Matt Kindt is one of the most acclaimed creators in comics today. In addition to Mind MGMT, which he both writes and illustrates, he is writing a variety of other series including three for Valiant. There he is currently working on Unity and Rai, as well as the upcoming The Valiant. He sat down with Comics Bulletin writer Chase Magnett at the Valiant condo in San Diego to discuss the company and his work there.
Chase Magnett for Comics Bulletin: You've been having a pretty great year with Valiant. You've got Rai coming out, Unity still going, and you've announced The Valiant. I think it's safe to assume that you like working with this company and their properties.
Kindt: They're alright. (Laughs) No, they're amazing. I feel like I've got a unique perspective coming into their company in that I've been able to taste test every single publisher. I've worked at Dark Horse, I've worked at Marvel, I've worked at DC and Top Shelf. So I've kind of seen how every company operates. As I get older I'm like “Oh, these are the kinds of setups I like and this is the kind of atmosphere I enjoy” and it's nice to be at the point where I can be a little more selective and choose with who and where I want to work.
CB: How did you first get started working with Valiant? What was it that first brought you on board?
Kindt: It was sort of funny, because my brother and I were huge fans of Valiant in the 90’s. Image had started to blow up and I was kind of sick of comics that were all art and no story and Valiant came out and their whole thing was “Stories first!” I remember getting the first trade of Harbinger and I was like “This is great!” It was such a breath of fresh air back then.
Me and my brother were fans of theirs, and then a couple of years ago Valiant started up again. I didn't know it because I’m busy working, so unless my friends are making the comics I haven't heard of them because I just don't have time to follow the industry that much.
Then my brother called me up and he said “Hey, are you reading the Valiant books?” I was like, “Valiant's back?” I’m totally clueless. He said, “Oh yeah! They're even better than before!” So I got Harbinger and I was reading Bloodshot, because those are the ones I liked back in the day. I was reading Bloodshot and I was literally on issue three or four of Bloodshot when my editor, Warren, called up and he said “Hey, would you be interested in writing an issue #0 of Bloodshot?” And I said, “Hey, that sounds like fun”, and I was already just reading Bloodshot that day. I was like “Yeah, I'd love to write t! But what's going on? What happens, where's he going, what's his…” and he said “We want you to come up with it. We want you to write it”. I was like “Oh, okay”.
I had been reading the series as a fan and was thinking “I can't wait to see where he goes with it! What's he going to do?” Then when he asked me I was like “Oh, okay”, because I had ideas, like “I wonder if he's going to do this or I wonder if he's going to do that?” I was able to just start stepping in and taking part in this thing I was a fan of. That was just awesome. It's definitely like a dream job. To get off with that and not have to try to find work, but to have somebody call you is just the ultimate job experience.
CB: The way you mention them pitching it to you, it sounds like you had carte blanche. They trusted you to tell the story. Is that pretty accurate?
Kindt: Yeah, it is. I think I was friends with Rob Venditti doing X-O [Manowar] and I think he mentioned my name to Warren and had given him Mind MGMT. Then I think Mind MGMT sat around Warren's office for a long time and he finally picked it up and read it. Then when he called me, he said they liked what I did and they wanted me to come bring what I do to it.
It’s kind of the ultimate compliment, like “Hey we want you to see what you can do, and do what you do already, but do it for us”. It was great. It's been a great fit ever since. I get along with all of the guys. I'll visit the office and we have the writer team and it feels like what I imagine ‘60s Marvel was with the bullpen and everyone shouting across the room to each other and coming up with ideas. Everybody just bats some things off each other and it's a real team atmosphere. I’m used to working by myself, doing everything, and so it's been kind of a nice breath of fresh air to come in and realize there are people I can use as a sounding board. They're adding to some of my ideas. We're mixing things up and it's been like nothing I've experienced ever before.
CB: That's interesting, being something that’s unique to Valiant, considering you've had a “taste test” of all these different publishers. Is there anything else that you find really sets Valiant apart in terms of working with their editorial team or working with them as a publisher?
Kindt: I think a lot of the uniqueness other than the great people they hire to work there is that it's still small. It's not bigger than it needs to be. You can still maneuver and be creative with everything from story to how the series will interact with one another.
