WARNING: The following review may contain bias due to this writer’s obsession with all things Matt Kindt.
Wow. Um… WOW! Blimey… This book is good. Like… really, really, REALLY good.
It should be no surprise that the mastermind behind Mind MGMT and all the better work from Valiant in recent years, but the first two issues of Dept. H were some of the most promising to hit the wrack in yonkers. Issue #3 takes that baton and runs with it to extraordinary effect. Written AND illustrated by Kindt, (with wonderfully delicate water colours from Sharlene Kindt), this series is a true auteur’s vision as he crafts a world all his own in which to explore with precision and care.
Despite the concept, deep-sea murder mystery, being tantalizingly exciting by its own right, this book is character over concept – and all the better for it. By remembering to put its characters first it becomes cerebral and oddly peaceful. If you truly lose yourself to the narrative, which is easy to do, it fittingly feels like your floating. There is an expert grasp of atmosphere at work here; from the second you hold the issue you are FEELING the world we’re playing in. This stems from the fact that not a single piece of this comic has not been through about. It’s not just the look of the book, but the feel. Even the choice of paper stock has something to say about the world you’re about to dive into. There’s quality to it. The glossy covers, similar to the style of Fight Club 2, and the paper, scratchy like Mind MGMT, make the book feel like an important document you might rifle through to unearth details of a murder, instead of a just a silly little comic book. This playing with the senses helps submerge you into the atmosphere in a way few other series’ play with. You might as well get a free splash of water to the face with every purchase. The book even smells different to other comics. DON’T LAUGH! It really does. Every pencil line, every splash of water-colour, every staple has been chosen for a particular purpose: creating the comic book equivalent of a critically acclaimed indie film. The synergy between all creative aspects leave it feeling like the inseparable link between sound and visuals in a David Lynch film.
Granted, the art style is definitely not for everyone. It could be easy to toss it aside as too simplistic, too scrappy and undisciplined. But if you run with it, it washes over you. Embrace the style and you’ll find incredible depths in the images a more restrained “Marvel House“ style can’t deliver. It’s a bit like jazz. If a newbie pianist were to dive straight in with improvised noodling, it descends into intolerable white noise. But in the masterful hands of someone experienced, what may seem to be just noise comes together into something otherworldly. That’s Matt Kindt, and in a way, Jeff Lemire too: Scrappy styles that feel like they were scribbled in the back of a school notebook with a biro, yet so masterfully done it’s transcendent. And with the story’s playful use of time and flashback, a style evoking a childlike sense of creation is perfect. The style may not be capable of perfectly, near mathematically, reflecting the anatomy of a fight scene like Jim Lee, but it can make you feel a gut punch of nostalgia like a son-of-a-bitch. Kindt cleverly combines this childish imagery with the story of choice: his opening page captures a moment ALL childhoods must have featured yet may have forgotten about until reading this. It’s piercingly observational to create such a moment we can all relate to. With these skills Kindt could have been an incredible stand up comedian, but he uses his skill of observing the minutiae of life to, instead, delve to deep emotional depths. With that in mind: a story set underwater seems like an inevitability for him. Though the top layer narrative is clear, a murder mystery, what this book is truly about, underneath the surface, is discovering more about yourself.
If you’re even the slightest bit tempted to jump on Dept. H, do yourself a massive favor and dive in. With only three issues down, there’s no way to know how this series is going to go but one thing is for sure: It’s going to be a hell of a ride from here on in.