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AICN COMICS: Q&@ is our new semi-weekly interview column where some of your favorite @$$Holes interview comic bookdom’s biggest, brightest, newest, and oldest stars. Enjoy this latest in-depth interview filled with @$$y goodness and be sure to look for more AICN COMICS as we gaze into the future of comics every week with AICN COMICS: SPINNER RACK PREVIEWS every Monday and then join the rest of your favorite @$$Holes for their opinions on the weekly pull every Wednesday with AICN COMICS REVIEWS!
Q’s by Humphrey Lee!
@’s by REVOLVER’s Matthew Kindt!
Hello there AICN and Talkback faithful, this is Humphrey Lee here to bring you into some one-on-one time with someone I have come to hold in the highest regard in the world of comics, Mr. Matt Kindt. Hopefully you know of his previous and highly acclaimed materials, such as 2 SISTERS and 3 STORY: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE GIANT MAN. And if you haven’t, well, shame on you. But, you have a chance to redeem yourselves, as his latest Original Graphic Novel and the focus of this Q&A, REVOLVER, will be out via DC’s Vertigo imprint this Wednesday. So, here to bring you gist and a look into the creative process behind REVOLVER, Mr. Matt Kindt.
MATT KINDT (MK): Well, I’d pretty much day-dreamed about doing something for Vertigo since I was in high school. That was back when the original SHADE THE CHANGING MAN was coming out (Peter Milligan) and SANDMAN just started and all of those original crazy titles. But as I broke into comics and ended up doing my own thing I just took a different path into comics through the early PISTOLWHIP books and SUPER SPY and 3 STORY. But a good friend of mine (and editor) at Top Shelf – Brett Warnock knew an editor at Vertigo (Bob Schreck) and so I got into contact with Bob who, unbeknownst to me, was aware of, and had loved my other books. So I ended up showing him my next few book ideas to see if one of them would be a good fit for Vertigo and he picked REVOLVER.
HUMPHREY LEE (HL): Okay sir, first things first: Unless there is some mini-series or whatnot I’m not aware of, this is the first time you’ve done work through the Vertigo line, which seems like it’d be a perfect match for you. What finally brought this about?
My inner geek hadn’t been that excited since I found out my first books were going to be published. Getting letters on DC letterhead and their Christmas gift they send out during the holidays -- man. I completely geeked out. I usually use a pretty thick watercolor paper to do my original art on but I actually had them send me the official DC/Vertigo paper so I could work on it at least once. I’ll never do it again – only because I like the thicker, rougher stock – but I wanted to have those first pages on “official” DC paper.
HL: We’ll keep rolling with another easy one: What would be your quick pitch on REVOLVER for those who may not have known about it until now?MK: Well, a guy wakes up, goes to his horrible day job and watches the world basically fall apart and end around him. He escapes the building and the city along with his boss (who he hates) and struggles to survive. The next day, he wakes up and everything is back to normal. Boring job, horrible boss, etc. He’s wondering what’s going on because he remembers this crazy world and now it’s normal again and nobody else remembers it. He goes to bed again that night, wakes up and he’s back in crazy end-of-the-world again. The book flips back and forth as he tries to get to the bottom of things. Wild dogs, gunfights, rockets, bum-fights, and assassination attempts are all involved.
HL: One thing I wanted to comment on, more on your work in general, is that your material always has such a deliberate progression about it. The pacing is always so meticulous as the panels and pages flow. How hard is it to maintain this? Do you find yourself rewriting sequences a lot to keep this flow?MK: I lay out the entire book first in small thumbnails. That’s really where all the “real” writing happens. I generally know what the dialogue will be about but I don’t even fill all of that in. So yeah, I pace out the entire book first so I can go through and read it page by page in these tiny thumbnails to see how it feels. It’s really important to me that the story be “cartooned” well. I think there’s an art in graphic novels to telling the story that for lack of a better word I call cartooning. I think some artists would get offended by that term but I don’t mean it in a way that describes the style of art but more the actual story telling and how the action flows. Jeff Smith, Darwyn Cooke, and Christopher Blain are masters at this. It’s all about pacing and what action you show and the stuff between the panels that you decide not to show. It’s the trickiest part of comics I think. Every once in a while you read something and it’s like – what? What happened here? Sometimes it’s an awkward transition or just a case of maybe needing one more panel to space out some action.
