Imagine you’re stuck in the past – centuries from your own time, in a world that’s unspeakably primitive, with no way home.
Now imagine that past is the 21st century.
That’s the time-twisted premise behind Past Aways, a new creator-owned science fiction series from Dark Horse from the acclaimed creative team of Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT) and Scott Kolins (The Flash). With the first issue hitting stands Wednesday, Newsarama talked to the creators about this new team back from the future, and why this is a time-travel story you haven’t seen before.
Newsarama: Matt, Scott – for our readers, explain who the Past Aways are and what this book is about.
Matt Kindt: At its heart, it’s an adventure story with five characters from 10,000 years –or more – in the future that become stranded in our present day.
It was inspired by the adventures from the 1920s, where they would go into the Amazon jungle and try to find lost civilizations. They would write telegrams and articles, and papers would print articles about what they discovered, and where they're at. The whole world would follow their progress as they discovered uncharted areas of the world.
The idea was that these four characters from the future get sent thousand of years back into the past to have that same kind of adventure and discovery. They send these messages back to the future describing what the world is like in our present day.
Then, everything goes wrong, and they get stranded here. And then a big hole gets ripped in reality and all of this insanity begins to leak into our present daym and they feel obligated to deal with it.
Scott Kolins: Exactly. People lost in time and surrounded by craziness. What’s not to love?
Nrama: How did the idea for this come about?
Kindt: I’d been wanting to do a time travel story for a long time. I’m obsessed with it. I’ve probably read every time travel novel there is...and I’m the guy that collects the Best Time Travel Short Stories Anthology every year...I’ve got them all.
I love the genre so much that I’ve been a little afraid to tackle it. Time travel done poorly can be really bad. And I wanted to do something unique and fun with it. So I’d always shy away from it. I’ve got a graphic novel from eight or nine years ago that I finished, penciled, and then put in a drawer.
I think there’s an inherent problem with time travel and when you think about it too much, it falls apart. So with this series, I finally figured out a way for time travel to work and then have it fall apart intentionally.
Nrama: What's your collaborative process like?
Kindt: It was a true collaboration in every sense. We had a lot of conversations going in, and some back and forth and even from script to script.
Scott is chipping ideas into the mix, and I’m reacting to his art when we start lettering the book and I’m adding things or subverting them with some of the typographic techniques we’re using with footnotes and call-outs on the art.
Kolins: Matt’s invitation to co-create something from the ground up was the initial draw for me. Many of the books I’ve worked on are almost completely pre-designed for me. Mostly that’s a great asset but it can be stifling at times.
Past Aways really lets me breathe a bit more. I was also drawn to this project for the sci-fi cool stuff and the general heroic nature – though Matt’s level of complications weaved throughout really adds great dimension to the old school fun.
Nrama: Tell us about some of the individual Past Aways.
Kindt: I’ve based their personalities on some of my favorite sci-fi writers. Frank Herbert (Herb) is one of them...and Margaret Atwood (Marge) is another.
I needed a starting point when I was building the characters so I used my idea of what the writer’s personality might be based on their fictional work – which was kind of a fun exercise.
Herb is more of an anthropologist, and Marge is concerned with what it all means. And then Arthur C. Clarke (Art) is the leader and the smartest guy in the room. Phil...inspired by Philip K. Dick is...well...he’s the strange one – and my favorite.
Kolins: More often than not – to me – it’s the bridging of our two takes, that is the most rewarding aspect of this book.
There’s a kind of fill-in-the-blank partnership going on. Matt writes a script that I draw – but his ideas give me more ideas, and I leave him with some crazy extra drawings.
We both get surprises and kind of feed off the energetic vibe of two talented creators who care about the book. It doesn’t always go as planned, but that’s part of the vitality.
Nrama: Matt, we're getting an oblique sense of the future these characters are from, but how much have you thought it through -- specifically in which societal elements are most different/contrasted with the world of today? How is this different from, say, the future seen in Rai?
Kindt: This series has a lot of similar concerns as the themes I’m exploring in Rai – but I’m getting at them in a reverse kind of way. Rather than set it in some kind of insane future, Past Aways is plucking for inhabitants of the far future and dropping them into our present day and watching them react to our time.
There’s going to be a short essay in the back written in the voice of Herb – describing a lot of their every day life and experience here...but through the filter of a person 10,000 years in the future – it makes everything we’re used to seem alien and strange.
Instead of pushing the reader into a strange new future, I’m forcing the point of view of a strange future person looking at our time.
It’s been kind of fun – just walking into a bookstore and trying to describe that like a person that has never seen a book has been a blast.
Kolins: I was really happy with Matt’s initial Past Aways character list, though he was kind enough at the outset to include some requests of mine. Matt’s group of characters were well-diversified – which plays well with my tastes in designing a group and making sure it‘s dynamic.
I’m also a firm believer in good design means that characters are easily identifiable and everything about them should play into revealing their personality or what their story is about.
Their hairstyles, body language, clothes and the tech they hold or use has to be part of them and/or their story. The devices Art uses are different from the devices Ursula or Herb uses.
We have common themes, like color, that help bind them visually as a team – but within that – they are very different people.
Nrama: Scott, what are some of the unique challenges in designing the more futuristic/fantastic elements of this book?
Kolins: The first challenge is to try not to draw the same tech-thing everyone has seen before – and yet keep it recognizable in some basic way. It may not look like a ray gun you’ve seen before, but once you see it fire, it still makes sense.
