Matt Kindt writes his Valiant passion project with new ‘Ninjak’ series

Oct. 06, 2014 | 1:06 p.m.

Nothing was going to stand in the way of Matt Kindt writing “Ninjak.” Despite a full plate of ongoing series (“Mind MGMT” for Dark Horse, “Rai” and “Unity” for Valiant) and the upcoming “The Valiant” miniseries, Kindt carved time out of his schedule to work on a pitch for a new “Ninjak” series, knowing that the opportunity would pass him by if he didn’t work fast.

“I basically begged Warren [Simmons, Valiant editor-in-chief] to let me do it,” says Kindt. “If there was one Valiant character I would want to do—if I could only do one—it would be Ninjak. And the only issue was would I have time to do it, because I had taken on ‘Unity’ and ‘The Valiant,’ and Warren was just worried about my time.”

“I told him to let me pitch it, let me work out an outline for the first few years. I’ll write the first issue, and if I have time to do it, then let me do it. If I don’t, I just won’t and you can give it to someone else. I immediately started working nights and weekends to make the best thing I could. Because there was no way someone else would have done it. I would have hated whoever that was. I would have been so jealous.”

Trevor Hairsine's cover for "Ninjak" No. 1. (Valiant)

Trevor Hairsine’s cover for “Ninjak” No. 1. (Valiant)

Kindt’s passion for Ninjak began in the ’90s, when he followed the character’s initial series from the very first issue. “I loved [Joe] Quesada’s art back then, and if you look at my career now, it’s obvious that I like spies and espionage and all that stuff,” says Kindt. “I didn’t realize what I really liked or what I wanted to do, I knew that I liked James Bond and I liked Batman, so [Ninjak] was kind of a blend of all that stuff put together.”

The new “Ninjak” series debuting in March of next year details Colin King’s origin for the first time in the contemporary Valiant universe, splitting focus between three periods in the hero’s life: his childhood, his pre-Ninjak early adulthood, and his present-day experience as a ninja secret agent. In the present, Ninjak will be facing off against the Shadow Seven, leaders of a cabal intent on destabilizing global society for their own profit, and events from his past will directly tie into the main action as the story continues.

Artist Clay Mann made a name for himself with his dynamic visuals on Marvel titles like “X-Men: Legacy” and “Gambit,” and his skill for staging kinetic, impactful action makes him an ideal collaborator for Kindt on “Ninjak.” Each issue of the series will also feature an eight-page back-up story by an unannounced artist, bringing the total page count up to 30 for no extra cost. Valiant is clearly enthusiastic about the project, and with this caliber of creative team, “Ninjak” situates itself at the top of the publisher’s new wave of titles for 2016.

Hero Complex readers can see Lewis Larosa and Trevor Hairsine’s covers for “Ninjak” No. 1 as well as Clay Mann’s pencils for the first issue in the gallery above or in larger versions via the links below.

‘NINJAK’: Larosa cover | Hairsine cover | Page 1 pencils | Page 2 pencils

In a recent telephone conversation, Kindt spoke about the qualities that attract him to Ninjak, the pleasures of collaborating with Mann, and the creative freedom given to him by Valiant editorial.

Hero Complex: What are the things about Ninjak that draw you to the character?

Clay Mann’s pencils for "Ninjak" No. 1, page 1. (Valiant)

Clay Mann’s pencils for “Ninjak” No. 1, page 1. (Valiant)

Matt Kindt: I think it’s the same thing that anybody in the espionage field shares, and it’s this idea of your loss of identity and what motivates you to do that kind of thing. Because the nature of espionage, and basically superheroes on top of it, is this idea that you can be someone else. Why do you want to do that? And if you’re good at it, what makes you so good at it? So for the first year of the series, the way I’ve structured it, we’re going to see three different parts of [Colin’s] life and how they fit together in the present day. So we’ll get to see his childhood, his adult life before he becomes Ninjak, and then we’ll have the present-day story where he is Ninjak.

