By Matt Kindt & Tyler Jenkins
On Wednesday the ever prolific Matt Kindt launched his latest creator owned series, Grass Kings. A collaboration with artist Tyler Jenkins, the project is his first with BOOM! Studios. While Grass Kings begins with a familiar feel, Kindt and Jenkins gradually subvert expectations leaving readers eager to learn how the intriguing setup will further unfurl.
At its heart, Grass Kings is about land. “People been livin’ here a long damn time,” the narration explains over images of Native Americans. They are presented as the first inhabitants of the land, who, even before the arrival of outsiders, had to struggle between each other for dominance. Grass Kings does not paint a reassuring image of indigenous people at one with their environment, but instead at odds against it. There is violence and bloodshed. Corpses of rivals are tossed, as if a sacrificial offering, into the nearby lake. Those who possess the land will not give it up easily. After all, they “paid for it with blood and sweat and tears.” Still, no one’s hold on the land lasts forever. A montage depicts the passing centuries as native groups cede ground to white settlers which leads to the present day.
Roughly a century ago, the latest wave of displacement took place as the citizen of the Grass Kingdom closed off their community from the rest of the nation. Fending for themselves, they see no need for interactions with others. As long as they do not bother anyone else, they in turn should be left alone. Kindt resists the urge to present the residents of the Grass Kingdom as an assortment of anti-government clichés. True, they are highly protective of their community, keen to threaten violence when they see its boundaries breached. The thorough line of the issue involves a young man, Lo, who is caught snooping around town by the sheriff. Their languid car ride to the edge of the Kingdom provides Kindt a natural framework for sketching in the background and introducing some of the locals. On the whole, this group portrait is intriguing. Readers may not necessarily “like” all of these characters, but they do wish to learn more about them.
For the majority of the issue, Grass Kings appears to be a gritty, down-to-earth drama. However, in the final few pages, Kindt tosses in a twist which suggests that other elements may be in play. The opening narration hinted the area’s true locus of power is not the soil but the water. A lake flows past, calmly observing all the upheaval. More than anything else, it is the symbol of stability. Yet, as has often been learned, such stability can come with a very steep price. “The lake holds the whole history of this place,” the narrator observes before mentioning the family members it has taken from him. “The land . . . the water . . ? It sets the toll . . . and takes what it will.” For how much longer will these inhabitants be able to hold the land?
Artist Tyler Jenkins illustrates the issue with a palette of subdued watercolors. The looseness of his figural work is reminiscent of Kindt’s own art without ever feeling derivative. However, Jenkins definitely has his own style. His art has a strong everyday quality which is particularly useful in conveying the ambiance of the Grass Kingdom. Jenkins renders the beauty of the land with the same directness he does the sometimes savagery of its inhabitants. Later in the issue, he uses gradations of color to add an abstract element to the story, as the narration coasts through the alcohol addled mind of the town’s leader. This is the most powerful segment of the issue, as Kindt and Jenkins combine their talents for an evocative sequence.
All in all, Grass Kings is mostly setup, which is perfectly acceptable for a debut issue. The exposition is well handled and the plot threads compelling. The art is striking. The reader puts down the issue ready to revisit the Grass Kingdom in further installments.