If you’ve been on the internet at some point in the last few months (or maybe just last week some time), you’ll know the comics game has a new player. Bad Idea, the brain-child of three industry veterans, promises a dynamic new business model, one focused on great comics and less on the trappings of other publishers (digital releases, 1,200 variant covers, etc.) Whether you think they’ll be a success or not, there’s no arguing that they’re coming out the gates white hot.
ENIAC, the publisher’s first book, is written by Matt Kindt and features art from Doug Braithwaite and Diego Rodriguez. It tells the story of rogue A.I. who has been secretly guiding policy decisions and world events since WWII. And as far as beginnings are concerned, it more than delivers for Bad Idea, with a dynamic, emotionally potent take on “alternate history” that could be an early standout for 2021.
Ahead of the book’s March 3 debut, we spoke with Kindt about the story and its origins, other robots in fiction, working with Bad Idea, and much, much more.
Be sure to read all the way through to the bottom for exclusive pages from issue #2, due out April 7.
AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for ENIAC?
Matt Kindt: An artificial intelligence designed in during World War II evolves and begins to manipulate humanity and world events for a secret purpose – which might just be launching the world’s nuclear arsenal and wiping the planet clean…or it could be something else even sneakier. It’s definitely something sneakier than that.
AIPT: think the first issue does a really great job setting up the book’s take on history. How important was it to nail that balance between “fantasy” and authenticity?
MK: It was a fine line. ENIAC is inspired by a real invention called…ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) – which was the first progammable computer built during World War II.
From there we created fictional characters (mostly) and ran with the idea of this AI that is fed a steady stream of information and begins to realize how much smarter it is than we are. But that said, I am VERY well aware of Terminator and every AI style horror story. This is definitely not that. It seems like it is – but I wrote in a way that is very aware of those stories and it brings something completely new to that sub-genre. It’s not HAL and it’s not Cyberdyne.
AIPT: A follow-up of sorts: did you try and align somewhat with history or does this book really go off the rails when it comes to this slice of U.S. history?
MK: It’s not really an alternate history – it’s more like a behind-the-scenes imagining of history – everything that we know happened…it happened. But the reasons it happened might be different than what we think. And then it goes completely off the rails in issue #4. So past and present is history as we know it…and then it takes a pretty big leap.
AIPT: The first issue’s tone felt a little like Grass Kings meets Black Badge. Is there anything else from your (rather robust) bibliography that you think informed your efforts?
Boy, issue #1. It honestly isn’t like anything I’ve written before. The scope is pretty big. I like small stories that are character driven – and this has such scope – it’s bigger than anything I’ve written. Maybe Dept. H is similar – starts small, but is about something really big.
AIPT: There’s a lot of fiction addressing A.I. and the “rise” of the machine. What do you think ENIAC does differently in this “genre”?
MK: That would spoil it. But as a fan of that sub-genre – rest assured – this is a different take on it. I have a healthy mix of love and fear of new technology and at the end of the day I’m definitely an early adopter of all things new. So I tend to be more optimistic. So if there is a way to do a “rise of the machine” story that is optimistic…? I might have found it. The intriguing thing to me about AI is the idea that it can only know what we put into it. But at a certain point if it starts to gather information on its own – that’s where the unpredictability comes in. But at its core – it’s “childhood” – AI is only what we make it. And I like to think if you raise a kid right – they will end up doing the right thing.
AIPT: I think a lot of the first issue’s momentum comes from the two covert ops soldiers, Falk and Fletcher. Why is it about their dynamic that’s so vital or made you want to really focus on this specific pairing?
MK: I love Peter Falk and Jessica Fletcher. What can I say? I’d love to see that team up? Columbo and Jessica Fletcher? But a more direct, more kick-ass version. It’s fun to write about a duo that can do anything – they’re super capable – and then run them up against something that no human can beat. What do they have that makes them different? How can they stand a chance? They bring the chaos – and that’s their secret weapon.
AIPT: What was it like working with Doug Braithwaite and Diego Rodriguez? Given your artistic and design background, how does that influence these collaborations?
MK: I’ve worked with them before and I’m such a fan. Doug and I had a great run at Valiant on Unity and Ninjak, and he’s just such a solid story teller. He makes everything dynamic. This first issue was maybe one of the most challenging issues I’ve ever written – and it carried over into the art. There was a LOT of heavy lifting that Doug had to do. Some tricky camera angles and storytelling devices that really depend wholly on the art. And Diego’s color – it really was as key to the storytelling and understanding of what’s happening as anything. We worked really hard on the opening and ending sequences to get it right. They’re subtle and creepy and amazing – but very high on degree of difficulty when it comes to comics.
AIPT: Were there any famous robots or other bad guys that influenced how you developed ENIAC? How do you think people might come to view “it” as the series moves along?
MK: Some nods to HAL are definitely in there – but not as an influence but more like a negative imprint. I wanted to do something that worked in the space and in the ideas that HAL doesn’t touch on. I’m a huge fan of Arthur Clarke and really all of his books, and I love the idea of using that sort of collective knowledge that we all kind of carry around – about tech and the future and robots and AI gone bad – and use that knowledge against you. This series definitely does that.
AIPT: What’s it like working with Bad Idea? Is it important at all that this book helps launch the new publisher at all?
MK: I’m really pouring my heart and soul into this company. I’m great friends with everyone involved – we’re really close – and we work together in such an easy and amazing way. We’ve been working together for years now – so there’s a trust and a shorthand that develops that makes it really fun and really easy to make amazing comics. I wish I could tell you about all the amazing LEGENDS of comics that Warren has set me up with. It’s really a rogues gallery of all my favorite creators. There is SO much coming down the pipeline!
AIPT: Is any of this story influenced at all by modern politics? I see some correlation with ongoing battles of transparency, and how we really don’t yet understand just how much technology complicates politics as opposed to always “improving” it.
MK: I guess. I’m sure it’s in there. I really wanted the story to be timeless. Like the best sci-fi – I’m hoping it will be as relevant today as it will be in 50 or 100 years. Technology and politics always change – but the one constant is human nature. If you explore that – then everything you write is going to always be relevant.
AIPT: The first issue deals with a pretty big historical event: the first nuclear bombs. Was there a conversation or larger decision process involved about what you’d want to say or depict, and what might have just been too much/too far?
MK: For sure. I wrestled with it. Did a lot of research. The moral dilemma/decision to drop a bomb on a city…it’s a big thing. And I didn’t want to absolve humans from what they’ve done and what they’re capable of. But I also wanted to explore a “what-if” world that takes some decision making away from humanity – but does so for the purpose of exploring how and why we make big decisions like taking another human life…or thousands of lives. It’s those moral quandaries that this book really explores.
AIPT: What’s the one reason everyone should read ENIAC?
MK: It has the best ending I’ve ever written! You will not see it coming. And it’s got spies, assassinations, world wars, a World War II blood-thirsty black-ops team, secret codes, brainwashing, and a very suspicious Speak and Spell.
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