‘Juvenile Delinquents’ is getting a new definition this week with a new miniseries with a group of children committing the heist of their (young) lives.
4 Kids Walk Into A Bank takes the crime fiction chestnut of a bank heist and gives it a Stand By Me-style twist by placing four pre-teens in charge of the crime. The Black Mask Studios series is by We Can Never Go Home writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Tyler Boss, best known up until now as the inker of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus. The duo met while working together at the New York City comic shop Forbidden Planet, and told Newsarama about the odd sequence of events which led to their collaboration, the darker aspects of the book, and the title itself.
Newsarama: Matt, Tyler, how would you describe 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank?
Matthew Rosenberg: 4 Kids is a classic tale of child bank robbers. It's either a really dark comedy or a pretty funny crime book depending on what you want. It's basically whatever you want it to be.
Tyler Boss: It’s is a ‘coming of age’ story framed inside of the crime genre, with all the tropes that includes, with a bend towards dark comedy.
Nrama: And just who are the four children?
Rosenberg: The four children in question are brilliant and painfully shy Walter, the sweet and uncomfortably tall Stretch, the oblivious and painfully obnoxious Berger, and our leader Paige. Paige is smart and fierce, sweet and a little overly imaginative.
Boss: Paige is sort of a rough and tumble bad ass who is the sun the other three orbit.
Rosenberg: Together they are the type of best friends you assume you will have forever, but rarely do. They like to get lost in each other's imaginations and urge each other on to make bad decisions. Those relationships can be very sweet or incredibly tragic.
Nrama: If you had to compare yourself to one of them, who would it be?
Boss: I would want to be Paige because everyone should want to be Paige, but I'm probably Stretch minus a few inches he has on me. He's definitely the closet character to myself as a kid. Awkward and picked on but not really doing anything to curve his nerdiness. Plus he shares his sandwiches which is the greatest kindness anyone can show.
Rosenberg: I love to imagine I am Paige. But I think anyone who knows me well knows that I am probably a Berger. I definitely curse too much.
Nrama: This has a blend of children's stories like Where The Red Fern Grows and Goonies, but with some slacker crime twist like Dog Day Afternoon and Reservoir Dogs. How'd this idea for 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank come about?
Rosenberg: Initially I just wanted to do a comedy book with Tyler, but comedy is super hard to write. I can make myself laugh, Tyler laughs at like 25% of the jokes, and with everyone else that percentage just goes down. So our comedy book had to sort of lean on the crime angle a little harder than I initially thought. Obviously we love the films of people like Sidney Lumet and Quentin Tarantino, but really it was about covering our asses in case nobody laughs at the jokes.
Boss: The initial idea was completely Matt. He told me about it and after we decided to work on it together was when I started having any involvement with helping make it. Matt and I have a pretty consistent back and forth about what’s working and what’s not. Early on Matt came up with the opening Dungeons & Dragons scene, which ends up informing a lot of the jokes later.
He almost cut it because he thought it would be too weird to have our clearly-labeled crime comic open with a two page of a dragon. I told him I loved it and that we should keep it and he leaned into that idea of weirdness… of playing with reader expectations. In that same vein, I wouldn't have been able to come up with the surface style of the comic if it wasn't for Matt's constant pushing for more panels and different ways of communicating pieces of the story.
Rosenberg: As for the actual concept? Children committing crimes is fun so we made a book about it. With my last book, We Can Never Go Home, I really wanted to examine my feelings on violence as entertainment and how violence affects people’s lives in big and small ways. So that was kind of a bummer and I wanted to see a bunch of kids do dumb stuff. Hence 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank.
Nrama: The title is simple, but infectious and matter-of-fact. Was it always the title? How did it come about?
Rosenberg: We had another title that nobody liked, then Tyler and I fought about a new title for a really long title.
Boss: The working title was "Help Save the Youth of America" which ended up being the chapter title to an issue of "We Can Never Go Home." Matt and I had a lot of back and forth about it and considered way too many Clash songs as possibilities
Rosenberg: Finally I emailed him what I call a "fuck you" title - something to signal that I had given up - and he went for it.
Boss: Matt said "what about 4 Kids Walk into a Bank?" Which made me laugh so we stuck with that reaction.
Rosenberg: So now our book has a pretty obnoxious title that I think fits it really well.
I am a fan of long titles anyway, so this one works. But mostly I like it because it sets the bar really high for us. If our books was called "Caper" or "Heist" we could really phone it in and people wouldn't be that surprised. But when your title is as obnoxious as ours, people expect it to try and be a good book. And we are trying.
Nrama: So how did you two connect to do 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank?
Rosenberg: Tyler and I worked together for a while in a comic shop. He was the super-talented guy who was under appreciated and I was the other guy. I would always bug him about stuff and ask his opinion on stories and artists. Tyler understands art and storytelling in ways that kind of astound me, so I was always picking his brain.
Boss: I actually distinctly remember the day Matt sort of accidentally pitched me on the book. We worked together at Forbidden Planet in New York City and had always wanted to do something together but never found the right fit. So one day we're standing in the aisles and Matt was rattling off these different stories ideas he had and I was suggesting artists he could try reaching out to for them. If I'm remembering this correctly there was three that he told me about, the first two being what ended up becoming We Can Never Go Home and Our Work Fills the Pews.
So we sort of shot back and forth who we thought would be a good fit for those books for a bit before Matt said "Oh I also have this weird sort of crime story too." To which I was immediately interested in being an avid crime fan. So I asked him what it was about and he sort of sheepishly said "children?" And that was sort of it. He ran down the basic outline of the series in a sentence or two and the style and tone he wanted to do it in and I rudely cut him off and said "Cool I'll do that one."
Rosenberg: It's one of those things that I feel incredibly lucky about because Tyler really made the book something I care about and I owe him for that.
Nrama: Tyler, right now you're best known in comic books as an inker on Lazarus, so how does it feel to branch out with a major series like this?
Boss: Terrifying but exciting? With Lazarus I get to work with Greg "nicest person ever" Rucka and Michael " I don't even understand how you do it" Lark where it's more an experience of watching these two masters work and then trying not to screw up my part in it. So there is never any pressure besides to not let Michael or Greg down. With 4 Kids I'm doing all of the art and so if someone doesn't like how it's drawn or if a story telling beat gets dropped or I drew a button on the wrong side of a jacket, it's all on me. So that's terrifying, especially since I'm an unknown commodity so there’s always the possibility I'll never work again after this book. That said, I'm thrilled to be in the storytelling driver’s seat. My favorite thing about drawing comics is breaking down how we visual tell this story in the best way, and so with 4 Kids that's been something I've agonized over. But to have the privilege to be able to draw a comic written by Matthew is really pretty exciting.