Matt Kindt has established himself as an indie cartoonist, known for his existential, gutsy espionage comics like “Mind MGMT” and “Super Spy”. However, Kindt recently took over writing duties from Jeff Lemire on Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. from DC Comics. “Frankenstein” was one of those books that readers wrote off when the solicitations were first announced for the New 52, but it has since become one of the quirkiest titles in their catalog.
Starting this week with issue #13, Kindt brings Frankenstein into the Animal Man/Swamp Thing crossover event, “Rotworld”. Kindt and artist Alberto Ponticelli place Frank right in the midst of the action for an all out battle against disgusting Rot-monsters. Kindt took the time to chat with BD about the upcoming crossover, his experience writing for DC, and his plans for the future of “Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.”
BD: With issue #13, Frankenstein is entering the fray of Rotworld. What can you tell us about this arc and his role?
Kindt: Swamp Thing and Animal Man are off doing their thing and they leave Frankenstein with the gross disgusting things. Partly because he loves doing it, and partly because nobody else wants to deal with this kind of stuff. They’re sending him into some of the worst places, and he’s going to build an anti-rot army. But to get there, he’s going to have to dive into a lot of disgusting stuff.
BD: Does he align himself with the red or the green at all?
Kindt: He’s not attached to The Red or The Green really, so he’s just his own thing.
BD: You’ve mentioned that Jeff Lemire suggested that you take over the book after he got too swamped with his writing. Were these characters that you’ve always been interested in or did it just fall into your lap?
Kindt: Jeff got Frankenstein and I happened to be up in Toronto hanging out with him, and we were brainstorming ideas for the book. We were both really excited at the time. We went to his studio and we wrote down a bunch of ideas for different plots. So I wasn’t officially working on it, but it was so much fun kicking ideas around about the book. We talked about back stories for all the characters and different elements. So I feel like I know these characters and I’ve been a part of it really from the start. I’m really excited about actually getting to write it now.
BD: Your approach is a bit different from Jeff’s in that you go back to a bit of a Mary Shelley version of Frank; he’s not so much a monster, but a tragic man. When you knew you’d be taking over writing, did you go back and read Shelley’s work?
Kindt: I went back and read it a few times and tried to develop my own take for the character without diverging too much. There wasn’t an origin I could add or anything, it was already in place, so I wanted to show what it was like to have all these different pieces. He’s his own person, but what’s it like to know you’re made up of all these different parts of people. Then I wanted to bring in Victor as the arch enemy. Victor’s around to remind Frank that he is a monster. Every time Frank is starting to think, “Hey maybe I’m not a monster”, Victor is there to assure him that he is.
BD: In the last few issues he’s been a private character, branching away from SHADE and the rest of the heroes. How do you see his relationship with the rest of the team?
Kindt: For me, he’s always been trying to become a member of SHADE, and it’s just not working out for him recently. From a writing standpoint I also just wanted to focus on him to allow the readers to get to know him on a deeper level. There are so many members of the team, so I want to explore his interactions with each of them. With Rotworld you get a lot of Frank and Velcoro, they’re basically going on the road together. Velcoro is a wise-mouth, smart-ass and I want to see how the two would interact. I want readers to feel about the characters before I get the team back together as a team.
BD: So are you approaching it as a team book?
Kindt: Yeah it’s definitely a team book still. For me the problem with team books is that unless it’s done right, you don’t get enough of each character, you don’t get to know the background guys and, which leads to you not caring about them too much. My idea is to isolate the characters so you can feel for them, and then bring them together so there is more cohesion in SHADE. This will make it easier for readers to see that there actually is a strong team here.
BD: When you write these characters, do you feel you know them already, or does the process of writing help you to know them?
Kindt: It’s sort of a bit of both. I think about the characters and how they exist, I try to think of who they were before the story I am telling. They’re all part of SHADE now but they had lives before that made them who they are. It’s not something people reading need to know, but I like knowing these details so I can grasp their personality. There is a reason they all act as they do, there’s a reason Velcoro is a smart-ass. So I have all that in my mind and then try to write them.
BD: Frankenstein is a pretty crazy book, it must be fun to write. Are there any limitations you have on the series given how ridiculous it can be?
Kindt: I think it’s mostly self-imposed. I give credit to DC and their editorial staff, they really opened up a lot of possibilities for the stories. They kind of just let us go wild. In a way it’s similar to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, which is just crazy and completely insane. I didn’t read it until a few years ago with the omnibus editions, so I’m trying to channel a bit of that craziness. You know, if you have characters you can empathize with and then put them in unpredictable and tough situations it holds more weight.
BD: There are a lot of supernatural villains and monsters in the book are you keeping them in there?
Kindt: To me, the monsters and such are the background for the story that other things feed off of. There might be some more espionage, but the monsters will always be there with Frank. It’s just kind of fun and edgy.
BD: In another interview you mentioned that you don’t like drawing monsters. How does that differ from your perspective writing and collaborating with Alberto?
Kindt: I’ve been a bit more grounded in real world stuff, so drawing monsters is not something I’m great at. I did a book with monsters and it was just so hard! It doesn’t come naturally to me. Alberto is just so great. I come up with what the monster may look like, for example he’s like a troll living under a bridge, but he’s three stories tall. Then Alberto takes it and runs with it and it’s so, so amazing. I sort of offer the personality of the monster and he translates it into something else.
BD: Can you tell us anything about Frankenstein post Rotworld?
Kindt: I want to again focus on other characters of the team. The Mummy, and werewold, just bring them together with Frank and see how they all mesh together. With books like Justice League, you know all the heroes, you know Superman, you know Batman, you know Wonder Woman, you don’t need the time to figure out who they are. But this is so different because the readers don’t know, I want to establish that first.
BD: Frank is pretty serious in nature, he runs off famous literary quotes but there’s also a big element of humor in the book. How do you balance those two aspects?
Kindt: I want to read a story that brings out some emotion, that makes me feel something. Part of me loves the serious stuff, but in everything I’ve done always has elements of the silly stuff. There’s something funny about a monster made of different parts that carries a big sword. So, I think there are times for both in the book. It took me a while to understand the way he talks, but I finally understood that on a basic level Frank is Conan the Barbarian if he did a masters degree in English Literature. It’s such a strange dichotomy that lends itself to sadness and humor.
BD: Frank is the first ongoing you’ve done for DC. How does it compare to your creator-owned work?
Kindt: It’s so much easier [laughs]. From a creative standpoint, I worry a bit less because these characters already exist, they are who they are, it’s a bit more fun. I have a set of characters and I get to put them in stories. Just doing writing alone, I don’t have to worry about drawing, coloring, and lettering. It’s like borrowing your best friend’s toys as a kid and playing with them.
BD: Do you have a favorite version of Frankenstein in comics or otherwise?
Kindt: I love the Grant Morrison run . He put a cool spin on it. But the Creature from the Black Lagoon is my favorite monster, so I actually feel more for Nina.