Revolver by Matt Kindt


Sunday, July 25, 2010

One of the few comics I’ve read recently that does not feel like it’s nostalgia driven or overly genre based. The press release for the book says it’s science fiction, but it feels like some weird hybrid of slice-o-life daily office life banality mixed with an action movie. The hook is that through time travel, whenever the clock hits 11:11 pm the protagonist switches from office life to action-hero life and thusly gets to experience both as the story moves forward, instead of the usual zero-to-hero plot development. Okay, maybe it is genre-based sci-fi. Still, it doesn’t FEEL like some re-hash of a genre comic book or a self-referencing comics nod. There’s even a comic book that is read by the zero/hero within this graphic novel that is used as a narrative device but that doesn’t FEEL nostalgic to me either. Hurm.

But all that is so inside baseball. I guess it’s from working at Copacetic. Like I can’t explain a lot of comics to customers in “comics terms” cuz most of our customers are fairly new to comics. So me explaining that it is Kindt’s brushwork that keeps this rollicking tale from coming across as a re-hash, or that his brushwork is, to me, a flowering of the alt 90’s Mazzucchelli/Pope bang-it-out approach and is a beautiful counter-point to all the slick photo-reffing schlubs who can’t draw an action scene to save their lives—that just barely makes sense to them, or maybe even to you, True Believer. But I gotta try, and will, for you, Believer, before I move on to how I pitch it to the lay people. See, it’s one of the few comics I’ve read recently that is free of the current strain of nostalgia that’s prevalent in comics in 2010 and is instead just a straight-ahead ROMP with 2010 people and a 2010 feeling. Wally Gropius, Afrodisiac, Bodyworld, Bulletproof Coffin, Orc Satin, King City, Wilson all feel like “throwbacks” as much as they might feel like a fresh fusion of styles – they all seem to heavily reference other comics and some are presented as old/new. You don’t have to know the references as a reader to enjoy the styles, but it helps. It’s amongst this current crop of 2010 releases that Kindt’s “bang it out” approach stands in bold relief and is, to me, a refreshing “alternative.” And considering that Kindt’s own back catalog contains works of “nostalgia” and “throwback” styles, it’s really interesting to me as a reader to see Kindt add a new pitch to his repertoire and how his simple approach adapts to other genres.

But like I said, that’s all inside baseball. The fact of the matter is that Revolver is the kind of graphic novel I can suggest to non-comics readers and they will totally dig it. And I think that part of the book’s attraction is that it resembles a type of movie one might see. Boring everyday life and then a life changing moment that lights the fuse on the ACTION. Comics, of course, trucks in that territory too but a lot of the Spring/Summer 2010 release have been really quirky – Afrodisiac, Bodyworld, Wilson, Werewolves of Montpellier, Wally Gropius – and are, frankly, a little hard to enter for new readers of comics. Revolver is the perfect comic to suggest to someone who has read some comics and is looking for a new “graphic novel.” That’s not to take away from the book’s craft or intent or potential worth. It’s a well made book but it’s also an easy book to “get” and one that I think is easy to enjoy without straining to make sense of specific comics references. Revolver’s story is a straight ahead action/adventure comic even if it is slightly disjointed from the time travel bit. It’s a genre riff, sure, but one that feels in current usage and contemporary, something that has a parallel in the tv reality survivor show interzone or gaming with it’s narrative survival escape plan prize hunts.

Kindt’s drawings really MOVE the story. He’s been doing this stripped down approach for years and I find it really flexible – able to speed up and slow down the pace. The “reporter-like” style is perfectly suited for the firecracker stops and starts. I think Kindt is like a beat poet who just breathes out long lines and lets the momentum of the delivery carry the meaning, the FEELING. His quick style is also equipped to handle the more fantastic elements of the story: explosions, figures moving through space in action poses – sounds like a superhero comic but because of Kindt’s straight ahead documentary drawings and sequencing it all FEELS more fantastic because it’s seen through the filter of an undecorated style. It being unlike a mainstream comic book makes it more real to me than if it were rendered in hyper-realistic Photoshopped detail.

THE STORY: Sam is regular boring guy who works at a magazine in an office. He goes to work this one day and all hell breaks loose, explosions, people falling from office building windows. Chaos. He looks for his girl, Maria, in a panic and instead finds his boss, Jan, refusing to leave the building in shock. He hates her normally but of course now has to help. They get away but it’s brutal and he and Jan find somewhere to hide. Then Sam wakes up. Was it a dream? He goes to work again like everyday and it’s like it never happened. But now being in the real world is equally terrifying because it FEELS so meaningless. Which is the nightmare? When he goes to sleep next to Maria the girl he couldn’t find in the nightmare – and she’s talking about furniture, Sam realizes how pointless work and his everyday existence is compared to surviving in the nightmare. Falling asleep next to Maria he’s afraid and doesn’t know why. When he wakes again he’s back in the hideout with Jan his boss and then the everyday world truly is the fantasy.

