Zona Negativa interviews Matt Kindt

Interview with Matt Kindt

David Fernández.- You started your career in a truly brave manner: by auto-editing 20 copies of a work you distributed at the San Diego Comic Con. How do you remember those motivation-filled times? And the first call from an editor, accepting your project?

Matt Kindt.- I remember feeling like that trip to San Diego would be my one shot at getting published and doing comics for a living. If it didn’t work out and nothing came of the trip and no one was interested in that first book (Pistolwhip) I would just keep plugging away at my day job as a graphic designer and write and draw in my spare time. I wouldn’t have been happy about it but making comics takes so much time and energy that it was just getting too hard to work a day job and then come home and work on comics all night. Something had to give. So when I got back from San Diego I felt like I’d done all I could do. I’d made the best book I could at the time and given it to every publisher that would consider publishing it. That said, when I got a call a week later from Top Shelf I couldn’t believe it. I literally jumped up and down after I got off the phone with Chris Staros. It was one of those moments – right up there with getting married and the birth of our daughter, Ella.

David Fernández.- You have a great academic knowledge about art and professional experience as a graphical designer. Do they influence your work, and in which way? Which are the greater lessons they have given to you?

Matt Kindt.- Other than the practical experiences that I’ve had – with production and laying out books and setting up files for the printer – it’s given me nearly total control of my books – from layout to cover design. I also think knowing what can and can’t be done with print and design – all the technical aspects of production help me to be more creative. One of the most important things that I learned through experience is to let the content of the story dictate the look of the book. I am a big student of design. I love book design so every time I tackle a new project I try to make a book that I would love. Something that makes you want to pick it up own it regardless of what’s inside.

Pistolwhip, Pistolwhip: The yellow menace and Mephisto and the empty box covers

David Fernández.- Considering the special implication it demands to the reader, the multiple narrative and artistic resources, the nearly magical word-image relationship… why do you think comic-books still lack recognition at academic and artistic circles?

Matt Kindt.- Well, I think that comics are still in their infancy as a medium. Prose has been around so much longer it is by default more accepted as a legitimate form of serious artistic expression. Comics have a couple hurdles – trying to shake off the stigma of being ‘just for kids’ (at least here in America). It’s also so much easier to type words on a page then it is to conceive a visual story that also contains words. A writer has to either find an artist to help him or take on the artistic chores as well and there just aren’t that many people out there that can write AND draw well. I think we’re getting there though. There has been a much greater reception for comics now then there was even 10 years ago. When I was a kid, I couldn’t find any comics at the local bookstore. Now even the smallest book shop has a selection of graphic novels. I think it just takes time for the non-comic reading public to catch on. A good example is one of my favorite writers – Philip K. Dick. His work was always considered genre work – pulp science fiction stories but they were always more than that. Eventually more and more people started recognizing his work as something different and he made the jump – now if you go to a book store you can find his work in the ‘fiction/literature’ section instead of ‘science fiction’. How does one make that jump? I’m not sure – but I think the comics that end up standing the test of time will end up making the same kind of jump.

David Fernández.- You made Pistolwhip with Jason Hall, and that was your first contact with Top Shelf. How did this history came out, and why did you changed auto-biographic histories for black genre?

Matt Kindt.- I was doing small mini-comics that were mostly auto-biographical. This was while I was working some of my early graphic design jobs which were horrible experiences. So I ended up doing comics about these experiences and the act of making those comics ended up being as horrible as my day job – comics weren’t bringing me anything fun and new – just re-hashing my bad times at work. So I decided that if I was going to spend this much time writing and drawing, it was going to be a story that was fun. Things I loved to draw. Stories I loved to tell. I’ve always been a big fan of film noir and those darker stories so that’s where the idea of Pistowlhip came out of.

Mephisto and the empty box cover and four pages
(click over the images for a bigger size)

David Fernández.- You have continued the history through Mephisto and The Empty Box and Pistolwhip 2. Do you still have histories with this character as a protagonist?

Matt Kindt.- I’d originally envisioned doing a long series of graphic novels with the Pistolwhip characters but the collaboration with Jason Hall just wasn’t working. I felt like I was having to compromise too much. I wasn’t able to make the stories that I’d originally envisioned so I felt like I needed to break out on my own and have total control of the story along with the art. That’s where 2 Sisters and the whole Super Spy universe came from.

