WunderKindt – 3 Trades by Matt Kindt

There is something profoundly intimate about a book that is created by a single person. You get the feeling that you are entering the mind,  vision,  passion and  artistry of an individual who is literally putting everything he or she can into the work. You are experiencing the results of an individual who has put himself into each and every word, pencil line and brush stroke–there are no intermediaries, no frustrations, no distractions from the experience that the creator has designed, it’s just you and the story.

Matt Kindt’s work is this. I was first exposed to his books when during the final moments of the last day of San Diego Comic Con in 2008– I was at the Top Cow booth looking for cool books, and I got quite a few for an incredibly low price, including Super Spy and 2 SistersI actually didn’t read the books until much later (I didn’t read Two Sisters until last month, truth me told–I kept putting it off!), but with the release of 3 Story, I have guess my interested has been rekindtled.

Super Spy, like much of 2 Sisters, takes place during World War II and tells the stories of quite a few…well, spies really. Given how rich the material is, I really find it strange that there aren’t more books like this, this kind of wartime espionage, because it’s a lot of fun.  While all three books are gorgeous in their own way, I think Super Spy is remarkable because he uses so many different kinds of styles to tell the various stories.  His art style can go from whimsically cartoony to hauntingly realistic and back again, and he’s seems to be as comfortable with rich water color as he is with deep inks.  Like many a great conductor or writer, he uses the forms and tools that suit the story best, and his implementation of these styles always support and never overwhelm the flow of the story, which is a real trick.

Like all of Kindt’s books, the entire volume, the physical book, is part of the…experience. (I hate how overused that word is–like, when I go on a website, I am going on a website, I am not looking for an experience, okay?) The cover features characters from the book basically trapped inside the confines of the cover’s borders, as if waiting, in your bookshelf, to get out. The book begins earlier than the actual story, with the pages looking like they are weathered and stained, and includes a handy-dandy code cipher that I guess you can use later on in the book.  The book itself is a collection of brief, short and medium length stories, and are told out of chronological order. This never bothered me, I like it when time itself is used as a storytelling device, but you can always go back and read the stories (referred to as “dossiers”) in order, since they are numbered.  I didn’t try to do this; I figured the author wanted us to experience the collection in a certain way, so I’ll do it that way 

So, the book does a great job of building an environment, a look-and-feel that jibes rather well with the subject matter, but what about the comic itself? Well, it’s awesome, which is why I am writing about it!  Kindt uses the graphic novel in ways that you just never see in other books, and he’s obviously having a lot of fun pushing as many envelopers as possible.  He has a very distinct design aesthetic — it’s not realistic at all, though what he’s talking about is so very grounded in human experience — but although one could argue that his style is cartoony, it never gets in the way of portraying the very real emotion and pain in the stories.  

There is an over-arching struggle within the book, a big mission that many of the stories are related to, but it unfolds slowly, not unlike a spy slowly gleaning what is going on over the course of several missions.  You’ll meet a character briefly in the beginning of the book, only to see how he has been part of the story all along later in the book.  This kind of discovery contributes to the overall sense of tension throughout the book — the stakes could not be higher — and despite the fun I had reading the stories, there was always a worry that the missions might fail, that a character that I have grown to enjoy could be killed at any second.  That’s what’s so cool about this book: it’s a whole package, meant to be taken as a whole, as opposed to a few chapters that move the plot along followed by a few chapters that kind of take up space.  This book is almost like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” in a way–the whole book itself is a puzzle, with red herrings and tricks that you only begin to notice when you re-read it (I got a lot out of reading it a second time).  

