KINDT & HURTT Create 'Slightly Surreal TINTIN' With POPPY

"Poppy" preview
Credit: Brian Hurtt / Matt Kindt (Dark Horse Comics)
Credit: Brian Hurtt / Matt Kindt (Dark Horse Comics)

Matt Kindt and Brian Hurtt's comic book ouvres are squarely in the 'adult drama' aisle, but this week they're uniting to expand out into the 'All Ages' setion.

Poppy!: And the Lost Lagoon is a new 144-page full-color graphic novel from Dark Horse that is the first in a planned series about Poppy Pepperton, a 10-year-old girl with her own flying carpet and a lineage steeped in adventure. With her sidekick/protector/”legal guardian” Colt Winchester at her side, she sets off on an epically epic quest involving mummy heads, ugly fish, and much more.

Newsarama talked to Kindt and Hurtt about their unique collaboration on this book, why it’s an important work for them, and more.

Newsarama: Matt, Brian – tell us about Poppy!, the character and the concept as a whole.

Credit: Brian Hurtt / Matt Kindt (Dark Horse Comics)

Matt Kindt: Poppy! is an all-ages adventure book – in the same vein as a lot of the European stuff that we loved as kids, like Herge’s Tintin and that kind of thing – globe-trotting and mystery and strange goings-on.

It’s a series with an over-arching story that will spread through each volume in a Harry Potter kind of way – but each book is also a great stand-alone adventure.

This first book involves Poppy and her uncle Colt traveling the ocean in subs and boats to save a very ugly fish – but this fish is vital to the life and survival of an entire ecosystem.

Nrama: How did you come up with the idea?

Kindt: Brian and I were sitting at a convention on a slow Sunday next to each other and we started screwing around on some scraps of watercolor paper. He started drawing in this amazing loose style that I hadn’t really seen him use much, other than in sketchbooks, and then he handed it to me to paint.

We cranked out a few characters – Dr. Strange, Planet of the Apes – that kind of fun stuff that we don’t usually draw much. And then we threw them out on the table to see if they’d sell. We were swamped the rest of the afternoon – we couldn’t do them fast enough. And the style was super dynamic and fresh and loose.

That kind of art epiphany, combined with all the road trips we take together to conventions, started hatching an idea for an all-ages graphic novel. Brian probably remembers the story origins better than I do – but I think we just started making a list of some cool things that he wanted to draw, and things I wanted to see him draw – which, honestly, is where the best story ideas end up coming from.

Credit: Brian Hurtt / Matt Kindt (Dark Horse Comics)

Brian Hurtt: It really is hard to nail down the inception of this idea. I remember doing early concept sketches of Poppy and her friends long before we ever decided to make a comic of it. 

To me, the most interesting bit is that this really started out as a lark.  It was something Matt and I chose to do solely for the love of making comics. 

At the start, we just wanted to make a comic with a single mission statement: “Be Fun.”  We didn’t want editorial interference or market testing or any of that.  We just wanted to go where the adventure took us.  We never thought too far ahead of that – never asked ourselves how we would get the book out there and who would print and distribute it, etc. 

To our great relief, we found an amazing partner in Dark Horse, who was not only content to let us do our thing but to help us realize that goal with whatever support they could give.

Nrama: Describe the character of Poppy.

Kindt: She’s a know-it-all that almost knows it all. But not quite. She loves adventure and doesn’t like being told what to do so she’s always discovering things – but getting into a lot of trouble along the way. She’s a scamp!

Hurtt: Matt probably couldn’t have said it better. She is full of intelligence and energy, but she is not perfect. She can be a little selfish and a little short tempered, and I feel like that makes her more fun and compelling as a character.

Nrama: And tell us a bit about the world Poppy inhabits.

Credit: Brian Hurtt / Matt Kindt (Dark Horse Comics)

Kindt: It’s a world much like ours – but sort of amped up 20% or so. Her companion happens to be Krums, the ugliest cat that has ever existed – but it is inhabited by the soul of one of her friends that is mystically imprisoned in his Manhattan apartment.

Colt is Poppy’s uncle and guardian – the “adult” of the two of them who gets reluctantly drug along on Poppy’s adventures. And Pappy…he’s the mystery heart of the series – he went missing years ago, and is presumed dead – and his spirit and existence is both the inspiration and purpose of Poppy’s grand adventures.

Hurtt: Very early on in talking about this project we would often describe it as a slightly surreal Tintin. I love that this is a world where you aren’t quite sure what may be around any corner and it’s that sort “world of possibilities” that makes this an exciting sandbox to play in.

Kindt: I think there’s a lot of me and Brian in this book – we’ve been friends for years and I think unconsciously a lot of our relationship and interaction bled into the characters of Poppy and Colt.

Hurtt: That is Matt’s way of saying that the bickering you see between Poppy and Colt is very reminiscent of us! 

Nrama: What kind of research helped influence this – i.e. history, mythology, etc.?

Kindt: I did some cursory research on Egyptian myths which play a part in the story – but I think Brian can speak more fully on this.

