more meaning to pieces of the panels as we go. Without that, [an object] is just a thing in the background. With that [red box] added to it, it becomes this thing that is important to this character at this time. It’s just a way of calling it out, creating an extra moment.
Wright: I don’t think we originally had them in there, but Matt can’t help but add some pathos and depth to what was originally just sort of going to be a goofy straight ahead action story; I think he just kind of can’t help but put more in. It’s been fun chasing him to actually write those captions.
Kindt: Yeah, I act like those are fun to write but they’re actually the most horrible things to write because I feel like I’m done and I still have to write those.
Wright: And the travel logs [in Past Aways]. You owe me a travel log for few [issues].
Kindt: I know, the travel logs, too. I have these great ideas and then I don’t think about having to carry them out every single month. That happened with the footnotes in Mind MGMT. I think the original idea was just to do those for the first six issues. I thought it’d be a fun idea. And then I thought they worked so well that I guilted myself into doing them for the entire series. It’s been a thorn in my side for three years.
Wright: And the anguish that comes through in the emails when we have issue that doesn’t have them. Matt’s just like, “I…I just couldn’t this month.”
Kindt: Yeah, I know. Sometimes it just doesn’t fit, you know? And after a while you are just repeating the same junk over and over again. Unless there’s a specific reason to do it, I don’t want to do it. If it ever becomes just like a gimmick… It is a gimmick, but if it becomes only a gimmick, then it is something I don’t really want to do.
CB: Well, the annotations in Past Aways have definitely been fun to read so far though. You are constantly adding new technology— stuff that we’ve obviously never seen in 2015 to this world. It seems like infinitely fertile ground for humor and depth.
Wright: And in 2015, 2016, etc. we’ll continue to have real world technology pop up that would look absurd to people from the distant future.
Kindt: Yeah, that’s the fun. I’m doing these travel logs at the end. They’re basically an essay by one of the characters, Herb, examining our modern day as an anthropologist from 10,000,000 years in the future. What that [thing] would look like and how alien that would [act]. In the first one he goes into a bookstore. The way he describes it is so crazy. At first you are like, “Where is this? What is he doing?” And then: “Oh, he’s talking about a bookstore.”
Wright: There’s a moment in the prologue for one of the issues where there’s a footnote for this internal combustion engine in this Jeep and how absurdly out of date something like that is. Seeing that was the moment when I thought “Oh, yeah, I get what these are about.”
Kindt: Yeah, they’re versatile. I can go do something crazy futur[istic] where I just make it up and that’s fun. Then, I’ll see something from the present day through a future person’s eyes and comment on things.
CB: I was reading another article about Past Aways from about a year ago and noticed that you said something interesting. These characters are representations of some of your favorite sci-fi authors?
Kindt: Yeah, that was a little thing I did. I wasn’t going to say anything about it and just do it, but then I just blurted it out. I was coming up with the characters and I was thinking to myself: I sort of need a base to spin these personalities around. Honestly, it’s impossible for me to come up with a character from scratch and be like, “Oh, they’re going to be the brains of the operation” or “They are going to be the muscle.” I just can’t think like that.
I was just trying to make the characters real. Everybody I have ever written is always based on or inspired by some real person. For Past Aways, I thought it would be fun to just base the characters on some of my favorite sci-fi authors: Frank Herbert, Phillip K. Dick, and Robert Heinlein, that kind of thing. Their personalities are sort of my idea of what those authors might have been like, based on their work. I know a lot about Phillip K. Dick and his regular life, but for the rest of them I am sort of ignorant of their true lives. I just spun it out of their fiction and what kind of a person I thought would write that.
CB: Phil is one of the only characters that we didn’t get a good sense of in the first issue. What would you characterize him as?
Kindt: There’s a little bit of a spoiler with him, but there is definitely more to him and I want to keep him a mystery until later. You aren’t supposed to know. You are supposed to wonder what his problem is.
CB: He’s the guy with a chip on his shoulder in the group.
CB: Matt, you’ve said that one of your influences is Phillip K. Dick and in an interview with Vulture, you stated that you don’t feel like your work is the work of a “paranoid” person. However, Mind MGMT, Revolver, and Past Aways all reflect some fundamental distrust of an objective reality. There’s always something working behind the scenes. And you see that in stuff like Dick’s novel, Ubik. Would you say that even though you are not a paranoid person, you might be a little bit of wary of the world?
Kindt: That’s so funny. I don’t even know. I guess that is in my work and I really don’t know why. I guess I should self-examine myself more. I’m a trusting person. I leave my doors unlocked. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left the front door of our house open accidently and I’ve come home like, “Oh, I didn’t close the door.” And part of it is me being absent minded and part of it is that I just don’t worry about things. People could lie to me all the time and I would just trust what everyone is saying constantly. I don’t know. I’m not paranoid. I don’t have a paranoid bone in my body.
One of the things I really love about Phillip K. Dick, and I think the thing that I draw from him and his work, is just the sheer quantity of ideas that he jams into his books. His books are pretty thin, but there are more ideas in them than you could get in a thousand pages of Game of Thrones or something. Sheer imagination is what I really am attracted to.
Then, I do love some of his ideas. I remember him describing this idea: if he could turn around fast enough the world wouldn’t be there for a split second because it hadn’t drawn itself or created itself yet. So, if you turn around quick enough, you’d see what makes the universe. It’s not really paranoia; it’s just about what makes things tick. It’s like asking “what’s behind things or why are people like that? What makes the world go?” If there is paranoia in my work, it’s merely a plot device.
