A science-minded adventurer gets mixed up in the mysteries of a fantasy world in this charming new adventure from an award-winning creative team. Boone Dias is an interdimensional explorer, a scientist from Earth who has stumbled into great responsibility. He’s got an explanation for everything, so of course the Ether’s magical residents turn to him to solve their toughest crimes. But maybe keeping the real and the abstract separate is too big a job for just one man.
Ether is the latest creator-owned comic from writer Matt Kindt who is joined by David Rubin on art.
The first issue is fantastic (the second as well) and I got a chance to ask Kindt some questions about where the idea came from and the difference between working with an artist and doing the art and writing himself.
Graphic Policy: Where did the concept of Ether come from?
Matt Kindt: Well, like most ideas I think it came from a place of boredom and hatred (laughing).
I’ve never been a big fan super natural and magical stories. Ghosts and spirits and that kind of thing never really appealed to me. So creatively, I think I’m a little bit of a masochist. I want to take the harder road. I like setting up rules and obstacles to sort of shake up the way I think and approach stories and characters. It’s pretty easy to fall into a comfort zone creatively after a while. You figure out how to do things in a certain way that is successful and then you end up repeating that because you know it works. That’s where the boredom comes in. So I feel like I’m constantly trying to avoid that with every new project.
I always felt like the magic was too convenient. Ultimately it ends up being a way to cheat the story or it’s so grounded that magic wielding ends up like using a gun or a sword in physical combat…so why bother with magic. But that got me to thinking – if someone made me write a comic about magic, or with magical elements, what the heck would I do? How would I handle it?
GP: How did David Rubin come on board the project?
MK: Ether was on my list of projects I wanted to do next. I’ve been drawing a lot of really grounded stuff lately which has been giving me a hankering to draw some crazy stuff. I share a studio with Brian Hurtt and he’s always drawing nutty stuff in The Sixth Gun and it looks like so much fun. Sowhen I was writing Ether, I purposefully seedes a ton of really fun oddball visuals into iit because I was looking forward to drawing all of it. But, as a creator, I have a problem. Creatively, I’m like a starving man at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I want ALL of the food – but the reality is my stomach is only so big. And my time that I can dedicate to projects is limited as well. I can’t draw more than one monthly comic (Dept. H) which is going to keep me occupied for the next couple of years. But I really was excited to get Ether going anyway. And David was available. I am a huge fan of his work. His book “Hero” is just amazing. He’s an artistic genius. And honestly, his availability convinced me to give up the idea of drawing Ether myself – since I knew what he was turning in would be better than anything I could do. The choice was easy.
GP: You’ve done a lot of series where you’ve written it and done the art as well. What’s different in your process when you’re working with an artist as opposed to just on your own?
MK: It’s different every time. Even when I’m drawing it for myself. Each book I’ve worked on is completely different and always driven by the content. I sometimes wish I had it “all figured out” process-wise. And I’m aware that there are formulas for this kind of stuff – but it’s so boring that way. Half the fun of taking on a new project is that adrenalin and terror I feel right before I’ve figure it all out and all the pieces fall into place. It’s the difference between figuring out a puzzle or riddle on your own or just googling the answer and finishing it. If you cheat and look up the answers you don’t get that thrill of discovery – which is honestly the best part of writing and making comics.
When you introduce an artist that’s not yourself into the mix – it makes it that more interesting. Now you’ve got a new personality and talent in the mix. So it become more like a team effort – and playing/writing to the strengths of both of us. I love working with someone as talented as David – so that the scripts I end up writing become more like suggestions rather than dictates.
Since I’d initially planned on drawing the entire thing, I had character sketches and ideas for some of the look of the characters that I sent that to David after asking him if he wanted to see ‘em. I hesitated – I didn’t want to sort of poison his creative well you know? But he was interested so I sent them along with the pitch and outline for the series and he took it on himself to draw over twenty pages worth of set designs and characters and other elements that we could weave into the story. David’s imagination is boundless really. He’s one of those rare artists that writers get to work with, where they just take an idea and run with it – making it visually bigger and crazier than anything you’d been picturing.
GP: The worlds and how they work seem to be pretty thought our. How much have you sketched out and put together about the magical world? Are there rules you’ve created with how things work as an example?
MK: It’s pretty well mapped out. That was a lot of the fun and attraction of creating this series – the world building. Getting to come up with a new world completely from scratch which is something I haven’t gotten to really do before. I’ve re-worked our Earth in MIND MGMT in some fun ways – but it was always based on an existing sort of architecture. With Ether, I got to play creative god in a lot of ways. But it’s not all just arbitrary.
