Matt Kindt Announces Dept. H, A Deep Sea Survivalist Murder Mystery

Comics Features Matt Kindt
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If Mind MGMT—Matt Kindt’s winding epic about men and women with the cognitive power to manipulate reality and those who would stop them—expanded out into a global onslaught of cities to emphasize the series’ blockbuster scope, his new project ranks up the tension and pressure by drilling deep and under. Announced today at Comic-Con International, Matt will both write and pencil the new Dark Horse monthly Dept. H, a murder mystery that takes place in a sabotaged deep-sea observatory. Sharlene Kindt, Matt’s wife who provided coloring and direction on this gorgeous Mind MGMT cover, will provide watercolors.

The plot follows Mia, a secret agent posing as a journalist, as she ventures into the Challenger Deep to investigate a homicide among the 100-strong crew. Her investigation pivots to a fight for survival as an act of vandalism sends her and her stranded researchers into a desperate search for a way to survive a two-week period before the station floods. The Kindts will embrace real-time storytelling as each issue takes place over 24-hours, adding a new tension to the suffocating pressure encroaching on the characters. Like a cross between sci-fi Jack London, The Abyss and the criss-cross espionage of Kindt’s previous material, there is no element of this new project we’re not ecstatically awaiting. (And is that a sea monster we spy?!)

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While in the process of inking the last issue of Mind MGMT, Matt shared the first cover of Dept. H and discussed his fear of the deep seas, his love of Jacques Cousteau and how this project, set to debut this winter, is challenging him after decades in the industry.
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Paste: So what exactly is Dept. H?
Matt Kindt: Dept. H is my next ongoing series. I’m taking the summer off to write the whole thing, or as much as I can, and then I’ll start drawing it in the fall. It’s basically an underwater adventure/murder mystery. This woman gets tasked with going down to the deepest underwater base in the world to figure out what happened when somebody’s murdered down there. The series starts out with her getting into this weird sub designed to go down that deep, then investigating the murder. The whole series is structured around her investigation. The series takes place in real time, but is released monthly. It’ll follow her and the crazy stuff that happens down there, and the mystery and then some other weird stuff I can’t spoil.

My wife, who taught me how to watercolor, is going to watercolor this one. So I’m going to be doing all the drawing, and she’s going to be doing all the painting over the top.

Paste: I saw the recent Doctor Strange commission you worked on with her.
Kindt: She uses a different kind of watercolor than I do that gets those crazy, bright colors. We’re going to do a mix of more subdued stuff, and then there are going to be parts of the story that call for crazy, bonkers over-the-top color. She can do both of those—I don’t really like using bright color. She’s well-suited for it.

Paste: The last time I spoke with you, I listed all the projects you were on and how busy you seem. Not much has changed. You’d told me, “What else am I going to do?” When you’re looking at a new book after working under every scope of project available (mini comics, creator-owned, Big Two), are you actively searching to tackle new storytelling approaches or elements, or do the ideas just come organically?
Kindt: I just have a running list of ideas of different things I want to work on. Working on Mind MGMT was long, and it took so long that these ideas built up over time. I thought maybe some of these ideas I like more than others. I think how I tell it is always a product of what the story is. I try to pick a story that I think is interesting or I think would be fun, and then let the story dictate how it’s going to be told, which is an approach I’ve tried to take my whole life. Let the story dictate the structure, how it unfolds. In comics, specifically, the story suggests ways that comics can be pushed in new directions, and how you can use pictures and words. That’s basically a wide-open art form. You can do anything. Put some pictures in any combination. That’s the part that’s exciting to me—how limitless the possibilities are, as you sit at your table and think all day.

