Rosenberg and Boss Steal from the Best in 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank

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Rosenberg and Boss Steal from the Best in <i>4 Kids Walk Into a Bank</i>

Matt Rosenberg had a big year. From breakout youth-on-the-run Black Mask title We Can Never Go Home with cowriter Patrick Kindlon and artist Josh Hood to short work at Marvel and DC, Rosenberg has made a fast name for himself as a complex, considerate storyteller. WCNGH’s teen runaways are deeply flawed, imminently relatable protagonists, and he brings that same nuance to a cast of kids and criminals in his new book with artist Tyler Boss, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank.

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The title says it all—or most of it, anyway. Rosenberg and Boss’ cast of preteens find themselves drawn into a high-stakes heist far afield of any age-appropriate shenanigans. Rosenberg has dialed his cleverness up to 11, employing comical captions, physical comedy and goofier dialogue than we’ve yet seen from him. Boss, a newcomer to the field, channels such stylized, mimetic artists as David Aja, Wes Craig and David Mazzucchelli to bring the adolescents and their worn-out world to life.


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Paste chatted with Rosenberg and Boss about their close creative collaboration, writing and drawing kids that aren’t for kids and stealing from everything and everyone they’ve ever loved.

Paste: Without boxing you into too neat of a category, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is a heist story. It’s a funny story with an unexpectedly young cast of characters, but there’s a heist core. Fittingly, you’ve been pretty open that the book “borrows” from other works. Does any one creator or book or even film stand out as a major influence? I know Fraction and Aja’s Hawkguy came to mind when I was reading, specifically the funny intro captions, and you’ve mentioned Tarantino and Wes Anderson before.
Matt Rosenberg: All those things you mentioned are definitely influences on the book. I’d say there isn’t just one single influence or a few, but that Tyler and I really wanted to wear our hearts on our sleeves with this one. It’s really a send-up to all the stuff we love. Whether it’s Bendis and Brubaker and Chris Ware and Fraction and Aja and Wes Craig or whomever—comics people—it’s also Tarantino and Wes Anderson and Sidney Lumet and Chan-wook Park and a thousand directors and screenwriters. I steal a lot of jokes. We try to steal as much as we can from everything we love. This is a love letter to—and an open theft from—everything we care about in comics and in the larger world of storytelling and art, if that makes sense.

Tyler Boss: What Matt said—maybe not one influence, but storytelling as a medium, and taking from all genres and types of comics. Whether it’s Chris Ware or Michael DeForge or Raymond Pettibon all the way to the more mainstream guys: Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman. That all sort of melds together and creates something hopefully different. As much as it is taking from a million things, hopefully when you put it all into a pot, it comes out fresh, or interesting at least.

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4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #1 Interior Art by Tyler Boss

Rosenberg: Eh, I don’t really care if it’s fresh or different. Those things are all good. If our stuff is just like that, that’s fine with me. [Laughs] The other thing is David Lapham’s Stray Bullets. Whenever I can, I will directly homage or steal from Stray Bullets. It is one of my favorite comics of all time, and a huge influence on me. Reading Stray Bullets when it came out, I just thought Lapham was the next Hernandez Brothers. I thought he was the next important revolution in comics. And I still think Stray Bullets is that. If Stray Bullets could be a monster sales books, comics would be much better off. I think if it was a guiding line for what people should be doing in comics, comics would be much better than they are right now. So it’s my guiding line on what people should be doing in comics. We’ll see how that goes.

And there are no editorial intermediaries at all. [Laughs] Tyler can talk about it a little more, but the only people who had any input at all had input on the first issue, and that was Tyler’s professor at school. Tyler and I are really good friends and we know each other’s influences and the stuff we like very well, but there are things where I’ll shoot him an e-mail and say this panel, this song, this movie, whatever it is, is what I was thinking. I put those notes in this script and Tyler does the same.

Boss: Matt does the script and he allows me to add stuff and take stuff away. It’s an even-keeled collaboration. And as far as editors, I guess yeah, weirdly, David Mazzucchelli was an editor of the book as my professor at SVA when I originally drew the first issue. [Laughs]

Rosenberg: Tyler and I used to work together when we had actual day jobs, and we always talked about doing stuff. We’d do weird little comic things together, and he needed something to do for his senior project and I had been talking about doing a sort of absurdist crime comedy thing. When we worked together [at our day jobs], I would sound ideas off of him, Do you think that’s cool?, do you think that would work?, so he was someone I trusted a lot. When it came time for him to do his senior project at SVA, we thought it would be fun if I wrote it and he drew it. And once we started, I thought we should try to put this out and he agreed.

