Looking Backward

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Following up on the success of his critically-acclaimed Pistolwhip books with collaborator Jason Hall, artist Matt Kindt wanted to do a bit of his own writing. For the past two years, he's been working on a book entitled 2 Sisters, which was finally released by Top Shelf just this past Wednesday. To coincide with the book's release, we sat down with Matt to get an overview of his career path, past, present and future.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Where exactly did your drive to become a comic artist begin? Did it start as you were growing up, reading various superhero books?
Yeah, my brother was 6 years older than me and he was totally into comics. So I’d sneak into his room and into his closet and he’d have these immaculate stacks of comics--lots of X-Men…all of the 70’s Marvel stuff.
Simultaneously I was just really interested in reading almost everything. I picked up reprints of the old Doc Savage pulp stories and this great old hardcover version of Arabian Nights, pretty much anything I could get my hands on.
And I was always writing. I remember making up these elaborate short action adventure stories with my friends starring as the main characters and then I’d give them copies to read. They were really just terrible stream-of-consciousness adventure stories but I filled up notebooks with that stuff.

BF: How did this passion for comics and storytelling then contribute to your decision to go into graphic design?
It was definitely a kind of unspoken stress put on me that if I was going to go into something art-related, I’d have to make money at it. Really I didn’t know that much about any kind of art industry at all and the one thing I stumbled on was design. It seemed like the one field that you could get a “real” job in. And in the back of my mind I figured it’d be good experience in the technical side of comics.
So I ended up going to Webster University in St. Louis, got a BA there and a great fine art background with some design classes. It ended up just being the best combination of classes and experiences I could have had. And I met my future-wife there, which was a huge plus.  

BF: How did your artistic style then develop into what it is today, and how would you define your style?
I’d pretty much moved directly from drawing and writing superhero comics to the other end of the spectrum once I hit college, making pseudo-autobiographical comics that were really depressing and just your typical art-school student autobio comics. So I started photocopying these and putting them together and distributing them (Liquid Paper, Kook, and Pie-Hole) to shops here locally, and luckily sold only a few. It was while I was doing these comics that my wife suggested I do something a little more polished and “cartoony”.
So I tried to come up with the most streamlined cartoony, Disney-looking thing I could think of, something with a catchy, comic book-sounding name, and the first strips I did were called “Mitch Pistolwhip”. They’re not that great in hindsight but it was definitely the breakthrough in my art style. It was so much easier and quicker to draw with a clean line and get rid of all the cross-hatching and style crutches I’d always used. I haven’t been the same since. I guess I would define my style as a failed-Disney (Carl Barks) rip-off.

BF: How did these style changes shape your early attempts at making comics?
I was working this really corporate design job and was hating it, and I was making comics about it and hating them, and I realized I needed to make comics that would make me happy, something I’d actually want to read when I was done with it. So I literally just came up with a laundry list of all the things I liked in books, movies life, etc.I really do have a notebook page somewhere that says “old-fashioned diving suit, circus freaks, bell hop uniform, radio shows” and then I just wrote a story with all of that in it.

BF: And that of course evolved into Pistolwhip, your first major foray into comics and a book that has a unique publishing history. It originally started out as a short story, if I’m not mistaken.
I wrote the first chapter of Pistolwhip as a 24-page comic. Everyone died in the end and that was it. I showed it to a few people and mailed a copy to Jason [Hall] who I’d just become friends with and he really liked it but was like “is that it?” and I said uh…yeah. But he really wanted to see more so I did 100 more pages and added all the Human Pretzel conspiracy stuff in. In hindsight it was a pretty scary writing process. I’d never done a comic book story more than 40 pages or so, so it was really a challenge for my work ethic.

BF: So the shape it was taking changed when you showed it to Jason Hall. How did he end up collaborating with you then on the project?
By the time I’d finished the book, Jason and I had begun talking a lot via the internet and he’d come out with his wife to visit a few times and we really had a great time. He had this fantastic story (which became Mephisto and the Empty Box) which I really wanted to do, and it seemed easier to team up with him then to just take his idea and get rid of him (body disposal and all that hassle). So we decided to integrate our two “worlds”. I really liked a lot of his ideas so we just decided to do the Mephisto story as a companion piece to Pistolwhip and try to sell them both together to potential publishers.

BF: Now Hall’s contribution to the first Pistolwhip book wasn’t a typical writer role with you as artist, am I correct? At that point, it was still mostly your story, and Hall was helping flesh out the world around it.
I’d pretty much finished all of the art and story and then we began hashing out ideas for a series of books. That’s when we went back in and added a few little secret society touches and what-not. I also asked him to write the radio-play text pages that serve as chapter breaks and he really ran with it. They ended up being really funny and great.

BF: However, on Mephisto, as well as on the sequel Pistolship: The Yellow Menace, the roles were more traditional. He wrote, you provided art.
Yeah, it was a little like doing comics traditionally. We kind of worked out a system of checks and balances to keep us both happy. We’d talk about a general plot and throw ideas around until we came up with something we both liked. Then he’d take it away and then a few weeks later send me a rough outline of the story, which I’d make suggestions on, etc. and then he’d take it back and come up with the full script. We’d tweak things here and there along the way and then I’d pencil the pages and letter it. He’d take a look and offer layout suggestions and we’d go back and forth a little bit and realize a page needed adding here or there. Then, a few months later I’d have the inked pages done.

