Since the dawn of the blockbuster, director Ridley Scott has delivered some of the biggest and best. “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” considered sci-fi classics today, are the true dark side of “Star Wars.” And “Gladiator,” which won an Oscar for Best Picture in 2000, catapulted Russell Crow to superstar status. Could “Mind MGMT” be his next megahit?
It was announced last week that 20th Century Fox has purchased the rights to Matt Kindt’s “Mind MGMT,” an ongoing series he both writes and draws for Dark Horse Comics, and that the three-time Oscar nominee for Best Director was attached to produce and, possibly, direct.
When CBR News recently spoke to Kindt about his creator-owned series, he was unable to confirm a movie or television adaptation was imminent but he did hint a deal was close as he was “waiting to sign the contract.”
The creator of “Revolver” and “3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man,” which was optioned by Warner Bros. for a movie to be written by Dustin Lance Black in 2010, did however reveal that his “Mind MGMT” character Henry Lyme was inspired by Zach Galifianakis’ portrayal of Alan Garner in “The Hangover” and that he would love to see the comedian play the secret agent man in a movie adaptation.
Kindt, who is also co-writing a Martian Manhunter co-feature with Geoff Johns for DC Comics’ “Justice League of America,” spoke with Comic Book Resources about the challenges of writing an ongoing series versus a graphic novel, why he relishes the feedback from readers and what his mental power would be if Mind MGMT enlisted him to join the company.
CBR News: I’ve been reading your comics for nearly a decade and loved them all, but “Mind MGMT,” to me, feels like the book you were born to do. Are you having as much fun doing it as we are reading it?
Matt Kindt: Oh yeah. I am having a ton of fun, especially in the monthly format. Basically, Dark Horse is letting me run rampant. What’s not to love? [Laughs]
Was it always the plan to present this story as a monthly, ongoing series?
Yeah. I pitched it to them as ongoing. It’s actually about a 60-issue outline and they approved it but it’s always dependent on how it does. If the first six issues didn’t do well enough, it might have died but I had a way to wrap it up after six issues if that was the case. It would have been terrible if it was only six but I had a way to do it that would have been better than nothing. Honestly, I just said, “It’s gotta fly. People have to buy it so I can finish it.” Luckily, it worked out and it looks like I’m free to keep on going for a couple of years.
Most of your previous work has been in the graphic novel format. Has the ongoing series been liberating for you as a creator?
Initially, you have to go in knowing how it’s going to end and where the big story beats are going to be along the way but getting there is the fun part. I would say it’s actually much harder doing it this way than just sitting down and doing a graphic novel.
If I sat down and did a giant book of — let’s see, 24 pages multiplied by 60 issues, 1,440 pages — it would be easier because you wouldn’t have to worry about page count and creating a satisfying 24-page read every month. I would just sit down and do this book and if I needed an extra page here, I would add it in and if I had a shorter chapter, I’d just do that. No problem. But with a 24-page format, it’s definitely more of a creative challenge to make sure every issue stands on its own and is something fun to read but also pushes the story forward and keeps everything going. And it has to keep you wanting to come back for the next chapter. It has to be fun and intriguing every month rather than just one giant book that read in one night.
Readers have obviously responded to it, as have critics and industry peers. Are you surprised by the success or did you know you had something pretty special with “Mind MGMT”?
I’m not necessarily surprised as much as I am relieved. I had ideas for these characters and what was going to happen to them, unspooling the story, one issue at a time, month after month. I like what I’m doing with it and I’m excited about what’s going to happen but what’s great is getting the feedback every month with people throwing out theories and ideas and what they think is going to happen. I wasn’t ready for that. It’s kind of funny that everybody is trying to guess where it’s going and there’s a moment of relief every issue after it comes out and it gets reviewed or people email me and I’m like, “Oh good.” Because no one ever guesses what I’m doing, so I’m like, “Well, I hope they like where I do go with it.” [Laughs]
Again, that’s totally different than if I was doing a graphic novel, which is, I finish the book, let it go and then it is what it is. There’s no month to month seeing how people react and seeing if they still like it. I’m asking people constantly if they still like it. How about now? [Laughs]
Why do you think readers have responded so well to it?
