Exclusive Interview: 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank Author Matthew Rosenberg
We always like to talk about the innocence of children. But in the new graphic novel 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank (paperback, Kindle) by writer Matthew Rosenberg (Kingpin: Born Against) and artist Tyler Boss, the kids aren’t strolling into a financial institution to use the restroom or find their mommies; they’re looking to rob the place. Though in talking to Rosenberg about this comic collection, he revealed that this story didn’t actually start with the kiddies.
To begin, what is 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank about?
4 Kids Walk Into A Bank is the story of an 11-year-old girl and her three friends as they decide to rob a bank to try to help keep her father out of trouble. Depending on who you ask it is either a really dark comedy or an oddly funny crime caper.
Where did you get the idea for it, and how different is the original concept from the finished comic?
Tyler and I used to work together in a comic shop. We used to just bounce ideas off each other all day about comics we wanted to make. If I remember correctly, I think I just said to him at one point “I want to make a crime comic, but really weird.”
I sort of wish it was a better story than that, but it isn’t. I love crime comics but I couldn’t see me and Tyler just making a traditional crime story. So we kicked around some ideas and then “child bank robbers” came up and we both thought that was funny. And that’s it really.
Your fellow comic book writer Kieron Gillen [Star Wars: Doctor Aphra: Volume 1: Aphra] described 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank by saying, “Imagine Tarantino does Goonies…,” while someone at Nerdist called it a, “mash-up of Wes Anderson-style whimsy and Reservoir Dogs….” Obviously, you don’t disagree with these assessments, or they wouldn’t be in your book, but do you think there’s a director and movie pairing that better fits this book?
I mean, if Kieron Gillen had said “This is okay,” I’d probably have put that on the book. I’m a fan of his work and, let’s face it, he is much more famous than me or Tyler, so we will use any chance at association we can get.
But yeah, I get the Tarantino thing a lot. And I get it. I think a lot of it has to do with my dialogue and the way we shift tones between comedy and real danger. Tarantino is a master at both. Though there are definitely other writers I think I owe more to, personally: Whit Stillman, Brian Michael Bendis, Elmore Leonard, David Mamet, Brian K. Vaughan, Chan-Wook Park, Chris Ware, a lot of writers. I think it’s pretty easy to see the Tarantino influence in my stuff, though, and some of the things I do are maybe trademarks of his.
Someone else said our book is Wes Anderson’s take on Dog Day Afternoon, and I really liked that. But the person who said it wasn’t famous, so we didn’t put it on the back of the book.
Ha! The kids in 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank are all 11- and 12-years-old. Obviously, this wouldn’t really work if they were 5 or 6, but did you ever consider making them teenagers?
We did consider that, actually, but ruled it out pretty quickly for a few reasons. The sense of wonder and possibility a kid has before they turn into a teenager is a really incredible thing. As we get older, our imagination becomes so much less central to who we are as people, and with that we get a more “realistic” sense of what is possible. That sucks. It sucks to lose that innocence and worldview and we wanted to make sure our kids weren’t some nihilistic teenagers doing things because they don’t care. Our kids want to rob the bank because it seems like the most logical option for them.
And, beyond that, when you age up even a little more, you start getting into situations that seem entirely possible. Teenagers commit horrifying crimes at really young ages. We didn’t want the robbery in our book to feel like it was something that might have or could really happen.
The cover of 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank makes me think the book might’ve been influenced by such noir crime writers as Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane. Was it?
We wear a lot of our influences on our sleeves in this book for sure, and I am a Chandler fan, but no. They weren’t really influences directly. I think Tyler just likes Saul Bass’s design work a lot.
Early on we decided we really didn’t want to do a noir story. There are not a lot of crime comics these days, and the ones there are tend to be noir or heavily noir inspired. For that reason alone we wanted to steer clear. But more than that even, we wanted to call on other things. From the warm pastel color palette to the upbeat optimism of our leads, we felt like dipping our toes too much into noir would end up being a hindrance more than a help.
What about non-noir crime novelists, what other writers and books do you think had a big influence on 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank? And I mean just on 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank, not your writing style as a whole.
It sounds weird, because it’s sort of a non-answer, but I feel like everything I read sort of ends up in there in bits and pieces that maybe only I can see. I don’t think there are any specific things we draw more heavily from than others. A lot of comic writers: Ed Brubaker, Harvey Pekar, Rick Remender, Daniel Clowes, Greg Rucka. And then everyone from Neil Simon to Junot Díaz, Shirley Jackson to Spalding Grey. It all just swirls around in there and I steal little bits and pieces when I can.
What about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or other things that had an impact on 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank? Besides Prince on the title, of course.
The films of Sidney Lumet, Chan-Wook Park, Sofia Coppola, John Hughes, Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese, Whit Stillman, The Kids In The Hall, Nora Ephron, Steven Spielberg, old Woody Allen, Penelope Spheeris, Stanley Kubrick, Star Wars, The Blues Brothers, Heathers. I don’t know. I could do this all night.
