Magic in fiction is sometimes a difficult thing to navigate. The conceit of magic is often ill-defined, amorphous, and hard to grasp, leaving readers wondering about the nature of it and how it fits into the overarching narrative a creator is trying to tell.
Writer Matt Kindt seems to understand that frustration and may just be channeling it in his new, creator-owned series Ether, hitting comic shops this Wednesday from Dark Horse Comics. Along with artist David Rubin, Kindt tells the tale of Boone Dias, a rationalist who very much disbelieves in magic. In fact, Dias so rejects the idea of magic that he has made several visits to a realm of supernatural beings called the Ether in an attempt to show that we think of as magic is, in fact, just science we haven’t yet explained. How this interaction with the seemingly unexplainable will affect Dias is part of the journey Kindt wants to explore.
Mr. Kindt spoke with me recently about the conceit of Ether, the conflict between science and magic, and what we can expect from Dias’ tale.
FreakSugar: For folks considering picking up the book, how would you describe Ether?
Matt Kindt: It’s Sandman meets Sherlock Holmes. We’re following a completely rational scientist as our “hero” who absolutely does not believe in the super natural. Even after he gets sucked into a magical dimension – the “Ether.” He becomes obsessed with this magical realm – intent on rationalizing and explaining every mystical thing he sees and encounters. Boone, our protagonist, doesn’t believe in a “mystery” any more than he believes in “magic” – so when a high-profile murder goes down in this magical realm…it really hits Boone with both barrels. He’s intent and obsessed with solving the crime with rational deductions and observation. What he ends up find out as we go along in the series is that applying his methods can cause all kinds of problems, both personally and physically. Boone has a large purple magical ape as a side-kick that is a perfect foil for him – and literally keeps him grounded.
FS: In society and literature, there’s often this push-pull going on when it comes to science and nature, with the two seemingly sometimes diametrically opposed—depending on who you talk to, that is. What was the genesis behind the book, as it seems to touch on these themes?
MK: It is playing with a lot of themes that I think we deal with every day unconsciously. How do you balance a belief in anything that’s unknown with a belief in hard science and facts. Is that kind of balance even possible? As a writer it was interesting to me to create a character that absolutely must have a concrete answer to everything and then see what kind of emotional and psychological toll that takes on a person and the ones he loves over the years. And the thing with this character and that kernel of an idea, is that I’m not really going into the story with some kind of agenda. I don’t know that I fall on one side of the issue or the other. So I can write Boone with complete objectivity – in his single-minded quest for truth and answers…but I can also see the other side of things. Sometimes a mystery isn’t such a bad thing. I think you can really kill the magic in some things by examining it too closely.
FS: The term ether is heavy with history, as it was referred to as the thing, essence, or material that fills the universe beyond our terrestrial understanding. Is that need for understanding of the physical and the spiritual a driving force behind what’s going on in Ether?
MK: Definitely. That’s going to be Boone’s ongoing journey. He is a man of pure science. There’s no room in his life for magic and the unknown…the “ethereal.” Which is really fun to write. I do get a kind of dark satisfaction as the “creator” of this world by throwing insane things at Boone. War-like faeries, talking purple gate-keeping apes, copper mechanized golems, and magic bullets that are…actually magic.
Ultimately this series was sort of born out of my dislike for magical stories and characters. Magic in comics always seemed like a kind of cheat to me – even as a kid. There weren’t really any rules. You could really see the writer pulling the strings any which way they wanted in service of the story. So the idea of having super natural elements at all, let alone outright magic, never appealed to me as a creator. And that’s where Ether came from. What would I do if I had to make a book with magic and super natural elements in it? Well, I’d have a character that hates magic. Doesn’t believe in it. Thinks it’s a cheat. And then have him explain it all (laughs.) And then I’d torture that character with as much unexplainable stuff as I could.
FS: How did you and David Rubin decide on the look of Ether? At times, I felt a callback, at least how I felt as I read the first issue, to Ditko’s Dr. Strange and I couldn’t help but smile.
