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.
Yesterday, we here at Comics Bulletin brought you the first part of my interview with Matt and series editor Brendan Wright. Today, like the fourth book in a YA Novel trilogy, we’re coming back at you with the third installment in this two-part interview series.
CB: So, Brendan, I was reading your blog and saw this entry that you did for Bakuman. You talk about how you wished mainstream American comics would be a little bit more “punchier.” I would say that Past Awaysis a very punchy book. It’s a lot of fun. But as you and Matt have demonstrated through Mind MGMT, there is also room for a quieter piece as well.
CB: What’s the difference between a quiet comic and a dull one?
Wright: I think a great example of a relatively quiet Mind MGMT issue was issue 18, the animal kid issue. And I remember when Matt first told me about his idea for that. It really rung a bell for me. I’ve read, since I was a teenager, a lot of Vertigo series that took a month to do— to drill down and tell this one off story about a character that we are either just meeting for the first time or don’t know much about and really take it slower, a little more lyrical. I think the big thing you’ve got to ask yourself is: “does this stand on its own?” The animal kid issue really does.
In addition to standing on its own, you have to ask yourself: “how does this fit into the series as a whole?” The animal kid issue is one that I feel you could just give somebody who has never heard of Mind MGMT before— and you’d hope it would get them to read more of it, but if they never did, they’d get a pretty good experience on its own. I think that’s something we talked about. I remember that originally it did have the kind of profanity and other stuff that a normal issue of Mind MGMT has and we took that out on purpose so Matt could hand this to his daughter or we could hand it to any other younger reader.
Kindt: You know what happened there, Brendan?
Wright: What was that?
Kindt: Did I tell you this? I had written that script and it was super violent with all the animals and everything. It was a typical issue. I had been telling my daughter about the animal kid because she’s named after [Ella] and inspired by her because [Ella] loves animals. All of her favorite animals are in it. I told her, “We’re going to put a fennec fox in there because you love those and red pandas, too.” She was getting really excited about the issue and then she asked, “Is it going to be age appropriate?”
Wright: Did she say age appropriate?
Kindt: Yeah, she said it. She’s ten. I thought it was funny that she would say that because that means she’s aware that my other stuff is not age appropriate. I totally lied and told her, “Yeah, it is going to be age appropriate.” Then, I went back and rewrote the script. That’s why there’s those Richard Scary type pages where it is all drawn like Richard Scary and a little friendlier and more fun— childlike.
CB: So in another world there’s a secret X-rated version of this all ages issue.
Kindt: There totally is. I have that script still. It would be funny to put in the back sometime. When my daughter is old enough to read it, we can put it in there.
Wright: Getting back to the idea of what makes a quieter issue work so it doesn’t feel like it’s just marking time, I do think that I’ve read, issues where they are just sort of checking off various dangling plot threads or just killing time until they get to the next big storyline. I think something like the animal kid is more in the tradition of old X-Men comics, where something huge would happen and then they’d take an issue as a breather. Something like that works really well because [you can’t] try to make people’s hearts race every single time.
Bakuman, which is kind of a battle comic, except it’s a battle comic about people who make manga, does this. They’ll take a chapter to play up the romantic comedy aspect of the series or something like that just because you do need to vary your rhythm or things will start to feel stale.
CB: One of the interesting things about Past Aways and its time travel element is that the characters are basically immortal— they can’t die in the past, right?
Kindt: Yeah, that was one of the rules I wanted to set up. There are a bunch of different things you can do [with time travel], like parallel worlds or separate timelines. This is my interpretation of that.
CB: So if that is the case and things that come from the future can’t die in the past, what are the stakes? Why are they afraid of the dinosaur’s acid?
Kindt: Because they can still get hurt, you know. while they can’t die, they can still feel pain. I think it does make them bold, but they still don’t want to get acid pooped onto them. Without spoiling things, there are going to be twists with how all of that stuff works.
Wright: I think people also just have that instinct engrained in them. If you’ve spent most of your life knowing that you could die from something, even if you intellectually know you can’t anymore, you’d still have a lot to overcome.
CB: That would make sense. I’m just wondering what it would feel like if Art had successfully dropped Phil into that volcano.
