If you’re reading some of the best comics published today, you undoubtedly know the work of the fantastic Matt Kindt. Read below for a delightful interview with Mr. Kindt that span she many different topics. To download an mp3 of this interview click here.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Why don’t we start with X-O? That first issue is a blockbuster.
Matt Kindt: Yeah – It’s crazy. It’s so funny to me. I bring these ideas to Valiant – you know, just fun ideas. It’s doodling around, and I filled a sketchbook with all these weird aliens and these creatures and technology and just an idea for this story. And then to see them take that – this thing I’m doing – and then build this big thing out of it and make it into an event. It’s intimidating!
If they had told me ahead of time, “Write this thing.” I would have been like – “No way! I’m scared to do it.” But they do such a great job of letting me sort of run free and come up with ideas and just sort of go crazy.
CB: That’s interesting that you say that it’s intimidating. When I think of you, I think of these big worlds that you create – and all of these people at the center of them.
Kindt: Well, yeah – It’s just the marketing and all the promotion that’s intimidating. I don’t like anything about them relying on me in any kind of business way. I’m just a writer. I’m just noodling around and trying to come up with great characters and fun ideas. And then, to see all this built up around it, it’s fun and amazing, but I’m glad they do it after I’m done with my work. Done figuring out what it is.
CB: You really feel like it’s just noodling around?
Kindt: You know, on X-O, I have a studio, and I was like, “I’m gonna go to a coffee shop and just work all week.” You know – get a change of scenery. So, I just got coffee, and they have these chocolate chip scones. So, I would have one of those every morning and then draw in my sketchbook. I filled a sketchbook with these weird alien ideas.
The idea is that he’s transplanted this alien plant, and I wanted to do something sort of cosmic and in space and with weird alien races and everything.
But I didn’t want to – I kind of hate the fact that, especially in comics, I think there’s just not a lot of room. So, someone will have this cosmic adventure where they land on a planet and there’s this weird looking alien and they do something to save the day and stuff. But I don’t feel like that place they visited was ever real.
I wanted to do something where that place would feel real – like you could inhabit it. It’s a place that is as much of a character as X-O is – or anyone else in the book. A place you want to go back to. You give it a name. It’s a place you want to revisit. So I literally spent that week just noodling around and coming up with alien races and cultures and what they look like and what their history was. There’s so much stuff that won’t even be in the comics. But it drives what makes the characters work and what their motivations are.
The overarching theme of the series is him sort of starting as a farmer and then working his way up. So, by the end of the year or by arc five, he’s an emperor on this planet. But then, it’s like, “Well, how did he conquer this planet? It didn’t happen overnight.” We get these little snapshots as he progresses.
But to do that, you have to know everything about the planet and the aliens and all the stuff that is interesting to me, but that I don’t know that it fits into the story.
CB: You have to have this larger world for it to live in – in order for it to really inhabit it.
Kindt: Yes – Otherwise, it just seems fake. It’s like a western backdrop where it’s just the front of the building. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted there to be a rich history to it.
CB: Is that what you tend to do with these larger stories? Like with Stalinverse, for example, did you have to sketch out what that world looks like?
Kindt: My most favorite part of Stalinverse is those timelines at the front. It was a last-minute idea. I always like to do something fun with the inside cover – or some of the extra stuff that no one ever thinks about. Trevor drew the timeline, and I was like, “Man, we could build out all of this and sort of show the richer tapestry, the history, and how messed up the universe is just through these simple timelines. And it just makes the main narrative even richer.
CB: I think it makes sense as a reader to have this ability to imagine what happened along the way. It gives you a richness of the setting that allows you to put yourself into the story.
Kindt: Yeah – It’s fun. It’s just like little anecdotes – like little teases of things that happened. To me, it’s like the magic in comics that is the space between panels where you don’t see the thing that happens in between panels.
You fill in the blank, you know. And with those little tidbits, or those little nuances of the little asides that talk to something else that we haven’t seen on the panel. It kind of lets the reader fill in the gaps.
CB: It’s a little phildickian. He’s my favorite writer
Kindt: He’s my favorite writer too.