There aren’t necessarily rules for all of Ether – instead – each little pocket and neighborhood in Ether has its own set of rules. Ether is really based on every myth that’s ever been written or imagined. That’s how the entire Ether was created – sprung out of the minds of all humanity from all of history. So this is where all the afterlife’s reside…all of the mythical beasts and creatures – but they’re all sort of relegated to their own neighborhoods. They can meet and mingle – and at the edges, that’s where the friction in the Ether happens. When opposing cultures and ideas sort of butt up against each other. There’s not a lot of “made up” ideas or creatures or characters in the Ether – everything in it is based on myth and folklore and things that we’re all kind of aware of or read about or have seen in fairy tales and that kind of thing.
GP: Something I’ve loved about your work is the amount of small details you put into the comics. Mind MGMT had all of the items in the margins and added so much to the series. The end of the first issue had the creature guide at the end, but do you have ongoing plans for the series?
MK: For sure. You know I love a good plan! That said, each issue sort of dictates what the “extras” are going to be. A lot of times I’d leave the back covers or inside illustrations until last – so I can stand back and see what that particular issue is really about. Then I can go in and use the extra stuff, the back covers, the inside front covers – the little details – to shade the issue – to give the reader a new insight into it or make them feel a little differently about what they’ve just read. Or give them an epiphany when they go back and look at it again. It’s really fun to plant those little mental time-bombs at the beginning or at the end and have them go off after you’ve read the issue. So yeah, we’ll have maps and diagrams and excerpts from books and all kinds of crazy things seeded into each issue. I really want every issue to be a kind of strange art-object/artifact. That’s what keeps the monthly issues vital to me. Making that single issue experience unique.
GP: As a writer, having a magical world where you can literally do anything, how do you keep it focused and not go over the top?
MK: Characters ground the story – which allows me to go over the top on everything else. I think one thing that doesn’t change when I write a story – from project to project is my general overall approach. And maybe that’s the thing, they way that I found my voice as a writer…is this approach…and it’s really just one question I constantly ask myself when I’m writing. “What if this happened…but for real.” It’s a sort of mental exercise that I do after I’ve got the “big idea” or concept for a story. I go back and attack from the POV of it actually happening. These characters become real and I put myself in their shoes. A simple explanation of how this works with my writing would be this: If you play video games, the next time you play a first-person shooter, or a jumping game – or anything where you control a “character” – approach that game as if you have only one life and if you die or miss your jump…it’s going to happen for real. Try it once and see how that makes you feel. It completely transforms the experience. I think a lot of writers end up writing and they’re writing like they have unlimited lives and can just reboot and they’re playing the same game over and over again…and I think that gets boring. It’s the same with that video game – as soon as you go in and approach that game as if you only have one life and it’s “for real” it completely changes your experience. It gives everything seemingly real stakes.
GP: The first issue feels like it turns into a murder mystery. Was there a reason you went with this genre for the story specifically? You’ve also done a few of them, Dept. H is one. What draws you to that genre?
MK: Mysteries are like genres to me. They’re the hook to get you in to the story. The thing that keeps you motivated to turn the pages and it has to be good. It’s what I need as a reader and it’s fun to write, but ultimately, this story isn’t as much about the mystery as it is about the journey of Boone and his sort of growth as a human being that thinks he has an answer for everything being placed into a world that doesn’t necessarily want to be answered or classified or labeled. It’s what makes Sherlock Holmes such an enduring character. It wasn’t the fantastic nature of the mysteries he was solving that made the stories so great. It was the characters – the interplay between Watson and Holmes and his clients that makes the stories enduring.
GP: When creating the world, it feels like almost a Dr. Seuss vibe about it. Are there any influences on the series?
MK: I can’t speak for David – but I completely get a Seuss vibe to it. And at first it really caught me off guard. The pages David was turning it were…they were just sheer FUN. I was writing what I thought was going to be this dour and dark meditation on obsession and loss. Really dark. And then when David’s art started coming in and I saw how his fun sort of cartooning and character design meshed with my words…it honestly shocked me. It’s like hearing a melody and then the harmony starts joining in and makes the song into something different and bigger and more powerful. I’ve never had a collaborative experience catch me off guard like that and surprise me. What Ether turned into is a testament to David’s personality and style.
GP: Any hints as to what we can expect?
MK: I’m not going to spoil it – but Boone has already lost a lot by the time we catch up to him. There’s a terrible twist to the entire story which relates to how the Ether works on its visitors…it’s definitely going to break your heart in a sucker-punchy kind of way. Hopefully (laughs).
But also fun! – we’re going to see…a wizard giant, a 12-year-old-girl who happens to be the most dangerous magician/scientist ever — and Boone’s worst nightmare. An army of oxidized copper robots, a city of insane, perverted immortals, and a mythical Manhattan at the center of the earth. And a grumpy, talking, purple ape – which no story is complete without!