Writer/artist Matt Kindt is no stranger to the intersection of crime and weirdness. From his trippy Dark Horse series Mind MGMT, to his work with Marvel and DC, Kindt always brings unique structure, and big, bold ideas. Red Handed, out now from First Second Books, fits right into that oeuvre, and is arguably his best work so far. The by turns heart-breaking and mind-blowing story of a town rocked with strange crimes that may or may not be connected is a must read.
We chatted with Kindt about the book, the future of the characters, and how you plan an intricately connected story like this:
MTV Geek: I assume the name of Detective Gould is an homage to Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould. Why’d you decide to go with that name?
Matt Kindt: I’m horrible with names. Naming characters is the hardest part of the entire process for me. And I love Dick Tracy. So it was kind of an easy choice to me. And in a way I felt like I was making a book that is partially built on the premise of “what if Dick Tracy was real” — which is one small element of the story so I like the idea of swapping out the fictional name for a real name.
MTV Geek: Did you base the “strange crimes” in the book on anything from real life?
Kindt: Definitely. Some of the characters that the chair-stealer steels chairs from are based on real people I’ve known. Although I haven’t known anyone that actually stoled chairs. The sign-author was inspired by my daughter — who would read signs out the car window anywhere we drove and would combine the words and business names together and string these funny sentences and word combinations together. It would crack us up. And it got me think — what if you wrote an entire novel with signage. What are the logistics of something like that. And who would do that? I went to Hawaii to research how awesome Hawaii is for the get-away driver chapter…but mostly I just wanted to go to Hawaii. There is a lot of real-world stuff threaded through the entire book.
MTV Geek: The plot is so intricately woven throughout the story. How did you approach the structure of the book?
Kindt: I started with a general concept — the idea of one small event having this domino effect across the city. That’s an idea I’d been kicking around since 7th grade and could never get a handle on. So with that general idea in mind I just started creating different criminal characters and tried to come up with some interesting crimes — crimes I’d be interested in committing for the most part or crimes that were mostly victimless. I really wanted to do a crime book that had no shooting in it and nobody died. So that was my goal (and I almost made it!)
MTV Geek: What goes into the planning of a story like this? Do you outline? Do you wing it?
Kindt: I have an evolving outline I guess. Every book is different. If I could figure out a formula for the process everything would be so much easier. But every story ends up growing in its own way. So I had the idea for Gould and his wife and then sort of reverse-engineered how to get to that end point. And from there I just tried to build a series of interesting short stories and really just carve out these small portraits of different people and different lives that could almost stand on their own if the chapters were pulled out of the book. But then I love the idea of then threading small things – background clues that tie it all together so you get a bigger payoff the second time you read it.
MTV Geek: Stylistically speaking, does the narrative dictate the look and layout of specific pages, or is it all about feeling?
Kindt: I write the entire book in thumbnail form first — so the panel layouts and action and characters dictate how many pages and the look of each page. Then I go back through and layer words and dialogue on top. Sometimes that will shift the art or layout again but it all starts with the visual — and I have an idea in my head for what’s being said and the words/dialogue but the visuals and action is what I have to get down on paper first. I feel like I kind of write as a one-man Stan Lee and Jack Kirby — where I plot it, draw it, and then dialogue/write over the art once it’s all done.
MTV Geek: Why is graphic novel the right format for this story? Why not an ongoing like “Mind MGMT”?
Kindt: Some stories work better as long expanded and serialized works. Cliff-hangers and epic stuff happening. That’s MIND MGMT. That’s how I designed that series/story to work. But Red Handed was always self-contained. Graphic novels need to work completely differently. It’s an elaborate clock-work kind of creation – that is actually much easier to put together. I can build the entire book and then go back and fix what needs fixing or add and take away until it’s just right. MIND MGMT is like walking a high-wire without a net. You can’t make a mistake or the entire thing falls apart.
MTV Geek: Aside from Dick Tracy, what types of stories or characters were you thinking about when creating the book?
Kindt: I really just pull most of the characters from people in my real life. The fur-trader character was based on my neighbor’s father – who actually was a smuggler — so I end up pulling real stories from here and there and even personalities. And then it’s easy to sort of expand and imagine and daydream what those people and those characters are like. What does a fur-smuggler think about? And what are their regrets when they’re older and they’ve “made it?” I do a LOT of daydreaming. Which is why I usually travel with someone so they can keep an eye on me when I’m crossing the street…
MTV Geek: Do you see a future for Detective Gould beyond this book?
Kindt: I never say no to that kind of thing — but there are some books — 3 Story and Revolver that I never thought would have a life after the book. It’s all between those covers. But as I go on to other projects my books end up haunting me and those characters do somehow keep living and going on in my head. So the answer is – sure. I’d love to see the further adventures of Detective Gould. He’s a different guy by the end of the book so it would be interesting to see him apply the lessons he learned (hopefully) in another series of strange crimes!
Red Handed: The Fine Art Of Strange Crimes is now available in stores everywhere!