Feb 112013
 
Art from Mind MGMT #6 by Matt Kindt.

Mind MGMT is one of the best comic books on the stands right now. It’s a complex, densely plotted sci-fi mystery that takes us inside the world of the titular government agency, a secret organization comprised of psychics with the ability to shape major events. Writer/artist Matt Kindt makes allusions to fellow pop culture puzzles Lost (an event onboard a mysterious flight 815 kicks things off) and The Third Man (a pivotal figure is named Henry Lyme) while concocting a story that seems wholly original. With each issue, Kindt invites you further and further down the rabbit hole, an invitation that’s hard to resist. If that were all it had going for it, Mind MGMT would still be worth talking about.

But the series, published by Dark Horse, is also making a strong case for monthly reading at a time when many readers have become “trade-waiters,” waiting for the inevitable trade paperback collections of certain story arcs. Kindt, known for graphic novels like Super Spy and Revolver, says that he doesn’t read monthly comics anymore. In the letter column at the end of the first issue of Mind MGMT, he writes, “I want the reading of this monthly book to be unique. I want it to be something that can’t be replicated in a trade. Something that hasn’t been done before.”

To that end, each issue features exclusive material that won’t be reprinted in the trade. Unlike half-hearted efforts by other titles, there’s more here than just sketches or pin-ups. There’s a second story in each issue; quite literally, as these stories go under the heading “The Second Story.” The inside front cover has the first page of the story, and then after you’ve read everything else the issue has to offer, the inside back cover finishes it. These stories aren’t mere decoration, either, building a history for their fictional world by covering everything from Mind MGMT’s creation during World War I to its experiments with “magic” in the ‘70s.

Other incentives include “mind memos” or “case files,” introducing what appear to be ancillary characters that will eventually play important roles; or, for the first six-issue arc, ads on the back covers for fake products like Clearhed face cream and juice drink BE iT containing codes that could be used to unlock further information on the book’s website. (If you go to the website now, it asks for a password;  as far as I can tell, you can enter anything and it takes you to a set of extras, including a fascinating breakdown of Kindt’s scripting and art process.)

Art from Mind MGMT #2 by Matt Kindt.

Art from Mind MGMT #2 by Matt Kindt.

In interviews, Kindt reveals more of his desire to foster the kind of communal experience the comics industry seems to be leaving behind. There’s the aforementioned letter column, which itself is becoming a rarity. DC hasn’t featured one in their books since 2002, while Marvel’s are sporadic, leaving indie books like Kindt’s to rescue this once important aspect of the ritual. With Facebook, Twitter, and a variety of other social media, it’s not that discussion isn’t happening. It’s that it doesn’t occupy the special place it used to. Talking with Biff Bam Pop! at Mind MGMT’s launch last summer, Kindt said that he misses “the anticipation of waiting 30 days for the next issue – and talking about what’s happening with friends and trying to guess what’s going to happen – it’s so much more interactive that way. It creates a dialogue – between readers and other readers, and readers and me – and I love that.”

Another quote from that interview jumped out at me: “…I’m trying to avoid the addition of big blocks of text that does serve to slow you down and is content but isn’t comics – I want it to be all comics!” The distinction between “content” and “comics” is what stands out. It’s hard to read “big blocks of text” without calling to mind a writer like Brian Michael Bendis, someone whose work I’ve greatly enjoyed but who could be accused of an over-reliance on telling instead of showing. Kindt’s point may be a little purist, but it’s one I understand. Many comics are weighted down with exposition and dialogue, while very few seem to explore the medium’s unique storytelling potential.

That’s something Mind MGMT would never be accused of. Even more than the extra content, what makes it such a thrilling and involving read is that there’s so much to absorb on each page. There’s certainly plenty of detail to pick up on in Kindt’s rough, stylized artwork, but each page is also formatted as a report from the files of Mind MGMT. At first, it’s easy to dismiss the blue type running up the left margins, but take a closer look and you’ll find that they’re actually excerpts from a Mind MGMT field guide. The text seems fairly standard but grows increasingly weirder, eventually transforming into something of an oblique commentary on whatever’s happening on the rest of the page.

The most recent issue, #7, introduces two new devices to go along with the new story arc. Replacing the field guide excerpts are selections from the main character’s true crime novel, along with a comic strip that runs along the bottom of the page and plays into the main story. It’s a lot to take in, and while I imagine it could border on sensory overload for new readers, it absolutely ensures that you get the most bang for your buck. These days, plunking down $3 or $4 for a single comic book isn’t a decision made lightly, and for good reason. Your average comic, whether it consists of superhero derring-do or headier independent stuff, only takes five to ten minutes to read and doesn’t usually demand a second read-through.