Super Spy has a lot of action–violent action, mind you–and a lot of derring-do, but it all comes from a deep emotional core.  We have people who have dedicated their very existence to make sure the mission is completed, and they do so at the expense of relationships and personal identity. There are some very poignant moments, where a missed connection or an accident can really ruin just about everything.  That’s part of the tension, and I imagine that Kindt is doing his best to convey the kinds of tensions–agonizing tensions–that the people working undercover in occupied France must have weathered every single moment. You get these sense, truly, that you can trust no one, that you may be followed at any time, that itch at the back of your next is actually a result of a sniper’s crosshairs. When you page through this book, at first glance the way the characters are drawn and action is conveyed might make you think this is a kid’s book–the faces are large and expressive, the action is bold and colorful, but this is definitely not a kid’s book. If anything the art is an expression of memory, or of a sense of something happening, rather than pictures of events unfolding. When there’s a car chase, you really feel the momentum and thrill of the chase. There’s a sequence where a dancer is literally dancing for her life, and you can just sense her wild-eyed desperation, you can almost remember the sound of the veils slashing through the air (click on the lady below to see it). Interestingly, as the story comes to a close, as life begins to stabilize a bit, Kindt uses a broader color palette, and his lines begin to convey more restraint, the imagery more realistic. The adrenalin rush, fueled by fear and tempered by action, begins to subside, replaced by a slightly uneasy normalcy, with our scars and memories the only signs that any of this ever happened.

Judging by the cover, I thought 2 Sisters was going to be some kind of Chekhovian drama, but quickly realized that it was much more in the vein of Smiley’s People than The Cherry Orchard.  Again, the cover itself is part of the story, and is basically the first page of the graphic novel–again, Kindt is playing with our expectations of what a graphic novel is!  Like Super Spy, we are following a few different stories that all echo and relate with each other, but there are fewer characters overall, which makes this feel slightly more focused–which is not meant to be a knock on Super Spy.  We open up in ancient Rome, where a young slave makes a break for her freedom, stealing a precious urn in the process, which she is able to exchange for a horse. The urn goes one way and she goes the other, but you should be surprised to read that we encounter both later on in the book.  Now, the bulk of the story takes place during World War II, and where some writers might just go take us there with the words, “Paris: 1942” or whatever, Kindt does something great here: he used faces of children and parents and grandparents and babies to show the passing of generations, the faces of the descendants of our slave girl.  These faces hover above the urn’s story, showing it getting passed from salesman to merchant, from merchant to friend..and then we see both the urn and one of the descendant’s–another girl–cross paths again, this time when pirates take control of the ship they are both on. It reads simply when I try to carve it into a sentence, but it is to Kindt’s credit that he’s able to weave this transition so elegantly–so creatively graphic, I guess you could say!

As tempting as it is to go through the story beat by beat, it would just take far too long and deprive you of the pleasure of reading this oversized graphic novel.  Interestingly, whereas Super Spy is small and compact, 2 Sisters is much larger, basically Golden Age in size, while 3 Story is the size of a “normal” hardcover book.  Matt Kindt uses this larger format in very interesting ways–while there are pages where he uses the full page to drive home certain moments, he also uses the negative space to isolate others.  Indeed, I can only imagine what a bear this would be to print–there are pages that are just drenched with dark ink. It’s a very well produced book!  

2 Sisters turns out to be a more personal tale-actually, two tales–of women who are put in incredibly bad positions and overcome insane obstacles just for a shot at a peaceful life.  There’s a heroism here that is more…gosh, how do I say this? that is more resolute and committed to, than your typical action hero might have.  The women here are strong without remarking on it, they are heroic because they have to be, and there’s a sense that they are doing now what they want to do, but what must be done, their desires and hopes quietly tucked away for the greater good. It’s that feeling of steely sacrifice that permeates throughout these pages, which make the moments of emotion and betrayal that much more staggering–our heroines just don’t have the time for such things (though they may want them, desperately), and when these moments come, they are not planned, and, often, not welcome. These are specific kinds of themes, more often expressed in prose–you’d be hard pressed to find other graphic novels that handle this kind of characterization (which requires a certain to
nal quality in the book itself to happen) so resolutely. 

While there is a strong emotional core in 2 Sisters, there is also a helluva lot action, romance and intrigue in this book as well.  I mean, you get pirates and Nazis in the same book, you know?  You get several different stories that resolve themselves in surprising ways and Kindt’s clever expression of time and movement throughout the pages.  Indeed, like all of these books, Kindt uses his creativity to show, for example, how one character’s food was poisoned, by showing a dashed arrow sneaking out of the food and into a little jar of poison on the kitchen table, then, in the next panel, landing inside the character’s stomach.

