Matt Kindt and David Rubin created one of the strangest worlds ever seen in comic books – and that’s saying something – with their 2016 Dark Horseseries Ether, about a bizarre dimension next to Earth and the man trying to keep it separate. This week they follow that up with Ether: The Copper Golems, as protagonist Boone Dias must return to this world to solve a new mystery… and deal with the wreckage his obsession has left on his own life.
Newsarama talked to Kindt and Rubin, who shared the four-step process behind two pages from the first issue.
Newsarama: Matt, David – tell us the basic premise behind Ether.
Matt Kindt: A science-minded adventurer, Boone Dias, is an interdimensional explorer, a scientist from Earth who has stumbled into great responsibility – he must keep Earth and the Ether separate. He’s got an explanation for everything, so of course, the Ether’s magical residents turn to him to solve their toughest crimes.
Really, Boone just doesn’t believe in magic. Everything has a scientific explanation – so even when he’s confronted with a large talking purple gorilla and a herd of migrating sphinxes...he’s determined to explain it all in scientific terms. It’s really a story about science and mystery and the friction when the two meet.
Rubin: To me, Ether is a great excuse to draw all the stuff that I love like weird landscapes, monsters, creatures, and other bizarre things.
Matt’s scripts give me the opportunity to combine a bunch of different concepts that interest me into a single story like the relationships between characters, science fiction ideas from different eras and countries—from space operas of French comics like Valerian to Andrei Tarkovsky films - and tons of action and adventure!
Nrama: Where did the initial inspiration for the project come from? It reminds me of works such as Annihilation and Tartakovsky's Stalker.
Kindt: The DNA of this idea goes much older than that. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes. I was a huge fan. I was even a member of a local Holmes Society (Harpooners of the Sea-Unicorn, St. Louis).
What I really loved most about Holmes was his outlook on reality. The idea that everything has an explanation. The more I read and got interested in other kinds of fiction (science, fantasy, supernatural) I thought it would be fun to apply a character like Holmes with a completely rational mind and send him to someplace that is utterly and fantastically over-the-top mythological and see how he would handle it. Would it break him? Could he explain the unexplainable?
Originally, the story was much darker - but with David’s art, it really made a lot of the dark stuff a lot more fun. It has bright colors and really energetic art, which does a great job of masking the dark beating heart of the series and the heartbreak that Boone does, and will... suffer.
Nrama: David, what drew you to this story?
Rubin: The opportunity to work with Matt drew me to this story. I know and love his previous works. He’s an author that I find very interesting, and now that I know him better, I can confirm that Matt is the kind of person that I love to work with. He’s open to other ideas, imaginative, dynamic, etc.
I found the premise of the story fascinating. Ether is a blank canvas where I can build a whole world from the ground up, and that is a real gift for an artist. The characters are well developed, full of moral dilemmas, humanity, deep personalities, and interesting backgrounds. I love to work with characters like Boone, Violet, and Glum, because they are so far from the clichés of the genre.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about the Ether itself. How extensive is this world? How much do you have it planned out?
Kindt: I originally pitched a series of three story arcs with ideas for another year or two after that. The Ether is only limited by the historical imagination of humanity. Everything in the Ether exists because of human ingenuity and imagination. Every myth, every story, both forgotten and not, exist in the Ether.
It’s really a giant storehouse of ideas that you can map and walk through and explore. So through the course of the series, we’ll eventually get to see a wide swath of myth and story from cultures all over the world and throughout time.
Rubin: The concept for the main story is planned out for three arcs, and Copper Golems is the second arc. But I think that the characters and the world could be explored further. We hope that fan support will give us the opportunity to continue to explore the Ether and the conflicts of the characters. We’re only limited to our imaginations, and Matt and I are two guys with a lot of imagination!
I think, at the moment, we only show the tip of the iceberg in regards to Ether. There are a lot of new places, situations, and characters to show and explore.
Nrama: Boone Dias is an interesting protagonist – older, clearly someone who's lost a good bit of his life to this obsession. What went into the creation and design of him, and will the focus mainly be on his current journey into the Ether, or will we find out more about his past?
Kindt: We will eventually find out more about his past – but this next arc is really about tying up some loose ends regarding his current life – his wife and daughters who he essentially abandoned in the first arc will be back.
And that is really a lot of what drives the series and the character – exploring the idea of how you balance work and family. I won’t speak for David but I know for myself and most artists in the creative field there is definitely an internal battle that you fight to find balance – to fully commit to your art form and also work to maintain personal relationships whether it’s a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, and kids.
In that way, I think Ether and Boone act as a cautionary tale. This is what happens if you give up everything for your “art” or your work.
Rubin: I identify with the character of Boone Dias and his conflicts. I’ve lived through similar situations in my life–obviously, no interdimensional travels, but other things - and I try to use my experiences to bring more life and humanity to the character.
Boone isn’t a flat character; he’s full of edges. He’s not a bad guy but isn’t completely good either. There’s a lot of background to him that I hope to explore with Matt in the future.
Nrama: I'm also interested in the design scheme - the sequences on Earth have a very distinct color and panel layout, then things get much brighter and fractured once we're in the Ether - there's almost a sense of the panels floating in this white, empty backdrop. What went into the process of determining the look and feel of each world?
Kindt:David can speak more to this than I can – from my POV – I sent David a pitch and outline for the series and he sent me back pages and pages of designs and sketches for inhabitants, architecture, and vehicles.