Wright: Well, I think the way that Matt has it set up is sort of time intervenes. Phil can’t be dropped into the volcano because something would always stop Art. Increasingly bizarre things would happen to prevent it.
Kindt: Yeah, he could break his leg. It is almost like a Rube Goldberg device would activate and a bunch of things would happen so that he doesn’t fall in there and die.
Wright: Time abhors a paradox.
CB: In a lot of classic literature, we see immortality as a boon, but here it seems more like a curse.
Wright: Well, it’s the combination of being immortal and being in a place that you don’t want to spend even ten minutes in.
Kindt: Right, they’re castaways. They can’t get home and they can’t die. They’re basically on a deserted island.
CB: Is the future that the Past Aways come from more utopic in some way? It seems like they have a real disdain for the way that things are run in 2015. Phil says that everyone has opposing viewpoints on everything. That would imply that some kind of consensus has been reached in the future.
Kindt: I think we’ll get glimpses of that as we go forward. Really, I want the future to almost seem very alien to us. Everything, such as the ways the years are numbered…I wanted it to be so futuristic that as alien as our world looks to them, their world would look that way to us; we wouldn’t even understand what we are looking at to some degree. We’ll see. I also think part of the fun will be in seeing how similar the present and future are in some ways. They think their world is so much better, but there are still problems with it.
Wright: A lot of times, other cultures look more different than they really are. There’s similar fundamental stuff that underlies cultures, but the surface stuff distracts you and makes everything seem horrible.
CB: Brendan, as an editor, you have to be a taste maker. What makes you look at a pitch and say, “That’s what people would want to read.”
Wright: For the most part, I pick stuff that interests me, stuff that I think I’d be a monthly reader of. Sometimes, it’s obvious right away. I remember getting the pitch for Alex DeCampi’s Grindhouse and immediately knowing I was going to take it to the top people. A lot of the time, there’s something unique about the book, so it’s kind of hard to generalize.
If there’s some element of a book that I feel like I haven’t seen before or if there’s a concept I am generally familiar with that’s been twisted in a certain way…that’s the sort of thing that I feel like straddles the line. You can sell this title because it’s something familiar but it’s going to be interesting because it is also somewhat unfamiliar. That’s the main guiding principle. If I had a system, I’d probably be a lot more successful and pitch more stuff!
CB: And, Matt, how do you come up with concepts?
Kindt: I don’t know. Honestly, I go through stages where I will spend a couple of weeks and just brainstorm as many ideas as I can possibly think of. I go through periods where I’ll just read a lot of books and do research on topics that interest me for a few months. Then, I will take a couple of months off and have writing nights where I just sit down and try to come up with as many ideas as I possibly can— just bullet point ideas. I have lists everywhere.
Wright: And that’s how Past Aways came to me. I got a five-page pdf from Matt’s agent that had three or four concepts on each page and then a paragraph explaining them. Of all of the ones I looked at, there were three or four that I really liked…we are talking about putting some of the other ones into the pipeline already. However, what made Past Aways feel like the one that I really wanted to jump on was that it felt like something that would feel really familiar to a lot of superhero readers. This is something that people who liked Matt at DC or Matt at Valiant will respond to. Plus, it provides so much opportunity to sneak in Mind MGMT-esque stuff and subvert what people think they’re getting when they pick up this comic.
CB: Speaking of superheroes: Matt, you named Jack Kirby’s Fourth World as an influence on this book, right?
Kindt: Yeah, definitely. I look at that stuff and it is just completely bonkers, you know? I respect other creators for the number of ideas they can pack into one page. Kirby and Phillip K. Dick are two of my favorites because they put in a lot and they do it really well. Grant Morrison’s in that same school; they all put every thought they’ve ever had on the page. That’s the kind of stuff that is exciting for me to read as a creator.
It doesn’t even matter if it’s well crafted. I hesitate to even recommend books to anyone because my taste is not dictated by questions like: “Was it entertaining or a page-turner? Did it move smoothly? Was it well structured?”