CB: A lot of what I love is that a) the people are just as messed up in these alternate worlds or future worlds or space or whatever, and secondly that he creates these worlds with so much implied. It forces you to fill in the blanks, and it becomes so much of a richer tapestry.
Kindt: Yeah, it is. Him letting you fill that in is better than it being filled in. It’s just like a good horror movie doesn’t show you the horror – it implies it. The best stories imply the story. Yeah – Philip K. Dick’s the best, isn’t he?
CB: Yeah – I keep coming back to my favorites every year or two. Like that headfake in Martian Time Slip, for example. It just gets me every time.
Kindt: Yeah – And, honestly, Man in the High Castle was probably one of my least favorite. Because I’ve read all but 5 or 6, and that one, I was like “Oh, I don’t know.” But then I came back to it, and I was like, “Oh, that’s so good.” But they’re all good really. They all have their own little moments of genius in them.
CB: I’m in a science fiction book club where we read Man in the High Castle. Most of my group loved it, but they got caught up in the old-fashioned portrayal of Japanese characters. And I actually thought, in a way, it’s even more interesting – because it’s also a portrait of American society at that time. And the bias. It’s almost like a Huckleberry Finn type view into perceptions of the world back then.
Kindt: Yeah, it’s a little snapshot. But, yeah, he’s great. Even his fiction – his non-science-fiction – I’ve read some of those. And it’s fun to see how those characters feed into his sci-fi, you know…
CB: Yeah, I swear – One of my favorite books by him is Puttering About in a Small Land. It’s just a TV repairmen who is looking to get by in a small town – just wandering through his life.
Kindt: Yeah, they’re just great small stories. Mary and the Giant is another one that I really liked. Yeah, those are all – it’s all great. I could talk about him all day
CB: Oh, seriously. Then, he went into the strangeness of the VALIS period – which I also think is fascinating. It’s a really tough book to read. The idea of a person’s creativity going in that direction, I think, is fascinating.
Kindt: That was eye-opening to me just because – I’ve read his biography, too, and a lot of the stuff that he was reading as science fiction – a lot of that he believed was really happening. It’s neat to read, but, yeah, it’s hard.
The other thing I love about him is that he has so many ideas in such a short space. Those paperbacks are thin. He has so many ideas in there. That’s what I love, too. My inspiration as a creator that I pull from that is trying to jam as many good ideas into a small space as I can, you know?
CB: Well, that could set it up – like MIND MGMT, where you’re filling every bit of a page – all the ephemera, all the art of it.
Kindt: Yeah – It’s one of those things where, I read it somewhere as writer advice, “Never save an idea. Just use them.” They just keep coming, so there’s no point in saving them.
CB: I heard an interview with you where you talked about this. Basically, you never experience writer’s block. Do you feel like by putting all these ideas out there, you’re springing up more ideas?
Kindt: It’s just a flow of ideas. It’d be great if I could get caught up on my to-do-list of projects I want to work on. At some point, every once in a while, through the year, I’ll make up a list of all my current ideas. And then I’ll add a few add a few, and I just realize that I’m going to die before I get them all done. But it’s kind of nice – I’m never gonna be bored.
CB: Right. And once you have grey in your beard, you have more incentive to get stuff done, you know? You know – there’s a lot of fire behind me.
Kindt: Yeah. The older I get, the more frantic my work becomes because I want to get it all done. It’s a losing battle, but I try.
CB: Do you approach your creator-owned stuff the same way you approach Valiant or other work-for-hire?
Kindt: No. It’s a good question because I’d been working for Marvel and DC when I started at Valiant. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there is a switch that you flip when you work for hire. You’re conscious as a writer that you’re writing for someone. You’re writing a character that isn’t yours – and with someone you don’t know. And then you need to meet their expectations. There’s something that changes when you’re writing for that – in that way.
So that switches and flips for me. Early on, you start out like, “Oh, I want to do this idea with this character – I’ve wanted to do it since I was ten years old.” So you do that, but then you get notes back, and it’s like “I don’t know.” All these other things you can’t control are making it so that you can’t use that character. And this can’t happen because of this other continuity thing. And, then, slowly, you’re like, “Oh, okay. Now, let’s see what this relationship is.”
