Respect, Dignity and Keeping the Barbarians at the Gate- a review of Grass Kings Volume One by Kindt & Jenkins

At first glance, Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins’ book Grass Kings Volume One appears to be a simple anti-establishment story about a group of people trying to protect their home and their family from the outside world. The us-versus-them mentality almost seems like a noble pursuit in the current political and social climate where the establishment is becoming twisted and malformed. This collective, the Grass Kingdom, is made up of a small group of isolationists living on the shores of a lake. They don’t align themselves in any way with the town around them, its leaders or their laws. The three brothers who represent the law, the leadership and the optimistic spirit of the Grass Kingdom are Bruce, Robert, and Ashur. Trying to hold this ramshackle society together, these brothers have to struggle with their own ghosts as well as the outside world that’s trying to claim the kingdom as its own.

In creating this Grass Kingdom, Kindt and Jenkins have created a commune that’s potentially somewhere on the spectrum along with Ruby Ridge and Waco. Call the people who follow Robert’s lead cultists, survivalists, or even Americans, their struggle is about how this little kingdom survives when its own leaders have lost their way. Robert sits in his shack, mourning a daughter who is either missing or dead. Bruce is the village’s sheriff but that seems more self-appointed than anything official and he’s the one who is holding the collective together. These two older brothers seem to realize who and what they are while Ashur is still rather young and may still reflect some of the innocence and idealism of this group.

While Ashur may be innocent, the land around him is far from that. Kindt and Jenkins show how this land has held its inhabitants in a violent sway for centuries. Since the time of the Native Americans, the creators show the spirit of the land through the ugly nature of the people who live on it. While Bruce, Robert, and Ashur’s story is very contemporary, Kindt and Jenkins show centuries of ugliness, violence, and sin that has pervaded the atmosphere of this area. This ugly spirit of the area is historical and while they do anything but demonize their main characters, Kindt and Jenkins don’t want you to forget that there’s a malevolent spirit that hangs over the characters of this story. As if the threat of outside forces taking their way of life away from them wasn’t enough, there’s the lingering notion that the Grass Kingdom may be knowingly or unknowingly harboring a serial killer. The threats against this small collective are both external and internal.

Similar to Kindt’s work in Dept. H or Mind MGMT, there’s an imprecision in Jenkins’ artwork that helps define the story. Coloring it with watercolors, Jenkins illuminates the story in a natural sun or moonlight. There’s a naturalism achieved in the artwork, both in the settings and the characters. This rustic, natural art creates a romantic dreaminess that runs tonally contrarian to the story that Jenkins is actually drawing. It’s this narrative struggle that exists both in the artwork and the writing, where you want to like these characters and their stories but there’s really this text of a moral ugliness that seems inescapable. Jenkins’ artwork is impressionistic enough to allow clarity in the plot but ambiguity in the motivations of his characters.

The push and pull of the moral high ground in this book paints a picture not of good versus evil but of egos and desires clashing. Kindt and Jenkins obviously hold Robert, Bruce, and Ashur up as the protagonists of this book but they’re anything but heroes. They’re men but so are the people that they’re fighting. It’s an honesty in the storytelling that Kindt and Jenkins are doing that everyone is conflicted and compromised in some way. These compromises are made every day and threaten to undo everything that’s been built in this lakeside community.  Grass Kings Volume One shows the cracks in this kingdom and in our own views of our lives, turning our solid foundations into unsteady rocks.

Written by Matt Kindt
Drawn by Tyler Jenkins
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Published by Boom Studios