Matt Kindt: Superspy

Matt Kindt made a splash in 2001 as the artist of the acclaimed graphic novel "Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace." Since then, Kindt has written and illustrated a series of graphic novels including "2 Sisters," "Super Spy," "3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man" and the just-released "Superspy: Lost Dossiers." In addition to his comic work, Kindt is also an award-winning designer of his own books and others, including Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's "Lost Girls" from Top Shelf.

The front and back covers of the original "Super Spy" were images of people with certain objects they carried or wore, highlighted with a brief, almost haiku-like statement of why they carried such objects or scars. Besides having a striking cover and a masterful piece of storytelling, it was clear reading the book that there was a great deal going on under the surface and it required effort to understand the relationships between characters and stories in a way that made the book far richer and deeper than it initially appeared.

Kindt is in the midst of a busy year, one that will see the release of "Revolver," a new original graphic novel from Vertigo this spring, and "The Tooth," which he illustrated and which will be released from Oni Press later this year. He spoke with CBR News about his projects, past, present and future.

Matt, let's start off with a simple question: what is "Super Spy: Lost Dossiers?"

Matt Kindt: It's a collection of odd stories that I'd originally written to be included with the "Super Spy" book or specifically done for the web version of "Super Spy" during the year it took me to complete it. For various reasons - practical and artistic - I took them out of the "Super Spy" graphic novel. Some just didn't fit the flow of the book and others were just too oddly formatted to fit in that kind of context. I really like to think of the "Lost Dossiers" book as a giant spy activity book for adults.

Is some older interviews you mentioned working on a sequel to "Super Spy." Is this that book or is that another project you're still working on?

That's another book - called "Super Natural" - set in 1950s Paris for the most part. It follows several dead characters from "Super Spy" and several new ones. It's completely written and thumbnailed/layed out. I'm busy penciling it now for what looks like a Spring 2011 finish, which means probably a Fall 2011 release.

Reading the book, I couldn't help but think of "Lost Dossiers" as the extra DVD with all the extras, additional scenes and notes and background material. Is that fair?

Totally right. Bonus scenes, but not really scenes. All self-contained stories, much like most of the "Super Spy" chapters work. Not deleted because of quality either. More of a thing where I had extra characters with their own side stories that really didn't add anything to the main thrust of "Super Spy."

Were the annotations for "Super Spy" that you included something you'd wanted to do in the first book but didn't have the space?

No, I'd never want to have that in the actual book. Ideally you would read "Super Spy" and just try to get it all from what is between its covers. I'd hate to make it too easy. I really don't like the idea of having new editions of the same book with bonus material stuck in the back. It's always kind of a cheat, then, for those readers that were there from the beginning. But I'd gotten enough emails with questions and theories that I thought it'd be fun to have this extra side-book where you could sort of check yourself as a reader and see if you got the answers right.

One of the things I enjoyed about "Lost Dossiers" were the aerial surveillance photos you included. You wrote that they influenced the look of the book. In what way did they influence the look?

Hmm - good question. Did I write that?

I would say that the distorted view, this vast landscape and the way it just bends around at the edges, is something I try to do with the art and architecture - and the story as well.

"Lost Dossiers," like the original "Super Spy," was designed to be interactive. It's not just a book to simply read, it's more involved than that. What's behind your thinking in doing this? Is it about fun? Is trying to really involve and engage the reader?

To me, it's about something greater than the sum of its parts. Why is this in book form is a question I always ask myself. So the answer, if I'm working correctly, is, it's a book because that's the only way it could exist. I'm a firm believer in the medium being the message. Otherwise you're wasting a valuable resource. And it's fun! I try to apply that philosophy to every project.

The design of a given book is obviously very important to you. I'm not sure how many people know that you're responsible for the design of "Lost Girls" in addition to your own books. What role do you think book design can and should play in relating to the narrative?

Again, kind of what I said in the last answer. If the design isn't helping with the storytelling, then it's really a big, wasted opportunity. I can't help but think about every aspect of a book. Usually the design and look of the book doesn't come to me until after the entire thing is finished - and by then, I've figured out what the story is and what it's all about - and until you get to that point, you can't really know what the book needs to look like. I really do believe that the best designer of a book is always the author - whether you have the actual skills to pull it off or not is irrelevant. The author knows the material backwards and forwards and knows what the heart of it is, and that's where the design should come from.

What is it about spycraft that you find so fascinating and so rich a storytelling territory. "2 Sisters." "Superspy." Now, this. What keeps bringing you back to it?

At the core of it, I think, is this idea of living a lie for a purpose. Pretending you're something you're not for a higher goal and with a purpose. There's a thrill there of working outside the normal laws and expectations of humanity, where everything that is normally considered wrong or immoral becomes "okay" as long as you're not caught.

Why are your stories set in the past? Is that a period you're especially interested in, is it a question of your style fitting well in a period piece, or what?

I enjoy drawing period settings and clothes and cars. I think it's really as simple as that. Cell phones are ugly. It's really just a pretty aesthetic decision on my part. My new Vertigo book, "Revolver," out in July of this year, is the first book that was set in the modern day. It could have happened yesterday or tomorrow. But the story I wanted to tell there couldn't have been done in the past. It had to be current to get the ideas in there that I wanted to get across. From an art standpoint, I didn't really think about it until it came time to draw it - and then I had to get all new reference. It was a lot more work because I'd accumulated vintage reference from everything from the 1920s to the 1960s and now I had to draw new cars and cell phones and airplanes. It ended up being kind of strange to draw that stuff, and a little bit of an extra challenge for me.

Can you tell us what "Revolver" is and how the book ended up at Vertigo?

It was one of several ideas I pitched to then-editor Bob Schreck for a new graphic novel. Bob ended up picking "Revolver" of the two or three ideas I pitched and I cranked it out last year. It was a lot of fun to work on - maybe the most action-y type of thing I've ever done. I was limited to 160 pages, so it's a pretty snappy book.

I know you have two other books coming out, and I just wanted to touch on both. What can you say - or what do you want to say - about the sequel to "Super Spy" that you're working on?

Well, it's written and layed out. I just need to start sitting down and drawing on it. It's not quite as sprawling as "Super Spy" - there are only 6 different story lines. Each follows a different ghost - one of which is a character that was killed in "Super Spy." For the record, I hate ghost stories and supernatural stuff as a rule, so this book was sort of an exercise for me in creating something "supernatural" that would satisfy me as a reader. It ended up being a lot harder than I thought it would be. I ended up having to examine exactly what my "real" beliefs were in the afterlife and all that. So what ended up in the book is pretty close to what I imagine might be possible. Not even sure if that makes sense. Other than that, it's set in the 1950s but also spans the decades. There's cowboys, plane crashes and Sherlock Holmes of all things.

"The Tooth" ended up being a nice sort of break from my usual thing - haven't worked with a writer since "Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace" but I really needed to do something a little lighter after "3 Story" and "Revolver" - something fun and funny. So "The Tooth" has a lot of that in it - really, it's pretty much everything I loved about late 70s and early 80s Marvel comics all rolled up into a crazy package. I promise that the final design and collection of this book will be like nothing you've seen. It is crazy!

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