Wednesday, 6 June 2012
On Matt Kindt's "Mind MGMT": Reader's Roulette 2:3
There's a great deal to admire about Matt Kindt's Mind MGMT, so it feels discourteous not to enjoy it more. "My goal is to make the perfect comic - the comic that would be my favourite book if I went to the shop and picked it up." he's said, and Mind MGMT is self-evidently the work of a gifted creator doing everything he can to fulfil that ambition. Yet Kindt's storytelling is so idiosyncratically distracting, so often soporifically deadening, that the reader's left feeling as if they're experiencing someone else's dashed-off thumbnail summary of a comic called Mind MGMT rather than the book itself.
The story's an intricate conspiracy yarn featuring, in Kindt's own words, "a secret espionage organisation that is unconventional to say the least". In terms of the opening beats of the plot, it's a ruthlessly well structured starting point. It kicks off with what may, or may not, be a dream sequence splashed with Molotov cocktails, exploding skulls and severed jugulars. That's followed by a flashback to the mystery of why all but one of the passengers and crew of "Amnesia Flight 815" lost their memories while the plane was mid-air some two years ago. Then, having snared the reader with both hallucinogenic bloodletting and a tragic enigma, Kindt introduces us to his point-of-view character Maru, a true-crime writer whose struggles to follow up a best-seller have inspired her to investigate the Amnesia Flight. As Maru attempts to track down 815's missing passenger, who's tellingly named Henry Lyme, a web of surveillance and murder begins to close around her. It's a tale which in theory sounds entirely compelling, and the fact that the comic's "jam packed with secret messages, codes, riddles, and bonus stories ... which won't be included in the trade", as Kindt promises, makes it all the more confusing that it feels such an unsatisfying read.
But so much of what makes Mind MGMT an obviously distinct and promising experience works in the end to undermine its appeal. Kindt's art is undeniably sincere and distinctive, and yet his storytelling is hard to be moved by if the reader doesn't immediately warm to his style. It's certainly refreshing to see an artist who's set out to use such a wilfully naive approach. But that too contributes to the sense of homogeneity, for Kindt's work has been so simplified that it seems to reuse the same basic components over and over again. What's charming when encountered in a row of panels or even on a single page can soon become tiring and monotonous. The faces of his characters often display confusingly interchangeable and indistinct emotions, his panels have a tendency to repetitively present events as mid shots and medium close-ups which lack dynamism, while the washes of watercolour on newsprint ultimately create an air of tired sameness which fails to exploit the variety of locations on show.
Especially when seen as anything other than close-ups, his figures seem to be careless roughs rather than anything of the finished item, and that general sense of incompleteness conspires with a lack of character in the script to leave events feeling flat and uninvolving. Even the most kinetic of incidents can be reduced to a demandingly obscure and occasionally confusing sameness, with the reader left to bring events on the page to life based on the little information that's there. It's a process which for the unconvinced feels as if Kindt is expecting us to collaborate unduly with him in creating a sense of clarity and transparency and emotion in the work. Without that investment of energy on the audience's part, Mind MGMT repeatedly reads as if it were a sequence of roughs for a proposed series, or first-thought/best-thought storyboards for a film where a great deal of the preparatory work is still to be done.
A comic-book that's regrettably less than the sum of its laudable aspirations, Mind MGMT alienates the reader who can't instantaneously buy into its creator's purposefully guileless, determinedly personal style. As such, it may be that it's a comic whose appeal will stay limited to folks who can buy into Kindt's art as a pleasure in its own terms regardless of its narrative strengths and weaknesses. That's a shame for those of us who aren't capable of being so beguiled, because it's impossible not to admire the idea of the book, applaud the passion of its creator, and want to be a part of its audience.
Readers Roulette ruling; Mind MGMT is a comic-book I'd recommend to everyone. If Kindt's art strikes a chord, then it's well worth the sampling. And if it doesn't, then there's a great deal else to enjoy, and you'll learn alot about what it is that you do like by contrast. Or at least, I did. But for me, it's a story whose form can't bear the weight of its content, or at least, can't do so yet.