As we mentioned, the art in 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank was done by Tyler Boss. What was it about his art that made you feel it would perfectly compliment this story?
Well, we came up with the story together so it would be pretty weird if I hired someone else to draw it.
But also, I think he has great comedic timing, his characters are so expressive and relatable, and his stuff just looks cool. He is an amazing graphic designer with a good knowledge of pretty much every part of comic production, so he pulls his weight on the book much more than I pull mine.
Did he or his art have any impact on the story?
Yeah, his art had impact on every single element of the story. It was written and built for him to draw.
I think the most obvious example is his ability to work small. It allows us to put more panels on a page. And that means more room for jokes, for character moments, for subtle details that evoke mood, and just more story. I don’t think there is anyone else in comics who could do what Tyler did on this book.
Now, this edition of 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank obviously collects the five-issue mini-series. Is there anything different or added to this collection that wasn’t in the individual issues?
We added a cover gallery and some rare promo stuff that not a lot of people saw.
But the big thing is we changed the ending of the book, and I rewrote eleven pages. We just wanted to go back and fix some stuff that bugged us, and this was our last chance. After the issue was printed, Tyler mentioned that he felt like we could have taken a bit more time to handle the end. I was so happy he said it because I completely agreed. And so we redid the ending.
Is the plan to continue the story? Like, is there a 4 Other Kids Walk Into A Different Bank in the works?
Nope. I think there is something beautiful about definitive endings. We always wanted to do this in five issues, so we did. Once, for fun, Tyler and I discussed what it would mean to do more and what it could be. I think we both got a thing we liked. And then we agreed to never discuss it again. I guess I just broke that agreement.
One of the individual issue covers has a bit of a sci-fi vibe. Has there been any thought of doing a kind of 4 Space Kids Walk Into A Space Bank thing?
Ha! The sci-fi thing was done sort of as a joke at first. It is an allusion to the video game the kids play in the issue. But it also an homage to the comic Space Riders, which Tyler and I are both fans of. I think he drew the cover as a joke. And then I sent it off to print as a joke. And it was only after it came out did we realize what we had done. Oh well.
And no, no plans for space kids. Though that might be cool.
Dang. One thing I thought was interesting is that the credits list Courtney Menard as doing the “Wallpaper Design.” Why did you hire a separate artist to design the wallpaper in this comic, and what did this bring to it?
Both Tyler and I love Courtney’s art. She has a great aesthetic sense, and makes these super fun comics. We wanted to make sure every element of the book was really crafted, and we had this idea for wallpaper early on. I think initially the wallpaper that has the credits and title cards in it was also going to be used as actual wallpaper in a location in each issue. We planned that all out. But very quickly we noticed that that created a distracting “Where’s Waldo?” type quest to find the wallpaper, so we abandoned that. But we loved the title cards and credits. It gives each issue a nice opening, like a chance for the reader to settle in before the curtain goes up.
On another topic, are you prepared for the inevitable Fox News segment accusing your book of giving kids bad ideas?
Hoping for it.
Do you actually think kids could get any ideas from this book? Or do you think this isn’t a comic that kids will enjoy?
I have no idea if kids would enjoy it. Maybe? It’s definitely not too smart for kids, but when I was a kid, I didn’t like reading comics about other kids. I read about people older than me. They were aspirational in a way. I don’t think any kid will really want to be our cast.
But I do definitely think they could get some bad ideas from it if they wanted, though mostly just curse words.
We talked earlier about movies and whatnot, but has there been any interesting in adapting 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank into a movie or TV show?
Yeah, there has. I don’t think I can really talk about it too much. It’s flattering for sure. I just find — and this isn’t just people in film and TV, it extends to comics, too — that there is a real sense that comics is the “little brother” medium. Like when we make comics, we really just hope they get translated to some other form. And I get that more people watch TV and film then will ever read our book, I just don’t see that as an endgame and I find it sort of insulting.
I agree. It’s like it doesn’t count until it’s a movie.
We made the book we wanted to make. If something else happens, that’s cool. If not, that’s cool too. I just think it’s important to state that this is a comic first and foremost.
That said, I imagine it would have to be a movie, even though they don’t really make movies like this anymore.
If it was to be adapted into a movie, who would you like to see them cast in the main roles?
The Muppets. Because The Muppets are awesome and they don’t get offered as many dramatic roles as they should.
Finally, if someone enjoys 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank, which of your other comic collections would you suggest they check out and why them?
My first original series, We Can Never Go Home, with art by Josh Hood. It’s a little darker and a little nastier in some ways, but I find that a lot of folks respond to the same elements in both. There is some overlap of ideas, young people feeling trapped, breaking the law, giving into their own fantasies, and it’s sort of funny. I think both works probably work pretty well as a set, and if you read closely, there is a little crossover you might be able to pick up on.