That’s not the kind of thing I like. I like ideas. I remember reading Cloud Atlas and I started recommending that to a bunch of people. No one that read it liked it. They said I was crazy. I’m not! I think it was a great book because I had never read a book that was structured like that. It wasn’t about the story; I didn’t even care what happened. To me, the characters were incidental. It was how that book was put together and [David Mitchell’s] idea for the novel that was exciting to me. So, I recommend that and people are like, “It’s okay.” And I’m like, “No, come on. It’s genius.”
I don’t recommend books to anybody anymore. I just keep my mouth shut.
CB: I mean, in a lot of ways it is sort of the opposite of what writers and comics tend to do now. A lot of comics nowadays are just mediations on a single topic for like twelve issues or the entire length of a graphic novel. Your books definitely seem more inspired by the Silver Age stuff, where the fundamental nature of the story, including the world and the tone, will change from issue to issue.
Kindt: I have a lot of ideas and I want to get them out before I die so I’m jamming them all in there.
CB: Plus, there’s a feedback loop, right? The more ideas you consume, the more you spit out.
Kindt: Yeah, that’s the problem. I would like to turn off the flow sometimes so I could have time to catch up to myself. I gave Brendan that list of ideas because I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. I asked him what he liked because I could see all of them clearly— what they could be and how they would be. Sometimes I just have trouble picking. You know, there will be a few ideas going at once; Mind MGMT was something I knew I had to write and draw. However, there’s another one; when Mind MGMT is done, I have another book ready to go that I just have to write and draw because I really want to. Then, there are other ones where I think it would be fun to work with an artist, somebody who does something different from what I do. I knew Past Aways was going to have a lot of things in that would be fun to draw, but that stuff isn’t in my wheelhouse. I wanted to find somebody that could really take the idea and run with it…do something better than I could even imagine.
Wright: When you’re looking to get as many ideas out as you can, a book like Mind MGMT or a book like Past Aways gives you the best value for your time. I remember reading Grant Morrison’s original pitch for The Invisibles and one of the things he highlights is that The Invisibles has an over-arching story, but the way it is set up allows him to tell sort of any story he wanted it. Similar to the way Sandman is set up; he could do a side thing and follow this [secondary character] for a while. He could throw in mysticism or sci-fi. The future or the past. Whatever. In something like Mind MGMT, we’ll often spend a whole issue looking into the life story of an agent that we’ve never met before. That allows Matt to kind of tell any kind of story that he wants. With Past Aways, we have the present and a million years in the future and these five really distinct personalities to explore.
Kindt: I think the goal of a great comic series pitch is to come up with an idea that can be a blank slate. As a creator, that’s perfect for me. If I want to do an issue or an arc set in the 1920s, I can do it. Then, I can come back to the present day and weave everything together. I think the trap is that series like that can become too unwieldy and so big that by the time you get to issue 80, the comic doesn’t hold up as one continuous piece of work. There are sections that are really good, but as one body of work from beginning to end, it doesn’t really have a cohesiveness. I’m trying to avoid that with Mind MGMT. I’m trying to go every place I wanted to go and create these open spaces where I can come up with new things as I go along, but also hopefully close it out in a way that is satisfying and checks all the boxes off the plot threads.
CB: Do you feel like you need to close off every plot thread? I mean, if you look at stuff like Lost, for example, you notice that it’s pretty common to leave some elements hanging.
Kindt: I don’t think everything has to be closed off. I think some things can be left up to the imagination, but I think the bigger ones need to be closed off. Before I wrote the final arc [of Mind MGMT], I reread the whole series and made notes. I thought to myself, “Okay, I need to revisit this” or “This is okay to leave open.” I had the major plot points all figured out, but it has been three years, so along the way I came up with new ideas or slipped things in there that I thought would be funny or interesting, but hadn’t planned on. I had to make sure that all of that stuff tracked. At the same time, I don’t want you get to the end and have it read like I was checking stuff off, like, “Oh, that’s how that ended.” I’m just trying to hopefully tie things up in a way so that all of the big questions are answered in a satisfying way.
Wright: And exactly which things we want to tie up and which things we want to leave dangling is a discussion we’ve had a couple of times.
Kindt: Yeah, there are a few things left dangling. Shoehorning answers in doesn’t work. We could tie those things up, but ultimately, we asked ourselves: “What is the series about? What is this really all about? Who is it about?”
