Jeff Lemire Interviews Comic Soulmate Matt Kindt on his Upcoming Undersea Epic, Dept. HComics Features Jeff Lemire
Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt have followed such similar career paths that you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were coordinated since childhood. Both cartoonists released their first major project through publisher Top Shelf (Essex County and—eventually—Lost Dogs for Lemire and Pistolwhip for Kindt) before embarking on a series of critically lauded projects that have accumulated enough awards to deplete a gold mine. The pair later traversed the indie hemisphere with catchy genre work for major publishers, sometimes working on the same titles or collaboratively; Kindt guest illustrated Lemire’s post-apocalyptic tearjerker Sweet Tooth at Vertigo and both creators took turns writing DC’s Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. The pair also helms headline titles at publisher Valiant and co-wrote the excellent summer event of the same name. More fundamentally, Kindt and Lemire fill their angular, hyper-stylized linework with vibrant characters that power stories through sheer emotion. It’s a safe bet that if a website or magazine releases a comics best-of-the-year list, the works of Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt will be on it.
Both creators are also on the cusp of producing striking new series through Dark Horse, the same publisher that released Kindt’s epic Mind MGMT till it wrapped last August. Lemire’s prepping Black Hammer as illustrator Dean Ormston has thankfully recovered from an injury sustained last year. The ongoing follows a makeshift family of golden age superheroes trapped in a small town they’re inexplicably unable to leave. And as Paste revealed last July, Kindt is hard at work on Dept. H—an underwater murder mystery water-colored by Sharlene Kindt—with a street date of April 27.
Matt Kindt, Sharlene Kindt, and Jeff Lemire
Lemire took advantage of his telepathic bond with Kindt to discuss the process and inspiration behind Dept. H, a world that blends marine biology, Herman Melville and whodunnit tension into a jaw-dropping vista of color and mood. Check back in a few months when Kindt will interview Lemire on Black Hammer.
Jeff Lemire: Matt, what is it like constantly being in my shadow?
Matt Kindt: Your shadow is like standing in a withered and decrepit patch of lifeless earth.
Lemire: Joking aside (wasn’t really joking) are/were you a big Jules Verne fan? I can’t help but think of 20,000 Leagues when I see Dept. H. Were there any other influences on the book? The Abyss? Leviathan? Underwater Welder?
Kindt: I’ve always been obsessed with underwater adventure and the trappings that go with it. From Verne and the Nautilus to these “Adventure People” toys I had as a kid—that had boats and skin-divers and submarines that they could go in. I’d sit in the bathtub and play with those things until the water was freezing cold and I had to get out. I just really think the visuals of all of that stuff are really appealing, especially the old diving suits with the big brass helmets. I think that influence came from Tin Tin and the shark submarine and the diving suits in that series. Mix that with all of the James Bond underwater action and that’s probably the perfect recipe for what I’m doing now.
Dept. H Cover Art by Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt
Mixing all of that with crime stories, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, etc. kind of made this series a must for me. Like every project I’ve done, I’m just trying to make this perfect blend of all the things I love and am excited about. The “locked room” mystery trope is something I’ve never really felt compelled to play with, but halfway through creating this series I realized that’s almost exactly what it was. Not a locked room per se, but an extreme location so far removed from the rest of the world that it creates a kind of virtual locked room.
Oh! And Underwater Welder.
Dept. H Interior Art by Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt
Lemire: This is your first time fully collaborating with your wife, Sharlene, who will be doing the painted colors on Dept H. Was there a learning curve for her to adapt to painting your drawings? And did you adapt your drawing style at all for her with Dept H.?
Kindt: Yes to all of that. She’s a fantastic painter and doesn’t really need any guidance, but painting a story is slightly different than anything she’d done before. There’s storytelling involved with color choices and technique. We end up having long conversations over each issue, discussing color choices and story and the feeling and emotion we’re trying to convey in each scene. It’s been really fun to game-plan the color for each issue. And my style is changing, but I really think it’s in reaction to the story more than having her painting it. I was consciously using a lot of heavy blacks and spotting it a lot more to get across the claustrophobic nature of the surroundings. They’re six miles deep in the ocean and there’s no light down there unless you bring it with you. So we’ve had a lot of fun playing with that—using heavy blacks, and then purposefully opening it up. We’ll have some pages with no black as they go out into the ocean and make some fantastic discoveries and observe the wildlife that’s living down there. I think having a collaborator like Sharlene on color has really helped me think more about how color works in service of the story. Being forced to have these out-loud conversations about it is a great way to really think things through more than I normally would have.
I think she was probably more nervous than I was at the start, painting over my inks. But I trust her and she did great. I’m painting a book with Brian Hurtt (Poppy!) and just watercoloring over his inked pages, and every once in a while I’ll stop myself and think, “maybe I should scan this in before I paint it just in case I screw it up…!” But I don’t. I just keep putting paint down on it.
I think when you’re painting over someone else’s art you have to go into it with a willful and careless disregard to the line art in some ways. To not be tentative—just go for it and do what you do and trust your experience. Sharlene’s doing that and it’s turning out great. It’s really fun to see the art coming together, and it’s something I could never achieve on my own—new choices and different ideas that are making it something greater than the sum of its parts.
Dept. H Interior Art by Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt
Lemire: The character designs in Dept H. are incredible. I can tell you had a lot of fun designing the world and its characters. Is this something you’ve been cooking for a while? When did the idea first come to you?
Kindt: I was watching the Cousteau documentary World Without Sun about his deep-sea base and it was just amazing. The lengths they had to go to, just to survive down there, and the wonder and curiosity that drives that kind of expedition. And more recently I was watching James Cameron’s documentary about the deepest dive in history, and I kind of saw some parallel thinking to ideas I’d been having since the Challenger disaster in the ‘80s. I love space travel but I look at Earth and see these vast oceans full of life and we’ve barely scratched the surface. I think we are so obsessed with finding even the smallest sign of life out in our solar system when we’ve still barely discovered all that Earth has on it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love space travel too—but I think deep sea exploration gets sort of forgotten about in the excitement to explore space. Those sort of opposing exploratory ideas end up being one of the big conflicts in the series.
The character designs always grow out of the story as it begins to get populated. I think early on I really wanted to have an Indian main character and her family. It was really great to use this story as an excuse to get closer to several of my Indian friends and tap into their family life and culture and use real life as the inspiration for them. I’m uncomfortably shy most of the time when it comes to anything but small talk, so having this story as a sort of gateway to ask more personal questions has actually helped strengthen my friendships and understanding.
The big tattooed guy “Q” was inspired by Queequeg in Moby Dick. I always love the visual of that character and thought drawing a bunch of tattoos would be fun. I wanted to have a little more fun with all of the suits, gadgets and equipment. I’m trying to base all of the series on plausible science, but then ratcheted up maybe 10%. So I liked the idea of making these deep sea diving suits that have an odd shape to sort of deflect the intense pressure of the water and also make them seem a little more organic so they have large cilia on their backs to help with movement and they’re more crablike in appearance. I think visually that was the biggest breakthrough for me. To push the visuals to an extreme so that the suits and equipment, out of context, look either alien or organic.