Cartoonist Matt Kindt is known for mixing the tropes of genre fiction with his own personal touches in both indie comics and the mainstream. Starting June 13, Kindt starts a whole new phase of his mainstream work when he takes over writing DC Comics’ “Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.” from friend Jeff Lemire with issue #10. Regular series artists Alberto Ponticelli and Wayne Faucher will be sticking around to help Kindt push the title forward.
Who can stand against the monsters who lurk on the fringes of existence and within us all? None other than the first monster, Frankenstein. Far from alone in his mission, Frankenstein finds himself an agent of the super-science agency known as the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive, or S.H.A.D.E. Now Shelly’s creation protects the denizens of the DCU, delivering two-fisted justice to Monster Planets, Quantum soldiers, Nazi war-weapons, and even his own son.
Originally adapted to the DCU by Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke in “Seven Soldiers,” Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli have been chronicling Frankenstein’s adventures for the first nine issues of the New 52 launch. But as Kindt explained, starting with “Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.” #10 he’ll get his chance to unleash the monster within.Â CBR News spoke with Kindt about his plans for the world of Frankenstein, how it compares to his other work, the role design plays in the art’s creation, and more.
CBR News: Matt, you’re fairly new to the ‘mainstream’ arena. How did you get into comics, both as a reader and as a creator. For those not familiar with your work, what should they check out first to get acquainted?
Matt Kindt: My brother was reading comics back in the day — I was around 7 or 8 and he was 15 or so — he was reading the Dark Phoenix story in “X-Men” and I just randomly picked up “Daredevil” towards the end of Frank Miller’s run on it and I was hooked. I’ve been hooked ever since. It wasn’t until high school though that I though, ‘Hey, I like to draw and write — what possible job could I do that allows me to do both?’ Well, comics is pretty much the only job that fits that description.
If you haven’t read anything by me yet, I’d start with “3 Story” or “Super Spy” and then onto “Revolver” and then if you’re still liking all of that, my earlier “Pistolwhip” graphic novels — those were my earlier books where I was still figuring it all out but I think they still hold up.
Your interest has, more often than not, seemed to lie in exploring people. Even when your work gets into high concept, the high concept tends to be used as a mechanism for exploring the motivations of very human characters. How do you adapt that style or interest when writing about a decidedly inhuman character such as Frankenstein?
Well, I’m not sure that I’m adapting my style so much as just applying my style to Frank. I guess when I approach any story, I just ask myself, “What would it be like, but ‘for real?'” So I just did that with “Frankenstein” and came to some logical (yet insane) conclusions and that’s what my first story arc on that series is going to be. What’s it like to be Frankenstein? Well, it’s freaking crazy! And Frankenstein isn’t really inhuman — he’s actually a lot more human! Mostly because he’s got a lot more different human pieces to him… literally.
Will we be seeing any new characters regular characters? Will the modern day Creature Commandoes and the rest of the supporting cast play a role?
Yes — but I’m kind of splitting them up a little bit so they each get a little more “screen time” with Frank. The mummy (Khalis) has a great, crazy back story so I’m going to get into that and hopefully after a few issues you’ll start to care as much about those secondary characters as you do the main man himself. I’m introducing a new sort of “super villain” that Frankenstein has to face that is going to be interesting. I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s going to be fun — and we’ll get a lot more back story on Frankenstein as well. He’s been around a long time so there’s a lot of material to mine out of his past.
As a follow up question, without giving anything away, who is Frankenstein to you as a character? Or is he even a character, rather than a force?
Oh yeah, he’s a character, but I think he’s sort of figuring out who he is along with us. Ultimately he’s no different than any of us. You’re born into the world without your consent and eventually you find your way and figure out what your “purpose” is or decide you don’t have one. So that’s the kind of thing he’s struggled with for a long time. He’ll be confronting a lot of that history around issue #12 and #13 — which is pretty much all I can say.
There has been a strong through line of existentialism in your work, with characters questioning the nature and purpose of existence, what it means to be truly alive. This was notable in both “Revolver” and your Robotman feature for “My Greatest Adventure.” Will we continue to see that being explored in your “Frankenstein” run?
Yeah — I’m not sure how you can get around it with him. That’s pretty much his struggle. His arch enemy is really his origin. Does he have a soul? What is he really? Are you more than the sum of your parts? That’s the kind of stuff I’m going to get into along with having him fight some really crazy creatures. That’s the beauty of the book — you can get into some pretty deep territory but at the same time he’s going to be swallowed up by the biggest whale you’ve ever seen and be fighting a super secret cadre of bug ninjas!
“Superspy” was known for its intricacy of plot and its innovative use of technique. Fans were Â impressed that you were able to strike a balance between intricacy and convolution, and between storytelling and artistic flourish. Are you attempting to bring similar things to your mainstream work, or do you feel pressure to keep things more straightforward?
