'MIND MGMT' Creator on Turning the Comic Into a Read-Along Book and Record Set

Matt Kindt has transformed the critically acclaimed comic book series as part of a new crowdfunding campaign.
Matt Kindt

A childhood favorite is getting revived and rehabilitated for a whole new purpose with the news that writer/artist Matt Kindt is continuing his critically acclaimed MIND MGMT comic book series in the most unlikely format of all: a read-along book, with accompanying vinyl record.

Kindt has reworked his psychedelic espionage property — which originally ran for 36 issues from Dark Horse Comics, and is currently in development as a television property with The Blacklist’s Daniel Cerone as showrunner. He's launched a new crowdfunding project (which blew through its $12,500 goal within hours of going online Tuesday) that sees him create not only an all-new comic book, but also a read-along record featuring The Adventure Zone’s Clint McElroy that…well, does a little more than simply help fans read the accompanying book.

Heat Vision talked to Kindt about the origins of the project, and what added extras listeners might discover when they put the vinyl on the turntable.

As someone who is up with “Read and Listen” books/records, this is amazing — and also utterly surprising. Where did the idea for a MIND MGMT read-along book come from? 

Vinyl has made a resurgence of late, and I was digging through my old records and I found those old Peter Pan Book and Records and remembered just loving them. It wasn’t just the voice-acting, but the music and sound effects. I would just listen to those over and over again. It was one of those experiences that elevated comics but also didn’t change the comic. It didn’t become animation or a movie or something. It was still the comic but with something special added to it. You could still enjoy the art...and after the audio was done, you could still go through it at your own pace and read it. There really is nothing like that experience with storytelling — a crazy mashup of visual, audio and text.

I had always wanted to do a modern take on this idea but it just seemed like an unattainable goal. Who would voice-act it? I can do every part of making a comic but I am not an actor. And my voice is...the worst. So I sort of just dropped the idea. Then I was introduced to Clint McElroy who happened to be a huge fan of MIND MGMT! I ran this idea by him — he immediately knew what I was talking about and was on board...there was no cajoling or convincing needed. He absolutely got it. So I wrote a script for him — he voice-acted everything — all of the characters and I wrote it specifically for him, with the luxury of knowing he was fully into it.

You’ve talked about this project being both an experiment, and a way to subvert the experience by having the audio and the book contrast and play against each other. In many ways, this feels like exactly what MIND MGMT is all about: pushing at the boundaries of what can be done with the medium, and the feeling of disorientation in the audience. What is it about this particular concept/series that pushes you toward this kind of formalist experimentation?

Maybe it was too much art school, but I’ve always been attracted to a lot of the fringe arts and the flux artists. Performance art was something that I really didn’t get when I was younger — but now that I’m a little older I really see how performance art and the concepts involved in it can really inform all other art forms. The idea of involving the reader directly and having them engage with the material in a more intimate way is something I’ve really been working toward. It’s not just a comic you read and put in a bag or a book you put on a shelf. There’s a memory that you’ll link to it and have forever every time you look at that object.

I had this slow realization as I was working on the art for the comic half of the book and record.... It couldn’t be just like the records and comics I had as a kid. The audio was just a replica of the words in the comic. That’s fine for kids...but this needed to be something more. Not just a gimmick. There had to be a reason the story was in this format. This is really what inspired the actual story and I can’t go too much into the plot except to say that the audio and visual narrative is essential.

The audio on it’s own won’t work. The comic by itself, also doesn’t quite work. They have to be taken in together, simultaneously, for the entire story to come into focus. It’s something that really hasn’t been done before. And it’s something that I think will take at least three or four listens and read-throughs to get the full experience.

The Kickstarter campaign page teases that there are hidden messages in the audio. Is there a sense of excitement for the new levels of formal playfulness you can engage in with this new medium?

Definitely. I’ve always had fun making the print version kind of subtle and subversive — with a lot of layers in the art and text…and all of that is still there in the print version. But a straight-up read-along record would be redundant. Those are great for kids; encouraging reading and all that. But this is a more complex story. It’s aimed and an adult audience so I really started playing with the form. Using the audio story as one piece in a larger puzzle. You listen to the story and read along just like when I was a kid...but the images in the comic paint a different story — they subvert the audio, and then you have this crazy third layer of words and captions that are subverting both the audio and the image below it. It’s really working on three levels all at the same time.

On top of that I layered in some subliminal sound effects and some backwards audio that you can only hear if you put it on a record player and manually play it backwards. Or reverse the digital file I guess, but that’s not as fun!