HL: Running with that, I have also noticed that, to be quite honest, your stuff tends to be a bit on the melancholic side. Is there a reason why you think your material leans toward this? Are you okay? Would you like a kitten?MK: Ha! Yeah…no. I’m allergic to cats and dogs so maybe that’s my problem. It’s funny. My friends will joke about how if a story isn’t sad enough I won’t like it. But seriously I think I’m pretty happy almost all of the time so I’m doing these books to sort of make myself feel something different – and balance myself out. I have an awesome wife, a great daughter and I’m super happy in my marriage. We don’t have money worries (any more) and I’m doing exactly the work I like to do every day. I couldn’t be happier. When I start doing super happy comics – that’s when you should probably worry about my personal life.
I think it also might be an issue I have with graphic novels as a medium though. When I read a really good novel or see a great movie I can be moved to (almost) tears. I refuse to cry if I can help it. But the point is, these two other mediums can push me to that point where I am fighting the urge to cry. So, that said, I’ve read thousands of hours worth of comics but there’s been one comic that ever made me feel that lump in my throat (ESSEX COUNTY Book 2 by Jeff Lemire). So I think I’ve made it one of my unconscious (and now conscious as I talk about it) goals to create a book where you can really feel something. Where you can make those characters feel real.
I’ve read prose novels before where I actually close the book at the end and feel like I’m going to miss a fictional character. I’m sad that I won’t see that person again – even though they’re not real. There isn’t a comic that’s ever done that for me. So I’m trying to make it happen. I think I’m getting closer but I’m not sure I’m there yet.
HL: After delving into REVOLVER, there seems to be a lot of themes at play; the fight against complacency in our lives juxtaposed against the problems we as people have adjusting to change and tragedy, the base fear that we seem so exposed to each day in a post-9/11 world, and on and on. If there was any one particular theme you were aiming for here, what would it be?MK: I think that’s pretty much it. To wake up in your life and do what you want to do – not what you feel like you’ve got to do. But I hate even saying that. I think if you go into a book thinking about what theme you want to get across you end up beating the reader over the head with it. So, going into this book, like all of them, I don’t think, “I need to get people to wake up and start living their lives!” I really did just start with this basic idea of “what if?” What if you could try out this different life where you could do anything. Ditch your job and your girlfriend, sleep with your boss, and shoot somebody and see where that gets you. If no one in you “normal” life knows you did it and only you know…does that change you as a person? So any of those other themes are perfectly valid but I think those are just a byproduct of the “what if.”
The main feeling of this book sort of sprang from how my life sort of turned out. I’d spent ten years working as a graphic designer in different corporate environments, and while I generally liked the people I worked with, the day-to-day work ended up sort of crushing me. Turning out designs for who-cares-what day after day was just too much after a while. I ended up getting laid off from my last job seven years ago and it sort of forced me into this life choice of doing comics full time and just making it work. I’ve done a few books since those old jobs but this is the first one where I felt like I was ready to address some of that horribleness of the daily grind. I named Sam’s boss “Jan” as a sort of joking reference to the character on “The Office” but she’s really just an amalgam of a few different people I’ve worked with. Same with most of the characters in the book.
HL: As you laid out earlier, the main character of REVOLVER, Sam, finds himself each time he wakes up on either side of two realities. This is represented by a clock running at 11:11 to symbolize this switchover. To me this kind of harkens to, say, “Groundhog Day”, but I tend to read way too much into things. This brings me to ask though, are there any media influences that kind of permeated REVOLVER into being? It definitely feels like one of those works where elements of it feel familiar, but I’ve also never read anything quite like it.MK: That’s a tough one. I read a ton of books and watch just as many movies so I’m sure there’s a little of everything in there subliminally. 11:11 had a weird personal significance to my wife and I and as I was writing the story I liked the idea of it being a perfectly symmetrical number that you could flip horizontally and end up with the same time. It fit the theme.
As for other media, I’m sure you could name a bunch of things and I’d be like “oh yeah, I see that.” But again, I’m not so much aware of how that feeds into my work. Somebody mentioned FIGHT CLUB to me a couple weeks ago and I could see it after the fact. The difference there though, is that Tyler Durden was this sort of sublimated personality that worked in his subconscious where in REVOLVER, Sam is fully conscious of his decisions. I think that’s an important distinction because I think that’s a little more interesting. It’s more real I think. You go through your life and you make these often contradictory life decisions – either contradicting what you say you believe or just outright doing one thing and then doing another that is the moral opposite. So you lead this conscious double life.