Paste: The more read I read your comics, the more I realize how important a sense of place is to your narratives. It’s often one of the most important characters in your books, thinking back to the myriad international stops in Mind MGMT, the rotating universes of Revolver and even the psychedelic fun-house of Marvel Knights: Spider-Man. These places also define and provide a kind of relief to the characters, like Henry Lyme in Zanzibar. Now we’re going underwater. What attracted you to the deep blue sea? Does it reflect the characters in some way?
Kindt: Definitely. I think the most exciting thing to me, other than coming up with the story idea, is where it’s going to take place. A lot of it is I’m going to have to draw that place. I’m going to have to draw the environment. Comics is a visual medium; having something take place in an office or in an American city is super boring to me because we see that all the time. Again, the story dictates location as well, and what makes sense.

But with Dept. H and the underwater stuff, my greatest fear is drowning. That’s something I’ve always been intrigued by. Jacques Costeau is someone who I’ve always really loved, and he did that documentary back in the late ‘60s about the deep-sea base he made. I watched that I thought Whoa. It just made me sick to my stomach. I think it’s fun to play around with that stuff. I’m taking Scuba diving lessons, which I’m terrified of. I can swim. I’m not terrified of water. I’m scared of being underwater, I guess. Even snorkeling freaks me out for a second, until I’ve learned to trust the snorkel. I think there’s a lot of stuff there I want to deal with, as far as psychology.

I also love that the ocean is our last unexplored wilderness. It’s like the wild west…but underwater. I think there’s a lot going on down there. There’s more than we even know and have ever seen. I think that’s always appealed to me too, as a kid. NASA going into space is awesome and seeing other planets, but man if we could figure out how to go deeper, there’s a lot of stuff we could see here. We’re digging, hoping for something alive on Mars—there’s the weirdest things alive on earth in water that we haven’t found yet.

Paste: It was only within the last few years that we’ve mapped it all. Did you research much? Was there anything you found especially interesting?
Kindt: I’m actually in the process of doing that now. That’s part of my summer—doing a ton of research. Basically I got the story, but now I have to figure out the details. I’m doing a ton of research, finding out about all of these crazy creatures that we’re still finding. I’m actually doing a bunch of research just on survivability—like how deep you can go and the problems with being down that far, and how creatures can adapt to that extreme environment. All that’s going to play into it. I’m doing a ton of research into that to see how it’s going to play into the story.

Paste: Right—on a more pragmatic level, the story revolves around scientists attempting to survive on a sabotaged underwater station. How far is Dept. H going to veer into engineering, something akin to The Martian?
Kindt: It’s going to be a little bit like that. The beauty of the series is that there’s not going to be a way to save the base that’s filling up. I like the idea that every month the water gets a little bit deeper. Literally, it gets deeper. There’s going to be design elements to track the rise of the water, sort of this impending doom. So every month there’s going to be a little gauge at the edge of the paper. So when you collect the whole book or you stack the issues up, you’ll be able to see the water on the edge of the pages rising.

The problem with Mind MGMT is that I put every idea I could think of twisting comics around. So coming up with something is…hard [laughs], without repeating myself. But I’m trying.

Paste: Speaking of, you have this constraint—each issue covers 24 hours. Why take this approach? Did you personally want to challenge yourself?
Kindt: I think so. I love the format of a monthly comic. I love that you have this finite amount of time to get this piece of a story put out there, and have to work on its own, but also be part of a bigger thing. That was something that was interesting to me, but also the idea that this whole thing is finite. Her space that she’s living in is finite, it’s ticking down. You’re not going to get six issues of flashbacks and then go back to the main story. I want it to be more of an intense experience, a little more action-oriented. A little more immediate.

Paste: The general impression I’m getting is that you write without releasing until you have the whole story mapped in your head, which is something I generally associate with designers. But when you work this far in advance, do you ever think of new developments that you wish you would have had, but you can’t capitalize on because it would contradict past continuity?
Kindt: That’s part of the design of the books, too. With Mind MGMT and then this, I’m hopefully going to write out the scripts for the whole thing ahead of time. A couple years worth at least. But with Mind MGMT and how I usually structure things, I try to leave some wiggle room. Here are the main beats we’re going to hit, and then leave a little room for extra ideas. You are married to those bigger beats, but if you can structure it right, you can fit in some extra ideas or some things that occur to you on the way.

