Starting With Character: Matt Kindt And Jeff Lemire Discuss ‘The Valiant’ [Interview]
Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire, the co-writers of the upcoming miniseries The Valiant — a prestige-format miniseries featuring Bloodshot, Geomancer and Eternal Warrior — have each done superhero work in the past, but they’ve really made their names with creator-owned work that they wrote and drew. Kindt’s Mind MGMT has taken off, and Lemire struck a chord with series including Sweet Tooth and Trillium.
Those credentials are part of why Valiant invited the two creators to work on the new miniseries — one that’s being touted as an entry point for new readers, but also as a turning point for the whole Valiant Universe. They’ve been given some wiggle room to develop a character-based story and put their creative voices to work. The result is something both writers seem really proud of, not to mention a story that’s bound to look good, with artwork by Paolo Rivera.
We sat down with Lemire and Kindt at San Diego Comic-Con International to ask them about their collaboration, how their backgrounds in cartooning inform their superhero work, and how Valiant’s universe differs from others.
ComicsAlliance: So lets talk about The Valiant, because you guys have talked about it a little bit in the press just in the announcement and stuff. But, I’m really interested as to how this series took the shape it took. Because, for one thing, I don’t see a lot of prestige format series any more.
Matt Kindt: Are we sure it’s going to be prestige?
Jeff Lemire: The definition of what prestige means is a little bit different to everyone. It probably will be, I suspect that it won’t be perfect bound, like you would associate with 90’s
CA: Will the books have a spine with the title on it?
MK: We hope so. We’re going to try to.
CA: That definitely feels more like an 80’s or 90’s thing, than a now thing. It’s not something you see a lot of.
MK: It’s prestigious.
CA: I assume that, at the very least, the individual installments will be longer than your average issue?
JL: Actually not much. The first issue is, I think, two or four pages longer. Not much, you know, they’re regular comic size, 22 pages, because we wanted to keep the price point affordable. I think, aside from telling a really good story, hopefully, one of the main goals for this series was to create an entry point to the Valiant universe for people who maybe have seen Valiant stuff around and heard about it, but haven’t read much yet. So this could be the thing they read to enter the universe and learn about the characters and the concepts, and then hopefully read other stuff. We don’t want it to be something that’s not affordable either; we want it to be accessible in every way.
CA: At the same time, just the way this is being presented, at least in the promotional stuff, is that this is a big event comic. Did you guys come to Valiant with that idea or was there a conversation that came to that?
JL: It really came out of Matt and I being really good friends. And me following Valiant for the last couple years, because Matt and Josh [Dysart] and Rob [Vendetti] are really good friends of mine, so I just read their stuff. And then me and Matt just saying we wanted to do something together. We didn’t know what that would be, we had no preconceived notion.
I think at first it was just going to be like, a fun Bloodshot shoot-em-up that we would draw together just for a blast, but then it evolved a bit. We were just sort of throwing ideas around until it started to take shape really quickly over that weekend.
MK: We drank a bunch of coffee.
JL: It became what it became just with me and Matt jamming story, and jamming cool things we wanted to see, cool characters we wanted to put together.
MK: But it’s funny, because I think the kernel, the small personal story, is still in there, like, that’s the thread. And then we build a lot around it.
CA: You’re talking about Bloodshot as though he’s really the lead character of the series, and certainly in the promo art, that is gorgeous, by Paolo Rivera, he’s kind of the most prominent character. But there’s also a lot in the promo stuff about Eternal Warrior.
JL: It’s really a three header. Gilad [Eternal Warrior], Kay [McHenry, Geomancer] and Bloodshot are the three leeds. And the Immortal Enemy is the adversary their facing, and he’s the counterpoint to both Kay and Gilad in a lot of ways. It’s Gilad’s story, it’s Gilad’s relationship with Geomancer. And it’s Geomancer and Bloodshot. So I guess Geomancer is really the lead!
MK: And so we see Gilad’s relationship with her, and then the other half we see Bloodshot’s relationship with Geomancer.
JL: They’re really the leads, and out of that everyone else comes that we could possibly squeeze into it.
CA: You talk about this as being an intro point for the Valiant universe, and it’s being promoted as, “you don’t need to have read previous Valiant stuff to read this and get it.”
JL: I didn’t read any of it before I wrote it! [laughs]
CA: With that in mind, given the characters that are part of this, and the fact that so many other Valiant characters are going to play into the story; did any of this, Matt, come out of your work on Unity before this? Is there kind of any connection to that at all here?
JL: We certainly used it.
MK: Yeah, a lot of that’s in there. I think a lot of it, to me, comes from when I was a kid. I was talking to Warren [Simons, Valiant editor-in-chief] about that, about Contest of Champions. Do you remember that?
CA: I do!