Yeah — I can’t really get away from that. It’s just he way my brain works, I guess. I’m planting seeds of things in my first issue of “Frankenstein” [#10] that won’t be paid off for quite a while, but they’re there. I don’t really see stories as this progression of A to B to C. I see things as more of a C to A to B but then there’s a B2 that changes how you feel about C and so on… I hope that makes some kind of sense.
You’re a writer/artist, and your early work on such projects as “Pistolwhip” all the way through to “Revolver” has relied very heavily on visual storytelling, at least as much as it has the actual words. How has it been adjusting to working only as a writer, leaving the artwork in the hands of someone else, first on “My Greatest Adventure” and now on “Frankenstein.” Â What do Scott Kolins on “Adventures” and Alberto Ponticelli bring to the table?
I was explaining the experience to someone else like this: I feel like a kid setting up a gigantic fireworks display and lighting the fuse and then running away from it, turning around and watching the thing explode. That’s how it is — I’m writing this script, imagining how it’s going to look and then when Alberto or Scott turns in the pages, it’s way brighter and bigger than I even imagined. It’s a lot of fun.
Perhaps unknown to some is that you designed the Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s “Lost Girls” hardcover, winning a Harvey Award in the process. Does your experience in design affect the way you approach your work or your sensibilities?
Oh yeah. The design of a book and the look of it and the cover are all just as important and a part of the story as anything on the page. I think the writer should be responsible for it all. A book is really a kind of art object to me. It all needs to work together to tell the story and the cover is the first page of that story and the back cover is the ending.
Writer Jonathan Hickman recently said thoughtful design shows that you care, that you’re putting work into what you do. How important do you think design is in comics? Â What can it add, or subtract?
I really do believe that the cover and design is more than just a pretty decoration to catch your eye. Comics are a lot of work no matter what you do. So to me, it’s not about showing off or revealing how much time you’ve put into the project. It’s gotta fit conceptually. There has to be more thought put into it than “what makes a pretty image?” My favorite covers are the ones that look great and after you’ve read the book, you look at that cover again and you realize it means something completely different. The act of reading the book has changed what that cover means to you.
What, if any, influences and inspirations are you bringing to your “Frankenstein” run?
I’m really just trying to tap into my imagination more than I ever have before. When I choose a setting for my “normal” work I think about cities that I love or locations that are fun to draw. With “Frankenstein,” I’m spending a lot of time in the mornings, when I’ve just sort of woken up but I’m not quite awake, thinking about settings and scenarios for Frankenstein to get into. So I’m getting a lot of really other-worldly type of images and ideas and dream-like stuff which I think fits the character a little better. It’s all really surreal.
What is your mission statement for this book? What tone are you going for?
I’m trying to keep it fun. I think most of my work has a sadness to it and I think that’s just going to be the nature of everything I do, but I’m actually making a real, conscious effort to keep the tone of “Frankenstein” consistent with what’s come before so there’s some dark humor in there and insanity. There are some dark bits in “Frankenstein” but I think there’s a lot of dark humor that is really coming out in it too.
What has been the biggest surprise, positive or negative, about writing this book?
How much fun it is. I’ve been spoiled my whole career, writing and drawing just whatever enters my head and getting it put into books. But coming into this character and the entire DCU and getting to play with someone else’s toys has been kind of surreal. It’s so much fun. It really is akin to a grown-up version of playing with toys. What can this guy do? What crazy situation can I invent for him? Like playing with my action figures on the kitchen floor where the table turns into a giant mountain covered with bug ninjas.
What has been the most fun aspect of writing “Frankenstein”?
Checking my e-mail and watching Alberto’s penciled pages pop up. Really the best part. Like seeing your dreams made real. It’s such a kind of shock and immediate gratification that I’ve never had before because I’m laboring over the art for weeks and months at a time and I don’t really get to enjoy the art.
Which established DC or Marvel characters are you most itching to get a chance to write?
That’s easy! I love the Doom Patrol, Legion of Superheroes, Flash, Green Lantern, Sgt. Rock, Suicide Squad, Blackhawks, Black Widow, S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil, and Hulk. And actually, I love Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos — so I can check that one off the list!
What other work do you have coming up?
The biggest thing coming up is my new on-going series for Dark Horse called “MIND MGMT.” I’m writing drawing, lettering, and designing the entire thing every month — which I think is a first. I don’t think any creator has done all of that every month. It’s a sort of espionage-conspiracy book following a secret organization called MIND MGMT that disbanded and now there’s a bunch of crazy agents floating around the world that are trained in various mind “abilities” — that’s coming out May 23 and will hopefully go for the three years I’ve got planned for it.
“Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.” #10 by Matt Kindt, Alberto Ponticelli and Wayne Faucher goes on sale June 13 from DC Comics. Dark Horse will release Kindt’s “MIND MGMT” #1 May 23.