Matt Kindt was at the center of some big news last month when his “3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man” was picked up by Warner Bros. Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for “Milk,” will write and direct. Even more immediately, though, Harvey and Eisner award nominee,” Kindt’s latest creation is in stores this week with Vertigo’s release of “Revolver.”
In “Revolver,” Kindt, who writes and illustrates his graphic novels, tells a tale of two worlds. But this ain’t Charles Dickens. Stuck in a dead-end job with a boss he can’t stand and a materialistic girlfriend, Sam rises from a late night of barhopping to discover an avian flu outbreak has killed millions, the nation’s infrastructure has crashed and a dirty bomb has destroyed Seattle.
Forced to go on the run, Sam wakes up the next day and finds his life is back to normal. But if normal is the aforementioned dead-end job, terrible boss and materialistic girlfriend, this may not be the preferred state…
CBR spoke with Kindt about “Revolver,” and he not only provided insight into the Vertigo release but he also teased details about four other titles he’s working on including a follow-up to his critically acclaimed “Super Spy.”
CBR News: Matt, can you take us back to the early stages of “Revolver”? What were your original concept and inspiration?
Matt Kindt: Well, the original concept is pretty much what ended up in the book. The basic thought I had was, if you could do anything you wanted and not suffer the consequences for those actions, what would you do? And, having done whatever that was, would it change you? Basically, would you commit murder or cheat on your girlfriend if you knew you wouldn’t ever be caught? And if you could hit the “reset” switch after doing something like that, would you still be the same person or would something change inside of you?
The book is so squarely set on the choices we make. In storytelling, I guess there are choices you make as a writer and artist that can take your story in one direction, where a simple word bubble or panel can quickly shift the narrative in a different one. When creating, do you allow yourself to make those types of decisions during the process, or is it important to stay the course once you have set a story in motion?
Good question. That’s really at the heart of why I do what I do – which is pretty much never collaborate. The process of creating a book, to me, is so fluid that everything is constantly changing and being amended and added onto and taken away from until the very last minute. I spend too much time penciling and inking these pages and thinking about the story to just follow the script I’ve made for myself. If one page you read in the book takes you approximately one to two minutes to read – it’s actually taken me at a minimum five to six hours to complete. That many hours of thinking about one page can’t do anything but help me revise and change a story as I go. That works totally fine when I’m on my own, but trying to do that with another person, for me, just doesn’t work. I tried it once and quickly realized – I’m a writer first and artist second, so I can’t hand over the writing very easily.
With a graphic novel, it’s always tough to share too much, as you don’t want to spoil what’s ahead, but can you set the story up for us and tease what readers can expect?
The main guy, Sam, gets to lead two lives – one in a sort of end-of-the-world scenario where he’s forced to survive and kill or be killed but is also free to do whatever he wants. In the other world, he’s stuck in a horrible job with a terrible boss and a girlfriend he’s not sure he’s happy with any more. He flips back and forth between these two worlds and eventually realizes he’s got to figure out what’s happening to himself and make some tough choices. Also featured: plane crashes, cities on fire, wild dogs, shoot-outs, spies and conspiracies.
Sam is by no means a traditional leading man, and I can’t say that I was really rooting for him at any stage of the book. Is it difficult writing a main character that is not as lovable as Clark Kent or Yorick Brown?
Well, not really. I guess you’re meeting this guy at a stage in his life where he’s not happy, and if you meet an unhappy person they’re not much fun to be around. But the book is working to take this guy who’s at best a normal boring guy and turn his life upside down and see what he is capable of. At the end of the day, he’s kind of at a disadvantage, you know? Unlike real life, where people can hide parts of themselves and present an image to you that they want to portray, the guy in this book – you get to see everything he does, the good and the bad. He’s not perfect, but at the end of the day I think he realizes what he knows is right, even if he can’t actually always do the right thing. So, yeah, I think it’s easier to write an unlovable character. If a character’s just a completely “good” guy, there isn’t much you can do and it isn’t actually very real either, so I think it’s just harder to make that interesting. I won’t take issue with Sam being lovable, but I will say that if you don’t identify in some respect with Sam, then you haven’t had a bad enough job yet.
Alternate universes and timelines are featured in “Revolver,” and yet the how’s and why’s of existence in the story are not explored. Why is that? Did you feel that was not important to the actual story?
Yeah. It’s not really what it’s about. I guess you could make a book about the mechanics of how it all works, but that’s just a completely different book. And again, I think there is an answer to how it all works towards the end of the book. So it’s in there, but it’s not really spelled out. If I was doing a 1,000 page epic, I’d probably get into the how’s and why’s, because then it becomes about something more than one character and his journey – but that’s a different kind of book.
I once interviewed Jonathan Lethem about “Omega The Unknown,” and I asked him what message and life lessons could we take from the book. He said, “I’m never thinking about what I or my characters might have to tell to ‘society.’ It just isn’t a term I think in. The story has some themes, I guess: conformity, franchising versus the small businessman, mediated versus ‘real’ experience, etcetera, but those are pretty much just what sneaked in when I wasn’t looking.” Do you agree with that quote, or is there a higher purpose to “Revolver”?