MK: The funny thing is, I never owned it, my brother had them. I was so jealous of him having those, and I would look through them. It showed this huge universe, and it showed, like, a character from Israel, or this weird Russian character, and then the Japanese guy or whatever, but it was this great tease of, “who are those characters?” you know? So to me its fun to have a more grown up version of that story where it’s like, “look at all these crazy, cool characters” and you start to get a taste of them.
JL: Bloodshot, Kay, and Gilad, we certainly, fully, introduce and explore and explain for a new reader. But then other characters like XO, I mean he just kind of comes in, and we want people to want to know all of them. We’re not going to give his whole origin in the issue as an entry point, but you see this cool armored guy fly in, and hopefully that leads you to go check out his book.
MK: But they work on their own in the small dose, but then hopefully will make you want to read more. Just because, to me, I love all the books. There’s not a Valiant book I don’t read and enjoy. And I just keep trying to toot that horn and get people to read those books.
CA: Both of you guys, I mean, you’ve done more mainstream super hero comics lately, but, you’ve both kind of made your names as writer/artists who do independent comics that you write and draw. You still do that, but you now transitioned into this other thing where you’re writers for superhero comics. So I guess I have a two part question. One; what do you think that background that you both have brings to your work on super hero stuff? And two; have you ever thought about doing some art in your superhero work?
JL: For me I think what we bring, the good thing about coming up in indie comics, and writing and drawing our own stuff, and doing all the stuff that we did outside of superheroes and mainstream comics, is that, when we did get into the mainstream stuff we’d already developed a voice fully, each of us.
So then you bring a unique perspective to the characters as opposed to, maybe, a young writer who just breaks in early not having done other things, and then their voice just gets lost in the universe, in the concepts that already exist and things. We already had a point of view and a voice that we can then take characters and bring a new perspective to them.
MK: I mean, I think it made it easier to transition from my own stuff to bigger characters like this because, you come into the project not filling in a gap, like, “OK, write Bloodshot like Bloodshot is written.” You’re hired to write Bloodshot like you write. Bring your voice, bring your character, your insight to those characters. Make them work.
JL: Normally when you do an event at one of the larger companies, it’ll be, “OK, this event is about…” some high concept, and then you work from there. Whereas this one was about Bloodshot and Kay’s relationship and then we built out of character. That gets you doing more personal sorts of stories you know?
MK: Yeah, we just talk about the character first and then the story comes out of that.
CA: So it’s as much about the leeway you’re given as what you bring to it with your experience? I’m sure, if you hadn’t had that work before you probably would have been limited to some very strict guidelines as to what you could do. Do you think you get a little more wiggle room?
JL: Yeah, ’cause they’re hiring us to be us.
MK: We’re pigeonholed as ourselves, rather than pigeonholed as the guy that wrote, whatever.
CA: Or who just begged enough to get a job.
MK: Yeah, we didn’t have to annoy people to get work.
JL: We just annoyed them later.
CA: Do you think it also affects how you communicate with an artist?
JL: For sure. Me and Matt are two of the fastest writers that I know. I don’t know why, but it has to do something with the fact that we–
MK: The fact that we draw too.
JL: That we must just understand pacing and stuff more inherently, we don’t have to think about it. It’s like second nature to us or something.
MK: We’re used to writing for ourselves where you know you’re going to be drawing that page, so you’re already imagining the page in your head. It’s just so much easier to write it out.
JL: It’s almost this shorthand that we must have, that we can just get it on the page quicker or something. I think it really helps.
CA: I can imagine it being a bit of a double-edged sword, because you don’t have to write that stuff out if you know you’re going to draw it yourself. So is there a moment where you have stop and think, “How do I describe this?”
JL: Yeah, at first. But that’s just like, the first time I wrote for an artist, I was proving myself, but that’s a pretty quick and easy adjustment. Its more of a technical thing. You’re thinking it, and you have to stop. “Oh yeah I have to actually write that”. But it’s pretty natural. Now its not something you have to think about.
And in terms of drawing, drawing takes so much time, and so much effort, it’s like, if I’m going to do that I’d rather do it with something that I own and that I control completely, as opposed to all the corporate characters. And I mean, lets be honest, our styles aren’t exactly what most mainstream comic book fans want to see. Its kind of a niche thing. Very distinct, stylized kind of voices, like artistically.
But it’s fun to dabble. I mean, I did one issue of Animal Man, and it’s fun just to see my interpretation of those characters. There’s a lot of variant covers and stuff I’m going to start doing with Valiant just so people can see my take on Bloodshot or whatever. That’s really fun.
MK: Well to me, I have more ideas that I’ll be able to get to draw you know? I’ll be dead before I can do them all. So getting to write a bunch of stuff that I don’t have to draw, that helps me get that out. It’s just in a notebook otherwise.
CA: So how did Paolo Rivera get involved in this? Did he get booked into the project after you guys wrote it? Did you think about writing this especially for him?
