Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: This April will see the release of your new series, Dept. H, from Dark Horse Comics, depicting an undersea locked room murder mystery and marking your first collaboration with your wife Sharlene. What inspired this new adventure series?
Matt Kindt: I’ve always been fascinated with deep-sea adventure. Ever since reading Tin Tin as a kid with the amazing diving suits and the shark-shaped submarine. So, those seeds were planted pretty early. I’ve also got a kind of strange relationship with the ocean. I love it and it terrifies me at the same time. I hyperventilate when I go snorkeling and when you’re out in the middle of the ocean and it’s just water everywhere you look...it really makes you aware of your place in the universe. We’re so small. It’s humbling. So, I think all of those feelings along with my innate love of all genre fiction sort of pushed me toward this idea. I’ve never done a straight-up who-dunnit kind of story before. A pure murder mystery. I danced around it a little bit with my graphic novel, Red Handed, but that was less of a mystery and more of a crime story on the nature of crime and criminals.
This is completely different. Issue one starts with the murder, sets up the suspects, and for the remainder of the series, our protagonist, Mia, has to survive a flooding deep-sea base and put together the pieces of the mystery before she drowns and all the evidence is lost. I figured if I was going to do a locked-room murder mystery I might as well go all out. It doesn’t get more locked than this.
BD: What do you feel makes Mia, the lead investigator of the murder mystery and protagonist of the series, identifiable or relatable for new readers?
MK: I think her identity is going to slowly unfold over the course of the series. She has her own history and secrets, as well. But she’s also new to the deep-sea base. And she’s relatively new to being a detective. So, we’re going to see the strangeness of this place through her eyes, but I’m honestly not sure she’s completely trustable. But I think what she’s really going to convey is the vastness of the ocean. The incredible feeling you get when you explore a new place – the feeling you get when you see something that no other living human has seen before. We’ll get to live vicariously through her as she experiences all of that – the wonder and the terrifying horror of having so many tons of water pressing down on you at the same time.
Also, Mia isn’t your typical hard-drinking, warrior-princess, tough-as-nails, female detective protagonist. She’s not a cliche. She’s smart. But she comes from a family that’s all pretty darn smart. On her own, she’s amazing, but her father is the smartest man on Earth, and her brother thinks he’s next in line. So, she is living in a lot of shadows. Needless to say, she has family problems. A bully of a brother and a complicated relationship with her parents.
I think her character and the stories of the other “suspects” are as critical to Dept. H as the murder mystery. They need to be interesting – to be real. The story is, by the nature of its telling, going to be a nail-biter. They only have around twenty days to solve the crime and get out before the base floods. The premise and the hook of Dept. H is probably one of the “hookiest” premises I’ve ever come up with, but at the end of the day, the story is about the characters and their stories as much as the murder and the mystery. Ultimately, the murder is a way in to the story to get to know these characters and, hopefully, get to some deeper truths.
BD: What do you hope that readers will most take away from the story?
MK: Well, number one, I hope they’re entertained. If it’s not fun to read, if it’s not entertaining, then what’s the point of fiction? If I was here only to educate and shed light on an issue or topic, then I’d be writing non-fiction. So, each issue is definitely designed to thrill and push the story just up to the breaking point – it goes nearly off the rails every issue. But the beauty of writing fiction – especially crime fiction -- is that while you’re being entertained I’m hoping to slide a figurative knife in your back that will catch you off guard – and, hopefully, open your eyes to some deeper truths about humanity and what it means to be a sibling, a wife, a husband, and a friend. But worst case, it’s gonna be a cracker of a murder mystery!