That’s an interesting way for me to get into his character and story, to show these different stages of his life and where he’s at at different times. Inform why he is how he is instead of just showing him as Ninjak now and then we flash back and his parents are killed or something. That’s super shallow. But if we do it this way, where the narratives of his childhood and his time before he was Ninjak as an adult are weaved into the story, where they’re just as important and take as much space as the Ninjak action, I think you’ll care about him more. It will seem a little more real that he is the way he is. Rather than just this one event that happened in his childhood that made him who he is, which is rarely ever the case. That doesn’t happen in real life. Usually several things happen in succession or over a period of years that make you who you are, which is what I’m trying to show with [Ninjak].

HC: How does “Ninjak” differ in tone from your other Valiant series “Unity” and “Rai”?

MK: It differs in tone in that it’s focusing on Ninjak as the main character, where “Rai” is sort of an ensemble piece and “Unity” definitely is just by the nature of what it is. It’s a team book, so you’re getting a little taste of everybody and how they interact together, where with “Ninjak,” he’s the star of the book. This book’s about him. If it’s an ensemble piece, it’s an ensemble that has Ninjak as an adult, Ninjak as a young man, and Ninjak as a kid. And we’re seeing how those three versions of himself interact. It’s really been a nice break where I can really just focus on one guy, one character. Really get his voice, find out what makes him tick, and sell his narrative. And it’s nice to just be able to get more in-depth on one character rather than to have to juggle a bunch of different characters and a bigger plot like that. As far as tone goes, it’s still going to be kind of dark, and there’ll be some funny stuff. It’s a mix of what I normally do.

Clay Mann’s pencils for "Ninjak" No. 1, page 2. (Valiant)

Clay Mann’s pencils for “Ninjak” No. 1, page 2. (Valiant)

HC: How did Clay Mann become involved as artist?

MK: That’s all Warren. He gives me a list of guys and asks, “Who do you like?” And it’s always a good list, like, “Who do I like more?” Clay, I’d seen his stuff, and Warren and I both thought he was the best fit for the story. I think that’s what’s great about Valiant. They have this pretty big stable of artists, and [Warren] can pick the artist that fits that particular story. I knew with Clay’s background that he would have a lot of fun with the lore and the Japanese mythology, different things that are going to be folded into “Ninjak.” I love his stuff.

HC: How has that collaborative process been?

MK: It’s been great. He’s a total professional. And honestly, I was looking at some of his older stuff and there are pages where he had nine-panel grids with a lot of action on them, and I was like, “Oh, good. He’s a guy that doesn’t mind doing that.” He’s not the guy that just wants to do the splash page and everything else is just stuff between the splash pages. He definitely has a good handle on the storytelling and the action, and that’s the one thing I really want to focus on with Ninjak in particular. Just because of the nature of how he fights, and he’s going to have lots of gadgets and different little things that we’re going to focus in on, zoom in on little pieces of technology he has and then pull back out and then show action. [Clay’s] not just good at it. I think he really likes drawing that stuff.

HC: Where did the decision come from to have each issue be 30 pages?

MK: I’m not really sure how that happened. When I put the pitch together, I just had a ton of ideas. I had different things I wanted to try, and a lot of that was because Warren, when I was pitching him, he told me, “Don’t inhibit yourself at all. We can do anything. Page count is flexible. Structure is flexible. The design is flexible. Just come up with something crazy.” Which is great. When the publisher tells you sky’s the limit, come up with something different, creative, and don’t let there be any hurdles in your way or any roadblocks, that’s a dream job.

If page count isn’t an issue, it really helps to break out of that 22-page rhythm of storytelling where it’s beginning, middle, and then you have a teaser for the next issue. [“Ninjak”] is going to be structured differently, where we have the main issue and then we’re going to have a back-up story that is eight pages and it will work to inform the main story but will be its own narrative. It’s the third story, so you get his childhood, you get him as Ninjak, and then you get this third one, which is basically him working for MI-6 as a regular spy being trained in espionage. We get to see him learn the spycraft; that’s what the back-up stories are going to be.

In addition to that, the inside covers are going to be a little different. There’s going to be a focus on one of the gadgets, which I think I’m going to draw if I have time to do it. I’m doing a diagram of one of the gadgets or a specific item that appears in that issue that has significance. Again, that was just Warren telling me, “The sky’s the limit. Let’s make this book different than any other book.” And it’s going to be cool.

– Oliver Sava | @LATHeroComplex

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