Solving a murder is never easy, but what if you had to do it kilometres underwater, trapped on a station that could flood at any moment? That's the premise of Matt and Sharlene Kindt's new series, Dept. H. We sat down with the husband-and-wife team to discuss the series, along with a few preview pages from the series' first issue. Dept. H follows the young investigator named Mia tasked with solving a gruesome murder which took place many kilometres below the surface in a deep sea research base that's facing an impending flood. Among the mysterious creatures lurking in the dark around the station and the dark secrets shared among the crew, Mia is tasked with finding out who killed the smartest man on Earth before she and her evidence are washed away into the darkest depths of the ocean.
You're coming into Dept. H in the wake of the end of your Dark Horse series, MIND MGMT. What lead you to pivot towards this very different, quite personal story in Dept. H?
Matt Kindt: It was as much a reaction to MIND MGMT as anything. With MIND MGMT I literally spent four years thinking about and layering that story into something really enormous. Big ideas executed on a really large scale over a long period of time. Both in terms of story and theme and also literally with the globe-spanning locations and time jumping. It had everything I could possibly imagine poured into it. So my mindset coming off of that was to do something… different. So I tried to push things to the opposite extreme. It's a murder mystery set in a "locked room" science base, six miles deep in the ocean. The smartest man on Earth was killed down there and our protagonist, Mia, has less than 24 hours to figure out who killed him before the base floods and everyone (including the evidence) is washed away.
So in that way, this story if very single-minded — very goal oriented. I'm not laying out all the answers to every question in the universe (MIND MGMT)… [laughs]. It's a smaller story about a woman dealing with the loss of her father under extreme circumstances.
Tell us a little bit about the premise and the lead character, Mia. Was it a conscious decision to go with another female lead for Dept. H?
M. Kindt: Throughout my career I've tended to gravitate toward female leads — because it's an easy way to immediately distance myself from a character. I think the trap that a lot of writers get into is they end up writing a protagonist that's just them and becomes a mouthpiece for their ideas and thoughts on life. I think by consciously creating a character that is a woman, a different race, a different upbringing then myself — all of that forces me to really get outside of myself and think differently. To make this character real, rather than just an extension of me. And I think doing gives me the side benefit of hopefully being a little bit better of a person — less self-centred. I'm constantly trying to view events from another person's point of view.
Dept. H #1, Page 14. Art by Matt and Sharlene Kindt.
What inspired you to write the series?
M. Kindt: I was watching the Jacques Cousteau documentary World without Sun and it all really started to come together. Just the difficulty and challenge to dive deep into the ocean, it's a really unique and harrowing experience. Space and getting through the atmosphere is one thing. But there's a kind of relief when you're in space — the weightlessness, and freedom in some ways. But with the ocean, the deeper you go, the more claustrophobic it gets. There is literally more and more pressure on you the deeper you go. It's that kind of visceral terror that I really wanted to tap into and see if we could capture it in comic book form.
What was the biggest challenge in framing the story in two-hour chunks?
M. Kindt: Pacing is tough no matter how you're writing a 24-page serialised comic book story. Initially I conceived of the series being 24 hours per issue. As I got into it, I realised it really would be better (and much harder to write) if each issue was one hour. So that's tough. How do you get something meaningful to happen in each issue without it seeming repetitive? We'll get short two-page bursts of Mia's backstory as we go along and that helps give the action more weight — but this is really a non-stop roller coaster ride of a comic. And it's been fun to really show off how much comics can do in such a small space.
Dept. H #1, Page 15. Art by Matt and Sharlene Kindt.
Sharlene, what was it about Dept. H that made it the first project you wanted to collaborate full time with Matt?
Sharlene Kindt: Matt and I had a lot of fun working together on the Mind MGMT stories for Dark Horse Presents. It is a lot more challenging for me to colour other artists work versus my own. His lines are so different than mine, so it's a fun challenge to see how I can enhance his work with colour.
Have you had any narrative or artistic input beyond your colour work on the series?
S. Kindt: I don't have any narrative input besides Matt asking me my opinion on a few things here and there. I have artist input as far as some of the costume design and how the colour should tell the story. For example, before I start water-colouring, we go through each issue and talk a lot about the emotion we want specific scenes to have.
Dept. H #1, Page 16. Art by Matt and Sharlene Kindt.
What's been your approach to the colour and tone of Dept. H's world?
S. Kindt: I wanted to use rich colour, whether they be dark or more subtle. My personal work can be very vibrant and layered. With this book, I wanted the colours to be rich, but leave room for bright colours when they could really enhance the story. I also wanted to keep the colour simple… not use a lot of different colours. I gravitate toward blues and yellows. Besides the fact that they are natural colours of the story (water, Mia's diving suit, et cetera), I want to use colours that contrast to enhance the subjects.
Dept. H is the first regular monthly series you're providing colours for. How was adapting to a monthly comics schedule?
S. Kindt: The only other comic colour work I have done were short stories, so keeping to a tight schedule is challenging. I like to work when I am feeling my most creative and inspired, but those times never come when a deadline is looming. [laughs]
Sometimes I just have to force myself to sit down and work. I have tea by my table, put on a record, light a candle, put my laptop and phone away… and dig in.
Dept. H #1, Page 17. Art by Matt and Sharlene Kindt.
Matt, this is the first full-time comics project that you and Sharlene have worked on together. What's the process been like?
M. Kindt: It's been great. It is our first full-time long term project but it really seems like an extension of everything we do. We've been married since 1996 and when you're together that long and you really like the other person — not just "love", but like that person — you develop a great kind of shorthand and understanding, and you become a really interesting creative machine. Greater than the sum of our parts for sure. It's fun to carry that over into art — but it really starts with just living together, raising our daughter and learning how to work at all levels and interact in a way that makes us both happy.
When we first started this I'd get jokes and looks from friends, sort of hinting at how it could be "trouble" to work with your spouse. But really, you've got to be kidding. There's nothing more challenging than raising a kid from infant to teenager — if we can do that, everything else becomes a breeze!
What have you learned artistically from each other while doing the series?
M. Kindt: [Sharlene's] colours are so bright! And she leaves white space on the page! I was just joking about it the other day, looking at the finished art. When she first gives it to me, all I see are these strange difference — things I wouldn't have done, ways I wouldn't have painted it, and it throws me for a loop. And then the next day, I'm flipping through the finished pages again and I'm able to look at it for what it is: a true collaboration.
Those differences that seemed strange because they were different choices than the ones I would make — those are my favourite bits. It's really beautiful stuff. I love that we're getting a look at this art that I couldn't possibly do on my own. I've been a kind of loner for so long when it comes to writing and drawing comics, it really is exciting to pick up this art and see something that I would be incapable of reproducing on my own. It's a thrill.
The first issue of Dept. H is out this week.