JL: We are now, for sure. But we sat in those initial meetings when we started coming up with what the story was going to be, and we just start throwing out names of like, dream artist you know? And he was one of the first ones that Warren mentioned, and as soon as his name came up, it was like, OK, he’s the top choice. We’re going to have to try everything we can to get him.
MK: There are a lot of guys that would have been awesome to work with, but I feel like he was the first one that was right for the story.
JL: I feel like, there are comic book artists who are comic book artists, and then there’s comic book artists who are cartoonists. Paulo’s really a cartoonist. He’s a storyteller first. So are Matt and I, and that’s how we approach stuff that we draw. So it felt natural. I don’t know, it’s like three cartoonists working together. We can execute the story and the emotion and the character work.
MK: When he turns in his layouts, you can see there’s no disconnect at all from what we’ve written to what he’s drawing, if anything, he’s making it better. Yeah, its so easy.
JL: Sometimes… obviously I would never name names or projects, but sometimes you start getting that work back on stuff you’ve written, you have to kind of get over what’s been lost between the script and what they weren’t able to execute or capture, or what emotion they’re missing. Whereas this is the opposite. Its all there and more.
MK: He’s enhanced it. Like, its even better than I was picturing it in my head.
JL: He’s great.
CA: I always like to ask about writing collaborations, because sometimes, they can be acrimonious, sometimes when you have two writers on a project they go off and write their own things and then try to smoosh them together. With you guys it sounds like it was a very collaborative process.
MK: The initials for sure.
JL: Coming up with all the initial concepts, and then you kind of have to separate it after that. It gets hard, we don’t live close to one another so it would just be too hard to write everything together, logistically. So you have to say “you do these themes and these characters, all these ones” and then we just slid it back and forth.
MK: Starting out together, that’s the fun part. And then we go away and we write our parts. We’ve already talked the whole story though, so it’s like, this is what’s going to happen. This is just executing it. Who’s going to type what part is basically it.
CA: Is it just trading, like, “Jeff you write one issue, Matt you write the next issue”?
JL: No, its more like scenes. It’s kind of like, we don’t really have something definite. It seems to be, right now, it seems to be kind of like–
MK: Its not even character based, its almost like, who wants to do what scene, who already has an idea for it, and then we just split it based on that.
JL: Or if I can hear Matt getting really excited about a certain scene or an idea for a scene and he’s like “I want to write that one.” We don’t really have a definite, like, “I write Bloodshot, you write Gilad”. Although he does insist on writing Ninjak.
MK: I love Ninjak.
JL: I kinda do like writing Bloodshot.
MK: If you start writing Ninjak, I’ll feel jealous.
CA: I honestly feel like there’s a sense, particularly at Valiant, of writers and artists feeling ownership of their characters. I feel like Venditti really feels like he owns X-O Manowar.
JL: And Josh with Harbinger. But I think thats good, you want that. I felt that way about Animal Man at DC.
MK: This stuff is the first work-for-hire thing I’ve ever done where the line has been blurred in my mind between my created work and work for hire. When I’m writing it, there’s no difference. There’s no extra thought process I go through or anything. It’s just like I’m writing my own thing.
JL: That’s how I felt in there with the better parts of Animal Man you know? And that’s how I feel writing the Valiant stuff for sure. There’s not as many other voices getting in your way all the time I guess.
CA: So is the writing pretty much completely done?
JL: No, we’re halfway done. So we’ve got two, yeah. I’m a little further ahead than Matt.
MK: That’s because you need to start writing more Valiant books, then you’ll be behind like I am.
CA: So you guys are halfway there. Do you think this is the start of further collaborations–?
JL: No. [laughs]
CA: You guys hate each other now! But do you think this is the start, first of all, of further collaborations between the two of you, and second of all, more Valiant work for you, particularly, Jeff? Since this is your first go?
JL: It’s definitely the first of many projects, I hope. There’s other things I’m already working on that will come out of The Valiant that will come afterwards. And I’m sure we’ll always find time to collaborate.
MK: It’s organic you know? This thing just came up because we started thinking about it. I’m sure there will be something else.
CA: Before we wrap up, give me the pitch. Give me the big pitch for why people should read The Valiant, whether they’ve been reading Valiant books since they started or they haven’t read page one, panel one, of a Valiant book.
JL: Well if you have been reading Valiant stuff I think this takes the whole universe to another level. It explores the entire mythology and history and sets it up for the next phase. And if you haven’t, it’s the perfect entry point into this really rich universe of some amazing voices. In terms of the writers they have, and the characters.
MK: Yeah, to me its the only line of comics where characters come first. I’m 40 years old, I’ve read so many superhero comics, I don’t need to ever read another one. So like, it really takes something to get my attention. I read every single Valiant book, even though I don’t need to, just ’cause I still enjoy them. They’re good.