BF: How did you end up with Top Shelf as your publisher? Did you shop the project around, or did you have your sights set on them from the get-go?
We were really interested in anybody that was interested in us truthfully. We were pretty much “nobody” in the business, so we just made really elaborate mock-ups of the books with a cover letter and gave out probably 15 or 20 of these packages to creators and publishers at the San Diego Comicon. We’d talk about who would likely be interested and, while we liked Top Shelf, we weren’t sure they’d like something with the pulpy noir feel that we had. They ended up calling a couple weeks after the con!

BF: Since the publication of Pistolwhip, it has received some pretty outstanding praise from critics, including being listed on Time’s top ten comics list in 2001 and some award nominations. What was your reaction to that?
It was great! It just totally gets you pumped up to create more and come out with the next book. There’s nothing like the feeling of spending a year of your life on something and then hearing from people that enjoyed your work. It almost makes up for the year you spend alone at the drafting table doubting yourself and wondering why you’re wasting your life away in the basement.

BF: And Mephisto has drawn similar attention, since it has been optioned as a film.
Yeah, that was really a great surprise. The option ran out this year but they extended it and things are looking good. They’ve got an experienced screenwriter working on it so we’re hoping to hear even more good news by the end of the year! 

BF: Your newest book, 2 Sisters, is one you’ve apparently been ruminating on for quite some time. I found an interview from early 2002 when you first mentioned the project.
It’s been percolating for a while, yeah. I was really just itching to get back to writing and I wanted to try something bigger than I’d ever done before. The story just really evolved from a lot of disparate ideas I’d had for a while and things I’d wanted to try with comics.
I really feel like I need comics to be something that can’t be duplicated in any other medium. Otherwise why spend all the time on the drawing? So I put a lot of strange things into it that felt wouldn’t be transferable to film or novels or any other medium. It took me a year to write, pencil, draw and ink it, and it was really done back in September of 2003 but Top Shelf’s publication schedule was really packed so that gave me some more time to just fine-tune a few things and work on a book design that was a little different than other things I’ve done. 

BF: How so?
Well, when the book comes out, you’ll see there isn’t a wasted page in the book. From the cover to the back cover, it is all story. The cover is the first panel and the inside cover is the second, and the title page is the third panel of the comic and if you turn the book over, the back cover is the last page of the book. It’s all story.  

BF: Your website describes 2 Sisters as follows: “Over 330 pages, it spans not only the globe but time as well. From Ancient Greece, to Pirate times, to 1940's England . It's got everything from V-2 rockets, turncoats and spying hi-jinks to pirate gold, romance and a tooth filled with cyanide. The story is told in a serpantine fashion, pushing the medium of comics into frightening realms and jumping from time and place to bring the fractured story to a startling conclusion.”
Would you care to elaborate on that description?

Not really. There’s just a lot of little twists and things, so the less you know going in, the better. Pirates, spies, rockets…what else do you need?! Seriously, other than that, it’s best you go in blind.
If you really want to get a feel for it, you can read the first 20 pages of 2 Sisters at my new website here: http://www.supersecretspy.com/main.html
In addition to this book I will be putting out short stories periodically that will directly tie-in to 2 Sisters. Every character you see in 2 Sisters, even if they’re just walking by in the background has a story already. So I’ll be busy telling all of those over the next few years. The first one of these stories is in the Prophecy Anthology which you can find here: http://www.prophecymagazine.com/ and it’s a full-color 6-page stand-alone story.

BF: What types of people do you think would most be drawn to this new book?
In the back of my mind, I guess I was hoping to draw more female readership into comics. I guess I’m hoping to get people like my wife, who love to read but not necessarily read comics. So I tried to make the book something thoughtful and quietly moving that she would like.
I hype it as a spy/pirate/thriller, but that’s truthfully just kind of funny to me. Sure, that stuff is in there, but the story is really just about two sisters with some problems that need working out. The rest is window dressing to get you to pick it up!

BF: Will you be doing any special promotions for the book’s release such as signings?
I’ll be at the Wizard World con in Chicago this year as well as the Comicon in San Diego (at the Top Shelf booth…come and visit)! If you do see me in person, I’m giving out some really fun hand-printed promo stuff that actually has story content and will just add another layer of meaning to the 2 Sisters book. You can see them at my website too.

BF: Do you and Jason Hall intend to continue collaborating, either on additional stories set in the Pistolwhip universe or on other projects?
Sure. We’ve got an outline for the next few Pistolwhip stories, and we’ll be hooking up to do those as soon as we both have some free time at the same time.

BF: What other projects can we expect to see from you in the future?
I just finished working on a 14-page full color story for Michael Chabon’s The Escapist comic from Dark Horse. It was really fun and I had a great time. And it was the first time I’ve ever timed myself…so now I know I could write, pencil, ink and color a 24 page comic in 3 weeks! They also asked me to do the cover design for the second trade and I just finished that as well.
Also in the pipeline I’ve got a 60 page science-fiction story that is penciled and ready to ink that has just been sitting on my table, waiting for me to have time. I’m designing a 3-volume set of hardcover books for Alan Moore’s Lost Girls series (from Top Shelf at the end of the year).
And I’m doing another color story for an anthology this summer which will be a non-fiction piece…which I’ll tell you more about once the contracts are signed!

- Steve Higgins

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