Dark Horse Comics’ “Mind MGMT” by Matt Kindt, has been one of the most critically successful books on the stands this past year. Following true-crime novelist Meru as she picks up a trail of bread crumbs that leads her both into her own past and face-to-face with a secret government agency known as MIND MGMT, Kindt’s series piles layers of narrative atop one another in a tightly orchestrated thriller. The story nods, in tone and paranoia quotient, to classic films like “The Parallax View,” with the added twist of psychic-powered secret agents.
As “Mind MGMT” moves into its second year, with issue #13 hitting stores July 24, the series will begin a story arc that splinters the main characters of Meru, former spy Henry Lyme and the antagonist known as the Eraser. Several issues of the series will focus primarily on a single character as well as introduce a new face to the mix: The Home Maker. To get some insight into what’s in store, Comic Book Resources spoke with series creator, writer and artist Matt Kindt about the coming developments in the word of “Mind MGMT.”
With issue #13, Kindt sets up a scenario that pulls each of the main characters in a different direction. The following issues will each focus on a particular character, until they collide again in issue #17. These aren’t stand-alone stories, but a fragmenting and re-circling of the cast and narrative.
“Some case files stuff will be in there that ties in, in a crazy way,” Kindt told CBR News. “But most of the focus will be on Lyme, Meru, the Eraser and one new character — the ‘Home Maker’ — which is just her nickname. But you’ll get to know her in issue #13… Let’s just say she’s the focal point and catalyst for the next story arc. She’s caught in between Lyme and the Eraser and that’s not a great place to be.”
Focusing each book on a single character will allow readers to get to know each of these key players a little better, gaining some insight into who they are.
“One of the things I wanted to do was introduce a bunch of ideas and characters up front, and then slowly spend some time with each of them so we get to know them a little better,” said Kindt. “I don’t have the luxury [afforded] books like ‘Justice League,’ where you have this big team but you know who Batman is already, you know Superman, because they have their own books. So, don’t need as much one-on-one time with them. ‘MIND MGMT’ is the biggest team book ever in a way — so I want to make sure all the characters get their time in the spotlight.”
Throughout the series, readers have been given bits and pieces of these character’s backstories. Readers know, for example, something of what drove former MIND MGMT agent Henry Lyme to seek isolation. They also know a bit of what led Meru to her current state, and that her relationship to Lyme is something more than she (and perhaps readers) know. This next arc may help to lift some of the fog from these characters’ pasts.
“A lot of questions should be cleared up (or worries put to rest),” said Kindt. “Meru gets her own issue. Lyme gets one too, so this next arc should let you know who’s who and who’s on who’s side — and set up the middle third of the series.”
Despite these hints of character revelations, Kindt was quick to point out that readers may never know the full story on any of these characters. Mystery is, perhaps, intrinsic to their character, and vital to the strength of the story. Remarking on key characters in “Star Wars,” Kindt said those unknown aspects are what makes a character great and believable.
“Mystery is good sometimes, and sometimes not,” said Kindt. “Boba Fett is so great because you never really knew who that guy was, but Han and Luke are better for having a back-story and less mystery about them. Even Luke, who’s pretty straightforward for a character, had a great mysterious element to his past. So unless one of the characters in ‘MIND MGMT’ gets their own solo series, I don’t think you’ll ever know everything about all of them.”
That sense of mystery, and of a shrouded past, leads to one of the larger themes of Kindt’s book: guilt and redemption. In a fit of despair, psychic agent Henry Lyme unleashed a riot on the city of Zanzibar, forcing the agency to institute a worldwide psychic cover-up. Lyme managed to save the young Meru from the violence he had unleashed, but in order to relieve himself of the trauma he had manifested, Lyme forced Meru to forget him and where she came from.
“I think it’s interesting how people deal with guilt,” said Kindt. “Everyone, at some point, has done something horrible in their past: one thing that they’d go back and fix if they could. How do you deal with that? Do you forget about it and compartmentalize it, or do you go try to fix it later? Do you just feel bad forever about it, or do you ask forgiveness? Those are all different ways to go about it and some are better in certain situations than others. We get to see Lyme deal with things in his past in probably the worst way ever.”
Some of those questions, as pertaining to Lyme and his relationship to Meru, will be answered in issue 15.