It’s one thing to imagine a world (the easy part) and another to actually put it on paper (the hard part) – and David got the hard part. Or maybe it’s fun – I like to think he got the most fun part. [Laughs]
Color is something we both think about in storytelling – I think its impact is undervalued, and in this series, in particular, I think it’s essential to setting mood and place. Every location, even within the Ether, has a unique color palette and the shifts from Earth to Ether also need to be distinct. Again, David does all the heavy lifting on this for sure!
Rubin: I try to use the resources of the comic book medium as a narrative tool. I draw a black line to limit the panels for sequences on Earth while using a white backdrop for Ether’s sequences and a colorful line for flashback sequences.
The coloring is important too. I use color not in a decorative or ornamental way but in a narrative way. The color - and the art - can tell a lot of things to the reader about the situations or the characters without the use of text. Earth’s sequences are in muted tones. This represents how Boone Dias sees the real world. He’s sad on earth, and it’s a reflection of his personality while there.
Ether’s sequences are full of bright tones, very colorful, and psychedelic because it’s a dynamic and bizarre new world and because it reflects Boone’s personality while there. He sees this new world with hope and illusion. He feels safe in the magical world. He feels important there unlike how he feels in the real world.
For the flashbacks, I use a limited palette of tones with only one or two primary colors, gradients, and texture. I try to convey the feeling of living a memory in these images.
Nrama: What's your collaborative process like overall? What does each of you feel the other brings to this project?
Kindt: David took a very dour and cerebral idea for a series that I originally had and injected it with humor and life.
Originally, I was going to draw this series, but when I realized David wanted to collaborate I immediately thought he would be a better fit for this. I can honestly say he transformed this series in the best way possible.
After seeing his sketches and preliminary designs, it really shifted my entire outlook on the series and my approach. It is 1000% more fun because of him. I’m writing this for David at this point – making a list of everything I know he likes to draw and everything I want to see him draw and I’m working it into the story.
There’s a character in the new arc, Grandor, who was inspired by David. I never told him this, but he’s literally the coolest magical creature in the Ether, and it’s really just the Ether-ized version of David. Super cool. Maybe smokes too much but is absolutely the best at what he does.
Rubin: [Laughs] I just found out that Gandor’s based on me! Matt’s right, there is a lot of me in Grandor, and in other characters too! To me, Boone Días is a combination of both Matt and I in both physical appearance and personality.
Working with Matt on Ether is so easy because we spent lots time on the preproduction of every arc. We have Matt’s plot, but we add new references and characters based on what we want to see in the story.
We discussed what I like to draw and came up with some crazy, funny ideas to build Ether. Some are great ideas. Some are nonsense, but they’re all fun. After our brainstorm, Matt took all the crazy stuff and did his magic to compile our ideas into this story. And then I translate all of Matt’s magic onto the page and put a little bit of my own style into the final result, too.
It’s a very collaborative and fun process!
Nrama: How far ahead do you have this series plotted?
Kindt: I have a short synopsis for probably 12 more issues – and a detailed outline through issue #15 for sure.
Rubin: If the readers want more Ether, and the sales are good, we are ready for more Ether, too!
Nrama: What do you enjoy about working with Dark Horse?
Kindt: It’s such a great creative outlet. Dark Horse supports their creators and just lets them do what they do, which is a rarity in any field, not just comics.
Rubin: Dark Horse supports and respects its creators, the art, the medium, the creative process, and gives you total freedom to create your comics. Dark Horse lets you bring your stories to life.
Nrama:What else do you have coming up?
Kindt: I’m working on a series of boutique MIND MGMT projects this year. It started with a limited edition Riso-printed mini-comic, and before the year is out you’ll be seeing a board game, a read-along comic book and record, and a prose novella.
Rubin: At the moment, I’m working on the last issue Ether: Copper Golems for Dark Horse, and on Rumble for Image. I also just published a new graphic novel in Spain called Cuaderno de Tormentas that I wrote and illustrated.
In the future, I’d love to continue to work with Matt and Jeff Lemire. I love to work with those dudes!
Nrama:What are some other comics/creators/other media you've enjoyed recently?
Kindt: I can’t say enough good about the TV show The Leftovers. Twin Peaks season 3 was amazing. My wife and I absolutely love Atlanta with Donald Glover. It’s genius.
As far as books go, I still love Lemire’s Black Hammer, and I just finished the most amazing book about the making of the movie and novel 2001 - called Space Odyssey. Highly recommended and a great true story about one of the most fascinating collaborations in our time.
Rubin: I love The Leftovers and Twin Peaks S3, too. I also love FX’s series with Tom Hardy, Taboo. There’s some really cool and powerful stuff in that show. I also really love the most recent Wes Anderson movie Isle of Dogs. It’s amazing.
For comics, recently I read The Goddamned by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra, the second volume of Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean, and Brecht Evens’ graphic novel titled Panther. I really love those projects. What amazing work!
The last book that I’d read was a new edition of one of my favorite Spanish books, Luces de Bohémia by Valle-Inclán, with beautiful illustrations of one of my favorite artists, Javier Olivares.
And, although I work on two series at the same time, I recently found some free time to justify playing Alien: Isolation on my PlayStation 4. This game is a modern masterpiece in the video game medium. It’s a beautiful, scary, and intelligent game based on Ridley Scott’s amazing film. I recommend it so much!