If you ask Matt Kindt about it, the pitch for his Dark Horse monthly series "Mind MGMT" is actually quite simple. "What if there's a CIA-type organization that trains people to push their brains to the limit and give them strange powers?" the cartoonist told CBR News. "What are their jobs like? What's it like doing those jobs, and what's it like when they're forced to retire and have to head back to the real world having these memories of what they've done and these abilities as well? To me, that's where the fun is. What's your personal life like if you can't be injured?"
But from that core concept, the comic has drawn a number of deep mysteries of both the classic conspiracy and the deeply human varieties. With a #0 issue in stores this week bridging the gap between the opening six-issue arc and the next story that starts in January's #7, Kindt has been spinning the unique promotion for retailers. Just as he makes each single comic an idiosyncratic stand-alone issue, the artist prepped a special gift for comic shop owners who hit a certain ordering threshold - an original piece of "Mind MGMT" art.
CBR got an exclusive first look at the originals from Dark Horse, and as it turned out, there were 52 "variants" sent out to shop owners. Coincidence of conspiracy? Like so much about "Mind MGMT," fans will have to decide for themselves.
To date, the series has focused on Meru - a woman who's past has been erased from her own mind in traumatic fashion by the titular organization - and her search for former agent Henry Lyme. Once she found him at the end of the first arc, Meru started to learn more about Mind MGMT and its schemes, but that doesn't mean all the answers are awaiting her in the next story. "The whole next story arc gets into it more. Mind MGMT got dissolved at one point, and you'll find out why. You're going to find out more, but I don't want to say," teased Kindt. "I don't want you to even know who the main character is. Is it Meru? Is it Lyme? Who's the good guy and who's the bad guy? It's fun to play with that."
The artist explained that the up in the air quality to the overall series so far is a direct result of his playing against type for serial adventure stories. "The thing is, I hate origin stories. I hate how whenever they reboot Spider-Man, I've got to sit through his origin all over again -Â though I did think the new movie was all right. I just think it's boring to have to go through that all again. So I'm having fun here keeping the readers off balance."
But even while readers have had to stay in the dark as to the broader goals of the Mind MGMT organization, their mysterious psychic powers and cryptic dolphins, the artist has worked to make each issue worth the read. The series singles come with an almost found object quality that permeates the worn print style, fake advertisements and handmade quality of his watercolor art. Kindt explained that his aesthetic choices came from a desire to reinvent comics most overused format.
"I think having never done a monthly book, I wanted to do that because this is a format I grew up with," he said. "I grew up loving that stuff, but as I got older, I got away from that. I was just buying trades, and the single issues didn't have any allure for me anymore as a reader. So when Dark Horse approved this project, I thought 'This is great!' but at the same time I thought, 'I don't enjoy the format as a reader anymore. Why did I do this?'"
Though he laughed at the idea, it also presented him with a challenge. "What can I do to make this monthly comic something I'd actually enjoy or want to pick up? I started to look objectively at the monthly comic and what it's about. It's sort of an ugly medium when you think about it - the covers and the ads and everything. I'm just trying to find a way to subvert that and use all that stuff in the story I'm telling in a way that makes sense," Kindt said. "I remember as a kid buying comics, and you'd see the same ad in the back a thousand times no matter how many different comics you'd buy. They'd repeat the ad every month, no matter how sick of it you got. I have a couple that I remember even though they were the ugliest ads ever. So it was fun to do something with that. I don't have any real ads, so I just put a bunch of fake ones in there that tie in. And I don't like glossy covers, so if I do a really ugly ad in the back, hopefully some people won't even notice it's not real until later. That was my thinking."
In a way, Kindt considers the format an extension of the book design twists that made his graphic novels "Super Spy" and "3 Story" stand out. "I feel like the delivery method for a story needs to be part of the story no matter what tale I'm telling. If it's a graphic novel, I want that book to feel like that part of the story. The story doesn't start on the first page. It starts when you pick it up and look at the cover.
"I'm actually trying to reward the reader that reads it monthly because I think that's a hard way to read something," he added. "For one, it's a $4 book. I don't want you to sit down, read it and go 'Now I've got to wait 30 days for the next one?'" Kindt laughed. "I'm trying to avoid that. I want this to be a pleasurable experience. I want to make this whole thing an experience. The inside cover is the history of Mind MGMT, and that stuff won't be in the trade because the trade will be a different reading experience. So I reward the monthly reader with a story they won't get any other way."
The connection to his previous stand-alone works echoes thematically as well as "Mind MGMT" sets out to be a sci-fi spy story with a deep human undercurrent. "Every genre for me is the wrapping for the real story, but I think it gets harder and harder the crazier you get with sci-fi stuff," he said. "You can't just make up a bunch of mind powers for people to have without any consequences or limits. Then you can just do everything. You've got to set your boundaries and know what the rules are. In this way, it's harder than the basic spy genre where any of it can happen in the real world. Here, I've got to have some rules otherwise it's like cheating. At the same time, I like to come up with a general principal where I say 'Your mind can be pushed this far to do these things...so how does that effect people? What does it mean for someone who was an only child and was trained by this organization? What do they do as an adult?'"
Those mysteries will continue to unfold this week and into January, and their revelations will take a good stretch of series to come to light, Kindt promised. "When I started this series, I pitched it to Dark Horse as 'Here's six issues that could be self-contained, but I'd love to do it for three years.' Part way through those first six, they said it was doing great, so I can keep going," he said. "Now I've got a three-year plan for it, and I'm doing it six issues at a time. I'm not making it in big chunks, so I have no idea what it's like reading it in big chunks. It's different for me too because with graphic novels, I finish the whole book first. This is different for me as a creator. It might be too much to read all at once. Who knows? I hope people embrace that monthly format."
"Mind MGMT" #0 is on sale tomorrow in comic shops. The Dark Horse series continues with #7 in January.