If there are any dangling plot threads, I have answers to them. If somebody wanted to ask me, I could tell them what happened. All the answers don’t have to all be in the final printing.
CB: Would you ever consider revisiting the Mind MGMT universe and answering those questions in a miniseries?
Kindt: Oh, yeah. I first thought to myself, “Thirty-six and then I’m done with Mind MGMT.” Now…unfortunately, the ideas keep coming even though I’m done with the series.
Wright: There’s so many things from the original pitch that we could still get to if we wanted.
Kindt: Yeah, and it’s stuff I still really want to do. I imagine we’ll get to some of that in some way.
CB: What are you looking to accomplish through Past Aways? What’s the big message?
Kindt: I don’t know. I don’t like to think about having a message in any of my books. The message is what it ends up being. I don’t know going in what the theme is. With Mind MGMT, I knew that I want to tell a story about spies with mind powers. With Past Aways I wanted to tell a story about a group of different personalities from the future that are stranded in the present and have crazy adventures. Other than that, what it ends up being about is what it ends up being about, and I can start to see the idea forming as it goes.
It’s been like that with every book I’ve written. I just hope Past Aways fun. I want it to be an adventure with characters you care about and I want to try some different things out narratively that haven’t been done in comics before, which is always one of my goals. The first goal is to tell a good story. The second goal is to tell the story in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Wright: Good sci-fi usually uses the future as a lens to comment on the present. We can’t help doing that in Past Aways because the idea is baked into the premise: these are people from the future looking at and being confused by the present. We could look at the world 2,000 years ago and say, “This is barbarism.” Now we have people from 10,000,000 years in the future looking at the world now and asking, “Why hasn’t this been solved yet?” Inevitably, that’s going to be what Matt and Scott think about.
Kindt: You just spoiled the book for me, Brendan. Now I know what it’s about!
Wright: Alright, Past Aways is cancelled!
CB: In the first issue, we get the impression that the characters are really dissatisfied with life in 2015. Might they find elements that they really enjoy about the present? You know, maybe there aren’t burritos in the future, but there are now, and Herb might really like them?
Wright: There’s some of that, and some of the characters will disagree about life in the present. It’s inevitably going to create a rift between them.
CB: Cool. Do either of you have any other projects coming in the pipeline that you are really excited to talk about?
Kindt: I don’t know. That’s it probably, right? Mind MGMT is going into the final arc, so please pick up issue 31.
Wright: The Pistol Whip collection came out gorgeously.
Kindt: Get that. That’s my very first books.
[Ed. Note: The Complete Pistol Whip comes out May 27th.]
Wright: It’s at the printer right now. Pistol Whip is one of Matt and Jason Hall’s graphic novels from their Top Shelf days. Dark Horse have had it colored for the first time and put the series together in a big hardcover. We’ve thrown everything Matt could find in his old files in the back to make it as comprehensive as possible.
CB: So we are going to see some exclusive content in there that we haven’t seen before?
Wright: Oh, yeah, a lot of new stuff. And Jason provided some script pages from the third graphic novel that never happened. That ties up a few plot points from the first two graphic novels and explains a couple of the lingering mysteries. We’re something similar with Matt’s graphic novel, Two Sisters, which is going to be in color and in hard cover for the first time later in the year.
Kindt: It is fun having old stuff come back. I don’t have to do anything; it is already done.
Wright: Well, you and Brian just lived tweeted making Poppy all weekend.
Kindt: Oh, yeah, that’s right. That’s a year away. It’s going to be an all ages book with Brian Hurt, who does art on Sixth Gun. It’s a fun adventure book.
CB: And is this your first first all ages title?
Kindt: Yeah. I started it because I wanted to do a book my daughter would be excited about, but by the time I finish, I think she will be too old for it. I should have done a book for teens.
Wright: Well, that’s next.
Kindt: Yeah, okay. Then she’ll be like twenty when I finish it.
Wright: You can just constantly stay a couple of years behind her.
Kindt: That’s good. Well, then she can read Mind MGMT. So I have that book ready to go.
Wright: There you go.
Thanks to Matt, Brendan, and Scott for all their time. They’ve done some great work with Past Aways, so pick it up on March 25th!