David Fernández.- With 2 Sisters you entered the theme of WWII, writing a history about two sisters in England. What attracts you from that period of time, and why did you chose it as a background for the series?

Matt Kindt.- My grandfather died in World War II and I’d been intrigued by the war and all of the stories that came out of that period in history. Seeing these photos of my grandfather training and working a radio in the field. As a kid, it really made an impression. And I’m a fan of film from that era. Film noir and everything that came out of that post-war era was just something I was really attracted to. Dark stories and themes of being trapped and isolated. As I did my research for the books I was just really interested in the lives of these spies who crafted these elaborate lies out of their lives for a great good (or bad). The idea of being trapped in this sort of fake existence was really interesting to me. I thought it could really be a great source of stories.

David Fernández.- At that same historic context, you revisited that particular “universe” in Super Syp. Did the idea came out when doing 2 Sisters, or after it?

Matt Kindt.- I’d always envisioned 2 Sisters as being part of a series of stories. Much like the Pistolwhip books had been. I liked the idea of having a large cast of characters who bump into each other. I’d actually done a Super Spy story before I wrote 2 Sisters – the ‘Henry’ chapter of Super Spy was the first Super Spy story that I did – I actually made it into real comic strips for an art exhibit. After finishing that story I really wanted to tell more stories like that and 2 Sisters was born.

2 Sisters, Super Spy and Super Spy: The lost dossiers covers

David Fernández.- In which moment did you realize that you wanted to tell small stories, derived from the big history that is Super Spy?

Matt Kindt.- I’d say that the art exhibit with that first Super Spy comic strip is where the seed of the idea was planted. And then I remember sitting in my chair at home sketching and then just writing down all these different ideas for characters and stories. I was watching the news and there was a story about a girl who had fed rocks to a seal at the local zoo and the seal had died. That ended up being the first chapter in Super Spy – I used that real story to ground that character in reality.

David Fernández.- After deciding to do this comic book you chose the webcomic format. Top Shelf offered to publish it in TPB, was it difficult to adapt the material to a different format? As a history teller, what can the webcomic format give you that the tradicional format can’t, and viceversa?

Matt Kindt.- Well, I think I was pretty sure that Top Shelf was going to publish Super Spy from the beginning – that was slated to be my next book. But I thought – since the story is so fragmented, why not publish it as I go online? One of the problems as a working cartoonist is that you end up disappearing for a year at a time as you work on the next book. I didn’t want to just disappear for that year so I decided to publish a new chapter, a new story every week for a year. That way readers of my work could stay in touch with me, see what I was working on a get a nice preview of the next book. This also allowed me to get immediate feedback on the stories – unlike a book which comes out and then you hear something from readers much later. That was also very nice. It kept me inspired and helped me make my weekly deadline even when I didn’t feel like drawing. The other advantage for me was that online I could do a lot more with color. Up until Super Spy all of my books had been black and white – and I assumed Top Shelf would publish Super Spy in black and white as well – but when they saw the color and how it integrated so closely with the story – they decided that he book had to be in color.

David Fernández.- One of the main aspects in Super Spy’s is the “apparently messy” narrative structure, which strengthens the “shock” sensation as the reader slowly unveils the details about the personality and motivations of the characters. Was it a premeditated option since the first stages of the project, or did you originally think about a traditional, lineal chronolig structure?

Matt Kindt.- No, I never considered telling the story in a linear fashion. I’ve always been a big fan of non-linear storytelling. I just think it can really create some fun moments and is a great way to reveal characters and plot twists. It’s just too much fun. I didn’t write the book in a linear way and then go back and mix it up – I actually wrote the book as it is read – nonlinear. It was just the way I thought about the story and that’s how it came out.

Four pages preview of Super Spy, from Norma Editorial website
(click over the images for a bigger size)

David Fernández.- Regarding the last question, the different chapters show great stylistic differences, from the page distribution to the graphical aspect. It creates a very harmonic disparity, since it can be justifiable from a narrative standpoint. You do this on purpose, or do you let yourself go, letting your intuitive self take over?

Matt Kindt.- I really try to let the story and the character dictate the art and look. Much like designing a book – I let the content dictate the style. The same with the individual stories – some stories needed to look different because of what they were about or who the character was. And the color is actually pretty organized – I keyed the color to the geographic location of the character – England and Germany in cool colors, France and Spain in warm colors, etc.