One of the things that really impressed me was that when Valiant does a big crossover event, but the way those crossover events are generated is so organic. I think the first one I did was with Rob when we were launching Unity. We were in the writer’s room together with all of the other writers and everyone's talking about what they want to do with their series.
It’s not like we go down the line and say “What are you going to do in your book to tie-in to the event?” It's “Do you want to tie-in to the event? Do you have an idea for it and does it make sense?” It's completely different from having the mandate handed down from the top that “everybody is doing this, this month”. If you have an idea it's like, “Oh, let's do this or let's do that”. It's definitely like a group of friends who like comics who love picking up ideas.
I don't like event books. I don't like event comics. It's such a marketing ploy normally. But in Valiant's case I think that's the one time I actually look forward to the events. I was looking forward to the Unity and X-O Manowar crossing over and I was looking forward to Armor Hunters. Then I’m planning one for the future that I'm going to be a big part of and I'm so excited. I can't wait. I like doing things on my own, but the collaborative process with other creators, when it's so fun and it works well, it's kind of addictive. You can't wait to do another one. I think that shows up in the books.
CB: You're working on Unity and Rai right now. Those are being published. Were those pitched to you or was there something that attracted you to the property that made you want to do them?
Kindt: No. Circling back to Bloodshot #0, Warren asked me to do it because I think he was trying me out to see what I was like to work with and I was trying him out. “Am I going to like Warren? Do I like Valiant? What are they like to work with?” And I think it basically went so well and we had such a great time doing it that they wanted to find more for me and they asked me “Would you be interested in doing a team book? Do you want to do Unity?” I was like “Well, I'd be dumb not to.” That's like being at Marvel in the beginning and hearing “Hey do you want to do something called The Avengers?” but being aware of it at the time, and how big it's going to be, and the potential for it, and getting to use all of their great characters together.
They asked if I wanted to do that and I was like “Why would I turn it down?” But at the same time they told me, “Pitch for it. Give us an outline. Give us your idea of what you would do with it, and if we like it, we'll put it on the schedule”, which is another thing I think sets Valiant apart from other publishers.
They don't look at October and think “We've got to fill October with product.” They look at the projects like Unity and go “When we come up with a good idea and when it's ready to go, then we'll find a month to put it in.” That's how Unity was. I went away, put a pitch together, put an outline together, who I wanted on the team and how I wanted it to work, and the vibe of the book. I gave them the pitch with every expectation that if Warren and the guys didn't like it, then it was back to the drawing board or maybe they'd have another guy take a stab at it. It wasn't like I had to get the pitch done in time to meet that deadline to get the issue out. It was “Let's come up with a good story first, make it right. Then when it's right, we'll publish it” which is completely the opposite of a lot of other publishers.
CB: In writing all of these books, how have you met your collaborators, the artists and colorists? Has it been put together by editorial or have you had your own recommendations?
Kindt: It's honestly so organic. We do writer retreats so they get all the guys in a room together and we just talk about the plan for the year. It's completely organic. Sometimes someone will come up with an idea at the beginning for what we can do and then everybody chimes in, “Do you want in? Or are you just talking about what we could do? What are the possibilities?” and whatever sounds interesting, that's what people end up working on together. So something like Armor Hunters, it doesn't suck everybody into it, it sucks in the people that want to be part of it and have an idea to make it good.
CB: Working on comics like Mind MGMT and being an artist in addition to being a writer, what's your scripting and collaborative process like on these books?
Kindt: It's slightly different for every artist and I try to make a point of talking to the artist ahead of time. Just talking to them and finding out basic things like “What do you like to draw?” I know because I'm an artist as well that a lot of my stories come about because I think about what kind images I want to draw and what kind of things I'm interested in showing. I think if I can get a story that has elements in it that an artist enjoys drawing or very basic simple things. If I can somehow weave that into the story then the art's going to be better and it'll make the story a little more interesting. And, honestly, it gives me ideas.
I was talking to Clayton Crain early on and I asked him “What do you like to draw? If you could draw anything on Earth, what do you draw? What are you drawing in your spare time?” He gave me a list of things he likes. He likes snow and trees. As he's talking I'm writing them down and I'm getting ideas and I'm getting ideas for different scenes and things that wouldn't have occurred to me normally. It becomes more of a collaboration in that way, where I'm not just in a vacuum working and handing it to him and making him draw whatever I want to draw. I want his personality to be in there as much as my voice.
