Comic Review: Grass Kings, Issue 5

(Minor spoilers of issue 5 and all previous issues ahead.)

The year was 1958. A bunch of counterculture bikers are squatting on the land. The police showed them what would happen to weirdos. It wasn’t all that long ago that the police and the eventual inhabitants of The Grass Kingdom drew blood from one another.

Action: In comics, action speeds everything up. I have my educatioSee the source imagen in fiction writing. Long prose. In many ways, this visual medium does the exact opposite as long prose when it comes to action sequences. Everything is slowed down in a novel. Time is stretched in order to give readers a real sense of what is happening. If reading a fist fight took as long as the fist fight lasted, it wouldn’t be more than a couple sentences. Instead of the minute actions of a main character, Grass Kings shows the main events of the fight between The Grass Kingdom inhabitants and the Cargill police. The police drive cars through the community, shooting. Archie opens fire with a mounted 50 caliber machine gun. Blows up a police car.

Blood is shed.

Characters: While much of this issue id image heavy and dialogue light, a nice piece of character development is thrown in. As Robert rides a horse to get to the airfield, the sound of gunfire in the background, captions that drudge up dialogue between he and his daughter grace each page. The interaction is that of him reading to her, right before she disappears. He’s reading her a fairy tale about a knight who rescues a queen. While Robert carries a gun, the odd panel depicts him as the knight, carrying a sword. The captioned dialogue between Rose and Robert is a nice touch, as it pulls the narrative back to what this whole story is really about. It addresses what readers are curious about. Where did Rose go, why, what was Robert like before she disappeared?

Art: The climax of the issue is when Robert sits on his horse and a dragon takes to the sky. it shoots fire from its mouth. The next page, however, shows that the dragon is just an old biplane with a single bomb attached to it.

 

Conclusion: Interestingly, this felt like the shortest issue I’d read. There simply isn’t much dialogue which makes the panels fly by–especially on the Comixology Guided View option. This isn’t to say the issue is bad or dull–it isn’t, but considerably less happens in this issue that is noteworthy than in previous issues. The personal connections between characters just aren’t there because the characters are busy doing other things than talking. A necessary, yet quick issue.

 

Comic Review: Grass Kings, Issue 4

(Minor spoilers ahead in reference to this and all previous issues)

The land was once an airfield for the Royal Flying Corps back in the days of WWI. That’s why The Grass Kingdom has its own airfield.

The set up opens on a sunset sky, two old biplanes fly over water, toward the land. The sunset tones are the same used to indicate bloodshed in the previous issue.

Character: Maria comes into her own. She finally tells Robert how her husband treated her. That he ruled her life. Threatened to have her deported if she didn’t do what he wanted. She came to The Grass Kingdom for protection and for freedom. She heard about Humbert talk about The Grass Kingdom all the time, and he hated it. To Maria, it sounded like freedom.

Plot: Much of this issue is dedicated to the tension between Humbert and Bruce. After Big Dan doesn’t come back, Lo, another of Humbert’s thugs, returns to Humbert and is concerned something awful has happened. He isn’t wrong. Irate, Humbert goes to confront Robert, but Bruce blocks his path by parking a car across the road. The dialogue between Bruce and Humbert is fraught with tension. The art does a great job of illustrating the fury in Humbert–but we’ll get to that in a second. Humbert continues to Robert’s house on foot. Robert is waiting for him–he’s shocked that the Sheriff of Cargill is finally doing his job.

A flashback ensues concerning the investigation of a series of murders. Robert is convinced his daughter is one of those victims, but the police never found any evidence connecting her disappearance to the rash of murders that cropped up during that time. In the flashback there’s been a murder–they think, blood all over someone’s house, but no body. Humbert is there, sent by the Mayor of Cargill to investigate. Bruce and Robert show Humbert what they’ve found. They ask that Humbert share information, so they too can investigate. Humbert refuses, claiming that its hypocritical of them to live off the grid, not pay taxes or contribute to the city and then want the protection those contributions would warrant. Humbert has a point. Both Robert and Bruce are too suspicious of Humbert to want to live in Cargill, so Humbert leaves and doesn’t share his information with them.

The narrative comes back to the present. Robert points out the irony of the shoe being on the other foot. Humbert wants information and Robert is damned if he’s going to give the Sheriff a whiff. Humber leaves, but both Robert and Bruce know the man will be back, and with friends. The two brothers split up and tell the residence of The Grass Kingdom to arm up–trouble is coming.

