Comic Stands

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Image credit: Holly Lovering

Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt, Dark Horse Comics

Ask someone what characterises a comic book, there are some words you’ll always hear: Superheroes, action, cartoon, costumes. Batman will be mentioned, and if you’re speaking to someone under forty, probably Marvel as well.

Mind MGMT is none of those words.

If I had to describe the genre that Mind MGMT falls under, I guess the closest you could get to it would be ‘intellectual spy thriller mystery’. The main plot, at least to begin with, follows true-crime writer Meru. Stuck in a two year rut after the success of her first book, she is suddenly seized with inspiration; she’s going to find “Henry Lyme”, the mysterious man who disappeared from the infamous Amnesia Flight 815 two years before. 121 people boarded a plane – 119 of them got off it with no memory of who they were or how they got there. The only ones unaffected were a seven-year-old boy, and passenger no. 121, “Henry Lyme” who disappeared from the face of the earth before the plane even landed. With no money and nothing left to lose, Meru starts to follow a trail that only she can connect. She doesn’t realise it yet, but Amnesia Flight 815 is only the tip of the iceberg. Running underneath everything is Mind Management; a group with a vast array of psychic abilities and their sinister agents, the Immortals.

It’s totally unlike most other comic books being published. All the typical tropes of action and superheroes are happening in the mind; there is nothing as simple as a punch to the face with a ‘POW’ inscribed across it. The characters are manipulated, controlled and led astray, and in this Mind MGMT is significant in particular for the unique way in which it engages with its readers. Just as Meru is guided and foiled by the actions of an organisation that can control her every move, so we are guided and cajoled by Kindt, the creator; subliminal marketing is a significant feature in the story, and the ads on the back covers and the letters pages of each issue often include secret codes for the reader to decipher. Some pages you have to fold in order to see how the characters see. There are also side stories in each instalment, about people you pass in the street, or characters we’ll never meet; quotes and excerpts written in the margins from books that seem irrelevant at first, until a few panels, a few pages, a few issues later, when suddenly something you read on the side of a building becomes intrinsically relevant to what’s going on. Just like Meru, Kindt makes us into the detectives, trying to piece together this puzzle from a thousand different strands that he expertly weaves through the book. Everything is important. Nothing is a coincidence.

Of course, Kindt’s art is a huge part of how he achieves this, and it’s also one of the things people struggle with most about Mind MGMT. The current fashion in comic book art tends towards clarity and minimalism – block colours, thick lines, and “realistic” (aka “cinematic”) poses and illustration. Backgrounds and characters are often detailed and complex, but are also simply drawn. Matt Kindt’s artwork, by comparison, uses watercolour, sketching and collage. It’s often rough, tactile and impressionistic. Many people struggle to engage with Mind MGMT because of this, but personally I found great enjoyment in it once I persevered; reading it begins to feel like it’s something someone has scribbled down on a plane before they forget it – the pages themselves are laid out like a spy’s field mission report, as if we are ourselves the agents pursuing Meru. A face drawn with strange or familiar features could simply be how that character looks, or could be someone who looks different every time we see them. There are so many secret codes and messages hidden within the panels that it begins to feel a little like falling down a rabbit hole.

But however different and original it may seem, the book itself was conceived from a great love of comic books and the comic book form. The printed single issues have been getting increasingly low sales. Most people buy comics in trade paperbacks – the books that collect issues into a single edition. They’re cheaper, more convenient, and less hassle – and that’s if people buy them at all. When Matt Kindt first started writing Mind MGMT in 2012, he talked about wanting to write a story that was especially designed for the single issue format: “I want the reading of this book to be unique. Something that can’t be replicated in a trade. Something that hasn’t been done before”. Kindt has delivered on that promise. When the series ended last year after 36 issues, it was compiled into 6 trades. Each is 200 pages long, and none of them contain any of the bonus material that you can find in the single issues. This was a big problem for me; I love owning the hard copies and having them on my shelf, but buying the individual issues in a printed format is also difficult and expensive. Buying the individual issues online from a digital comic provider like Comixology or Dark Horse Digital is the best way to get the full experience, even if I can’t hold it in my hands or fold the pages the way Kindt intended. All the same, it’s worth it for this engaging, complex and beautifully realised story.