SPOILER WARNING: The following interview discusses specific events and plot points from “MIND MGMT” #32.
Of course, the critically acclaimed creative force behind “MIND MGMT” doesn’t mean he wants to crack some skulls like Rorschach (or maybe he does), but Kindt would be happy to blow some minds with his comics like Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons managed to accomplish with the release of their game-changing miniseries in 1986.
With the final arc of “MIND MGMT” now underway, Kindt and Dark Horse Comics editor Brendan Wright spoke extensively with CBR News to discuss the title’s secret origin, character relationships and the painstaking process of writing, illustrating, inking, coloring and lettering a monthly title in today’s market while altering nearly every conceivable rule of comic book storytelling.
Comparing the upcoming conclusion of “MIND MGMT” to the ending of “The Invisibles” by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, Wright also shared valuable insight into what the series might have been like had Kindt not drawn the series while Kindt discussed the depiction of good and bad in the book as it relates to Henry Lyme, the greatest agent with mental abilities in the history of MIND MGMT, and The Eraser, the series’ antagonist that is fiercely attempting to rebuild the superspy organization with her mind over matter.
CBR News: As we approach the end, let’s start our conversation back at the beginning. Matt, is the original concept that you pitched to Dark Horse back in 2011 what “MIND MGMT” became?
Matt Kindt: Yeah, it is. I think my outline broke the series down to 54 issues. I had six-issue story arcs or four-issue story arcs planned for the entire run in my initial pitch, and when Dark Horse actually agreed to do it, I went back and revisited it. It was at that point when I said to myself: “Okay, I’m doing a monthly book. It’s the first time that I’ve ever done it. Why am I doing a monthly book?” [Laughs]
No, seriously — at the time, monthly comics weren’t being done as much, and a lot of publishers were scaling back on them. Everybody wanted to do graphic novels. I pitched some ideas to Vertigo before this and they were like, “We’re not doing monthlies anymore. We’re doing graphic novels.” And I was like, “Oh. Okay.” But I’d been doing graphic novels for years and I had this weird sense where I was like, “If I don’t do one now, what if monthly books go away? And people don’t read them anymore? And people aren’t publishing them? If it’s just graphic novels, it’s sort of a different medium.” I really wanted to try my hand at it and see what I could do, so I revisited my outline and I was like, “What can we do here that would be different? It’s not just like a cliff-hanger every month.”
I was trying to think outside of the box of what a monthly comic could be. I thought that there needed to be more in every issue. There needed to be ads, but those ads needed to be fake ads. It needed to be strange and different and like something you hadn’t seen before. Going back through it all, I realized it had to be shorter, too — 36 issues instead of 54.
Brendan Wright: My recollection is that the story is pretty much the way it was, and the ending that we’re doing was there from the beginning. There are some characters and some plot points, as happens when you actually write the book, that took over a little bit, and their arcs were a little bit different or some of them lived longer than originally planned, but for the most part, the real difference between the original outline and now is just the length. There was a little while there that Matt and I were going back and forth and Matt, in particular, was figuring out just how long he wanted the series to be. Like he said, it’s shorter than it was originally pitched, but that is entirely the needs of the story. Dark Horse certainly could have done it longer if that was the story, but we’re also thrilled to be ending it the way Matt wants to.
What was the high concept that you pitched?
Kindt: Maybe you remember better, Brendan. But I basically had this idea of a woman trying to write a book while she tried to figure out what this secret organization is all about. The series was going to be about her discovering what this MIND MGMT was all about — this secret organization that’s been around forever — and meeting new characters, meeting ex-agents, and the whole series would follow her journey as she uncovers more about it. She gets involved in it, and then her path unfolds as we move along. That was basically the whole structure. I had a list of the people that she was going to meet — here’s what they’re going to do, here is who’s going to die and here is how they’re going to live.
I didn’t have a pitch that was a real snappy, one paragraph. When I was pitching the series, it was more of just trying to describe the depth of MIND MGMT and just how far back its history goes back. I had a lot of small stories to put together to weave into this bigger thing. It’s hard to pitch that.