I definitely see that in myself and in art as well. Here’s the thing I struggle with – I love violence in movies. I don’t know what it is but I loved bullets and gunfights and explosions. But as an author I feel like if I’m going to portray that kind of violence, it has to seem real. I don’t want it to be stylized or glorified. I want it to be as horrible as it would be in real life. So on one hand, I love watching Peckinpah and things like “Battle Royale” where the violence is just crazy over the top. But when I’m responsible for portraying it I feel like there has to be consequences to it all or I’m just glorifying violence.
HL: Also running with the changeovers, when these realities shift so does the tone of the monochrome scheme. Is that element the main reason you decided to go with that palette instead of full color? Because other than 3 STORY I don’t think I’ve ever really seen you do color and wonder if you prefer to “drab it up” in general working like that or in black and white. Again, I present the kitten offer.MK: My eyes are watering at the thought of cat dander right now. It was definitely a conscious choice for this particular book because of the story. To me, the story is king and it needs to drive every other artistic decision, from lettering to color, to cover and design. I liked the idea of having these two worlds that Sam flips between and it being sort of these “black and white” choices. But doing this book completely in black and white I think would have made it a little harder to interpret. So I chose a couple colors that could work together and apart. The dark brown and dark blue can work as line art and also work as a 20% screen to support the other color to add the secondary tones, etc. So yeah, short answer is yes – content of the story made me just want to leach all of the color out of the book. 3 STORY had a more fantastical aspect to it so the color I think works – but even looking at SUPER SPY – it’s full color but those color are pretty muted and do shift depending on what country the story takes place. It’s only full color during the few scenes that take place once World War II is over.
HL: One of the other elements that runs through REVOLVER that I thought was both interesting and subtle was the little news ticker running across the bottom of each page, with a stat highlighted to also denote the page number. Where did this come from, and what exactly were you going for with this besides a unique way of numbering the book’s pages?MK: During the writing of this book I probably had enough extra material and story lines to fill another 600 pages. But at the end of the day when I figured out what the main story was going to be I think it ended up diluting the power of Sam’s plight. If I’d added all of those extra elements into the main book it would have become this big decompressed storyline with a bunch of different threads. Maybe not a bad thing, but not what I ended up wanting to go for.
I’d finished the book and then as my editor was editing it, I was watching the news and reading the annoying ticker at the bottom that makes it so you can’t concentrate fully on either the newscaster or the thing you’re reading. And I thought – how could I make that happen in REVOLVER? I liked the idea of splitting the reader into two different reading experiences to sort of mimic what happens to Sam and also fit in all of this world-building back story. The only space left on the page was where the page numbers were going to be…so many hours later after I’d driven myself crazy, I’d combined the page numbers into a news ticker that also tried to be semi-relevant to the action on the page it appeared on.
HL: Anything else you would like to say about this book? Any other commentaries on what’s inside and what you were going for, or the process of bringing it to life via the Vertigo offices?MK: Hmm. Well, I almost changed the title to FLIP FLOP after I inked page 114 where Sam wears his flip-flops into the office. My wife talked me out of even mentioning that to my editor. I still like it…it cracks me up. But that might just be a side effect of too many hours at the drawing table.
HL: Okay, so, big question time. I’ve asked you a bunch about themes and reflections on life and since one of the biggest themes of this book is about one’s place in it I’ll bite: How do you feel about what you’ve done? In comics that is, I’m not prying about personal life here (kitten jokes aside). You’ve produced some fantastic works, you’ve won some awards, and I’d like to think more knowledgeable readers know and appreciate your stuff greatly. You think you’ve got anything left to prove? To yourself and/or the industry? Maybe a little more recognition would be nice, yes?MK: Here’s the thing. Every time I start working on a new book I make a list. It usually goes something like this: “pirates, treasure, rockets, spies, giants, end of the world, hidden messages, and something super sad.” And then I take all of these things that I love or I’m interested in and try to make a book that would be my perfect book – the book I’d see on the shelf in the bookstore and think “this book has everything I would ever want in a book.” So I guess I don’t know if I’m trying to prove anything or just desperately trying to entertain myself. The irony of all of that is, by the time I’m done with a book I’m so tired of working on it and seeing it that I never want to see it again. It’s not like I can pick up my own book and sit down and enjoy it. So what the books end up being to me are these strange artifacts of me trying to make my perfect book.
Recognition is always good in that it gets people to notice the books. My goal is just to be self-sustaining – sell enough books that I can just keep doing exactly what I’m doing. I spend half the day just basically daydreaming which is all writing really is and I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do.