I don’t know. That’s impossible for me to really know. When I start a new graphic novel or a comic book, I am just trying to create something that I would like. People that like it are the people that like the stuff that I like — secret messages, stories within stories; weird ways of telling stories. That’s what I like.
I know you’ve said that you’re not ready to reveal if this is Meru’s story or Henry Lyme’s or someone else’s, or even whether or not the characters we’ve met so far are good or bad. But what can you tell us about Meru, because while she’s certainly the leading lady of the opening arc, she’s not a typical protagonist? I can’t imagine Sarah Jessica Parker playing her in the movie adaption.
Boy, that’s tough to do without saying too much. I guess part of it is that I wanted to keep readers on their toes. I am trying to stay out of the pattern of here’s the main character and let’s follow her as she has these challenges and comes into her own like a typical hero’s journey. There are aspects of it that are that but I’m just trying to tell it in a different way so you’re never sure of what you are going to get or what’s going to happen. And I like having Lyme in the background as this guy that you talk about for half of the first arc and then we finally meet him and then we see his story.
That’s one thing I like. I like movies and books and comics where you’re always a little nervous of who is going to survive. [Laughs] Meru is a main character but she’s kind of a supporting character, as well. I like Lyme being another main character and I’m going to leave that open so that people can think that Meru and Lyme are always going to be there ’til the end. I don’t want people not to worry about her because nothing is going to happen to her because she is the main character. Anything can happen to anybody at any time. I like projecting that nervousness on readers as we go along.
There have been at least two or three instances where I’ve thought Meru was going to die. You’ve made me nervous, so mission accomplished.
[Laughs] Good, good. But I should I say, I’m not intent on killing everybody. Bill Faulds, the CIA guy at the beginning, in my very early draft, he had a horrible ending but I decided to keep him around for a while. I’m benevolent.
Who is Henry Lyme? Where did you find him? Is he your old music teacher or someone else you know?
This is funny but he was actually inspired by Zach Galifianakis in “The Hangover,” so if I was going to cast the movie, I guess I’d cast him. Personality wise, not at all. But I like the sunglasses and the big hair and the beard.
In a way, he’s borne — and this is getting way too deep, but to me that first story arc is about being a parent and I see Lyme as a father to Meru that made mistakes. I have a daughter that is going to be 10 this year. I do my best. And it’s the greatest responsibility, so I’m just trying my best not to screw it up. To me, Lyme is the father that screwed it up — majorly screwed up. And it’s about all the guilt he feels. I won’t say that he’s me because I don’t think I screwed up, my daughter is awesome, but there’s always that nagging worry that hopefully I’m raising her right so I think it’s borne from that. There is the joy of being a parent and there is also the worry. I have to do it better than my parents did and I hope I don’t screw it up.
You’ve mentioned that you have 60 issues to tell this story but it looks like we are actually going to learn more about Mind MGMT in this current arc. I’m sure you don’t want to give too much away, but what can you share about the entity that is Mind MGMT?
I didn’t want Mind MGMT to be this big mystery much longer. That’s what the first arc was. I just want to start getting to the good stuff. That’s what this arc is going to be. There’s a bigger cast of characters and we’re going to set things up for the bigger story that’s going to be happening.
I introduce a lot of the agents that are going to be the major players. A couple of them you have already met and you don’t even know that you’ve met them yet.
I love the character named The Eraser. I immediately thought of Arnold Schwarzenegger so I was surprised to learn The Eraser is a woman. What do we need to know about her?
You have already met him or her, briefly, in the first six issues. He or she is going to play a bigger part in the whole series. Other than that, it’s a mystery.
He or she?
OK. You’re a writer and you’ve made Meru into a writer too. Are you fulfilling some sort of fantasy placing a writer in the midst of all this action? Because Meru is no Jason Bourne.