Wright: The truth is, we weren’t pitched a lot of this stuff. We knew that we wanted to do something else with Matt, and we pretty much trusted him to give us something good. “MIND MGMT” was pitched in a very basic form — part of what appealed to me about it was how it is sort of fractal in structure. For every small part of it, if you want to zoom in, we can do an issue on that person’s back story or on how that person’s powers work. You can go as deep with it as you want. There are tons of levels. For a long time, when people asked Matt what is was about, he would say, “It’s spies — with mind powers!” And it works on that basic level too.
While “MIND MGMT” is a conspiracy thriller told within a “Lost”-like fantasy world, it’s really about persuasion and perception, and, as the title teases, management of the mind. When building this world, which is wildly complex and layered, how did you find that balance between action and psychology or as we have seen in this latest issue, magic and science?
Kindt: A lot of it was just my instinct, which is based a lot on the stuff that I like to read. There are two kinds of books that you read. There are the books that you are supposed to read because it’s a classic, and you don’t look forward to reading it and it sits on your nightstand forever. But then you have the latest Stephen King book or whatever on the nightstand too, and that’s the one that you are excited to read. Maybe it’s not a timeless classic, and maybe it won’t stand the test of time for hundreds of years, but that’s the one that you want to read. For my whole career, I have tried to blend those two things. It’s going to stand the test of time, but you’re also excited to read it.
I always feel like comics have a leg up. They are immediately accessible already, because there are pictures. [Laughs] It’s like, “How hard can that be? It’s got that going for it.” And you put some spies with mind powers in it or some other genre stuff on top, and it makes it, to me, exciting to read. There is harder stuff, that you have to read two or three times to pick it up, but again, you can go through it one time and enjoy it. And hopefully, you’ll look forward to reading it. That’s the balance I’m trying to strike. Every issue is different, and for the series, I initially structured it thinking that it would be a lot of build-up and a lot of world-building and then the last six issues was going to be a giant fight. [Laughs] But by the time I got to those last six issues, I thought a giant fight was going to be kind of boring. So it’s slightly different. I have structured it slightly differently. It’s more interesting and there’s still a lot fighting, and it comes to an end. Superficially, it looks amazing and it was really fun to draw. The issues that I am drawing now are like one big fight, and I guess it’s kind of the payoff. Again, I’m the same way. I want this book to be something that I’m excited to read, but also have something else in it.
Wright: I remember with the ending, you were sort of stressed out for a long time. If I do this big fight, are people going to feel cheated? They are so used to all of this stuff going on and then it’s going to be this big fight. And my feeling was, “I think you totally earned it.” You’ve taken people everywhere, and now you can do the big fight and I don’t think anybody is going to think, “Man, he really ran out of ideas at the end, because you are still throwing crazy stuff in at the end. But it also looks great and it’s fun.
Kindt: And while it’s going to be a big fight, it’s going to be a big, weird fight. [Laughs]
The relationship between Meru and Henry Lyme has been a roller coaster since the beginning, but the sequence in #31, where Henry kneels before Meru as a fallen knight, nearly floored me. It may actually be my favorite sequence of the entire series to date. Can you talk about their relationship throughout the series and where it is now, as we approach the final battle with the Eraser?
Kindt: Yeah, it’s true. The whole series has been kind of building to that moment, and there are moments like that in the next few issues. I feel like, at the end of the day, that’s what this whole thing is about. It really is about Meru and Henry Lyme, their relationship and how it changes. It’s sort of a father-daughter thing, and then they’re sort of enemies and some things have been done that are almost unforgivable. Halfway through, you realize a lot of terrible things have been done. That’s what was interesting to me. To have these two people that are sort of dependent on one another, helping one another and then something happens that comes between them that makes it that the relationship shouldn’t be able to work anymore. It’s broken. How can you get past that? And can you do it?
