Smash Pages Q&A | Matt Kindt on ‘Hairball,’ Flux House, ‘BRZRKR’ and more

The award-winning creator discusses several of his recent projects, the success of his collaboration with Keanu Reeves, working with Jean-Denis Pendanx and more.

Over the years he’s been working in comics, Matt Kindt has proven not only to be highly prolific, but also one of comic’s most creative minds, particularly when it comes to things like story structure and design. From his early work on Pistolwhip and Super Spy to more recent projects like MIND MGMT, Kindt has always been one to push the boundaries on comics, their format and how to make them more interesting.

Over the last year or so, Kindt has been involved in two high-profile projects — BRZRKR, a best-selling project at BOOM! Studios spearheaded by actor Keanu Reeves, and the launch of Flux House, Kindt’s own imprint at Dark Horse Comics. While the former has brought him possibility more attention than just about anything else he’s worked on, the latter has given him the opportunity to be even more creative in areas outside his typical domain.

I caught up with Kindt to discuss his recent projects, including Hairball, which kicks off this week, as well as his approach to running his own imprint and how the design of a book or comic impacts the experience of reading it.

Hairball #1 main cover by Matt Kindt

It’s been about a year now since Flux House was announced. While you’ve always been a prolific creator, it seems like you’ve really amped up your output and creativity in recent months. Do you feel that’s the case, or does it just look like that from the outside? Do you feel busier nowadays?

I’ve been busy – but what you’re going to see the next few years is the output I’ve been kind of working on in secret from the last couple years finally seeing the light of day. Some of it was script that I’ve been collaborating on with different artists – and I’ve been trying to work way ahead so they have plenty of time to put as much as they want into it. I’m working with a lot of the same collaborators and a few new ones, but I really wanted to structure the book so that there’s no time or money pressure.

We just work on the books – get them perfect – and then release them. It’s tough doing a monthly schedule, so the more I can mitigate that pressure the better the books end up being. No one is stressed out. Deadlines are relaxed, and we can just work on making the book as good as we possibly can. I think having the success the last couple years with BRZRKR and Mind MGMT has given me the ability to just focus 100% on comics and figuring out new and fun ways to make them even better.

What does running your own imprint at Dark Horse entail? You’ve worked with Dark Horse a lot in the past, but how are things different now?

I won’t lie. It’s a lot more work. Responsibilities of story and sometimes art…but also the art direction and design of everything. Trying to push that stuff into new and scary places. Fur covered covers, magazine size formats and paper bag covers are just scratching the surface.

I’ve always been involved, but I’m even more hands on now. And collaborating more with the amazing team at Dark Horse – from print buying to design and production to PR. I like to think I’m inspiring everyone to try new things and exercise the creative muscles that don’t usually get pushed as much. If we’ve done it that way before, let’s do it a different way – if anything to just shake things up and keep comics fresh. So I’m either doing that, or I’m being a pain in the butt and everyone is afraid to tell me…(laughs).

Hairball #1 variant cover by Martin Simmonds

Looking back at the first few projects of Flux House, you started with MIND MGMT: Bootleg, which was the first MIND MGMT project you didn’t draw. While you’ve certainly written for other artists before, how was this project different for you as you brought others into the MIND MGMT club?

it’s always a little nerve-racking …but I’ve been lucky enough now to collaborate with artists that are truly masters of their medium. With MIND MGMT I’m more controlling than I am with other projects since it’s kind of my “baby.” But within that structure, I try to let artists do what they do best. I got lucky with this one; working with living legends really helps, and spoils you. Jill, Matt, David and Farel – couldn’t ask for a more amazing team to work with.

Related to that, how do you know or how do you decide if you want to work with another artist on an idea or if you want to draw it yourself? Like what made Spy Superb (maybe the funniest thing you’ve written?) something you wanted to draw, vs. the upcoming Hairball (which may be the creepiest thing you’ve written, based on the first issue), which you didn’t draw?

I think it’s a lot like movies/TV in a way – you have to get the “casting” right. My style and storytelling works best with certain kinds of stories. Same with Tyler or David. They bring something special to it, so I try to match the story to the creator. Sometimes I’ll send a short list of potential ideas to an artist and let them pick. I’ve usually already picked the thing I’m going to be drawing (I can only draw one book at a time), so I pick the thing I think I could do best…and then let other artists do the same. I think if you have that choice, and you’re fired up about the story, you just do better work. That goes for me and any artist, I’d imagine.

Honestly I wanted to ask you more about Hairball, but after reading the first issue I’m still kind of disturbed by it. I will ask, are you a cat owner, and if so, how will you ever sleep again?

I disgusted myself when I was writing the opening and closing scenes. It really grossed me out, unlike anything I’d ever written. I don’t really do that kind of story. So I was horrified at what I came up with (laughs). It gets a little “better” in the middle and the last issue is pretty horrible again…well, the last few issues.