I read Mind MGMT #7 four times. Once for the main story, once for the true crime excerpts, once for the bottom strip, and one final time to see how all the pieces informed one another. That’s four completely different experiences within a mere 24 pages, an offer that no other book right now can rival. Mind MGMT experiments, innovates, and excites in a way that’s almost frighteningly casual. In other words, it’s all comics.

Meanwhile…

  • Green Arrow #17 (DC) introduces Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino as the new creative team, swiftly clearing the decks and giving the series a much-needed overhaul.
  • Mark A. Robinson’s art in I Love Trouble #3 (Image) is quirky and playful, with an infectious use of sound effects, while the series has fun setting up a superheroine who emphatically does not wear spandex.
  • Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #20 (Marvel) brings the kind of suspense and emotion to the adventures of Miles Morales that Peter Parker’s have been sorely lacking for a good long while.
  • Following Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice is no easy task, but with Winter Soldier #15 (Marvel), Jason Latour and Nic Klein suggest they might be up to it. Klein’s dynamic artwork, which made last year’s otherwise forgettable Dancer a must-read, is a particular selling point.
  • New #1 issues: Dia De Los Muertos (Image), an intriguing anthology series centered around the Mexican Day of the Dead; The Fearless Defenders (Marvel), a disappointingly standard tights-and-fights book following Matt Fraction’s brainy though little-read Defenders series; Red Team (Dynamite), a Garth Ennis book that is as grim and eloquent as one would expect a Garth Ennis book to be; and Snapshot (Image), the lean, mean first chapter of a four-part murder mystery.

  5 Responses to “Mind MGMT: A Monthly Invitation Down the Rabbit Hole”

  1. A very well written article on a comic that I’m not familiar with, but most assuredly sounds intriguing.

  2. Good article. I read the first Mind Management & liked it, but forgot to keep up (so much out there to read & watch). Definitely going to pick up the rest.

  3. Great piece on Mind MGMT. I’d never heard of this comic, and this is a fantastic look at what’s being done with it.

    I’m simultaneously intrigued and infuriated by what Kindt is doing. I’m completely behind the idea of making reading a comic monthly have a point again. I’ve become a trade-waiter recently myself, and I already miss the feeling of picking up a comic every month and getting a piece of the story.

    …on the other hand…

    Isn’t it cheating to make you want to read the monthly comic by including story you won’t get in the trade? Isn’t that just punishing the people like, say, me? Who found out about this comic as of issue 7 and don’t have much of a chance of hunting down issues that are now sold out or out of print? Is “special material” really what readers need to get them back into reading monthly? Is a lack of special material what led them away?

    Or have comics started telling stories that just work better in trade format than in monthly, the same way a lot of television shows work better watched in a run than they do every week?

    What I mean is: Maybe what we need to get us reading monthly again is storytelling that works better in small chunks with an enforced time between reads. The kind of thing that, if you had it in a trade, you’d be better off reading a piece at a time, putting the book back on the shelf between issues. Not a story that only plays less well in a trade because the publisher isn’t giving you 20% of it.

    All that said – and format crankiness aside – I very much want to read what’s going on in this.

    More importantly: I look forward to reading this column as it goes forward. Well done.

    • I should have made a point of mentioning this in the piece, but I don’t think the story will play any less well in a trade. The extra content, though it enriches the story, is not essential to reading or understanding it. I get what you’re saying, though. It’s not the lack of “special material” that led monthly readers away; that’s a whole other thing I’ll probably wind up writing about. But I do think that a big reason many have stopped reading monthly is because of steep pricing for what is very little content. You drop $4 for an issue of The Amazing (or Superior, whatever) Spider-Man, and five minutes later, you can’t believe that’s all you got in return. Even a great comic like Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga goes by in a flash. Whereas Mind MGMT works to earn your $4, so that by the time you’re done with it, you’re satisfied with it as an individual unit instead of just another piece of a larger whole.

      Comics have moved toward telling stories that work better in trade format, which is something Kindt has addressed. He embraces the Lost comparison, saying that much like there were two kinds of people who watched Lost–those who watched it every week and those who binged on the DVDs–there will be two kinds of people who read Mind MGMT. I don’t look at it as the trade-waiters being punished so much as the monthly readers actually getting something for their effort.

      But Eric, I did want to mention, the first Mind MGMT trade still isn’t out–I think it comes out in April, maybe?–and the bonus content is still available in the digital editions of the series. So there’s always that option!

    • Only the first issue is sold out, and it’s getting a $1 reprint in a few months. The others are still in stock for your local shop to order. All of them are on eBay for decent (cover or less) prices.

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