It’s something I actually shy away from. I hate it when books and movies have a comic book artist or a writer play that action hero. Because I do that. Anytime I see it, any medium, I don’t really buy it because I’m so familiar with it.
On the other hand, I thought it was important for her to be an everyman — our window into all this craziness. She’s our base of what’s normal. To a degree. [Laughs] We get to see it unfold through her eyes. I thought that was important rather than just jumping into the deep end and everyone is crazy and weird with all this stuff going on.
There is so much going on within the panels but there is a lot going on outside and between the panels too, be it in the margins, or within the ads and the letters page, even the covers. Wasn’t 24 pages enough for you?
It’s funny, I did the first six issues and I hadn’t gone back and looked at them but when I was starting the next story arc, I went back and re-read all of them again. My fear was always that there is so much going on, it’s going to ruin the flow of the comic but when I went back and re-read them, I felt it still worked. You can just read all the comic pages and forget all the extra stuff and it still reads well. But I wanted the little extras in the sidelines to be important but not critical at the same time. It’s a fine balance. I want you to be able to read the comic and just enjoy it. But if you buy a stack of comics every week and you read them all in half-an-hour, I liked the idea of you having some extra stuff that you can go back and read and spend a little more time with.
And it’s fun for me because I get a lot more room to flesh the story out. When you think about it, 24 pages is not a lot. There’s text and subtext and all kinds of crazy stuff in there to flesh this world out. That’s really helpful [to] me.
And I like planting stuff early and allowing for readers that if you do read it carefully, when you read stuff later you’ll be like, “Oh, yeah. I remember that.” It’s fun to foreshadow stuff in there.
Also, I don’t like comics where you’re reading comics, comics, comics and all of a sudden you have a big text page like some article from a newspaper or something. It totally grinds the whole story to a halt. You have to sit there and read this text but I’m in comic-reading mode. I want to read comics that use pictures and words, not this huge block of text.
This is a way that we can still get the text in there but by putting it on the edge, to me, it allows the reader to read it when they feel like it. You don’t have to turn and get to this page right now. You can just skip and go back and read it when you feel like it. I think I like that better because it doesn’t break up the storytelling.
Were you inspired by Sergio Aragones’ work in “MAD” magazine?
I’m sure on some level that was in the back of my head because I always read “MAD” magazine. And sometimes I wouldn’t even look at the edges and then I’d be like, “Oh, yeah. I forgot,” and go back and look at them so I am sure that’s part of it.
It actually started when I did the graphic novel “Revolver” for Vertigo because I had already written and designed this whole world that they were living in and then I wasn’t able to get to it because they gave me a page limit. I had all of this extra material but I still wanted to get it in there and so I decided to use the sidelines for that. I felt that helped me flesh out the world in a way that I could get my ideas out there, within the book, without losing any ideas.
That’s the biggest part. You have a certain amount of space and you ask yourself, “How can I maximize it and use up every inch of it?”
If Mind MGMT targeted you, what ability do you think might surface?
[Laughs] Ah, man. I don’t know. I would be the worst spy, the worst agent. It would have to be some sort of ability like daydreaming all day. Hopefully, that’s useful somehow.
Finally, “The Walking Dead” has transitioned beautifully to television — when are we going to see a “Mind MGMT” TV show or movie?
There’s something happening but I can’t talk about it just yet. Until I sign the contract. [Laughs] But honestly, if someone makes “Mind MGMT” into a TV show or a movie, that’s fine. It’s going to be its own thing at that point. And the comic book is still the comic book. If anything, as a creator, it gives me more money to afford doing comics. Nobody is getting rich doing comics. The other stuff is what helps pay the bills and keeps it going so if a movie or a TV show happens, to me, it just means that I can do five or six more years of “Mind MGMT” instead of two because I won’t have to worry about money for a while. It’s all good.
“Mind MGMT” #7, written and illustrated by Matt Kindt, is available now.