David Fernández.- The Super Spy protagonists always look depressed and sad, they are pessimistic about getting away from non-desired, life-changing situations. The tone is definitely serious, was it conceived in that way since the beginning?

Matt Kindt.- I would say I planned it to a degree. I enjoy stories that are sad but also a little funny. I think that while most of the stories are dark and a little depressing – there are also little moments of humor and escape. I think the title character Super Spy is really kind of tragic but also kind of funny. But yes, I think every book and movie I’ve read about spies ends up making them seem kind of glamorous and exciting but as I was writing the stories and putting myself in these characters’ shoes I realized that the actual life of a real spy would be more than a little bit horrible.

David Fernández.- One of the peculiarities of this collection is that if the reader reads the chapters following the “dossier” order, he will read it chronologically. It would be like watching Christopher Nolan’s Memento by the chorological order, available in some DVD editions. Personally, I find this idea really interesting, but I also think that this way reduces it strength and impact. What do you think about it?

Matt Kindt.- I agree. I wrote in out of order and the book is designed to be read in the sequence it is printed in – but I put the key in there so you could read it chronologically if you really wanted to. I’ve heard from readers that it is actually rewarding to read it as printed first and then go back and re-read it chronologically using the key – it helps fill in some of the gaps as far as who-is-who and how the characters relate.

David Fernández.- Considering Spy Boy’s geographic locations and historic circumstances, did you make a special effort in documentation? Which sources did you consult?

Matt Kindt.- I read several personal histories of life during World War II. Helen Forrester’s memoirs were particularly good. Many of the stories are based on real people and events and I used this great book that has newspaper headlines for every day of the war, which helped me get the dates and times of event correct.

David Fernández.- At Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers, you picked different histories that couldn’t make it into the first TPB. Are there still histories to tell about these characters?

Matt Kindt.- Yes, I actually had 3 or 4 stories that I published on-line during the year that I did Super Spy and as I was editing the book I felt like they just didn’t fit the narrative. They were characters that really didn’t fit into the larger story. But they worked well on their own so they’ll end up in the Lost Dossiers book along with annotations for Super Spy and a lot of my sketchbook material.

David Fernández.- After Super Spy you embarked yourself into a science-fiction project called End of the world, mixing prose, illustration and comic book. How do you manage to find a balance between all those narrative resources, like at Super Spy? What can you tell us about this collection?

Matt Kindt.- My End of the World novel was the book I did after Super Spy. Super Spy really wore me out – I was really tired of the labor that was involved in making comics after that year so I took the notes I’d had for this novel I’d been thinking about for year and just finished it up. It is much like Super Spy in that the chapters and storytelling are dictated by what is happening. I have comic book pages in it, illustrations – some chapters are written as television screenplays, some as poems – some as annotations on the chapters that came before. It’s all over the place but also really fun. As fun as an end-of-the-world novel can be. But it’s also really my most personal work to date. It follows a husband, his wife and daughter as they travel across the country after the world has ended. I haven’t had time to even show this to a publisher yet as I’ve been working on two new graphic novels for 2009 so once those are done I’ll be able to concentrate on getting that book out as well.

David Fernández.- You have also worked at Michael Chabon’s The Escapist anthology. What can you tell us about the experience?

Matt Kindt.- I was a big fan of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and I got invited to do a story for the Dark Horse anthology – it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed getting to contribute to Michael’s mythology that he’d built up. One of the highlights of my career really.

David Fernández.- Your work with Brett Warnock at Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls has received high praise, and you were nominated to the Eisner Awards. Moore and Gebbie gave you some guidelines, or total freedom? How did you come up with that idea about the format and edition? It was really special.

Matt Kindt.- Well, Alan and Melinda had definite ideas for what they wanted with that book – it was definitely a labor of love for them and I think I was selected to work on the design because of my previous work and they knew that I’d be able to achieve the look they wanted and I was defenitely honored and flattered to work with them.

David Fernández.- Regarding last question, how do you feel about being nominated to the Eisner and Harvey awards? Have you felt any changes, professionally, after the nominations?

Matt Kindt.- I think people tend to pay more attention to your work after having been nominated. It is definintely an honor and it does help increase the audience for my work so I’m always happy for them. Professionally I think it just helps get the attention of editors and publishers. It is defenitely nice to not have to worry about my next book – I know I’ll always have a publisher and a home for my work.

