Cartoonist Matt Kindt, acclaimed creator of “Super Spy” and “Revolver,” dives head first into a new ongoing tale of espionage and suspense this month with “Mind MGMT,” the story of an aspiring journalist out of her depth in a world of mind control and shifting reality. Kindt, who was recently announced as “Sweet Tooth” creator Jeff Lemire’s successor on DC Comics’ “Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.,” is known for his inventive storytelling style and design sense — nominated for four Eisner and three Harvey Awards, Kindt received a Harvey in 2007 for his work on Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s “Lost Girls” — and these sensibilities combine into dense, complex stories ideal for the spy genre. In anticipation of “Mindt MGMT’s” May 23 debut, Dark Horse Comics not only released three “Secret Files” digital preview issues but also published “3 Story: Secret Files of the Giant Man,” a single issue-sized collection of Kindt’s short stories following up on his acclaimed “3 Story” graphic novel.
CBR News caught up with Kindt to discuss “Mind MGMT” — which he says may be his best work to date — as well as the “3 Story” tales and how writing “Frankenstein” fits into his full creative life.
In April, Dark Horse collected Kindt’s “3 Story” shorts that originally appeared in the online anthology “MySpace Dark Horse Presents” into a single issue. These episodes depicted the untold adventures of Craig Pressgang, the protagonist of Kindt’s 2009 hardcover original, “3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man.” As the title suggests, Craig is larger than life, and his gigantic stature puts him in unique and sometimes dangerous situations.
“I never got a chance to really delve into his ‘secret history’ in regards to his job traveling around the world. But I had a ton of ideas for the things he did in his travels,” Kindt said of returning to the giant man in the “MDHP” strips. “So when Dark Horse asked me if I had anything for their anthology — well, I did! I had a ton of stuff. So I picked the three stories that sort of interested me the most, that had interesting locations and got to be a little sad and a little funny as well. Again, I didn’t really use Craig’s voice in the stories, so you still end up seeing him through the filter of other people whose lives are impacted by him.
“And there’s a… uh… poop joke in story two. That’s what I was aiming for. I think ‘serious’ comics can sometimes just sink into pretentiousness,” he added. “So I think it’s good to strike a balance. What collateral damage does the giant man’s life do to innocent bystanders — but then also, where does he go to the bathroom? Balance!”
Even though Kindt said he has plenty of stories to tell with the Giant Man, he said there are no current plans to come back to the character with a new book or series. “I certainly have ideas for it and wouldn’t be opposed to it, but right now I’ve got my hands full with ‘Mind MGMT,’ which just started, and for that I’ve got a three-year plan that doesn’t leave much room for extra projects.”
He was able to say, however, that the “3 Story” movie is “pushing forward.” “The screenplay is fantastic, Lance Black is still directing and they’re casting it now,” Kindt told CBR News. “That’s the part I can’t really say anything about — I don’t want to screw up the process by leaking any names or anything, but I’m super-happy with everyone they’ve been talking to. It’s gonna be good.”
There are scenarios of espionage and intrigue in “3 Story,” but Kindt returns to the genre full-bore in “Mind MGMT,” which follows a young journalist thrown deep into a world of secret organizations, strange discoveries, and shifting allegiances. “Meru is a true-crime writer who picks up the thread of this really strange story — that will lead her to a secret organization (MIND MGMT) that is pretty much threaded all throughout the world and in world history. She’s broke and has her own set of problems, so for her to go out and sort of tackle this crazy group of super-super spies is a little crazy,” Kindt said of his “Mind MGMT” protagonist. “She hits the tip of the iceberg in the first few issues and it’s just going to get bigger and bigger. I can’t say too much plot-wise just because I don’t want to spoil anything.
“There’s also another character — ‘Lyme’ — who is pretty much the co-star of the book but right now he’s a character only in that you end up seeing the effects of what he’s done to cities and people. Maybe eventually we’ll get to meet him… I hope that’s vague enough!”
Like many great spy stories, “Mind MGMT” finds many agents and organizations interacting and competing, each with distinct and often mysterious aims. Kindt was keen not to spoil any mysteries, but did say there are “thousands of agents” involved. “Mind MGMT has had agents planted all over the earth since World War I, so there’s no telling who is or isn’t an agent and what side they’re on,” he said. “At this point I’m not really revealing what (or how many) sides there are. The meat of the series is really going to deal with these different agents around the globe and show how they deal with their ‘powers’ and their missions. But you’re going to get all of that through Meru and ‘Lyme’ as they… interact.
“Man, it’s hard to say anything without spoiling everything. I think there’s a pretty big reveal in every issue so I’m trying not to ruin the reading experience.”
The series also deals with questions of how we perceive the world and how those perceptions are manipulated, and Kindt said this will play out through the series’ episodic format. “I think a lot of the inspiration for how I’m telling the story this time around came from the actual format that the story is in,” Kindt said. “At this point it seems like there’s no one making monthly comics anymore. The monthly comics come out but they’re mostly written for trades. So I’m actually trying to make a 24-page comic that is a satisfying read all on its own. To me, that means making something that takes a while to get through. And something that will take multiple readings to get everything out of it.
“Like when you were a kid, right? And you read the same issue of ‘Daredevil’ over and over again because it was 30 days until the next issue? I want that feeling again, you know? So the inside covers/back covers have super dense stories and there are back cover ads with secret messages and that actually work as a bigger puzzle (when you put the first six issues together). And I’m writing a MIND MGMT field guide that I’m threading into the borders of each page — guide excerpts that give you insight into the MIND MGMT organization but also serve double duty by commenting on the actual page you’re reading. I’m hoping it’s dense. I did a similar thing with ‘Super Spy.’ I was writing that book as a weekly 8-page comic. Each week had to stand on its own. And then when I put it together in the eventual graphic novel it became this crazy dense puzzle-box of a book. ‘Mind MGMT’ is following a similar path, I think. I think it will be way healthier to read this book in monthly installments rather than waiting for the collection — that might be hazardous to your mental health.”