Art: The art of this comic takes some time getting used to. I find myself slightly put off by it every time I pick it up for a new issue. The feeling of bewilderment only lasts about a page or two, but in those pages, I look at the rawness and it seems sloppy. Only after a couple pages do I begin to appreciate the flowing watercolors. This piece is all about tone and emotion–much of the tension is built by way of colors. For instance, Humbert’s fury is manifested as blotchy redness just below his eyes. When Humber squares off with Robert, the contrast of the cool sky, and the dusty colored ground they stand on, gives a sense of tempers boiling up, warm colors low, cool colors high. By the time Humber leaves the colors are reversed; Robert sits on the porch which is a dull gray, behind him and above are deep purples fading into a water red sunset. In many ways, the art of this comic is akin to poetry. It is more about creating a feeling than telling a story. The dialogue is what drives the story, not the art itself. Without the lettering, I’m unsure if I’d know what this story is about. But I’d still feel something from the art.

Conclusion: This feels like a building issue. An issue that is necessary for a lot of excitement to happen NEXT issue. All plots have an ebb and flow. An up and down. Like tides Tension must build, release, and build again. While the tension in this issue is, physically, pretty low, emotionally it feels high–which I predict will manifest as physical tension and excitement in issue 5. A great comic for someone who wants to learn about tension building in this medium, like myself.

Comic Review: Grass Kings, Issue 3

[MINOR SPOILERS from previous issues head)

Recap: The Grass Kingdom is a commune. There are no laws but those the people who live there keep for themselves. Native Americans once lived on this land, it has been fought for and lost and blood has watered the grass that grows there. Now The Grass King, Robert, and his older brother, Bruce (who is the active, though unauthorized, law enforcer in The Grass Kingdom) are about to butt heads with the sheriff of Cargill, the neighboring town, to the point of no return. It may have something to do with a young woman who Robert found in the river outside his house. The previous night Robert took her in, thinking, at first she was his missing daughter. We left off the story of The Grass Kingdom when the sheriff of Cargill sent his goon, Big Dan, to find this mysterious woman, though who she is, we’re still not sure.

 

Set Up: Perhaps this should be titled Prologue, but I think “set up” is also a good term. A prologue is defined as “a separate introductory section of a literary or musical work,” which I suppose would be appropriate, but in my experience prologues commonly feel disconnected from the plot in many significant ways, typically until the end of the literary work. In a comic book, published in floppies (22-page booklet), however, a reminder needs to be given every issue. “This is where you are. This is the world you will live in for this issue.” With this in mind, issue 3 opens on a sunset or sunrise spread across a plane. Two small cars chase another. 1920. Prohibition. Small bangs come from each. The people are shooting at each other. The smugglers try to board a bSee the source imageoat to make it across the lake. A man is shot. His body is left floating in the lake.

Plot: We pick up the story ninety-eight years later in Roberts house. We learn Maria swam to The Grass Kingdom from Cargill, forty miles up-river. She reveals, without preamble, she is Sheriff Humbert’s wife. The Sheriff of Cargill. At the same time, Big Dan is hiding in the woods outside Robert’s home. When Robert makes to leave the house to go get some food (all he has in his fridge is beer) he years something. Big Dan tries to force entry into Robert’s house only to be confronted by Robert. Big Dan is in process of beating the tar out of Robert when Maria comes out the back door, a gun pointed at Big Dan’s head.

Character: This is the moment in which Maria’s role as a distressed damsel disappears. She shoots Big Dan in the back of the head. Then a view more times, just to make sure. Meanwhile, Robert’s older brother, the lawman of The Grass Kingdom has found Pinball, who was beaten up by Big Dan. Pinball’s got a concussion, but people are taking care of him. Bruce knows something is wrong immidiately. He sees Big Dan’s footprints and makes his way to Robert’s home, just through the woods. When Bruce knocks on Robert’s door, there’s a wonderful exchange between the two brothers. It reveals a lot about how they interact. When Robert tells Bruce about how dan died, Bruce’s immediate reaction is to get rid of the body. Robert mentions sinking it in the lake, but the first thing the police will do is drag the lake. Robert should know this.

Character background is revealed through a collection of sepia images. It recounts how Robert became convinced there was a serial killer in the area and how the police of Cargill didn’t do anything. When the police dragged the lake they found a collection of remains, but nothing conclusive. The idea didn’t die though. Robert still suspects there is a serial killer somewhere in their midsts.

Art: As in the two previous issues the watercolor sets the tone of this issue as well. However, there is a subtle difference here. Much of what I noticed was the background colors the artist used. Everything done in secrecy has a backdrop of dark blues and purples, everything done in violence, when blood is shed, has a backdrop of reds, oranges, and yellows. Even when Maria shoots Big Dan, which happens at night, Tyler Jenkins splices in some bloody colors amid the dark tones of the night sky. It’s artfully done and creates a mood in each panel. One that is both oppressive in its closeness as well as expansive in scope. These backdrop colors foreshadow the events of each scene. I’ll look for this clever construct in the future.