Dept. H Volume 1: Pressure
by Matt Kindt, Sharlene Kindt
Writer/artist Matt Kind and colorist Sharlene Kindt team up to weave the tale of Mia, a curious yet paranoid woman who, after her father dies aboard an underwater research station, goes down there herself to investigate the mystery of how he died.
A loose, impressionist style of scratchy art makes the whole thing feel like a memory. Blurry water-colors give the impression of having your eyes open underwater with no goggles. The art is not for every book, but it suits this one to a tee. This book is all about submerging, taking the dive. The style captures the book’s themes (water, depth, pressure, paranoia) and washes them over you. The synergy between writing & art style is electrifying, a genuine example of an auteur of the medium delivering at his best.
Why such effort on the art front to recreate the sensations of diving? Because underwater is the perfect metaphor for how Mia is feeling: the crushing weight of both the pain of losing her dad and the responsibility to solve the case. Though Pressure may seem a simple name for this first volume, it’s also an incredible on-point one. The name is yet another example of the sheer level of thought going into this series. This book is brimming with layers and ideas ready to unpack and interpret, should you give it your time and attention. This is not a book to skim read. This is a book to spent time with, to explore and decipher.
Dept. H Volume 1’s greatest of its many achievements, is how it tells the story and conveys character through a perfect marriage of writing, art, and color. This is not a novel propped up by art, nor illustration peppered with speech balloons. This is an expert juggling of three different art forms to convey a singular story.
The visual inventiveness of Page 13 is a perfect example of the book’s devotion to using aesthetic as a prominent story telling tool. Going down the page we have three sets of two-panel conversations between two old friends. On the first set the two panels are starting to glide apart, a glimmer of a flashback visible in the space between them. In the second set we see the friends showing a degree of intimacy as they reunite. In this set the two panels have fully parted, showcasing the flashback: a flashback that reveals the old friends are former lovers. In the final set of the old friends, our lead Mia, is pulling herself away, her narration making clear she refuses to get too close to him as her focus is now on the mystery at hand. In this set the two panels are closing back together, hiding the flashback once more. The past is hidden behind the present.
A romantic past, a complex relationship with it in the present, a clear character dynamic and a protagonist’s motivation are all cemented in a single page. Dept. H Vol.1 retains this remarkably economic approach to story telling from its first page to its last, ensuring every drip of ink on the page is contributing. This kind of visual playfulness, telling story with techniques exclusive to comics, is the sort of trick that sets Kindt apart as one of modern comics’ best storytellers.
Story and character is achieved at record speed. A rich & complex relationship between Mia and another character called Lilly is sold to us within four words. When the pair meet the narration says “Old Friends” and the pair greet each other merely by quietly saying one another’s names. “Mia” … “Lily.” In a mere four words we completely understand there was a falling out. In these four words Kindt achieves the kind of character tension it takes some writers seven or eight issues to build. This economy of story is relentless throughout. There’s a whole world crammed into these 186 pages that feels as though it were built across decades.
As mentioned, every tool the Kindts have at their disposal to contribute to storytelling is being used. Panel structure? It’s used: pages set aboard the station have tight panels packed with detail to enforce claustrophobia. But out in the waters we have vast open pages to capture the incomprehensible vastness of underwater. Paper stock? It’s used: Seriously, the quality of the paper the book is printed on is part of the story. It’s rough; it has grids down the side. This all adds to making the book feel like an old document. It feels like you’re exploring the evidence of the murder, an exploration that gets you into Mia’s head- so you FEEL her paranoia.
And as for the use of color…
Color is a prominent tool throughout. It is not there purely to brighten the scene. The muted blue palette of an early flashback gives the scene a cold and haunted feel. Though the dialogue of the scene is perfectly innocuous, the color scheme tinges it with a pain we can all relate to when ruminating on unpleasant notes from our past. An important underwater discovery in Chapter 4 is accompanied by a bombastic explosion of primary colors, this helps us feel the shock that Mia feels as we watch the palette sharply shift from heavy blacks to a myriad of hues you might see on the wall at a primary school. A later flashback of one character experiencing a severe accident is presented in black & white, save for the bold reds of the blood highlighting the severity of his injury.
This is a book where every element has been thought through in order to make sure it all comes together to achieve an effective whole. The care, attention & detail is so remarkable I would not be surprised if the Kindt’s personally held every copy that’s been printed to make sure there were 110% happy with the production. When you open this book a complete, complex world explodes out its pages like water exploding through the shattered windows of an endangered submarine. Submerge yourself in its layers & depths, let it wash over you, and discover the first volume of your next favourite series.
And if that’s not won you over, come on: the name is a pun!