CB: Does your scripting process change from artist to artist? Do you write full script or something else?
Kindt: I think it depends. Like my first issue of Rai, the script for that was like Alan Moore, crazy long where I felt bad when I turned it in, because I don't normally do that much. But there's so much world building that needed to be explained because it was the year 4000 and there’s all this weird stuff. It wasn't like I could just say “Daytime, New York City”. It had to say “We're in this small city that's underneath these air conditioning generators so it's raining because of the condensation” and all this stuff had to be in the script. So usually they'll start out a little more detailed to build the world and then as the artist starts working and starts getting it, then there's shorthand that we can use. So the scripts get a little easier as I go along and a little shorter because they understand what the world is and I don't have to do as much. I'd say, in general, my scripts are pretty standard. There's nothing too crazy or too outrageous in them.
CB: In addition to collaborating with Paolo Rivera on The Valiant, you're bringing on another writer. You and Jeff Lemire are working together. How did that come about?
Kindt: We've been friends for years. We broke into the industry together and then rose together and had similar career paths in a lot of ways. He's my first friend I ever made in comics. He’s the first guy where we were both doing it and we had a lot in common, like similar taste in stories and art. We hit it off right away after meeting in New York ten years ago at MOCCA, and have been friends ever since. In comics, there are very few people who do what you do and understand what the problems are, so there’s nobody to complain to when something goes wrong because everyone thinks you have a dream job. What’s better than doing comics all day? And there really isn’t anything better than doing comics all day.
We met a long time ago and have talked about working on something together. We flirted with the idea of doing a creator-owned book together, but our schedules never worked out. He just started doing stuff at DC and I was getting more work from Valiant while phasing out other things. Then he was phasing out some of his DC work and I told him to come over to Valiant and we can do whatever we want to do. We kicked some ideas around. At first we were going to do a two-issue Bloodshot series, which would be a fun, super violent action series. The more we talked about it, the more we thought that if we were going to do something, then let’s do something with more weight to it. Let’s make it really matter and really go for it. If we’re going to spend the time doing it, then let’s invest everything we’ve got and make something big.
The Valiant came out of that. At Emerald City this year, we went to get dinner, and then coffee, and then stayed out late having a conversation about a story. We got our laptops out and started typing up notes and ideas. By the end of the night we had the basic outline for this crazy series.
CB: How did Paolo get pulled into the mix?
Kindt: We sat in a hotel room at Emerald City and went through our dream list of artists that we would want to work with. We came up with a lot of names, but wanted someone that was going to be right for the story. There were a lot of artists that we love, but wouldn’t be the right fit. He was the one guy that rose up over all the others. We knew that, yes, it should be him. But can we get him? That was Warren’s job and I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know how he convinced him to work with us. Paolo’s stuff is amazing. Those are my favorite e-mails to get. He sends in these rough layouts that look like finished art to me. He was our dream casting.
CB: One striking thing about The Valiant is that everyone involved is an artist. Both you and Jeff who are writing, are also illustrating your own comics. So everyone involved is an artist and has that strong visual mindset.
Kindt: That’s funny. I hadn’t really thought of that until you said it. Paolo is great because he’s a great storyteller. I think there are a lot of people who are great illustrators, who can draw really well and render a great image. There’s not as many people who can tell a story well or who are great, pure cartoonists. He’s one of those guys. Hopefully, Jeff and I, coming from the background of drawing too, are sensitive to what a good script should have in it. He turns around and makes it even better. I can’t believe how much better it is with him drawing it. It makes me want to try harder on the script. His pages come in and he spends so much time on it. He’s elevating everything.
CB: Over the past few years, you’ve become a progressively bigger part of the Valiant team. What do you think the future has in store?
Kindt: It’s going to be awesome. Almost anything I ask, they let me do. If they have the time to do it, then they’ll say, “Let’s do it”. Any dream project I can come up with is something they’re open to. When I’m working for them, there’s no divide in my mind between work-for-hire and creator-owned. I feel like I’m working on creator-owned books when I’m working for them with the freedom I have. I can’t say enough good about them.
CB: That sounds exhilarating.
Kindt: It’s awesome, watching this great company being born and being able to be part of it. It’s really awesome.