You’ve heard of the third-person omniscient narrator, of course. Kindt really takes that concept much further–we don’t often get a chance to see what the characters are thinking–his characterization comes out in words, but mostly action (and reaction), but we do get to see the history of story elements, we get to see hidden traps and poison capsules inside fake molars, hidden daggers and pens that shoot bullets, almost as overlays on top of the action.  It’s like having X-ray vision, in a way, but it reminds me also of the main character of Chew, who can tell the story of any food the he ingests.  It’s hard to explain yet so easy to show, which is why you must page through these books if you find them in your store.

2 Sisters is a perfect companion to Super Spy (indeed, it is subtitled as a “Super Spy” novel), but it definitely, absolutely, stands on its own. There are some memorable characters, really fantastic action sequences…and the whole book, not unlike Super Spy, resolves itself in a way that is deeply satisfying. 

Finally, we have 3 Story, which was Ron’s Book of the Month in October.  I just re-read his review and, honestly, I don’t know what to add; he really hits it. Suffice to say, this 3 Story is a departure from the WWII espionage work, and I gotta say, it was really interesting to see Kindt telling a different kind of story (though there certainly is an espionage angle, it’s not the focus of the book). Again, Kindt plays with your expectations of what a graphic novel is all about, both in terms of content and how he tells the story, with different narrators, each with a different relationship to Craig Pressgang, who never stops growing up.  It’s a stunning book–it feels to me more like a poem than a narrative at times, just given how the book resonates in your memory–and Craig’s struggles stay with you long after you put the (gorgeous) hardcover back on your shelf.  

As the guys remarked when they recorded the show, there is a sadness and poignancy that permeates each panel of all of Kindt’s books. Even when characters are together, there’s this emotional isolation, this silent struggle in the face of circumstance that lurks in the background.  Perhaps that is one of the themes that Kindt likes to explore–that each of us are alone in the face of struggle, whether that struggle is trying to sneak a package behind enemy lines or figure out communicate with a loved one.  There’s a grim determination in Kindt’s characters, supported by a similar focus in his incredible artwork. I think this harmony between theme, character and artwork is what happens when the person writing the words is also drawing the characters saying those words.  These books by Matt Kindt are a showcase of craft and story, and it is truly stunning to realize that there is no compromise between the two.  These are more than just fine graphic novels–these are insights to the very essence of creativity, and, not unlike Asterios Polyp, are proof that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what the term “graphic novel” can actually mean.

Mike Romo is an actor who woudn’t be that good of a spy…or would he? And would he be able to tell you if he was? You might be able to reach him via email and source say that you can catch site of him on Twitter.


  1. I’m going to have to pull a damn bank heist to buy all the books I’ve seen recommended on this site recently.  They all sound phenomenal.  How about an article listing the books I SHOULDN’T spend my money on?  [Can you imagine the comment section on that article?]

    Another solid article.  Thank you for bringing these books to my attention.  I’m always up for a good spy book.  I’m going to go hop in my jalopy and sleuth a bit. 

  2. @stuclach: I know what you mean, it has been an avalanche of awesome coming out of this site recently.  Super Spy was a buy I had at Windy City Comic Con and is neck and neck with The Nobody and Parker for the best book I read this year.  Thanks for pointing out a great writer/cartoonist here Mike!

  3. @forestjwp – I love the fact that there are so many strong books coming out.  I just wish I could afford more of them.

  4. hey guys-

    @stuclach — you make a great point..that’s why books like these, where they go beyond typical superheo stories, would be so great to find in a library…of course, there’s always instocktrades.com, too 😉

     Thanks reading the article..I know it’s long but…sigh, it could have been MUCH longer, it’s just hard to figure out how much detail to go into when doing an overview of this kind…

     have a great day-


  5. @mike – Thanks.

  6. I’ve been a fan of Kindt’s art ever since I saw it on Strange Tales #2. Now I also have to rob a place in order to afford these great books. I mean just looking at the images you provided, they are so beautiful to look at!

    Great article.

  7. I love Matt Kindt’s work.  All of these books are really awesome.

  8. Thanks for the comments, guys, I appreciate it!

  9. Mike, looks like you’ve inspired a wave of robberies with your phenomenal write-up. Fine article, sir. Fine article.