The hook with him switching between worlds at 11:11 pm no matter if he is awake or asleep works for me but at times it’s a little confusing. It’s a useful device for bringing certain IDEAS that I think would be hard to pull off in a more conventional narrative. Specifically, the ghostly feeling of being in a place with one person and then revisiting that same place at a different time with a different person and noting the changes, the shifts. Don’t we all do that? Especially in relationships there seem to be these demarcation lines where we each pause to take note of how different we feel today than how we felt yesterday. So, that sort of gray, ghostly mist – the spaces in between feelings – where we feel helpless to time and fate is a vast well of material for a story. And it usually ends up on the cutting room floor because it’s often a sideroad in the story. The confusing transitions between worlds are minimal and was really me just waiting for Kindt to show us a transition when Sam is awake – like I was thinking, “it’s the end of the world and Sam goes to bed every night at 11?” Those are the kind of things that can get wonky with those sci-fi hooks but this one works for me.

The story, the story. Yah, reviews that explain too much of the story seem silly to me. And when I’m trying to get a customer to bite on a book I don’t like giving away too much. Better to let them figure it out for themselves. But I will say this: The first third is amazing. Amazing. And the second third is great until you realize as a reader that there is no way this story can keep up this pace at the halfway point and resolve everything by the end. It’s disappointing only that I want more as a reader, I don’t want it to end. So, ultimately I don’t mind when an intriguing story often wraps up the final third of the tale a little too quickly – and this is one of those times – but the middle to end does slightly feel like the classic time travel narrative back door easy out.

I still say it feels genre-less because it’s attached to the everyday and to the everyday’s appearance and how it’s all represented as lines on paper. Kindt’s style processes all this stuff “cleanly” and without reference essentially. Meaning everything depicted in the comic goes through Kindt’s own filter – not a stack of reference books of drawing styles or photographs of ruined cities – his own filter of what is possible to draw immediately and accurately. Some find his style “rough” but I see a polished style, one that lets the reader see through the glitz and glare of sci-fi action tropes and dials it all down a notch for a more emotional reading. I feel for the characters because they don’t look like posed models. They’re a cartooned shorthand that allows me to “read” along faster and connect with the pace more directly. An action comic actually drawn by an action cartoonist. I wasn’t expecting the odd emotional insights and pairings that the story set-up and knocked down. And I think this was the style colliding with the contemporary content. Like a glitzy action movie drawn in a “rough” style that is not very comic-booky lookin’ and that’s what makes it feel genre-less and somehow more real and emotional to me. Am I just repeating myself? Can you tell I like this comic? Recommended.

Labels: , , ,

10 Responses to “Revolver by Matt Kindt”
  1. Garrie Burr says:

    Yes! Kindt continues to find ways of telling comic book stories that can only be told in comic books. You can’t drop Revolver “as-is” onto the big or little screen, and you can’t just tell “what happened here” on the prose page. Wouldn’t be the same experience. He also keeps pushing the edges a little more from there, I think, in trying to tie the method of the telling with the theme of what’s being told.

    My only problem with his work, why I often put off sitting down with it, is that I need to schedule some these-days-hard-to-find uninterrupted Kindt time for the thing. I know to really get it I cannot be interrupted once I start. His stuff is best read from beginning to end without stop.

  2. Nate says:

    I’d agree that Kindt’s work compels single sitting reading… his books have a momentum that makes them hard to put down. The detail builds up page-by-page, and with each new piece of information comes a whole new set of questions you want answered, and the answers come, but so too do a bunch of new questions, so there you go. It’s like there are a bunch of micro-cliffhangers, and depending on the direction a given event goes, you’re going to get a totally different story.
    As to the drawings, I’ve seen some originals floating around. They look to be done panel by panel, or in two to five panel sequences, at not to big a size. They also don’t look very fussed with, and suggest that the man goes with the best-first-take, so to speak. I can’t help but think this is why it’s all so coherent and fluid. Like any really good cartoonist everything in a Kindt comic looks like its made out of the same stuff. They’re not drawings of something else but drawings in-and-of-themselves.
    Anyhow… thanks for the review Frank!

  3. Uland says:

    Yeah! I’ve been curious about his stuff for a while now. Think I’ll bite. Thanks Frank.

  4. djm says:

    I talkd to matt when Super Secret Spy came out, and he had a little stack of drawings/panels from the book for sale. He said he was tired of drawing at home out of the sun, and that draing the comic like that was easier to transport, sort through, and play with the arrangements up until the deadline.

  5. zack soto says:

    Revolver is the first of Kindt’s comic’s I’ve finished. I have Super Spy on my shelves somewhere, maybe I’ll go back to it now.
    Anyhow, though I did have minor problems w/ Revolver (Didn’t think the colors worked super well, especially when they were inverted; and I thought the ending was a little too pat) I really enjoyed it on the whole. Addictive read, nice high concept, engagingly shitty protagonist, and I’m always a sucker for both apocalyptic narrative and paranoid PKD stylings.

  6. zack soto says:

    ..and I too read it in one afternoon working at the comic shop.

  7. I thought Super Spy looked like Ben Katchor doing genre work, oddly enough, and like Katchor’s stuff it failed to move or interest me. The design was nice and I appreciated his commitment to carrying through with certain formal/stylistic choices, but I felt the content wasn’t worth it.

  8. I always think of that Kevin H comic for CCS where Kevin shows the kid working on his comic all winter and then someone reads it in ten minutes, haha

  9. Nate says:

    There’s some truth to the Kevin H comic, but I think the speed of initial reading betrays the long term engagement that many comics readers have with the material. Even if an issue of, let’s say Ganges, takes me a half hour to read, I return to it often. Maybe I never reread it in its entirety (though often I will), but I might re-read a certain sequence that’s lodged in my brain, or whatever. And then there’s the conversation that goes on around a work, like this one.

Leave a Reply