I’ve never seen anything like it. And that’s really why I felt like it was worth doing. It started as inspiration from nostalgia but then morphed into this crazy kind of hybrid medium that really hasn’t been explored at all.

Where does this project fit in with the larger MIND MGMT mythology? It’s a stand-alone for newcomers, but for those who’ve been following the series since it debuted from Dark Horse Comics, are there connections to be made?

This is a stand-alone tale and actually works as a great introduction to the idea of MIND MGMT. It’s pretty subversive so if you’ve read some of the comics you’ll get more out of it — but this is meant to be a stand-alone story and a great place to start if you’ve never read any of the other books.

That said, the story does focus around one of the original characters: “The First Immortal” who is a fun one. He’s trained his mind to completely control every aspect of his body so he can heal any sickness or wound. As a result, he is really old, which has let me sprinkle him in various time periods. This story takes place in the '60s and '70s, so if you’re already a fan of the series this will fill in a little gap that we haven’t seen yet. And if you’re new to it, the story is specifically designed to literally make you a MIND MGMT recruit. You’re gonna be brainwashed for sure! That sounds like a joke…but I’m only 10 percent kidding.

You mentioned Clint McElroy before, who’s the voice actor for the project. How did you get connected with him in the first place?

I was talking to my literary agent, Charlie Olsen [of] Inkwell Management, and he’s constantly on the front lines of every crazy idea I have and he’d heard about my book and record idea for years. And then he met Clint — who was a huge fan of MIND MGMT and happened to be an amazing voice actor on top of that — so it was really one of those projects that was meant to be; the stars just had to be in alignment. Charlie introduced us and Clint and I hit it off right away. He’d grown up listening to the same comics and records so there was absolutely no explanation needed — he knew exactly what this project was about and absolutely nailed it.

This is your first Kickstarter; why did you decide to go this route, as opposed to presenting the project to an external publisher, or self-funding?

I’m a huge fan of Kickstarter. I’m also a big board game nut, which is how I really got into Kickstarter in the first place. Board games are still in their infancy as an art form but there is so much storytelling and interaction you can achieve with them. There’s an interesting level of interaction you get with these games that is similar to what I ask of readers with MIND MGMT. You have to really be engaged. You have to be involved in the story to get the full effect. But these amazing board game Kickstarters have amazing production values — all kinds of sculptures and print pieces and each game has it’s own formatting. There are no rules.

I knew that this comic book and read-along record was going to be a crazy format that we haven’t seen since the early '80s and might be a hard sell by traditional means. But I think Kickstarter patrons are looking for the cutting-edge ideas and concepts that are out of the box, so I think it’s a perfect place for this project.

Have there been previous Kickstarter campaigns from other people that have served as models for this?

I back a lot of stuff. And I really like it. I think it’s a great way to connect more closely with creators and actually get projects funded that might not otherwise ever be produced. From a practical point of view, I have absolutely no idea what demand there will be for this kind of crazy project so this was a safe way to produce it and gauge the interest. Worst case, I’m out the time and effort but I won’t go broke printing a bunch of comics and records...!

Beyond this campaign, what’s next for you, and for MIND MGMT specifically? I know that Valiant’s Harbinger Wars II is underway, and X-O Manowar continues apace, but what is next for your creator-owned work? Can you see yourself doing more projects like this in the future?

We’ll see what the demand is. I might do another record if I can think of a story that demands that format. I’m planning on doing a series of MIND MGMT art-object style stories in the next year. Each one will take on a different format. I did a small-print run mini comic that was Riso printed (a type of silkscreen process) with fluorescent inks in the Spring. And after this I have a format-bending prose novel for MIND MGMT in the works, and then a crowd-sourced scavenger-hunt style comic book that won’t be like anything you’ve seen before. I’m having fun for sure this year.

In addition to that I’m finishing up the second arc of Ether with David Rubin, published by Dark Horse, and I just read the last few pages of the last issue. It’s heartbreaking stuff. David’s so flexible — going from the absurd and action-packed to the really quiet, emotional stuff. He’s already a legend.

I’m also launching a new series with Boom! Studios called Black Badge, which is the follow-up series to Grass Kings with Tyler and Hilary Jenkins on art again – the series will follow a scout troop that is tasked with going on high-risk black-ops style missions. They’re scouts…but, for real scouts.

More information about the MIND MGMT project, including audio samples, can be found here.