It’s a hard sell of a book, is the bottom line. The cast is very young, but it’s not an all-ages book. It’s funny but it’s also pretty violent and dark and weird in places. So it doesn’t fit neatly into what I think a lot of people want these days. Luckily, Black Mask, who I have worked with in the past—I did We Can Never Go Home there—they sort of like that stuff that doesn’t fit well. When I showed it to them, they were super excited. I was like, “It has these weird twists and it does these things,” and they were like, “Awesome!” Which is funny, because I talked to another publisher about it and they just flat-out said you can’t do that. That was the deciding factor for me and Tyler. It’s always nicer to walk into a room and tell someone your story and have them be excited rather than really discouraged. It was just a matter of making it fit at Black Mask and finding the time to do it.

Paste: Tyler, you’re an unfamiliar name to a lot of readers, although probably not for long. Can you speak about defining the visual identity of the book, particularly approaching pages that call for nine or more panels, and a lot of talking heads?
Boss: I work a lot in the more indie or alternative comics scene and that has a history of exclusively talking heads comics. [Laughs] I’m no stranger to doing that, and I’m a fan of the 12-panel page, the 34-panel page. I get a kick out of working that out visually. It’s a fun problem to solve. Inevitably, whenever Matt sends me a page, I think he always tries to one-up me, like, Ah, I got him this time, and I’ll still end up adding panels to it. The main challenge with this was just trying to get a style that fit more appropriately with Matt’s tone. A lot of my other stuff is more simplified, one or two colors and basic linework, so it was a fun challenge to say, okay, if I’m going to be a more mainstream cartoonist, how do I do that and also have it fit the tone of what Matt wrote?

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4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #1 Interior Art by Tyler Boss

It’s collaborative. Matt will talk to me about his ideas [for the covers], shoot me these old jazz record covers, and I’ll pull in a bit of Saul Bass, which is maybe a bit obvious in the first one. Taking stuff back to mid-century modern design and then building off of that. Whereas the second cover looks like an old Atari video game cover, which is an element of the story, but we can do weird design elements that don’t fit visibly, cohesively together beyond that they’re weird design choices.

Rosenberg: I think also, something to note in the colors and the way Tyler does things, is that he’s very selective in what palette he uses.

Boss: We knew we wanted to do title pages, and I couldn’t figure out what to do for it. I didn’t just want to do flat white text on a black page or on a color, so I asked my partner, who’s an illustrator, Courtney Menard, if she’d do this pattern because she does all these great patterns. She ended up coming up with this one that’s like elephants, so that’s the title page and we ended up working it into the wallpaper. Each design element, as the title page is different each time, is referenced inside of the book, so each chapter will have a different wallpaper that’ll help set the tone of a different part of the story.

Rosenberg: That’s one of the reasons I love working with Tyler. The attention to detail that he brings and the stuff that he comes up with are things I would never think of. Saying, “Oh, we should have a wallpaper and it shouldn’t be a random pattern, we should design a wallpaper and get it made.” And the color palette of the book matches that wallpaper in that it has a feeling of being in the past and feeling very lived in. The world feels very lived in from the colors and I love that.

Paste: Matt, what made 4 Kids the right follow-up to We Can Never Go Home? Does it feel like a different creative exercise for you to tap into a bit more comedy?
Rosenberg: What makes it the right follow-up for We Can Never Go Home? Well, I don’t know that it is the right follow-up to We Can Never Go Home, so let’s just get that out of the way. [Laughs] I’m doing another book at Black Mask called Our Work Fills the Pews, which is a very dark, political, dystopian comic book about the rise of the fundamentalist right wing, so, you know, very on-point for the time being. That was going to be the follow-up and I sort of had to stop and take a look at who people thought I was and where they thought my career was going. I talked to Matt [Pizzolo] at Black Mask a bunch and he was like, “Yeah, I think you’d be better off with 4 Kids coming out first.” I don’t disagree with him, but we’ll see if it plays well or if I’m just the guy who writes weird, messed-up little kids.

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4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #1 Interior Art by Tyler Boss

As far as the tonal shift, yeah, it’s hard. Comedy is very hard. I think it might be the hardest thing to write. I think I’m funny but I don’t think anyone else thinks I’m particularly funny, so that makes it a real challenge. There are not a lot of comedy comics that I think work well, but there are a few that I love. Sex Criminals is a great book and everything that Michael Kupperman does is great. Minimum Wage and Chew are funny and then the list starts to dwindle very drastically until you get into very indie stuff. I just wanted to see if I could do it and make people think it was funny. The main challenge is that the book doesn’t rely on the humor. If you find it funny, that’s nice, but the main story is about these kids growing up and the choices they make and being detached from the real world. That’s the real story. We never rely on the jokes. The jokes come second. That’s how I feel the book will work, if it doesn’t need to be funny. But I hope it’s funny.