Is there truly good and evil in “MIND MGMT”? I know I’m rooting for Meru and her team, but is The Eraser just an extreme version of Henry Lyme and past iterations of MIND MGMT?
Kindt: I guess the interesting thing for me about Henry Lyme is that there is a moment where he is like, “I know I have done these bad things, and I feel bad for doing them, but I am still alive. I am still here. I can still do something. I still have value. I can do something good.” He’s not written off forever. There is a lot of grey area there, especially in comics. There is good and evil and there are good guys and bad guys. And there are some issues where you are like, “I understand this villain’s point of view.” But he’s still a villain. I think there’s more to him than that. I think he was a victim but he also did some bad things and I think that’s the interesting part. And then it’s, what comes after that? “I did this bad thing that can’t be undone. What am I supposed to do now? Can I do something to make it better? What can I do to redeem myself?” I don’t know if he can or he can’t. He may be able to do things to try and redeem himself, but ultimately, it’s going to be Meru who decides if he is redeemed or not. All he can do is do the best that he can. I don’t know. I think it’s interesting. I don’t think you see that a lot in comics.
Henry has started his road to redemption by reaching out to the people that he wronged from Flight 815 and is now allowing the passengers to remember what happened to them. But despite this about-face, is he really that far removed from the Eraser and what she’s trying to accomplish by rebuilding MIND MGMT?
Kindt: They are two sides of the same coin. Or maybe they are on the same side of the coin, even. I think that a lot of that is your intent. At this point, I think Henry’s intentions are good. And I think his intentions were always good. But for The Eraser, I don’t know that her intentions were always good. I don’t think they were bad, necessarily, but I think she was a little more selfish.
Wright: What I feel like we saw in the life and times of The Eraser is that she had been treated the way that she had been treated and sort of felt like she was going to pay it forward. “I came up through this experience that was terrible, and now it’s my turn to be in charge of that.”
Whereas Lyme did the opposite of that. “Terrible things happened. I don’t want to ever be involved in anything this terrible again.” That’s why he, more or less, became a hermit.
You’ve delivered story developments in the margins and placed secret messages in the ads. How much of the book’s success do you attribute to the presentation of the puzzle versus the actual puzzle?
Kindt: Because of my background as a designer, which I did for a living for five or six years, that’s something that’s always been part of what I do. I think about presentation as much as I do about the story or character development or design. I think it’s integral to the story — how the story is presented.
Wright: I think in “MIND MGMT” that you can’t really separate them.
Kindt: No, you can’t. And that’s one of the things I asked myself when I started it. Every book that I’ve done, I’ve asked myself, “How can I present this [book] in a way that hasn’t been done.” And that’s evolved over the years. I feel like every book that I’ve done, I’ve explored new ground or tried something new or different, but I feel that this book is the first where I have complete control over the look and feel or every single inch off it. And I also had an idea for it that helped tell the story. Whether it was the ads on the back or the stuff in the margins, it’s not just a gimmick. It’s actually part of the story. If you don’t read the side text, you’ll get the story but you’re not getting the entire story. If you don’t feel like reading it, you don’t have to, but your experience is going to be a little different.
I really wanted it to be immersive. It’s one of those things that, years ago, my wife said, “What are you trying to do?” And I was like, “I’m trying to be ‘Watchmen.'” I’ve tried to be “Watchmen” my entire life. I feel like every time I start something, I think: “Maybe this will be it.” And on this one, I don’t know if I did it, I don’t think that you can, but I changed the rules when I started “MIND MGMT.” I feel like every comic, to a degree, plays within panel borders and the stuff that happens, happens within those panels in conventional comic book action. There are captions and dialogue and there are different ways of doing that stuff but I feel like with this one that I was using the whole book. I am playing with the medium and what the comic book is and how those things [the physical comic book] can tell the story. We used every single tool that comic books have, which no other medium has. You can’t do it with a novel. You can’t do it with a movie. It can only be a comic.