I mean, you do get some ideas into there, but you’re definitely writing to fill a spot in this company’s lineup. When you do enough of that, it does flip a switch, and you as a writer tend to – It changes you. It changes the way you write and what you write.
I wasn’t conscious of it until I started at Valiant, and I started working with Warren [Simons, editor-in-chief]. Then, on my first few things, they were good, but I was getting revisions. But, then, when I started Ninjak, his marching orders to me were, “Don’t worry about page count, don’t worry about format, don’t worry about any of that stuff. Just act like this is your own book or whatever; treat it like your creator-owned stuff.”
“Just go crazy. Let us figure out the page count or what the format’s gonna be or what-all. You come up with the idea, and, then, we’ll figure out how to package it. In a work-for-hire relationship, I’d never had that kind of note – “Just go crazy”.
That’s the beauty of working with them. Like, Warren is a big fan of MIND MGMT and read some of my old stuff. They wanted me to bring that to this.
And I was like, “That’s great!” In that moment, I realized that I had that switch turned on, and I was able to switch it off. And, then, just go nuts on Valiant stuff – Treat it like creator-owned stuff. To me, there is no line between how I approach my creator-owned and how I approach writing their stuff.
CB: Yeah, it’s interesting because it’s almost an indie approach to these IPs. Marvel is very clear that you’re using IPs. Like, you did that Spider-Man five-parter with Marco Rudy that I loved. I thought it was great, but, at the end, the character is still the same. You have no ability to affect his long-term life.
Kindt: Yeah – Which is weird as a writer. To try to approach a character that can’t change. Because what you’re doing then is you’re either just telling another story that’s going to be in the pantheon of stories – Or you’re telling a story that’s not about that character.
I think that’s what a lot of people do. If you write a Superman story, you might be like, “Oh, I have a good idea.” But Superman is almost incidental to it. Because he can’t change. has to be what he is.
CB: In the end, you’re putting the Legos back in the box.
Kindt: Yeah – And I’m not saying it’s impossible to do that. It is fun to do that stuff. I was glad to have done it. I just think it’s a different kind of storytelling. So the divide between my creator owned and Valiant stuff is so thin that I don’t know that it’s there.
CB: I think of it as the difference between old TV and new TV in a way.
Kindt: Oh, yeah, definitely. And that’s what’s great about these characters. The nostalgia is a factor for me because I was a fan in the ‘90s of Ninjak and all these guys. So, there’s the nostalgia factor there, but also none of the baggage comes along with it. They set you free to make the character your own.
CB: I’d better ask you about your upcoming Valiant series.
Kindt: Okay –Rapture is coming out – It’s a four-issue event thing we’re doing in the spring with Shadowman who is coming back. What else with Valiant? I just wrapped an issue of Ninjak.
CB: You just completed your run on Ninjak, right?
Kindt: So, it’s – I don’t know if they announced it yet – the last issue. I just turned in the last script. It’s kind of sad, but also kind of great – because I’ve been building the whole series towards that issue. So, that’s going be a good one.
CB: He’s a character I never expected to like as much as I did.
Kindt: I know – Everyone thinks he’s so goofy, and then – He doesn’t have the name going for him, but I tried to turn that to his benefit. I hope that people love the character like I do. It’s ridiculous on the surface but kind of awesome when you get into it.
I’m also doing Dept H with my wife at Dark Horse, and that’s monthly, ongoing.
CB: Is it an ongoing, or do you have an end in mind?
Kindt: I have an end in mind, so it’s probably about a two-year project, but I’m giving myself a little leeway so I can relax when I want to.
CB: I’ve been bingeing that book because I really enjoy it. All the characters are so flawed and interesting. The relationship between them is so broken, as if they’d been working together for 20 years.
Kindt: It’s fun to write, and it’s super fun to be working with my wife. She’s painting everything, so it’s doing that as a collaborative process. It’s like an extra bonus. I get to bring her to conventions and signings together. You know – I couldn’t be having more fun.
CB: You started doing your own stuff, and, when I saw you moving to Valiant, I was like, “Why is the guy who did Giant Man working for Valiant?”, but it’s working really well for you.
Kindt: Yeah – you know, they treat you well. They’re fans of my other stuff. So, they hire me for what I can do – not for a hole that needs to be filled.