I pretty much agree with Lethem. My first goal is to entertain. If the book isn’t interesting and entertaining and maybe have a few new formal ideas that sort of push the medium, then it’s a failure. I think essays are for changing society. Works of fiction are for gentling nudging readers’ patterns of thought into a certain direction. I won’t argue that the themes you spotted in the book aren’t there, but I think it’s pretty much creative suicide to go into projects thinking: “These are the themes I want to get across.” The themes and what the book is “about” always end up taking care of themselves.
On a project like “Revolver,” one that you wrote and illustrated, what is your process? Do you write an entire script as Matt Kindt the Writer and hand off to Matt Kindt the Artist to complete? Or are you constantly tweaking dialogue and story as you draw finished pages?
Matt Kindt Writer vs. Matt Kindt Lazy Artist is pretty much what it comes down to. I definitely have to shut off my art mind when I’m figuring out the story, otherwise the idea of drawing everything I’m writing becomes really overwhelming. Making comics is so much work that, if I don’t keep a narrow focus on the task in front of me, I’d freak out. But the writer and artist do end up getting along, I guess. The real writing, to me, takes place when I do my thumbnails for the book. I’ll type out a pretty detailed description of everything that happens in the book as if I was telling you the story over the phone. But then I take that and break it up into page layouts and finish the entire book at about 2 inches by 3 inches. That way I can “read” the entire thing and make notes for dialogue ideas, etc. and see how the whole thing plays out and make sure it’s paced correctly.
The dialogue is written and re-written the entire time, up until even the lettering stage. And even after that, I’ll often go back and just pull out sections of words and dialogue. I think one of the biggest pitfalls in comics is over-writing. If you’re showing something, you don’t need to “tell” it as well. Sometimes, a few well-placed words is all that holds some panels together.
What specific tools and techniques do you use as an artist?
For the last three books, I’ve used a 124-140lb water color paper and a #2 Kolinsky sable hair brush. Using a brush on that kind of rough paper ends up tearing those brushes up, though, so I end up going through probably 15 brushes on one book. For ink, I use a Sumi Japanese calligraphy ink, which is waterproof and pretty evenly dark. For color, it’s all Windsor-Newton travel watercolors – those little square bricks of color really work the best.
You received very exciting news recently about “3 Story” being optioned for film. Can you share any thoughts on that project and its progress? How involved will you be in bringing the Giant Man to the big screen?
The great folks at Dark Horse brokered the deal and got Dustin Lance Black a copy of the book. They were all very intent on keeping me involved in the process if I wanted it and excluding me if I wanted no part of it. But being a film lover since forever, I’m as involved as I can get. Not so much to ensure the “quality” of the movie version – it’s Lance Black, so he knows what he’s doing – but to just see the process from the inside. I love seeing films get made and seeing other artists’ creative processes. It’s fascinating to me beyond belief. They’re running everything by me so far, and it’s all being made really faithful to the vision and idea of the book–which is just a great bonus. The thing with movies is, it is a completely different art form than comics. Superficially, I think people compare the two, but they are so different. Film has such a different set of tools to use that to just slavishly try to put each panel of a comic on the screen would short change the power of film. And the flip side is, I try to make comics that use all the tools that print and comics have that no other medium have. I’ve tried to do that with every book – the page numbers in “Revolver” are an example of that – there’s no way you can pull that off in any other medium – which is what I’m always shooting for.
What are you working on next?
I have three new original graphic novels completely written, and I’ll be juggling art duties on all of them for the next year or so:
“The Strange Crimes of Red Wheelbarrow” from First Second features a series of characters’ lives and how they interweave to tell the story of a small city. It’s a tale of a woman who is writing the worlds’ largest novel with stolen street signs, a man who steals priceless paintings and sells them in pieces and a compulsive chair stealer. These stories and more are all pieces of a larger puzzle that will force the city’s star detective to question everything he knows about right and wrong.
“Super Natural” from (Top Shelf) is the long-awaited sequel to “Super Spy,” which follows a handful of ghosts – including a character that died in “Super Spy” – on their further adventures. Houdini, Arthur Conan Doyle and Amelia Earhart are just a few of the characters that will investigate what happens after you’re dead but still hanging around.
“End of the World” from Oni Press is a 600 page, 3-volume epic that follows one family as they travel across the country after the world has ended. Sounds horrible, but with 99 percent of humanity gone, there’s nothing left but everything they’ve always wanted and anywhere they’d want to go. The end of the world ends up being a dream come true, but also presents them with their biggest threat.
And I also have a book called “The Tooth,” also from Oni Press with Cullen Bunn and Shawn Lee, which is done and awaiting printing as we speak.
Vertigo releases “Revolver” this week.