At one point in the story, a city of mollusks evolve into a walking/talking/speaking highly-advanced society that lives beneath the sea… and apparently mollusks are some of the strangest/weirdest looking creatures on earth without their shells on.

And I know Brian spent many hours trying to figure out not just how to design them – but to simply figure out where their mouths were located.  [laughs[ Seriously – look up mollusks. They are…weird.

Hurtt: I spent a lot of my time banging my head against my keyboard. Matt’s right, mollusks are bizarre. I really wanted to take the basic anatomy of these different creatures and cartoon them but I found it impossible! I ended up having to take complete liberties with their forms. Spoiler Alert:  Clams don’t have eyes!  And some of these creatures’ most prominent feature was their sexual organs!

Credit: Brian Hurtt / Matt Kindt (Dark Horse Comics)

Nrama: And what other books/comics/movies influenced the story?

Kindt: For me it was definitely the European books I grew up reading – Herge and Tintin, as well as Asterix and Obelisk.

And I think more recently, I’d say Chris Schweizer. We’re both huge fans of Chris’ work – he’s got a fantastic line of historical fiction books,  the Crogan’s Vengeance series. I’d recommend anything by Christophe Blain and Trondheim.

Hurtt:  Matt and I definitely drew inspiration from European comics. He already mentioned Blain, and everything Trondheim touches is fantastic.  The Dungeon series in particular has been a constant inspiration. I would even name Gipi and Kerascoet as big inspirations.

As far as movies go, I think of a weird mix of Wes Anderson, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and maybe...Walt Disney?

Nrama: What’s the trickiest part of writing a character who’s a 10-year-old girl? What do you have to remember, and what’s universal about that experience of being 10?

Kindt: I think the trickiest part of writing from a kid’s POV or for kids - is learning to stop thinking about writing for kids. You’re not writing for kids. You’re writing a good story - that happens to have a kid in it.

I remember what it was like to be 10. There’s a part of me that is always going to be that age...some say, too much of me still is. But I think that’s a more natural state of being – especially in a creative field – it’s really essential to never stop thinking like a kid, to be curious and have that desire to feel a sense of wonder at new experiences.

Also, having a daughter that was that age when we started working on this was a huge inspiration. It definitely helps you remember what it was like to have non-stop energy and enthusiasm.

Credit: Brian Hurtt / Matt Kindt (Dark Horse Comics)

Hurtt I think too many kids books now are so target-marketed to very specific age-group that it’s hurting the creativity and inventiveness of the books. Tintin is for everyone - young and old.

Roald Dahl is a perfect example of a writer who wrote brilliant children’s literature – but it wasn’t targeted to kids. It wouldn’t even be published for kids today. It’s because he was writing what kids needed. What kids wanted. Not what grown-ups think they want – or what they think is appropriate.

I loved reading books above my age level – I think you become a better reader by doing that – and I think picking up books that are carefully focused to an age-group don’t make them work enough. I loved learning new words – even to this day, I love it.

So we didn’t really dumb down any of the vocabulary or concepts – we just put all the good stuff into this book. Kids are smarter than most people give ‘em credit for. They’ll figure it out.

Kindt: There’s a secret coded language in the story – and a key in the back of the book -- and one of my daughter’s friends that we loaned an advance copy to, learned the language and wrote us two long letters using these crazy symbols. It was unbelievable – we’re still working to decode it! [laugh]

Nrama: The book was originally announced at the end of 2013 – what was the hardest part of putting it together?

Kindt: Finding the time, honestly. We really wanted to work on it together. Brian and I share a studio space - and at the time we didn’t. So we’d rent a cabin and work for three or four days non-stop on the book and then take a few months off and do that again.

It wasn’t until we got our dedicated studio space that we could finally sit down and just crank away for days and days and get it done.

But that was the fun of it. We really worked on it organically – changing things around on the fly and adding bits and pieces – which can only happen if you’re in the same room looking at all the art and talking about it along the way.

Hurtt:  Yeah, from the time we started working on Poppy! until the time we got picked up by Dark Horse, both of our schedules had become so packed! We had a really hard time finding the hours to work on the book, especially as we preferred to work on it together at the same time. 

But in the end, we were able to eak out a day here, a weekend there. and when we were in the midst of making these pages, it was just the most fun I’ve had making comics!

Nrama: Do you have more stories in this world planned?

Kindt: Oh yeah – we have a longer story plotted out – so we’ve got enough for a whole series of books and adventures.

Book One ends on a little bit of a heart-breaking cliffhanger that we look forward to paying off.

Nrama: And why do you feel all-ages stories are important in comics?

Kindt: It’s the next generation of readers. And there’s so much competition now from other media – movies on demand and video games. We need more and better comics for kids than we ever have before.

Hurtt: It’s simple math. If we can’t get kids to read comics, then who are our future readers!  I believe that this is something that everybody in the industry sees, and that many people are actively working on. 

I’m honestly very optimistic about the trends in comics these past several years, and I think the future is bright.

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