The second challenge is to keep in line with Matt’s direction for the book (which dovetails well with not-repeating previous iterations of technology), but he can still throw surprises my way, asking for a room that’s organic and yet technological or “give me something between [H.R.] Geiger and [Jack] Kirby”. That can be a major challenge, though I am getting more used to it.
Nrama: What do you enjoy about working with Dark Horse?
Kindt: Number one is creative freedom. Not just on a page by page, story decision way.
But just in general. Getting to tell any kind of story, and exactly how I want to tell it – it’s the rare thing in any industry to have that kind of freedom and control and then support – from editorial through marketing and sales and all the way to the top.
It’s a fantastic partnership supported by a team of people that I really care about, and people that are really believing in the books we’re doing.
Kolins: Mostly it’s the freedom. The Dark Horse staff is great and very professional, being very encouraging and keeping us on task. But it’s the liberty of making a book we want to see that really makes this book something special.
And that’s not a responsibility I take lightly. I’ve seen many pros get lost in their own heads and ultimately squander this rare opportunity to steer a ship. Past Aways is not that.
Nrama: What are some of the biggest influences on this, in terms of story and visuals? I'm also curious what type of research you do to determine how things from the future could look or function based on present-day technology.
Kolins: There are always some influences – like Kirby – that are very difficult for me to completely take out of the equation, but I am trying to do that as much as I can – especially with a new book like Past Aways.
My working attitude used to start with my influences – consciously or not – and then branch out finding my artistic voice. Now it’s more: Let my voice go where it will and be cognizant when I see the old influences creep in.
Sometimes the influences can add a real power to a scene I’m drawing, but sometimes I need to see that and question whether it’s a crutch or an easy way out. Should I rethink it again and take out that design element or maybe the action shouldn’t be so old school here?
The other trick for me is making sure to check in with the real world from time to time. I can get into a habit of drawing everything from my head, but that can get limiting. Reality can always turn out stranger than fiction anyway.
Kindt: A lot of my ideas have just come from taking present-day things and re-purposing them as something else in the future...I think Scott has really nailed a lot of those ideas – from their helicopter to the headquarters and their time-ship.
We’re having a lot of fun with perception – I think the opening visual gag with the dinosaur – I won’t spoil it – and all through the book – we’re playing with perception and the idea of how you think about a thing or a person...and how a lot of that thinking is contextual.
If you take that person or that thing out of it’s environment and place it somewhere else...your idea of what it is can fundamentally change. And that’s really what the characters themselves are going through.
All of that is completely true statements, but don’t let that pretentiousness fool you – we are not shying away from giant robot fights, sentient squid arms from the future, and acid-defecating dinosaurs.
Nrama: Okay, death is not an option: You have to be marooned at some year in the past. Tell us which and why. I'd take 19663; the comics would be worth a fortune today and you can do that whole debating whether to save John F. Kennedy thing.
Kolins: That’s tough one. I have to admit I’ve thought about how cool it would’ve been to break into comics a decade earlier. There were some really amazing comics made in the eighties.
Kindt: I’ve thought about that question since I was in sixth grade...and it changes every year. But I’d probably start in the 20s and then you’d get to live the World War 2, JFK, etc...and then you could just make sure you were in the right place at the right time to find out everything – Amelia Earhardt, JFK, etc. You’d have all the knowledge.
Nrama: How long do you see this series running, in terms of an overall story?
Kolins: That’s more for Matt’s choice, but I can see Past Aways running three to five years.
Kindt: I have no idea – I’ve got a general outline with the bigger story beats and a few milestone twists planned...and I have an ending – but we’ve structured it in a way that gives us room to breathe. We have a lot of stories to get to.
Nrama: Give us the hard sell on this.
Kindt: Ten reason why:
1. Time travel
4. Giant robots
5. Tiny robots
6. Immortality (sort of)
7. Secret Headquarters
Kolins: “Death Defying Sci-Fi craziness” has been my two-second answer at conventions or to friends.
Nrama: What are some other books you're currently reading?
Kolins: Just finished The Martian which was really good. I like what my friends are doing in Action Comics. I always read my pal Geoff’s books. Hellboy is always on the top of my list, when it comes out. I buy pretty much anything I see Stuart Immonen draw. It’s been a while since I got to the store, I need to see more books.
Kindt: Jeff Lemire’s Descender is really great. The Sixth Gun is entering it’s final year and that is always a fantastic read.
Nrama: What's next for you two?
Kolins: More Past Aways. I’m starting #4 now – and it’s just keeps getting better and better. I do also have another five issue book that I’ve been putting together for years on a part-time basis that will appear August 2015. It’s a jungle-action-adventure story that I’m wild about. It’ll be announced soon.
Kindt: I’m finishing up the last arc of Mind MGMT, which is a real relief. Hitting the finish line on that has been one of my life goals and it’s so close. I’d always kind of done everything myself, but it wasn’t really until I was a year into the series that I realized – wait a second – no one has every done a monthly book all by themselves – writing, penciling, inking, color, letters, design. Monthly.
I had to start actively putting that out of my mind. It was a lot of work and I never really felt the weight of that until this last six months or so – and I began imagining what life would feel like without that huge deadline every month of my life.
So yeah – taking a couple months off before launching another monthly book is going to be next!