by Jarrod Jones. “I’d say this entire series is a series of floors with trapdoors.”
That’s Matt Kindt, talking about his new Dark Horse Comics series with artist Matt Lesniewski and colorist Bill Crabtree, Crimson Flower. And he’s not kidding. I’ve read Crimson Flower #1—coming to a comics shop near you on January 20—and there are moments in this issue that, yes, absolutely replicate that vertiginous feeling of falling straight through terra firma. Our destination? Some unknowable place.
It’s Kindt, so there’s conspiracy here. Shady figures who loom darkly over the series’ crimson-locked heroine-of-sorts, a pharmaceutical salesperson burdened by tragedy and a severe case of mayhem. Because of the squiggly, Crumb-esque hyper-reality brought to the series by Lesniewski, this character’s journey feels utterly lysergic, an hallucinogenic traipse through seedy alleys and rotted-out streets where fantasy begins to intrude on reality just when one’s blood really starts to get up. Put simply, Crimson Flower is a crime concoction of Slavic folklore, mystery, and revenge quest. Wild stuff. (Preview pages of Crimson Flower #1 were not available at the time of this interview’s publication, but take my word: This is exactly the type of trip you love to go on.)
Ahead of the 2021 release of Crimson Flower #1, DoomRocket spoke with Matt Kindt about his latest surreal excursion, his take on people’s desire for a proper conspiracy, and what he reads when he isn’t busy filling our heads with fantasy and danger.
1. I’ve read ‘Crimson Flower’ #1 and, surprising no one, I was captivated by the strangeness of it. Matt Lesniewski’s work is some mushroom-addled magic and it punctuates the off-kilter worldview of the focal character and her mission. How would you describe Matt’s work? How has Matt’s craft helped to shape the narrative of ‘Crimson Flower’?
Matt Kindt: Matt’s work looks like someone jammed Robert Crumb and El Greco together into something completely new and original. The distorted figures work so well with the tight layouts and panel composition. The attention to detail and the repeating visual themes – those aren’t things you can really teach. I think he’s really bringing a fine art aesthetic to the page with his ink. The repeating helix of the pills that our hero is taking for instance – you can see that repeated in the snow in the footsteps. There are so many small things like that embedded throughout the series. The kinds of additions that I find you only get with another artist who also writes. I’m honestly – super happy to have gotten to know Matt L. before he becomes too big of a name to ever work with me again.
2. When I look back on your work, I find you’re constantly pushing the boundaries of form and structure with the use of a simple trope: conspiracy. Tell me how you’re exploring conspiracy in ‘Crimson Flower’.
I’ve loved folk tales and fairytales since I was a kid. It grew in high school when I read the book Uses of Enchantment which sort of explored the subtext of what fairy tales were used for. They weren’t just stories to entertain. The stories had a purpose. A kind of utilitarian reason for existing. So I thought it would be fun to see how a super-secret Russian assassination training program might use fairy tales in a utilitarian way to train and brainwash their agents.
3. I’m stuck on the softness and loveliness of the first page of this book. Our main character shares a memory with the reader. We watch her tip-toe into her father’s study, he’s hard at work, she selects a tome of Slavic folklore and reads silently in his presence. And then we later discover what happens in that very room, right in front of her. There’s so much warmth and safety there, and then there isn’t. The contrast between that warmth and the subsequent havoc is meant to be shocking. Where did this initial sequence, lovely as it is, come from, and how did you manage to turn it into an abattoir by the end?
I think that scene is a kind of metaphor for fairy tales. This idea that these stories are for children – but really have all these dark undercurrents – they’re really horrific parables to teach children about how the world works – and often they’re cautionary tales. I think it’s that revelation come to life in this comic – when you go back and read the original versions of these tales and see how dark and bloody and horrifying they really were. That’s the opening scene.
4. As far as Story is concerned, is black-and-white dualism boring?
I think it’s really exciting… for characters to believe in it. [Laughs]
5. ‘Crimson Flower’ deals with the psychology of a trauma victim, someone who fixates on fantasy and a looming conspiracy against her father and possibly herself. And there are details in Artist Matt’s panel work that hints that there are other sinister things at play in her world. Is it safe to presume that there’s more going on in ‘Crimson Flower’ than a mere vengeance quest? At what point should we begin to consider this main character an unreliable narrator?
