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Matt Kindt talks hope, stories, and idiots in 'Spy Superb'

Comic Books

Matt Kindt talks hope, stories, and idiots in ‘Spy Superb’

The new series is out this month via Dark Horse Comics.

Matt Kindt clearly has a thing for spies. He created the very spot-on Super Spy back in 2007. His beloved MIND MGMT is a psychedelic take on espionage. And, most recently, he remixed the genre with BANG! Now, the writer-artist proves that diamonds aren’t the only thing that’s forever with his fourth such project, Spy Superb.

The series, being published by Dark Horse, is described as “John Wick meets Wes Anderson,” and centers around a super secret government agency. In their efforts to create the perfect spy, they develop a program around the “useful idiot,” or an operative who is “sent on missions without even realizing he’s on a mission” The book follows one such “idiot,” Jay, as he becomes embroiled in a caper involving secret intel, hit squads, and mystery galore. The title sees Kindt rejoined colorist (and his wife) Sharlene Kindt, who worked together on Dept. H.

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With the first issue out this week, Kindt was kind enough to answer a few questions recently via email. That includes his interest in the spy genre, if the story operates as a larger metaphor, working with Sharlene Kindt, and exploring his own life via fiction.

Matt Kindt talks hope, stories, and idiots in 'Spy Superb'

Main cover by Matt Kindt (L), variant by Martin Simmonds (R). Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: How much of this is pulled from real life somehow? Is doing that kind of research important for your projects?

Matt Kindt: There are a few very personal stories embedded in here. The thing is, I have no interest in just telling my personal stories. I think I need that buffer of fiction between me and the event. And definitely between me and anyone who would read these. I think that’s what’s great about genre fiction. You can use the surface-level fun tropes to work through issues…and the by-product is the book – and because it’s spies or super heroes or detectives…it can actually be entertaining but still have that echo of truth in it. That said, I did a lot of research for this book. But I don’t really see it as “research.” I read about things that I’m interested in – history, spies, cults, religion, psychology, etc. And that reading/research just ends up fueling the stories I write.

AIPT: You’ve written a few spy stories. What is it about the genre that keeps you coming back?

MK: I think it’s a genre that allows you to really tell any story. And it usually has some inherent drama. Lying and sneaking around is built in. So really most of the time it’s about exploring the ramifications of that lying and sneaking. Espionage just appeals to me more than say a story about infidelity because the lying and action in espionage is usually about something – a belief in a higher ideal rather than lying and sneaking for personal gratification.

AIPT: Is there a kind of “hopeful” element to this — we can all be heroes? Or is it all a grander metaphor about how we’re mostly inept and subject to inertia?

MK: I like to think that all of my books have an optimistic element to them. This one included. I don’t do metaphors – at least intentionally. I try to tell a story that comes from a real place. If there’s a metaphor it comes from the framing of that truth. But I think it’s poison for a book to start out with a metaphor and then write to that. I’d rather let that work it’s way in subconsciously.

Spy Superb

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

For Spy Superb I really wanted to write a different kind of character than the ones I’ve done before. Someone that isn’t fully self-aware. A person that has this idealized version of themself – maybe an inflated version of who they are and what they can do. I won’t lie – it was so much fun writing this guy who is secretly disappointed with the turns his life has taken and where he’s at. And talks himself into this idea that he’s a sleeper-agent – secretly a super spy and he just never realized it. And then playing with the idea that maybe…maybe he is a sleeper agent?

AIPT: What’s it like working with Sharlene? What does her colors/influence bring?

MK: Well, we’ve been married for 22 years so she is definitely my favorite collaborator (laughs). In art school, I was only working in black and white – indie-comic style – and she was so good at watercolor. I would watch her – and have her show me technique (this is before YouTube)…and she really taught me everything I know about it. She has her own thing (she runs a candle company – Webster Wax that fronts our studio) so I’m very conscious of not puling her away from her own stuff to work on something of mine.

So when we do work together – we really do – I run the story by her; we discuss color and storytelling. She spends a lot of time developing the palette and the language of color she’s going to use in the book. And she’s always trying something new to add a layer to it all. There’s a scene early on that she used gold leaf on – the actual art – scanned in – it looks cool – but the original art is even better. We have such a rapport in general – that working together on a book just becomes an extension of that. We have fun – we experiment – she’s the best. And as an artist – she goes through all of my pages and circles the parts of the art that need fixing – so she also works as editor in a way.