Paste: This is a selfish question because I love D&D and the way Tyler draws fantasy stuff, but does the book bounce away from reality every issue or was that just the nerdiest way to introduce us to the cast? All of the kids seem like they have real-world problems they’d like to escape.
Rosenberg: A big theme of the book is that [the kids are] not necessarily tied to reality in the same way the adults are. They drift in and out a little bit. Not in a nefarious way, but they have this escapism, the Dungeons & Dragons stuff. They play with video games and they play with toys and that’s their reality; it all sorts of blends together for them. It will blur the lines multiple times between what’s happening and what they’re pretending is happening. And yeah, Tyler draws dragons really well, so I’m hoping we can squeeze in more dragons later.

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4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #1 Interior Art by Tyler Boss

Paste: There are four kids mentioned in the title but the first issue, at least, really feels like Paige’s story. Is this an ensemble piece for you or has she really pushed her way to the front of the cast?
Rosenberg: Yeah, it’s Paige’s story for sure, but it’s about friends, too. I think the real answer is that it’s definitely Paige’s story but if you asked her, it’s definitely not. She’s inseperable from her friends. While it’s her family and her life and she’s making a lot of decisions, there’s no way to separate them. That’s my feeling.

Paste: There’s been an upswing in recent years of all-ages comics with teen and preteen casts, but 4 Kids seems decidedly not for younger readers. How do you tap into authentic-feeling younger voices? Tyler, how do you visually depict kids that feel like real kids?
Rosenberg: I don’t know that I do capture the authentic voices of kids. I didn’t spend a lot of time studying kids or anything. [Laughs] I think a lot of people tend to write kids as being sort of clueless and my feeling is that kids actually pay a lot more attention to the world around them than adults do a lot of the time. That’s sort of the guiding factor for me. Although there’s stuff they may not understand and they may not be so attached to reality as the grownups, they’re really paying attention to the world and noticing things that grownups aren’t. If that reads authentic, that’s my take on kids. If it doesn’t, well, they’re not real people and I’m not trying to make them real people.

Boss: Yeah, I wasn’t exactly studying children either. [Laughs] I think the thing visually with them was really trying to really get the scale of them in the world right. So the actual height difference between the children and the adults, and maybe other too-cerebral ideas about how that affects reading, that was what I was trying to do the most with them. To really get how small they are in this world and how large, physically, and more abstractly, things loom large.

Paste: You’ve teased elsewhere that the ending might get a bit darker than readers may expect. Is 4 Kids a heartbreaker?
Rosenberg: I don’t think it’s a heartbreaker. Hmm, that’s a hard question to answer. I think it goes places that people will expect if they think about it a lot…maybe? It’s hard to say. I’m a big fan of stories that play out as you’d expect them to, but you still feel surprised, if that makes sense. That’s sort of what we were going for. We called the book 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank. We’re not hiding what the book is about. [Laughs] That’s why we don’t jump into [the heist] in the first issue. We wanted it very clear that that’s not the focus of the story. It’s about growing up and the hard choices you make as a kid. Growing up is hard sometimes, so yeah, some people will definitely be sad at the end of the book. I think some people will not. I think some people will find it very fulfilling or funny and absurd. I hope.

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4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #1 Interior Art by Tyler Boss

Paste: If I promise not to tell the cops, has either of you ever stolen anything? I took a quarter out of a cash register when I was 7, trying to collect all the state quarters. I still carry that guilt with me.
Rosenberg: In terms of being a career criminal, no, I’ve never… Well, I’ve stolen one thing in my life, but I’ve stolen three things. It’s the same thing three times, and twice was by accident. I’ve stolen jellybeans from an ice cream parlor. The first time, I was carrying ice cream for someone else and I put them in my pocket and forgot to pay for them. The second time, I put them in my hand and I was holding a milkshake and I realized they didn’t see them in my hand. And then I thought it was hilarious that I’d stolen jellybeans twice from the same place three years apart so I went back a year later and actually stole them on purpose. I don’t think a life of crime is for me.

Boss: The only really good one that I was involved in, I was 14-or-15-years old and there was this tiny private Catholic college and my friends and I used to skateboard there. One time we figured out that the door doesn’t lock to the cafeteria. We snuck in and tried to steal ice cream out of the freezers. What we didn’t know is that even though the door was unlocked, there’s still a silent alarm that goes off if you don’t turn off the security system. Me and my one friend had arms full of Fudgesickles or whatever and the police showed up and we were actually caught trying to steal ice cream from the nuns. When you’re 15 or 14 and in high school and you’re caught by the cops, people think you’re cool. What they don’t know is that you’re grounded in your room for the next year or so. [Laughs]

Rosenberg: I like that we both committed ice-cream-related crimes.

Boss: It’s the only thing that should be stolen. Ice cream is for everybody.

Rosenberg: Also, I stole all the good jokes in 4 Kids. So there’s that.

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