Comics Creator Matt Kindt’s ‘Fine Art’

Matt Kindt

When Matt Kindt’s characters aren’t planting themselves at Red Wheel Barrow’s lonely diner counters in the Eisner and Harvey Award-winning comics writer, artist, and colorist’s Red-Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes, they mull paintings or true love, or debate whether victim-less crimes are in fact malicious at all. Only there is no shortage of deviousness in this dark and beautiful book, where art links a set of vignettes as compelling as their visuals and distinctive cast.

An elevator repairman snaps “upskirt” photos and peddles them to a smut ring contact at a newspaper stand. A con artist’s quite lucrative con rests entirely on the aggressions of others. An art thief offers a technical spin on his vocation that sets him apart from the more standard fare, such as the pricey suit-clad types in Robert Kirkman’s current monthly, Thief of Thieves. And each Red-Handed figure, provocative in his or her own manner, has a complicated role in the larger story.

The intriguing characters (and in some sense, story lines) that span Kindt’s body of work inevitably share an infrequent commonality or two. For a visually arresting graphic novel in 2010 called Revolver, Kindt worked post-apocalyptic anxiety into his pages as newspaper photo editor Sam struggles to balance what appears to be two realities at first, each feeling, smelling deceptively real. The book is more Vertigo than Groundhog Day — its urban dwellers in the alternate “life” find themselves damned with a mass avian flu outbreak, deranged motivational speakers, and emptied city streets under recent implementation of martial law. Fresh wire copy streams across each page’s footer in Revolver, announcing local and national end-times madness with the page numbers fed into headlines so that they’re actually part of the breaking news. A similarly elaborate plot unfolds in MIND MGMT, Kindt’s first monthly solo series. The inaugural volume was collected in an April 2013 trade from Dark Horse.

A plane crash yields mass amnesia for its survivors in MIND MGMT, and a crime novelist, navigating writer’s block and the anxiety to deliver a product at least as popular as her last work, peers into this phenomenon. There are unruly government agents, immortals, and more. Ads, positioned where actual ads would normally be in a comic, are riddled with secret codes that tie directly into MIND MGMT. Supporting material was worked into any and all available space — specifically in the comic’s back matter, or up and down the margins of the pages, set in the straight type that mirrors Revolver‘s harrowing news headlines. It would be difficult to thoroughly process all of what Kindt is trying to do with MIND MGMT simply by picking up the first trade collection. The 152 pages in MIND MGMT Volume One: The Manager don’t include all of the “bonuses” that Kindt prepared for his monthly series, and he wrote as much in May of 2012, when he took to the letters section of the first issue to advocate for buying monthly comics (after confessing that he hadn’t been for some time). “I’m basically making this into a monthly book that would get me reading monthly books again,” Kindt wrote. “And I hope it gets you to do the same.”

The aesthetic that we’ve come to associate with MIND MGMT — which undoubtedly helps hook its monthly devotees, personal letter from the creator or not — blankets Red-Handed. There’s an array of purposefully yellowed, coffee-spotted pages, bleached watercolors, Polaroid frames, abrupt shifts toward horizontal comic strips-within-a-comic, and weathered newspaper inserts that set Kindt’s work apart from nearly everything in the shop. Text and graphic design integration are fundamental to Red-Handed‘s strong appearance, as Kindt manipulates the flow of the story with shifts in lettering and sprinklings of stylish typefaces. Sure, this book is somewhat of an exploration of old detective fiction, but Kindt funnels his narrative through a swirl of complex human emotions and atypical mischief, all of which unfold within a half-mile’s distance of a practiced gumshoe named Gould. And even as the finest representation of the past proves the most trafficked these days — personal digital photography filters lend a vintage appeal to reproductions of our routines, while TV studio heads scramble to capture a pitch-perfect method of celebrating decades long-gone — each page that Kindt produces is marked by an ability to communicate nostalgia that is immediate and striking.

PopMatters critic Shaun Huston examined the relationship between words and images in comics, suggesting that a comic’s “drawings provide critical context for those words” in a late 2011 column for the site. “It is easy to let one’s eyes just slide over the pictures in the panels while attending to the dialogue,” wrote Huston. Like 2012’s Underwater Welder from Jeff Lemire (a sometime-collaborator of Matt Kindt’s), Red-Handed is one of those books that reminds us of how often we can be swept into racing past a comic book’s wordless sequences, or simply ingesting dialogue while neither appreciating page composition nor understanding why the perspective employed in panel “A” wouldn’t necessarily support the action in panel “B”.

Compelling interplay between Red-Handed‘s crafty and credulous throws shine on the work’s more enduring moments, such as when Kindt lends unlikely tenderness to an exchange between an aging pickpocket and his mark on a crowded subway train, or to a heist man’s recounting of his convictions to a new lover, set against a Hawaiian sunset. Each encounter is framed in extremes, so that micro scenes drawn from on-the-ground perspectives of townspeople swiping a store marquee’s letters can render the cast comically pint-sized. Evocative closeups, on the other hand, signal for reader restraint. It’s practically hypnotizing when Kindt brings someone to the fore in this novel. The minimal use of hard, black-ink sketch lines and watercolor washes goes just far enough to summon sympathy for Red Wheel Barrow’s wealth of rounded, weary faces, and it halts us in our tracks, too, so that we can make sure to lean over and get a close look.

Red Handed Page 36

Red Handed Page 37

MIND MGMT Volume One

MIND MGMT Volume One