I am a former cat owner, if you can “own” a cat. I think I provided homes for my cats over the years. I had adult onset allergies to cats so my last two were the last two. One of them, “Wallace,” was actually named after a character in Rick Veitch’s amazing Brat Pack limited series. I was reading it at the time and was inspired. I’m a huge fan. Anyway, after those, I’m just an admirer of cats now from afar – or I start sneezing and my eyes burn. Maybe that’s what inspired the horror bits in this…

Flux House has released Mister Mammoth, which features the U.S. debut of French artist Jean Denis Pendanx. How did this project originally come about? And what does it mean for you, being the first to publish Pendanx in the U.S.?

I’m honored that Jean-Denis was wiling to work with me. I am a huge fan of his art. I reached out to my editor in France at Futuropolis (Alain David) and asked him if he would introduce us and see if maybe he’d like to collaborate. To my surprise, he was! So I did what I do – sent him a short list of story ideas to see what would interest him…and he picked Mr. Mammoth. A kind of 70s crime story with a dash of sci-fi.

The pages started coming in and I honestly felt like I was collaborating with modern Will Eisner. The storytelling and the rendering, the figures and paint. It’s…staggering. It really put pressure on me to make this story live up to the art. I’ve never had writer’s block – until this book. I had an outline and was writing away, and then got stuck. First time in my life…and I ended up just working and re-working it, and it was really tough. I have no idea why. No book before, and none since have been like that. It’s usually pretty “easy” in that it just flows out of me and I put it down and then fix what’s there. So there’s something different about this one for sure – something special – maybe because I really bled for this one more than any of the others. I sweat the other ones, but rarely do I bleed. (laughs)

I think one of the things that’s been a highlight of your work for me is your approach to not just the story content, but the actual physical design of your projects, and how you’re always looking to push boundaries to make something that’s a physical art piece or brings something unique to the story itself. Can you talk about your approach to the physical comic/graphic novel, and how design can play a role in the enjoyment of the story for the reader? And what can we expect from Flux House on that front?

I was an early adopter of the Kindle – the idea of having all those books available, and then when traveling, reading anything anytime I want, and the convenience. I loved it. But what I noticed was happening was that I was forgetting what I read. Forgetting that I’d even read whole chunks of books. And not just because they weren’t sitting on my shelf where I could see them all the time. But because I hadn’t been holding them in my hands for hours. Studying the cover. Re-reading the back of the book. LOOKING at the book. So there was the disconnect. The books on the Kindle seemed so ephemeral. Disposable even. So I stopped reading books that way and went back to analog.

The size of the book, the shape, the art, the paper, the font. It’s all so important to the experience. And that’s just for prose. Now imagine the books you’re reading are full of art…comics! I mean – if they all have to be the size of an iPad – it’s kind of depressing. It’s a soul-less experience in some way. It makes everything feel disposable. And comics is too much work to be disposable. And if we’re going to cut down trees and actually print books and have that impact on the environment – then we had better do our best at making that book count, make it memorable. Make it interesting to look at and hold. Make the form it takes become a part of the story.

The cover is the first page of the story. The back cover is the last – I really think more care needs to be put into that aspect. Not just cookie-cutter books that get stuck on a shelf. Same goes for monthly comics. I never want to do a 24-page self-cover comic again. It’s so thoughtless…it drives me crazy! We work in an amazing art medium – let’s show everyone what it can do!

On that same note, design-wise is there anything you’ve wanted to do that turned out to be too crazy of an idea to implement, or that you just haven’t found the right project for it yet?

The first version of the Hairball hardcover was a long-haired cover…and it shed everywhere! So we changed it to a short-haired style…and it’s much better. Other than that, I have a couple formats I’m working on for next year that have never been done before – that I can’t wait to unveil. But I don’t want to say; I need to get it done first. I don’t like talking about ideas before I finish them for fear of killing the energy they have.

BRZRKR #12 cover by Ron Garney

The last issue of BRZRKR recently came out, wrapping up your collaboration with Ron Garney, Bill Crabtree, Clem Robins and, of course, Keanu Reeves. Looking back to when you signed on for this project, did you think it would become this high profile? Because a lot of celebrities have gotten involved in making comics before, with varying results, but this one seemed to have an energy to it that many of the others haven’t.

I honestly was afraid the reaction might be that we sold out – or it was just some kind of cash grab or a way to sell a movie by using comics. I’ve seen that happen before and I honestly wasn’t going to be involved if I thought that was what it was. And to Keanu’s credit – these last three years have been all about the comic. Making the best book we can. We put so much time and energy into it. Not just me, the entire team…I’m really happy with what we did. And I think we’ve brought a lot of new readers to the medium that I love most. More comic book readers is always a good thing. Whether it’s one of my books or manga or anything else. It’s just a vital medium – with the most creative control of anything out there. You can capture the pure voice of the creator better than any other medium. There’s nothing like it, and I’m glad there are a bunch more people finding that out.

What was it like being on stage in Hall H at Comic-Con? That’s not a question I get to ask a lot of comics professionals.

Ha! It was fun. I was honestly just really proud of the project and the attention it brought to comic books. You couldn’t ask for a better ambassador for the art form than Keanu. That’s for sure.

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