There’s definitely more than one twist in this story. And she’s reliable as far as that goes. I think it’s everyone else around her that I wouldn’t trust. And there is a lot more that’s going on than first meets the eye. Matt L. has done an amazing job embedding a lot of clues into the art. This isn’t one of those books you read through in 3 minutes. You can… but then you should for-sure go back through and look at the details.
6. I noticed that you don’t mention the main character by name in the first issue. Was this an intentional thing? To remove all purchase from the reader as they attempt to scale this story? If so, why?
It’s intentional. She’s named in the script but her name is one of those things that I thought was important that she earn as the story progresses. I really wanted to do a story that just starts out as one thing… and we’re on board as we slowly acclimate to her and the world she lives in… and then start to strip it all away. I’d say this entire series is a series of floors with trapdoors. And that’s all I’ll say about that. [Laughs]
7. This may seem like an odd question, particularly in today’s political climate, but: Do you study conspiracies? Is there one conspiracy that you’ve found especially intriguing?
I used to love conspiracies. In high school I was obsessed with the JFK assassination thanks to this amazing history teacher that I had (Mr. Mitchell!). Through osmosis I just became excited about all of history – not just conspiracy – but the endless stories of people all over the world and all throughout time.
As I got older I became aware of Occam’s razor and I paired that with Sherlock Holmes (one of my earliest inspirations) and one of my favorite quotes of his: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Those are the two kinds of ideas that ended up shaping my world view. You start to realize that the world is much… dumber than you would hope for. Way less organized. If more than one person knows a secret? The secret will get out. That kind of thing. I think conspiracies are ideas we gravitate toward to make sense of the world we live in. We all like a good explanation. The denouement of the story. But most of the time? The explanation is something simple. A fluke. An accident. Not a grand plan but just a series of fortunate or unfortunate events. That’s 99% of everything. And that 1% that actually is a conspiracy? Has a perfect hiding place in a world full of chaos.
8. I’ve been reading your work for a long time, and I guess I’m really going to go for it and wrap up this interview with a totally dorky question: What comics do you read? Which have had the most influence over your work?
I don’t read a lot of comics. I was reading everything from 1985 until around 2010 or so… and at that point – I would read new books as they came out that piqued my interest – but it became much easier to keep up with new work as it comes out. I’ve read everything else. So the fuel that inspired my comics pre-2001 started to run out as I got older because there was less of it.
As a contributor to the medium now – I’m just trying to put as much as I can into it rather than take anything out. I love comics. They can do so much – and so much that hasn’t been explored or done yet. Marvel and DC? The super hero genre? I just don’t have time for it anymore. I’ve had a steady diet of it for thirty years and it just kind of bores me creatively now. I wrote a new series of short stories for Bad Idea (Warren Simons and Dinesh Shamdasani) who I’m partnering with at Bad Idea. They asked me to write something [that] fell into the super hero genre… and I just drew a blank. To me it’s like doing nothing but western stories all the time. I want to do something else. I want to read something else. But that said – I figured out a way to do something with super heroes that was a little different. The Hero Trade – which was a way of me being able to say goodbye to the genre in a fun and very dark way. And I got to pair with [David] Lapham – they definitely hooked me one last time. Stray Bullets just a masterwork – really showed off what comics is capable of.
But comic books? It’s not like prose or movies. There are less of us. It’s harder to do. A much slower process. But also so much more untamed ground to cover. So yeah – I don’t read a lot of comics. I read Lemire’s stuff. David Rubin, Geof Darrow – who I’m lucky enough to call friends at this point. So anything they do, I pick up. I think Albert Monteys is a genius. Really pushing comics in a fun direction. Gipi is a great Italian creator – I buy everything he does. Christophe Blain (French) is another of my favorites. Amazing stuff.
Mostly what I read now are books on history and true crime. I think it’s important – if comic books want to establish themselves as a long-term medium – that we draw inspiration from outside of comic books.
I started working my way through the Hard Case Crime series over the summer – those are just like eating candy – you can read two in a day. I’ve been going back and reading all of Graham Greene’s work – I think he’s the prose equivalent to a lot of the tone I’m trying to hit in comics. Funny and heartbreaking at the same time. I just read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon – and wow. When you’re in the hands of a master like that? It’s humbling. Something that good – that moving – that monumental… but in comics. That’s the goal.
‘Crimson Flower’ hits stores January 20, 2021. You can pre-order it now. (Diamond Code: NOV200184)
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