4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #1 [Advance Review]

4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #1
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art and Design by Tyler Boss
Color Flatting from Claire Dezutti
Wallpaper Design by Courtney Menard
Lettered by Thomas Mauer
Published by Black Mask Studios

4 Kids Walk Into a Bank (let's go with 4 kids, for short) is the kind of debut that I want from a series. It's an issue that grabs you from the very beginning and doesn't let go. It's a book full of ideas and fun and personality, and it's a book that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve while creating something visually hilarious and compelling.  It's setting up to be a teen coming-of-age crime caper with an assortment of memorable characters, along with other elements that are a clear homage to the films of Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese. Writer Matthew Rosenberg, illustrator/designer Tyler Boss and the whole art and design team have crafted something that feels instantly cinematic, memorable, and timeless. I loved this first issue.

4 Kids not surprisingly concerns four (distinctive, memorable) kids who over the course of the first issue, go from playing Dungeons and Dragons to getting involved with some unsavory characters, and becoming aware of some sort of criminal activity.  I don't want to spoil any more of the plot points--it's worth experiencing for yourself. Rosenberg does great work here on story; he's clearly very good at writing funny comics. He previously cowrote We Can Never Go Home which was a story of super powered teens on the run set in the 80's (I loved it, review here).

In some ways, this book feels like something of a spiritual successor to that book. The kids here are younger than the teens at the center of We Can Never Go Home, but this story has the same sort of irreverent, witty, low-rent, lived-in ethos as that earlier series.  There's a lot of great dialogue in this issue, and Rosenberg captures a broad range of emotions in this comic, from fear and anger to hostility to love and compassion.

I've previously seen work by Tyler Boss but this might be the first comic I've seen him wholly illustrate, and I'm here to tell you that he's a serious talent. This is funny, confident, skilled art. Boss does lines and colors (with flatting assistance from Claire Dezutti). He has his own distinctive style, but his work reminded me of Wes Craig (something in the facial expressions of the characters that are comic and exaggerated but not overly "cartoony"), David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth on Hawkeye (in the clean but sophisticated panel layout, the relatively low-rent setting and the terrifically worn-in color look of the book which I'll discuss more below), and even a little bit of Chris Ware (in the character design and the almost diagrammatic look of some of the panels).

Boss captures human expression really well here, and although the character designs are somewhat exaggerated they never feel anything other than like real people, as the art captures each character's personality. Boss does terrific panel design layout in this issue, with each page having a completely different panel layout, and panels that shift in focus from widescreen to overhead to close-up on particular objects that have (or will have) importance in the story. As shown in the above and below panels, he finds a way to incorporate Hokusai's The Great Wave into the story itself as part f the action, and then part of the background; that's thoughtful illustration. This work shows a great partnership between writing and illustration, such as in several different many-paneled pages showing nothing but sharp, sometimes mean, quick witted dialogue between different characters.  I'm a big fan of sequences of panels that repeat the same images with different dialogue (this was done well in Alex + Ada, one of my favorite series of recent years); this can be often used to great comedic (or other) effect, as it is here, particularly on a 2-page sequences with 24 panels on each page.    

4 Kids isn't specific about the time in which its set, but everything about the book, from the cars, to the physical locations, to the lack of things like cell phones, to (importantly) the slightly faded character of the coloring, gives this book a distinctly "analog" feel. That it's not totally specific gives the book a great, timeless quality. That worn, lived-in sense (like you're just discovering a universe that's always been there) that the coloring provides is only one example on this book of the ways in which thoughtful, inviting design can really help sell a comic and put the reader in a great frame of mind for enjoying the issue.

To be clear, this is a fun, terrific book and I was going to enjoy it regardless. However, the design and layout here did a lot to raise my enjoyment to another level. First, the cover looks like a stylish, vintage movie poster. The book then opens with a title and credits page, and the chosen font bears a distinct resemblance to the one used by Tarantino in Pulp Fiction, and the wallpaper background from Courtney Menard (which cleverly shows up later in the comic) calls to mind a Wes Anderson movie. This is a comic that proudly wears its influences on its sleeves. The next page of the book also begins with a quote that's another homage, this time to Goodfellas. Pulp Fiction and Goodfellas? The creative team here knows its audience demographics, as they've already won me over before the story has even started.
Continuing the point that great design makes a great comic, this issue features clever lettering from Thomas Mauer. In particular there are a few places where the lettering accompanying a particular action is a description of the action as opposed to a sound effect such as when a kid throws up soda at a tense moment, the sound effect is "Fanta". Additionally, as shown in the below page, the listing of skills and abilities (and point levels) for the real characters on the story is something that takes the humor of the earlier pages and brings it forward. Those boxes are cleverly done in the same way as the earlier pages, which described each persons' D&D character. Clever lettering like that adds richness to the story.

4 Kids #1 is one of my favorite issues of 2016 so far. It's full of dark humor, heart, and creative energy, and I highly recommend it.