“We never really see how many times Meru has found Lyme and how many times he’s made her forget,” said Kindt. “We’ll get answers to all of that and show his reasoning.”
Along with these narrative themes, “MIND MGMT” is also concerned with the mechanics of narrative. From the novelist-protagonist Meru and the psychic ad-writing Perrier twins, to the interspersed sidebar narratives and the role of memory in the story, “MIND MGMT” is a story concerned with telling stories. This is an interest that bleeds out from the narrative itself into the very structure and design of the book.
“The delivery method is as important to me as the characters and story, and I’m in a unique position in comics to be able to handle the entire comic — from design to writing to art,” said Kindt. “Not putting all of that to use in service to telling the story would be a waste. It’s also about world-building: creating an atmosphere and a tone. I guess I’m going for a sort of nagging paranoia that gets worse and worse as the series continues…I really want readers to feel like they’re holding a piece of the story. You’re not just buying and reading a comic with a story in it, you’re actively participating in the conspiracy by going to the comic shop and enlisting in this narrative. You can pick it up and read what’s in the panels and completely ignore the other narratives on the edges of the pages and the back covers — or you can dive in completely and try to figure it out ahead of time. There is a lot of foreshadowing and early clues hidden in these issues, so what may come as a surprise or revelation later on in the series will end up being something you’ve already read and didn’t realize. I’m a big fan of books and movies that reward re-watching and re-reading. They’ve got to be entertaining on that first time through — but they can’t rely on a twist or trick ending to be entertaining — the books and movies I go back to are the ones that have so many layers that it’s impossible to get [it] in one viewing/reading.
“I love the idea of friends reading this book and both enjoying it but enjoying it on different levels,” continued Kindt. “And one day your buddy says something about the secret messages on the back covers and you’re like, ‘What secret messages?’ and you have to go back have that revelation.”
To maintain total control over every part of the book, however, takes a tremendous amount of work and creative energy. With each facet of the series enlisted in the service of the larger meta-narrative, everything has to be fully considered. The amount of energy involved has, at times, proven frustrating and exhausting for Kindt, but that same exhaustion sometimes leads to creative breakthroughs.
“I remember finishing issue 6 and I was writing the field guide stuff and just getting sick of it,” said Kindt. “It’s the hardest part of the issues to create. It has to tie in to the page it appears on but also build the bigger picture as well. So I got to issue 6 and I was exhausted. I’m not sure what happened — I was feeling a lot like Meru was: tired, worried, stressed. It just came out on the page — I wrecked the end of the field guide and scribbled over the Second Story inside cover story ending. It was supposed to be something different and I just scrapped it — and it felt good. It felt like I was beginning to really push myself and the characters and the idea of the book off the rails, but in service of the story. So instead of a nice pat ending it became something a little terrifying (to me anyway). That’s what I’m really pushing for: the end of the series — fleshing out these characters and really making them real, and then issue 36 just completely being insane. There’s nothing more fun then building a love for a character and then having to worry if they’re going to make it out alive.”
“MIND MGMT” may someday make the leap out of the pages of comics and onto the big screen, as a film adaptation is currently in preproduction by 20th Century Fox, with Ridley Scott signed on as a producer. So far, says Kindt, the process of handing over the reigns of his story for adaptation has been a positive experience.
“It’s been great so far,” said Kindt. “I turned over all my notes and outlines for the entire series and all the characters to the screenwriter, so he’s taking that a running with it, to see if he can shape it into the movie. Everyone’s been really great about all of it, really digging the series and where it’s all going — they’re the only ones that know how it all ends. I haven’t told anybody else, other than my editor. Even my wife doesn’t know! (She doesn’t want it spoiled).”
Additionally, Kindt is keeping busy with other projects, including a new graphic novel, “Red Handed,” to be published by First Second this May: a full-color 270-page crime story that’s sure to twist the genre inside out.
“It’s going to be my last stand-alone graphic novel for the next couple years — until I finish ‘MIND MGMT’ — and I’m glad I was able to get it done right before ‘MIND MGMT’ started,” said Kindt. “It’s my first crime book since my very first graphic novel, ‘Pistolwhip’…I can promise it’s a crime book like none you’ve ever read — prose or comics!
“If you bring it to me at a convention,” Kindt added, “I promise to burn a page out of it for you in a way that only enhances the story!”
“Mind MGMT” #13 is on sale July 24.