Who killed the smartest man in the world? The answer lies 20,000 leagues under the sea

Last August, comic writer and artist Matt Kindt wrapped up his masterful Mind MGMT series, a 36-issue epic combining elements of the psychedelic, spy, and science-fiction genres in its tale of one writer’s investigation into a mysterious organization of members with mind-bending psychic powers. Now, Kindt is back with a new series, Dept H, an undersea locked-room murder mystery that follows an Indian investigator named Mia’s attempts to figure out who murdered her brilliant father in his deep-sea research station. Like Mind MGMT, Dept H combines elements of multiple pulp genres (murder mystery, undersea adventure), but unlike Kindt’s previous work, Dept H was made in collaboration with his wife Sharlene. Her water colors help add an undersea atmosphere to Kindt’s illustrations.

Kindt spoke with EW about working with his wife, setting an entire story underwater, and how Dept H stands out from his previous work. Below, check out an exclusive preview from Dept H #1, out April 20 from Dark Horse.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How is Dept H similar to and different from your previous work?

MATT KINDT: The commonality between all my work is the pulp genre that it’s grounded in. Sometimes it’s spies or superheroes or detectives or psychics, but always there’s a personal story in it, something with some heart. The main character in this one, Mia, is really the main focus of the entire series. She’s tasked with trying to solve the murder of her own father and at the same time deal with the emotional impact of that loss. So there are familiar themes of family and loss in this series but also, I think, the murder mystery element.

The classic “whodunit” is a genre I haven’t used before. And the entire series is set in the deepest part of the ocean in a research station that’s flooding with water so I think the ticking clock and central locale is new for me as well. I love globetrotting and armchair travel but with this story I really wanted to focus on making the characters and the reader feel really claustrophobic and put a ticking clock on the entire series so I can tap into some really basic primal fears: the dark, drowning, and closed-in spaces.

This story blends a couple different genres (locked-room mystery, undersea adventure, sci-fi, etc). What were your go-to influences/references for Dept H?

The real-life work of Jacque Cousteau was a huge inspiration, and I mainlined a ton of Agatha Christie books in preparation for this as well. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes and loving that but I never really got into Christie until last year … Channeling all of that and now being “backstage” with this series is so exciting. It’s like setting an elaborate trap and then getting to watch readers walk towards it slowly, and fall in. I hope it’s as fun for readers as it is for me!

What makes Mia an interesting protagonist for you?

She’s based on several Indian friends that I’ve known over the years, and I really wanted to explore a character with a different cultural identity than characters I’ve tackled in the past. I think the themes of family and women in roles of authority (and not) were also things that sort of came up naturally as I was writing the series. Those aren’t topics I was going out of my way to address, but if you treat every character as a unique individual, they end up doing that cliché of “writing themselves” … And that’s the fun of her character. Her will is stronger than my own! I’m putting her through the ringer, though – she’s going to get exactly NO sleep during the entire series, she’s lost her father, her brother might be the murderer, and she’s terrified of drowning and water.

What are the storytelling advantages (and disadvantages) of telling an entire story underwater?

Lots of deep dark black. It’s really influenced my art more than I anticipated. I’m used to using a lot of light feathery lines and washes of color, but with the darkness of the ocean and the heavy weight on the characters it really seemed like this series needed to be heavier with the art as well. I went back and studied a lot of the masters – guys like Alex Toth who were just masters of spotting blacks and adding weight to their art. It’s really made it fun to let the story dictate the visuals. It’s the reason I love comics so much.

The disadvantage is that you’re drawing a LOT of water and dark spaces. But, luckily, Sharlene is a master of water color, so I can leave whole areas of the page white, knowing that she’s going to fill it in with some great water color that really lends itself to the ocean and atmosphere we’re playing in.

What was it like collaborating with your wife on a comic?

It’s honestly amazing. We’ve been married for 20 years and I’m sorry we waited this long to do it. It’s really a visual extension of our relationship – a lot of push and pull, trying to figure out how our different styles work best together, and then the final sum being greater than the parts – which is how we ended up raising our amazing daughter, and now it’s how we’re having so much fun on this crazy comic.

Mia hints at deep backstory with several characters over the course of the issue. How will those play into the story going forward?

We’ll be getting glimpses of her backstory and relationships with everyone over the course of the series. That’s really the heart of the story that will be doled out little by little in between the stress of the present-day action. Her relationships will ultimately be the key to her unlocking all the mystery and really coming to grips with her loss. Mia and her story, as much as the murder mystery, are really the beating heart that makes this series tick.