Matt Kindt talks hope, stories, and idiots in 'Spy Superb'

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: Could this book only be written in our age of Trump? Or did it just make the most sense to do it right now?

MK: Ha ha! I don’t know. I really spent the last two years of pandemic just reading and writing and watching movies – which really is all I’ve ever done in my life – but just more of it. Cutting out all of the social stuff and travel allowed me to just laser-focus on writing and drawing. But I think the isolation and world events were just getting me down. I feel like the tone of my books is also the opposite of how I feel in real life. I’m trying to simulate the missing emotion in my own reality. As a result, most of my books are a little sad and melancholy – because I am usually missing that emotion so I simulate it through my books. But I’ve had two years of that so my latest crop of books have more humor and a light-heartedness in them that I’ve never done before.

I feel like this book is more of that. I didn’t want to put more doom and gloom into the world. I guess it’s the equivalent of doing a musical during the Great Depression. I wanted this book to be kind of funny but also with a dark edge to it. The truth of things is still in there.

AIPT: There’s a few layers and moving parts established in this first issue. How do you plot a story like this, and do you try to challenge yourself with structure?

MK: Structure is the thing I try to figure out first – along with plot/character. I think I come up with plot and main character first…then structure. Then fill in the rest. And the structure is fluid throughout the process. I like to set up an expectation – every issue has the main story and a back-up story that informs the main narrative. But with issue three I turn that on it’s head in a kind of sad/funny way. It will be a bit of a sucker-punch. But that structural idea didn’t come until I was actually inking that issue. I think inking a comic is really the final stage of writing.

Spy Superb

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Because you’re staring at the same page for hours on end…thinking about ideas and story. A lot of my best ideas came to me only while I was inking it (if I’m lucky I don’t have to re-draw things) in this case I did re-draw a bunch of it. Nothing should get in the way of a better idea.

AIPT: You’ve always had a solid grip on humor in your stories, but this book is extra funny. Why the “sudden” interest in humor, especially more physical comedy?

MK: Two years in quarantine. But I never really wanted to do a straight up comedy. And the series takes a turn at the end of issue two…I hope it’s still funny. But I want it to be grounded, you know? Funny but with heart. There are still stakes. It was fun to write a character like this that is really wholly unlikable in so many ways…but to also end up having some compassion for him. Or at least understand where he’s coming from. You still kind of hate him at the end probably. But you have a better understanding of why you don’t like him.

The physical stuff has a root in my older book [Super Spy] – there’s actually a flashback to a scene that happens in Super Spy – where the “super spy” blows himself up. That was in that other book…and it was always funny to me…so in a way this book is a sequel to that – extending that idea into modern times.

AIPT: The first issue also spends a solid chunk about the handler of this Spy Superb. How much do we get to delve into him, and is this story maybe just as much about him?

MK: We get a little bit about each character. The Handler, Lucky, and Roche Chambeaux – the super assassin. Every issue has a little back up story in the same format that I used in my older book Super Spy – intentionally…those secret files are really just an extension of that book so you can see how these events in World War II actually set up the action in this new book. Not necessary to read the older book – but if you do – it has some fun tie-ins.

Matt Kindt talks hope, stories, and idiots in 'Spy Superb'

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: You really nail the failed writer trope here. Are you working out some frustrations as a writer/creative?

MK: Ha! For sure. I think I reached a stage in my career where I became very self-aware. Painfully so. I realized this is what I’m going to be and this is my place in the world. Creatively. As a person. And I had this kind of calm fall over me. If this is what I am and all I do? It’s okay. I had fun. I love doing what I do. I don’t need more…I really have all I could have asked for and more in a life. But that’s easy to say – sitting where I am. If I hadn’t gotten to this point, what would I be doing? Would I still write for the fun of it? I’d like to think that I enjoy the process so much that I would…but I don’t know. I think Jay ended up being a bizarro version of myself – my worst self, which is maybe why he was so fun to write.

AIPT: Do you “like” Jay, our “hero”? Do you feel bad for him, perhaps?

MK: That’s a tricky one. He drives me nuts. I have no tolerance for ego. But I also think his ego comes from being in denial. He’s afraid to just embrace the life he has. As a result, he’s built up all of these coping mechanisms. That doesn’t make him likable. But I think it makes his actions understandable. I’m not sure he changes at the end of this story – but I think the reader’s idea of the story will change by the end. You’ll realize who the real hero in this story is. Who the real Spy Superb is. And she’s hiding in plain sight.

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