Wright: Everything about “MIND MGMT” is meant to make you question both the reality of the comic and the reality that you are living in and the degree to which they overlap. The side text and the fake ads and everything are part of that and are integral to the feeling you are supposed to have while you’re reading the book. It makes me think a lot of the discussions people had about Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” where there was this idea, “What is this movie if you take away the thing where they filmed for 12 years?” And it’s like, “Well, it’s not that movie anymore.” You can’t say, “What is ‘Boyhood'” if you take away the thing that is what it is about. To me, “MIND MGMT,” by the same token, the side text and all of it, you can’t really separate it from the story. It’s part of the story. It’s part of what makes it a story like we haven’t seen before.
The first chapter of this last arc goes even further, and a bit meta, as Meru sends her “MIND MGMT” story to her agent as a fail-safe against possible failure in her war against the Eraser.
Wright: And the fact that the side text isn’t in those issues is significant to the story.
I think that I know your answer, but would “MIND MGMT” have been “MIND MGMT” with someone else doing the art and you just writing as you have been doing more and more lately with Valiant and your latest from Dark Horse, “Past Aways”?
Kindt: No one else could have drawn it. It’s one of those things that I wanted to have control of every inch of the book — the look of it, every piece of it, even the lettering. I hate lettering! [Laughs] But I wanted to letter it. There were different things that I wanted to try and different things that I wanted to do. I felt like if I didn’t have my hands on it — you know, a lot of times, ideas come from actually doing the thing. While I am working on it, this occurs to me or that occurs to me. You spend hours and hours drawing stuff and what are you thinking about? Well, I’m thinking about the story. I am thinking about how the story is told and how it is presented. The thing that I love about comics is that it is something that I can have complete control over. The collaboration is fun, too. I have been writing a lot of books lately, but it’s different when I am drawing too. I have to switch part of something off when I am just writing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When you are working with an artist, you get another personality in there and you’re just getting a different product but for this particular idea, I knew what I wanted it to be and I just wanted to do it all, which was kind of exhausting over three years.
Wright: We had a variant cover on the first issue, and we’ll have a variant cover for the last issue. For the first issue, we had Gilbert Hernandez, and on the last one, we haven’t announced it yet, but both of those are such different, different takes on the characters. For years, they’ve only been drawn by Matt so it’s this sort of look of the idea of what this could have been if somebody else did it. They are both amazing, and I’m so glad that we had both of them, but it also underlines just how much that this is Matt’s book by just how shocking it is to see these characters drawn by other people. Matt colored them both, so there is a bit of a familiar feel, but it’s like “MIND MGMT” from a parallel universe.
In three years, Matt can come back to “MIND MGMT” with “Crisis in Infinite Mind MGMTs.”
Wright: That’s closer to things that we have actually talked about than you can imagine. [Laughs]
With the promise of a big fight to end the series, does “MIND MGMT” have a happy ending?
Kindt: It depends on your definition of “happy.” [Laughs]
Wright: If “The Invisibles” had a happy ending, so does “MIND MGMT.” It’s kind of like that.
Kindt: There is definitely some closure. I don’t know if it’s 100 percent happy because I was choking up, trying not to cry, telling my wife how it ended, so I don’t know how happy it is. I am almost embarrassed by that. It was so weird to me, it’s so strange. But I think it will end in a satisfying way. “MIND MGMT” is one of those sprawling books where there is a lot of process, there is a lot of things hinted at here and there, and I was super conscientious with my note taking to make sure all of the major things got wrapped up and anything that anybody would have a nagging question about would be addressed. Things that aren’t addressed are not addressed and are left unanswered on purpose.
And as we prepare to say farewell to the comic, are there any updates about the proposed “MIND MGMT” movie?
Kindt: I don’t know how much I can say. They re-optioned it, and the writer is going to start writing it in May because he was on something else. I don’t really know more than that. I have been so focused on the comic. I just make sure that they get the comics when I am done so they can get some more ideas.
“MIND MGMT” #32, by Matt Kindt, is available now.
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