Grass Kings #1,
Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins,
Most of the time I’m aware of what’s coming up on the new releases front and have some knowledge of what some of the new works are about, but Grass Kings managed to sail under my radar somehow. I remember hearing it was coming and anything with Kindt’s name attached to it usually perks my attention – I’ve been enjoying Matt’s works since the guys at Top Shelf were kind enough to send a copy of his Super Spy my way several years ago – but somehow it had then slipped my mind until I saw it on the new releases this week.
Actually Tyler’s beautifully low-key cover artwork grabbed my attention before I clocked their names. Yes, I know, we don’t judge by covers, but they are still important in books and perhaps even more so in a visual medium like comics, in attracting our initial attention. It also helped that Boom had published this with a rather nice card rather than floppy paper cover, a nice touch.
We open with a beautifully executed scene of “The Lake”, with part of the first page artwork depicting the rural landscape stretching across onto the inner cover page above the usual publisher’s credits; it’s a little like the opening to an old-fashioned, wide-screen Western movie and is visually quite striking. Peaceful though it looks – lake, trees, hillside, teepees, wildlife – the red sky hints at trouble to come, red blood to be spilled…
After a brief opening scene where we see one Native American kill another to possess his right to live by The Lake (and claim his woman and home), we skip through the centuries. The world changes around The Lake, different tribes taking control of the area, in turn displaced or killed by incoming European settlers, teepees giving way to a small hamlet, to a wee village, to finally a small rural town in 1950. Over this we have a dialogue telling us that in one way or another people of all sorts have lived around here, fought to possess and hold the land:
“People been livin’ here a long damn time. Since 1200 AD, they say. Home-grown kingdoms scatching out a life on the shores of this dark lake. The lake holds the whole history of this place. Entire generations. The lake’s the only witness to all that’s come and gone.”
After this prelude we see a young man being arrested by the local sheriff, not an unusual sight in a small, rural town. It doesn’t look as if the young man has done anything especially criminal though, more like he is simply not welcome by The Lake, in what the current inhabitants now call The Grass Kingdom. Again not so unusual for a small, close-knit community to be wary of outsiders, although this one seems more paranoid than most (in a previous century no doubt if the young man walked int the local saloon the piano player would have stopped).
The sheriff explains to him that he’s not welcome, that he has to stay on the other side of the dividing line, between the Grass Kingdom and nearby Cargill. The youth retorts that legally they don’t have a leg to stand on, they have no real legal papers to claim the land and the sheriff is not a properly appointed sheriff. The sheriff, for his part, suspect the kid is not as dumb as he looks and is actually there to peek around and report back to the sheriff of the nearby town of Cargill about this secretive, closed-off community on their doorstep.
So he casually drives through the small township and lets him see around as he drives him out of town, as if to show they aren’t hiding anything, they just don’t care for outsiders unless invited. He also drops heavy hints that he’s lucky it was the sheriff who spotted him as others might just have shot him on sight (with the implied threat that will happen to him or any other who tries this again). But of course if they really have nothing to hide why are they so secretive? Why is an entire town living off the grid with armed sharpshooters prepared to take a potshot at any intruder who happens to pass by in what, after all, is meant to be a free country?
This is a hugely intriguing opening and offers far more questions than answers – Matt and Tyler expertly bait the storytelling hook here, offering us a glimpse of a strange something, a feeling or presence, perhaps, around the lake area which remains no matter which group of people are living on that land, something compelling that they will take great care to hold on to (and aware that others before them have done so and lost it, else they would not be there now themselves). This doesn’t feel like some avoid government taxes, live off the grid type militia, there’s something much more going on here, and it has been going on for centuries, and damn if they haven’t hooked me entirely with this opening issue. Tyler’s art is beautifully atmospheric, the style, colouring and layout easing us into a sense of the feeling of the place and the odd people perfectly. I have no idea what is truly going on here yet, but I do know I am going to have to read more..
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