Commissions: classics homage

David Fernández.- How has your style changed through the years? Which aspects make you really proud, and which ones still need some work?

Matt Kindt.- I’ve always loved writing and looking back I think I’m most happy with my stories – I think artistically I’m never happy. As soon as the book is published I am already working on a new project and when I look at the old art I’m always disappointed. I always feel like I could have drawn everything a little better and that my new book will have better art. Which is good in that I think artistically I getting closer to what I envision my art looking like but it definitely makes it hard for me to look at my older work.

David Fernández.- Can you tell us which materials do you use when making comic books?

Matt Kindt.- I use a #2 Kolinsky Sable Hair brush and Sumi Ink for all of the line work. I use water proof Windsor Newton inks for the 2nd color on the two-color work (seen in most of Super Spy) and traditional water colors for the rest of the color. All of the art is done on water color paper.

David Fernández.- What projects do you have in the mid and long term?

Matt Kindt.- I have a book coming out with Dark Horse in September 2009 called 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man as well as another big graphic novel that I can’t announce yet – I’ve only finished 28 pages of it so the publisher want to wait until I’m closer to finishing before they make the announcement.

Five pages of 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man
(click over the images for a bigger size)

David Fernández.- Through all these years you have developed your academic facet at the St. Louis library. You said: “I just want people to get that same little burst of excitement I get every time I get a new idea for a story or pick up a great looking book”. Do you have accomplished that? What has surprised you the most about this initative?

Matt Kindt.- I think so – I got a lot of response from Super Spy, more than any other book I’ve done so far and it was really great. I felt like I’ve finally hit something – connected with a lot of people who are moved the same way I am and excited about the same things. With every book I try to make a book that would be MY absolute favorite – a book that has everything I love in it. The irony of this is that by the time I finish working on the book I’m so tired of it that I can’t enjoy it. But hearing that other people are liking it helps – I can enjoy it vicariously through them.

David Fernández.- In different interviews you have shows really eclectic tastes: from Dan Clowes all the way to Chris Ware, including Grant Morrison, Lewis Trondheim or Will Eisner. Which are the last comic books you have read? Which authors played a greater influence in your work?

Matt Kindt.- I’m really enjoying the Dungeon books by Trondheim, Sfar, etc. I’m also reading or just finished readking: Jack Kirby’s Fourth World stories, Terry and the Pirates, Dick Tracy, re-reading Watchmen, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by Burroughs and Kerouac, and Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice – I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a vampire book so I’ve been trying to read everything out there so I don’t repeat what’s already been done. But now I think that it’s changing from a vampire book into something else so we’ll see!

I’d say that Nabakov (Pale Fire), Philip K. Dick (Man in the High Castle) and Joseph Heller (Catch-22) have been the greatest influences on my work to date.

Super Spy’s web detail (click over the images for a bigger size)

David Fernández.- At this point there’s nothing left but to sincerely thank you for your kindness and patience. We wish you the best of the lucks, both professional and personal.

Matt Kindt.- Thank you so much! I am so happy to have talked to you and look forward to meeting you in person. I hope that your readers enjoy Super Spy!

Previews: Pistolwhip’s world

As we said in the interview, Pistolwhip was one of the first comics that focused the attention on Matt Kindt. With Jason Hall as partner, this creative team created a comic-book full of mistery and noir elements. Here’s a 10 pages preview, published by Top Shelf Productions.

Five pages of Pistolwhip
(click over the image for a bigger size)

Five pages of Pistolwhip
(click over the image for a bigger size)

After Pistolwhip, Jason Hall and Matt Kindt made a new graphic novel titled Pistolwhip: The yellow menace with the same mood and characters of the first comic. Here’s a 10 pages previewas the previous, from Pistolwhip website.

Five pages of Pistolwhip: The yellow menace
(click over the image for a bigger size)

Five pages of Pistolwhip: The yellow menace
(click over the image for a bigger size)

The Art of… Matt Kindt

As well as an information point focused on current and upcoming projects, Matt Kindt’s weblog offers contents such as interesting as the following video. Orignally recorded as support for a «how to make comic books» class it details the artistic process behind a Super Spy page.


Matt Kindt’s official website.
Matt Kindt’s weblog.
Matt Kindt’s Wikipedia entry.
Super Spy Review, published in Zona Negativa.
Super Spy in Norma Editorial USA weblog.

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