The nature of comics is like that. You sit down and you write it, you write a couple drafts, but then you’re drawing it for a few weeks, and then during those few weeks your’e thinking about it. You’re literally staring at it every day. It’s impossible not to come up with more ideas just because of the way the process works. That’s why it’s extra fun to write and draw the thing, because I’m thinking about it 1,000 times more than if I were just writing it.

The inside front covers on the single issues would be like an outlet for some extra ideas I had. And then even some of the backup stories gave me a chance to elaborate on things that I didn’t have time to hit on the main storyline or other ideas. A lot of that stuff was planned at the beginning, but then as I went along I kept a running list of ideas for some things I wanted to hit so it wouldn’t disrupt the main narrative, but I could still fit it in and use it to stitch the bigger story together, and add some backstory or some shading to some things that I wouldn’t have maybe been able to do otherwise.

Paste: So Mind MGMT. has Meru and Dept. H. has another two-consonant M-name female journalist—Mia. Are the works in dialogue within one another? Or is this just the best way to start any spy story?
Kindt: Every book I’ve ever done is connected. In my mind they’re all in the same universe. So there’s a loose connection, but there’s not a literal connection between her and Meru. I like writing female characters because they’re different than me. I think when I was first starting doing mini-comics and autobiographical stuff, I was really just writing me. I was writing this character and the character’s thoughts were my thoughts. Early on, I decided that could kind of boring, boring to read. So I unconsciously tried to pick a character who’s the opposite of me, or different than me and pushes me outside my comfort zone, makes it a little harder and makes me think a little more. Having characters with different backgrounds who aren’t me. Having a girl instead of a guy immediately makes it more interesting. As a writer, stuff like that is more of what I’m thinking about. Trying to put another hurdle in front of myself that I can jump over.

Paste: Describing your work can be difficult because pragmatic elements like government agencies and political philosophy dovetail so seamlessly with surrealism, and your visuals are incredibly stylized. What media were you into as a kid? How about now?
Kindt: When I was a kid I read everything. Pulp, science-fiction. I read almost every Philip K. Dick book. I’m saving a couple because there aren’t not many left, so I’m saving some so I don’t run out. I read all the Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. Any crime fiction from the ‘40s and ‘50s was my favorite. I read every kind of pulpy thing ever. I was a fan of The Shadow and Doc Savage, and that was all the way up through high school. I was also reading every Marvel and DC comic I could get my hands on. That’s how I grew up.

I hit college and I was starting to hate superhero comics, and I think I just didn’t like comics anymore. I stopped reading, but then I went to the Chicago Comic Con back in ’92 or ’93, where I picked up the first couple issues of Eightball [by Daniel Clowes], which had just come out. I remember reading those on the way home, and I was like ‘oh, I don’t hate comics. I’m not sick of comics. I’m sick of superhero stuff. It opened my eyes to different genres and different things you can do with comics. When I was reading those, I thought ‘here’s something that’s still fun, it’s still pulpy, but there are no capes.’ It didn’t have to fit into the superhero genre.

That got me interested, and I was reading a bunch of other stuff, too: Hate [by Peter Bagge] and pretty much everything Fantagraphics put out. This is why I went all the way to the opposite [spectrum] and was just doing autobiographical comics, and then I started getting bored of doing those. I was getting bored of real-life stuff, and then I figured that I’d take that stuff and add spies and sci-fi back into it, and then it’s more fun to draw and it’s more fun to write. It’s definitely more fun to read. That’s sort of what formed me—what I am now. I love genre, I love the trappings of it and I love the way it looks. The visuals are so great. That’s the candy coating I put my other stories in. The stories I’m telling could be in any genre. I just pick something that’s fun to draw and to look at, and then hopefully it helps further the idea and the story as well.

Now I mostly read stuff like reference and nonfiction for inspiration and for research. I’ll dip in—I’ll read comics now and again. But I mostly don’t have as much time to read for fun anymore. I read for work. Even though work is fun!

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