CB: Fair enough! How has the work experience been with Scott? His artistic style is very different from yours, Matt. Does his vision ever shift dramatically from what you had in mind?
Kindt: Yeah and that’s kind of the fun of it. I worked with him at DC. We did this robot-man story together. His drawings were really great. When I was coming up with Past Aways, we were kicking ideas for artists around. He was really good at drawing this robot stuff and all these weird things I’d put into that story, so I thought he might love this series too.
I do this a lot with artists I’ve worked with. I just have a conversation. I’m like, “What do you like to draw?” I’m an artist, too, so when I’m writing for myself I tend to write things that I feel like drawing or put in story elements that I know will be fun to draw. Those drawings end up being better because I wanted to draw them. So, we had that conversation at the very beginning, and then I gave him the pitch and the outline and he was into it. He had some new ideas, such as the tattoo communicator thing that sort of floats around on their body. I said, “Oh, that’s cool. Draw that.” And then I asked “what other stuff do you want to draw?” And he was like, “I want to draw dinosaurs. I want to draw big robots.” Honestly, that’s where the idea for the opening scene. I think I had a different opening in mind and then: “Oh, I’ve got to get a dinosaur in here.” Normally, I’m not a big fan of dinosaurs.
Kindt: I know! Isn’t that crazy? I think I’m the only person on Earth who isn’t.
Wright: I think you are.
Kindt: I know. Dinosaurs are cool and everything, but I never would care to draw a dinosaur as an artist. I was thinking, “Okay, he wants to draw dinosaurs.’ So, I was like, “What can I do with a dinosaur that would satisfy me and him?” It became a miniature dinosaur because I thought that would be funny.
Wright: And just to make it more confusing, a miniature dinosaur from the future.
CB: Right?! Dinosaurs have been extinct for quite some time now. What happens in the future?
Kindt: We’ll get to that. That’s a plot point I’ll check on eventually. I thought to myself, “I’m going to do a mini dinosaur. That’s funny.” But then I felt like [Scott] would feel like I was cheating him. He didn’t get to draw his [big] dinosaur; it was just three inches tall! So, I decided we’d start with a big close-up and the joke came from that. It was that tension between me not wanting to put a dinosaur in [the book] and him wanting to draw dinosaurs that made the scene what it was, which is great. It’s why I like collaboration. It pushes me in a direction I wouldn’t normally go or makes me think about a thing I normally would just cross off my list. I’d be like, “Eh, no dinosaurs.”
Wright: Matt’s also been leaving a lot of space for Scott to fill in. A lot of the scripts basically say: “We need them to have this tech gadget here. Whatever tech gadget you want them to have.” And the footnote gets filled in later. A lot of the aesthetic for all this technology from the future has all been Scott. He’s been going above and beyond with things like the headquarters cutaway that’s on the back of the first two issues and the robot cutaway on the third. He’s just really brought a lot of visual richness to the series.
CB: So, this is really a collaborative comic in the truest sense. I know that certain writers will give very specific directions to artists, but it seems like there is a lot of back and forth between the three of you in terms of where this story will go. It seems like Scott has a lot of influence over the direction of the plot.
Wright: Yeah, he’s read each script and asked me a few questions and contributed a few ideas and notes. And then we do it again when the art comes in. Past Aways has been built really organically.
Kindt: It’s fun because there’s no point in collaborating unless you are actually collaborating, you know? If I’m just going to dictate every inch of the panel on every page, then he’s just a production artist. I’ve had that experience on the art side before and I didn’t like it. You can find writers who want that, but it doesn’t interest me. It’s fun to have those pages come in, be a little bit surprised, and say “What is that?”.
Wright: I’ve worked with writers who came up with most of the idea or all of the idea for a comic and really did want to have somebody just draw it on a work-for-hire basis and not really contribute as much. Part of the great experience of putting this series together in the first place is that Matt, when he first pitched this, said he wanted to find someone who would be a co-creator and a co-owner of the series. Somebody who would feel invested in it.
Kindt: That way there’s a conversation. I don’t think Scott and I talk a lot on the phone about, “Hey, what about this? What about that?” I think a lot of it is, “Here’s the plot. Here’s what’s happening. Here’s what these characters are doing.” Then, he’ll sink things into the background or switch things around a little bit and I can just respond to that, either with the footnotes or little captions in the panels. It’s fun. It’s like the Marvel way with Stanley and Jack Kirby, where the art comes in and I write over the top. I don’t think it’s as drastic [in Past Aways], but I like a little bit of that. It makes it a little bit more fun to work together.
CB: I think your experience with writing and illustration is one of the interesting things about you as a comic creator, Matt. I feel like your experiences have added an additional dimension to the works that you do with collaborators because you understand how things work on both sides of the table.
Kindt: Yeah, I would hope so. I would hope artists aren’t angry at me for being a dictator. I love seeing the pages come in and I have no idea [what they are]. I have a picture in my head of what it would be if I drew it. I can’t help but think of how it is going to look when I am writing it if I was drawing it. But then when it comes in, there’s a moment where everything shifts. It’s not imaginary anymore. This is what it is, and that’s fun to me.
Also my scripts aren’t dictatorial. I know how much to put on a page and that kind of thing. I think it would help every writer if you had to draw one of your own scripts one time. See what that’s like. See you how you like it. I think you would write a little bit differently.
Past Aways lands on comic book shelves on March 25th. Come back tomorrow for part three of this series of interviews with the creators of Past Aways, where Matt, Brendan, and I discuss X-Rated comics and immortality.