Also, I’ve got to mention that, as I did with Mind MGMT, Dept. H is specifically designed to be read in a serialized format. If you’re reading it monthly, you’re going to get a completely unique and different experience than waiting for a collection. The art of writing and making monthly comics is starting to get lost, so every issue of this series is going to be part of a bigger story but it’s also going to unfold in a way that will be much more immersive if you follow it month to month. I’m trying to capture the fun that you feel when you follow a TV series week to week – spending those days between episodes to develop theories and conjecture. I’d encourage everyone to try it this way. And engage online and via email and social media. I’ll be responding to everything and we’re going to have a letter page – I really am looking forward to making this series a group effort. And I think for the run of the series I’ll be terrified that someone figure out the mystery before I reveal it...so the more theories the better – so the correct ones get buried in avalanche.
BD: How would you describe your creative process in sharing the writing duties with your wife, and how do you feel that the collaboration has aided Dept. H’s story?
MK: Well, we’re not really writing it together. But we’re collaborating on this like we’ve done on every project I’ve ever had published. She’s the sounding board for my ideas (pretty much constantly – I’m really good at ruining our dates by talking about “work”). What’s been great is still having her in that capacity but then letting her take that intimate knowledge of the story and my intentions and telling the story with color. Sharlene’s been painting as long as I’ve known her. Back in college I was strictly all black and white. I figured my comics (if I ever got published) would only be in black and white anyway, so why bother. Color was hard. She always had a knack for it. She took the color theory classes and over the years I picked some things up from her by osmosis and then by just outright “please show me how to do this” with water color and just color in general. So, she’s the master of color and I’m the pupil. So, that’s the beauty of this series – is that now we’re getting the color from the source. I’ve never had so many conversations about color and what it means and the rationale to make certain diving suits one color and others something else. Color in this series is extremely important. It’s as much a stortytelling element as the black lines and the dialogue.
BD: Fans of Mind MGMT will undoubtedly be eager to start this new series. After such a long and successful run on the previous series, did you find it to be more of a challenge or a motivator to start on this project?
MK: I honestly had to reign myself in. I’d had the idea for this series about half-way through Mind MGMT and I was dying to start working on it – I wanted to design the submarines and the diving suits but I forced myself to wait. I’ve got to draw one project at a time or it starts to drive me a little crazy. And every project I do is a kind of conversation with myself. The project before informs the project after and the one after that. With Mind MGMT I was attempting to do a lot of things that hadn’t really ever been done in comics or in any kind of fiction really. So, Mind MGMT is a dense read. It’s meant to be read once and then read again. It’s not the kind of thing you get in one sitting or even in a couple readings. I put things in those 36 issues that probably won’t be notice for a long time (hopefully, before I die, though)! But doing that for three years was...exhausting to say the least. So, in a lot of ways that’s what was exciting to me about Dept. H. It’s straight-forward, it’s a murder mystery. We’ve got a handful of suspects and it all takes place in a super-claustrophobic setting. While Mind MGMT was globe-spanning and tried to contain every idea I’ve ever had, Dept. H is laser focused. The pacing is much more intense. And the discipline is very different. There are certain rules with a murder mystery – certain conventions that you’ve got to adhere to, to maintain trust with the readers. The clues to the mystery have to be in there. You can’t cheat the solution. So, in a lot of ways, my experience with layering things and hiding meanings in Mind MGMT prepped me for this series.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are currently working that you are able to share with readers?
MK: Yes! My first all-ages adventure book called Poppy! And The Lost Lagoon – which will be out this summer! It’s the first collaboration I’ve done with my good friend Brian Hurtt on art, and me painting it. It’s a passion project we’ve been chipping away at for a couple of years, and we finally finished it last month! Super proud of it and glad to finally have a book that is age-appropriate for my daughter! And, it features THE ugliest cat in the world
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Dept. H?
MK: We have a Facebook page dedicated to it that we’ll be updating constantly with behind-the-scenes and process stuff – and I’m on Twitter and all the other social media too – so if you’re interested in process and the “how to” aspect of any of this, I’m pretty forthright with it. I love every part of making comics. It’s all I do, so you’ll see a lot of it.
*Dept. H is now available for pre-order (until March 28) through your local comic book show using the pre-order code FEB160017. We hope that you'll enjoy the below preview!