KINDT Imagines Under Sea Murder Mystery With DEPT. H.

"Dept. H" art by Matt and Sharlene Kindt
Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Matt Kindt is trading in undercover superspies for undersea murder mysteries.

At Comic-Con International: San Diego, Dark Horse announced that Matt Kindt would be following up his creator-owned series Mind Mgmt. with a new 24-issue series debuting in 2016 titled Dept. H. In it, Kindt trades one kind of mystery for another -- a "locked room" murder mystery that happens to be in the deepest part of the ocean.

Kindt spoke with Newsarama about wrapping up Mind Mgmt, diving into Dept. H., and enlisting his wife Sharlene to paint his work. Along with this, Dark Horse provided a new illustration by Kindt and his wife exclusively for Newsarama.

Newsarama: Matt, you’re just finishing up your critically-acclaimed series, Mind Mgmt. with Dark Horse. How does it feel?

Matt Kindt: Well, leading up to finishing it – I wasn’t sure. Everyone around me kept asking me that and I wasn’t really sure. I wasn’t feeling anything really. I’ve been so focused on telling the story and hitting my deadlines and just literally getting the work done. There really was no time to sit back and reflect on anything or think about what any of it means.

Which is probably for the best. I felt like...towards the end of the series – each issue took longer than the last one...and the last few just really seemed like so much more labor intensive. It was mostly because I’d built so many things up and had set so many stories and characters into motion that it became a lot more complex the longer the series went on.

I finished the last issue completely right before Comic-Con International: San Diego and that’s when it hit me. Not a sense of accomplishment – but this crazy feeling of all this weight being lifted off my shoulders – which surprised me. I don’t think I realized the pressure and all that was even on me because I’d been carrying it for three years, so when it was was such a relief. Relief that I don’t have that monthly deadline pressure for a few months (at least over the summer) and a relief that I didn’t screw it up and send three years of work down in flames with a bad ending. I ended up being really happy with how it all turned out. That’s the biggest relief.

Nrama: Now, you’re working a brand-new endeavor with Dept. H.. Tell us a little about this series.

Kindt: It starts with the protagonist – Mia – getting into a submarine and heading to a deep-sea base in the deepest part of the ocean – Challenger Deep – to solve a murder before the entire base floods. It’s a ticking-clock, locked-room murder mystery...under water. And each issue takes place in one to two hours of real time.

Nrama: It seems like this story will be one that appeals to regular fans of your work in the suspense and espionage elements. Are these favorite places for you to go to as a storyteller? Why/why not?

Kindt: Definitely. I’ve been attracted to every kind of genre fiction since I was a kid. From Doc Savage, to Raymond Chandler to Tin Tin. So, I really love playing with those kind of elements – but also trying to ground those fantastical elements into a story with some heart. With real characters that you’ll care about. I’m constantly trying to come up with extreme or fantastical situations and then putting real characters into them to see what would happen but “for real.”

It’s kind of how I play video games some time (when I have time to actually play them.) If you ever play one of those shooting games – it’s really easy to just run around and play it like what it is...a video game – you die and re-spawn and just keep running around like crazy. That’s kind of how action movies and thrillers work. But sometime, try this – in a game where you can re-spawn and try again – try to go through the game as if that’s your only life – and it’s all “for real” – and see how different that game and the feeling you get playing it’s kind of horrible and intense and it’s awful when you “die.” It’s a terrible way to play games but also an interesting kind of psychological experiment you can do to yourself.

And that’s what writing is to me. I put myself into the story...and just try to imagine what it would really be like. What’s it really feel like to have a mile’s worth of water pressing down on you? To be completely reliant on technology and tubes and cans of air to survive? The real antagonist in Dept. H. is going to be the water and the elements. The murderer is the least of the worries really.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Nrama: What was the research like in terms of preparing to write this story? What sort of preparation did you have to do both as a writer but also as an artist? Were there any particularly challenging aspects to this series?

Kindt: I’m still working on art tests – different styles and paper and materials to give Dept. H. a different feel than anything I’ve done – and to do something that’s appropriate for the story – that helps tell it better. I’m also working with my wife – who will be water coloring the entire series over my pencils/inks so we’re really collaborating to make a unique visual story.

I’ve also done a lot of research and reading on deep-sea exploration and ocean life...and to my utter terror, I’ve signed up for scuba diving classes. The last thing I really want to do – but I feel like I need to know what that’s like and really how it works. I’ve been snorkeling – and for the first 5 or 10 minutes I end up hyperventilating because I can’t get my mind to trust the snorkel. So, it should be interesting.

Nrama: In what ways do you see Dept. H. representing you pushing yourself into some new territory as a creator – both as a writer and artist … apart from actually sending you overboard and underwater?

Kindt: With every project I put together, I think I’m just trying to come up with a series of challenges or hurdles or rules that I have to follow – to make it interesting and keep me engaged. Coming up with a story isn’t really hard, I don’t think...but telling a story in a really interesting way is the tough part – the fun part. I’m definitely bending my art to make this series stand apart from anything I’ve done – so it will be visually distinct from Mind Mgmt. Having my wife painting helps – but I’m using different inking materials and different paper – just small adjustments here and there to give this book a more precise feel to it. Mind Mgmt.had a lot of dream-like qualities to it, so I think that loose ethereal style fit it well. But this book is going to have a lot of technical stuff going on – deep sea bases and equipment – punctuated with a  few bits of bonkers ideas and crazy sea-life – so those elements really need to stand in contrast to each other.

As for writing – I’m playing a lot with time and how it works with visual storytelling. Each issue is really only going to be about 20-90 minutes of “real time” – so breaking a story down like that and keeping it compelling on a monthly basis has really been fun to figure out. It’s really showing me what is so great about comics. The flexibility to tell any stories in really crazy ways.

Nrama: Not surprisingly, you’re bringing long-time editor, Brendan Wright along as your editor – someone whom you’ve cited as being just as much as a collaborator as an editor. Can you describe your working relationship with him and how you feel he’s contributed to Dept. H.?

Kindt: We’re in the early stages – so I haven’t shown him much yet – I like to be kind of left alone at the beginning to figure everything out first – to make sure it’s something I’m happy with – and to work out as many kinks as I can so there’s less problems for him to try to fix when I present it. That’s what I’m doing all summer – is putting a really detailed outline together for the entire series – and building in some flexibility – like we did with Mind Mgmt. so there’s room for new ideas, but the basic premise and story and characters are all set in place.

So, at this point – his job is easy! I haven’t dropped a ton of material in his lap yet – that’s coming in the fall. At this point, we’re just talking about some of the crazier storytelling aspects – I’m trying to figure out how to do a special issue that is water-damaged...for that’s kind of a technical thing we need to figure out.

Nrama: Finally, what do you think is the biggest “hook” to Dept. H. that is going to grab readers’ attention? Who is this comic going to appeal to most?

Kindt: Dept. H is a murder mystery in a deep-sea base that’s filling up with water told in a monthly comic book. Complete with heart-breaking ending (probably.)

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