Matt Kindt’s 2007 Super Spy, a book that devoted each of its many chapters to the life of a different World War II spy in occasionally crisscrossing stories, featured a very complex narrative, made more complex by Kindt’s relentless, almost delirious shifts in layout and style.
His latest work, 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man (Dark Horse Comics), is similar to Super Spy in a lot of ways. It’s impeccably well designed, so that every aspect of the book as an object—covers, title pages, etc.—serves the story. Kindt shifts from standard comics panel-grids to incorporate information in the form of other media, like a newspaper articles and pages from books about his characters. His artwork remains bold and showy. His characters still seem assembled from brushstrokes, like calligraphy people that suggest greater detail and radiate a third dimension.
But where 3 Story differs from Super Spy, it differs for the better. The story is more straightforward, but also a little more serious and sophisticated, Kindt’s use willingness to push the limits of the form in different directions here never coming between the reader and the story as it sometimes did in Super Spy (At times Super Spy seemed like a book that was first and foremost about the way in which it was being told).
The title refers both to the structure of the book, which consists of three stories distinct but continuing stories, and the one-time height of its main character Craig Pressgang, the Giant Man of the title. Each story is told from the point of view of a woman important in Craig’s life—his mother, his wife and his daughter—with his wife’s section making up the bulk of the book, and his mother and daughters’ stories serving as a prologue and epilogue.
Craig reaches the height of nine-feet-tall by the time he starts college, and keeps growing the rest of his life. It’s a fairly normal life too, including college, a girlfriend who becomes his wife, work, family and attendant difficulties with each, although the normalcy of Craig’s real problems are slightly obscured by the fantastical nature of his condition.
None of us are giant people, but most of us face some or all of the emotional problems Craig does, his gigantism functioning simultaneously as an in-plot conflict and a metaphor. In other words, everyone grows apart from their loved ones at some point, but when Craig does so, it’s in large part because he himself is literally growing constantly.
That the emotional content works so well is a credit to Kindt’s ability to write, draw and, most importantly, write with drawings, although the fact that he focuses on a single fantastic element to write as naturally as possible around certainly doesn’t hurt. Other than Craig’s mysterious growth, every element of the story is considered and presented as realistically as possible. Rather than the sort of wish-fulfillment attendant in growing superheroes, like Marvel’s Giant Man, Craig’s growth brings with it as many problems as it does benefits—his nerve reactions are super-slow so he hurts himself easily, he suffers from leg problems, and, in a world without Pym particles, all of his clothes need to be custom-made, until he grows so large the only clothing that will fit him are bolts of cloth stitched together and, finally, he’s too big for clothing at all.
His increasing alienation is manifested physically, as he gets so big that he can communicate with his tiny family, and Kindt keeps the character remote even from the audience, as we aren’t show or told what’s going on inside his head directly, but instead see him from within the heads of the women in his life.
It’s a pretty powerful work from a cartoonist whose skill, like his protagonist’s size, seems to be continuously increasing.
Related: For more info on the book, including a seven-page preview, visit the publisher’s website here. For more on Kindt, check out the artist’s website here (And make sure you visit the portfolio and blog section, if you’re curious as to what a Kindt image of, say, The Thing fighting MODOK might look like).