Many of Kindt’s books play with the major events of history in one way or another, and readers will see this in “Mind MGMT,” as well. “You’re going to get nothing but present day in the main storyline but I’m building the history of MIND MGMT with the back-stories and inside-cover stories as well as the prequel shorts that Dark Horse is releasing this month (free) online,” Kindt told CBR. “I really like building the story like that. Meru and her story arc is like the chorus and all of the history and backstory throughout the years is like the harmonies that support her story and actually build your appreciation of what’s happening.”
Kindt said he enjoys reading books related to his projects, even if that reading is not research per se. “I read this crazy book on the US government’s real program (Psi-Spies) where they were trying to train characters to use crazy mind powers. I actually didn’t read it all, but kind of skimmed it. Mostly because I’m not sure how much I actually believed,” Kindt said. “I’m sure it does work to some extent but as far as the claims go in the book that that kind of thing actually works, I… pretty much don’t believe it. But the idea of it actually being possible was super exciting to me. It became a ‘what-if’ scenario. What if secret agents could read minds, or make you see something that wasn’t there, or walk into a hostile city and pacify an entire population before a single shot was fired? And then, what does that agent do when he retires? Can he even have a normal life with that kind of ability? I just went crazy.
“I started making lists of all the different kinds of agents and how they could be trained and how those powers could be applied. And then I extrapolated their lives to figure out what their childhood was like, their career, and then what they do when they stop ‘secret -agenting.’ And this series sprung out of all of that,” Kindt continued. “I think readers will be surprised where I take it. I think in the past I’ve been mostly restrained when it comes to my concepts and what I show. But I can safely say that this series starts out small and then snowballs into something that is crazy epic.”
As to proper research, Kindt said the story of “Mind MGMT” formed on its own, but that once the concept was set he was able to find the supporting info he needed. “I usually come up with the general concept/conceit for the story, which in this case was just the title. So then I just came up with the characters that would populate that concept. And the plot and all of that just generally ends up suggesting itself,” he told CBR. “I have a 10-page document (basically the pitch I gave Dark Horse) that details all of the characters and what happens from beginning to end (ideally 36 issues). Like most books, I used that initial title idea and a little bit of research as the springboard and just went nuts with it.
“There is a lot of history and backstory for ‘Mind MGMT,’ so for that I have done a lot of research and reading,” Kindt continued. “Without saying too much, I can say there’s a lot of stuff happening in Amazon jungles and World War I is a real catalyst for the entire series. Also Chinese myths and legends are playing a big role, so I’ve been reading up on all of that.”
While “Mind MGMT” represents the latest creator-owned work from Kindt, the cartoonist has also been named the new writer of DC Comics’ “Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.,” taking over from Jeff Lemire with June’s issue #10. He told CBR that the two series complement each other well from a creative perspective. “‘Mind MGMT’ is plotted out for the next three years but the first 6 issues are already written and penciled — I’m inking and coloring as we go, so I’m on issue #4 of ‘Mind MGMT’ right now. And during the inking/painting process I’ve been writing ‘Frankenstein,'” Kindt explained. “The best thing about writing ‘Frankenstein’ is that I’m not getting stale. I don’t get burned out like I usually do. What normally happens is I write for a few months and then pencil for a few months and then ink for a few months and I end up getting burned out on every stage of the process because it’s just relentless. Inking pages non-stop for 3 months at a time isn’t really a healthy thing to do. So doing the writing on ‘Frankenstein’ is great — I get to jump on that once a month and take a break from the art process with ‘Mind MGMT’ and it recharges my batteries and gets me excited to write — and then when I’m done writing, I’m actually in the mood to go back to inking and painting. I could keep up this process forever, really. It’s the non-stop work on one book for a year that kills me. These forced breaks are great.”
In addition to the opportunity to switch back and forth between different creative tasks, the broader differences between “Mind MGMT” and “Frankenstein” provides Kindt with another way to keep his work fresh. “It’s interesting. I see ‘Frankenstein’ as my vacation book in a way, my ‘real job’ getting ‘Mind MGMT’ crammed with as much as I can possibly put into it,” he said. “I’m handling every part of that book — from design, lettering, coloring, inking, penciling, writing — which is a first on a monthly book, I think — and that’s actually kind of stressful. I feel like ‘Mind MGMT’ is going to be the best thing I’ve done yet and it’s fun to realize it but also kind of daunting. So shifting to ‘Frankenstein’ has just been a pleasure. I’m writing-only so I just have to type up the descriptions and pages and the rest of the gang has to do all the hard work on the book. The writing is hands-down the easiest part of the process. So it really is a vacation. So my mindset ends up being, ‘hey, I’m not going to have to draw this! So let’s jam it with as much crazy stuff that I hate drawing as I can, so Alberto [Ponticelli] can draw it!’ From a purely creative standpoint I think that is helping me on the books, as well.
“‘Frankenstein’ is actually a fun book, so it’s also nice to shift gears a little and not do a super-sad, violent, espionage book,” Kindt added. “Instead I get to write a super-weird, violent, espionage book — with monsters! The best vacation ever!”
“Mind MGMT” #1 by Matt Kindt goes on sale May 23.