MK: That’s all David. I had some old character sketches and ideas for some of the look of the characters but when I sent that to David along with the pitch and outline for the series and took it on himself to draw over twenty pages worth of set designs and characters and other elements that we could weave into the story. David’s imagination is boundless really. He’s one of those rare artists that writers get to work with, where they just take an idea and run with it – making it visually bigger and crazier than anything you’d been picturing. That’s the real delight of working with David. As an artist, I have an idea in my head already of what things are going to look like. And then when he turns in the sketches and final art – it’s surpassed what I’d even imagined. He just blows it up and makes it fun and insane – so many tiny details. There’s this little bird with these giant ridiculous teeth that he just doodled into one of his preliminary sketches he sent – and it was so funny to me. So out there, that I re-wrote an entire scene in the first issue to get this little bird into there. His art is so evocative that it really inspired me to write to what he was doing as much as I could. David is one of the greats.
FS: We get acclimatized to the city of Agartha in the first issue, but will we get a glimpse of other realms in the Ether?
MK: For sure. Assuming Ether does well, we have a bunch of arcs outline and ready to go that push a bigger narrative that threads through smaller stand-alone story arc mysteries. Half the fun of telling the stories in Ether is the world-building and travel. We have a lot of insane locales and characters we can’t wait to get to. There’s a map in the first arc that Boone is referencing that has some hints to a lot of the places we’re going to see more of. Living libraries, magical animal sanctuaries, a faerie war, a bizarre bazaar. We have a lot to get to.
FS: We see a flashback as to why Boone wants to show what we refer to as magic is just science that’s yet to be explained. At the same time, we also see Boone on present day Earth and he looks destitute, having to steal to eat. What are the emotional stakes for Boone in Ether?
MK: I’m not going to spoil it – but Boone has already lost a lot by the time we catch up to him. First and foremost, Ether is a fun adventure book with magic and fist-fights with rusty automatons, ape-slavers, flame-sword-wielding women warriors, and shady librarians, but there’s a terrible twist to all of this that will sort of break your heart at the end of this first arc. Hopefully (laughs). I’m a terrible person.
FS: The names of the various characters and locales in Ether made the first issue a bevy of Easter eggs—being a proud library nerd, I loved Lord Ubel’s library helpers the Deweys! How much research did you do when crafting the series’ world?
MK: It was an equal balance of research and free-association to come up with this world. I’m basing a lot of the names of places on real myth and old-world belief systems – the idea being that all of these places were created by humanity and our earth-bound belief systems. And this is the place that they actually exist. Every belief system will be represented and is a visit-able place in Ether. That said, come on, we can’t let the Dewey decimal system die! What better caretakers for all of the known knowledge in the universe then some magical winged floating dewey decimals…!
FS: Is there anything you can tease about what we can see in Ether in the months ahead?
MK: Each arc is written to be a great pulpy self-contained mystery with some fragments of a larger conspiracy that will stretch out from arc to arc. That said, we’re going to get to see a wizard giant, a 12-year-old-girl who happens to be a magician/scientist and Boone’s worst nightmare. An army of oxidized copper robots, a city of insanity, perverted immortals, and a mythical Manhattan at the center of the earth.
Ether #1, written by Matt Kindt with David Rubin on art, hits comic shops this Wednesday from Dark Horse Comics.
From the official issue description:
That’s the question at the heart of ETHER, the much anticipated creator-owned series by award-winning writer Matt Kindt (DEPT. H) and artist David Rubín (BATTLING BOY) featuring magic bullets, purple gorilla gatekeepers, faeries, golems, a mystical portal and one science-minded adventurer who firmly disbelieves in the supernatural, despite all the evidence around him.
Boone Dias is an interdimensional explorer, a scientist from Earth who has stumbled into great responsibility. He’s got an explanation for everything, so of course the Ether’s magical residents turn to him to solve their toughest crimes. But maybe, just maybe, keeping the real and the abstract separate is too big a job for just one man?
ETHER delivers spectacle, the supernatural, high adventure and heartbreak beginning November 16, 2016, when the first issue goes on sale.