Last month, BOOM! Studios announced that the Eisner Award-nominated creative team behind GRASS KINGS would be reuniting for BLACK BADGE, a brand new series set for release this August.
If the pedigree of the creative wasn’t enough, the premise itself – a top-secret, elite branch of boy scouts being tasked by the government to take on covert missions that no adult ever could – instantly had us hook, so we were thrilled when series writer Matt Kindt and artist Tyler Jenkins were able to take a break from heir busy schedules to sit down and have a chat with us.
BIG COMIC PAGE: Now, before we get to BLACK BADGE, we really need to talk a little about GRASS KINGS, which wrapped up at the end of last month. Obviously you guys believed in the series from day one, but have you been surprised at all about just how universally well-received it has been?
MATT KINDT: I’m not surprised—ha ha! Is that terrible to say? Not because of the story, but because Tyler and Hilary’s art was coming in and it just looks like nothing else out there. No one is putting pages together like them. There is nothing like it on the stands. I guess the alternative could have been that it was so different that readers wouldn’t know how to react to it. But I give comic book readers a lot of credit for being smart and open minded—recognizing true artists like Tyler and Hilary.
TYLER JENKINS: Um…that was ridiculously nice of you. And only half-true haha. I believe it is the artist’s job, first of all, to get people in the door, but the writer is the one that has to keep them there. How well this book was received and how well it turned out can be attributed almost solely to the fact these characters felt real, their plight was real and people see themselves in the characters. Matt’s writing made them real. These characters’ hurt was real. People like real.
BCP: On the same note, do the pair of you feel any sort of added pressure to follow up on your Eisner-nominated collaboration?
MATT: The only pressure I ever really feel is to have fun. My goal with comics is two things. Try to push the medium forward and show off what comics can do—and have fun doing it. And the fun really just comes from exploring the medium, trying to come up with stories that haven’t been told before and telling them in a new way.
TYLER: No. No extra pressure. Being nominated does not have any real effect on the work. Might affect my ego for a few days, but that’s all.
BCP: Okay, moving on to BLACK BADGE – what’s the story here?
MATT: Boy scouts—but for real. What if they sent the scouts out on REAL scouting mission? It’s the perfect cover. Who’s going to suspect a group of lost-looking kids on tour around the world?
BCP: Are there any characters in particular that our readers should be looking out for?
MATT: This is very much a “team” book in a way. We have a core group of four kids on the starting team and we’re going to take this first arc to really get to know them. But I wouldn’t take anything for granted. We’re really having fun with the traditional kind of team young-adult book and turning it on its head. I wouldn’t accept anyone or anything in the series at face value.
That said. This is a quick rundown of our main characters that start the first arc (not all of them may make it to the end.)
Willy is the new recruit. He’s sort of our window into this crazy world of boy scouts as real scouts. He’s got every badge ever offered by the scouts he thought…then he learns about the Black Badge and he’s a little worried about what he’s going to have to do to earn the Black Badge.
Kenny is the leader and he takes the idea of “always prepared” literally. He’s carries an impossibly large backpack with literally anything the team would ever need for any mission. Also, his best friend might be missing or dead. And it might be Kenny’s fault.
Mitz is the archery expert and firecracker of the team. But Mitz has a bit of a secret that he’s hiding. If the team has a “Snake Eyes” he is it.
Cliff is the brains and the muscle. While the other kids have a lot of gadgets and gear… Cliff has a big walking stick that’s really just his ass-beating stick.
BCP: Do either of you have any prior Boy Scout experience to draw on for this one?
MATT: No. I had childhood friends in the scouts but I never joined. I wasn’t much of a joiner and avoided team sports as much as I could. I think as a result I’m coming from a place that’s a little more skeptical of large organizations that rely on large groups of people to follow orders. It was a theme that I explored in MIND MGMT a few years ago and it’s one that I find myself gravitating towards. Any time you get more than two people in a room the odds of corruption and wrongdoing multiply exponentially.
TYLER: Nope. I am quite certainly not a boy scout. And following orders and being part of a team that follows orders is pretty much not in my wheelhouse. I agree with Matt completely. I have a deep mistrust of group thinking.
BCP: Tyler, the preview artwork released for BLACK BADGE has a slightly different look from your work on Grass Kings, while still retaining the striking watercolour-esque style. Have you made any conscious changes to fit with the tone of this new series?
TYLER: Absolutely. From the ground up, I took the style apart. Changed tools. Changed paper. Changed medium. It’s not even watercolour anymore, it’s gouache. This book must feel different than Grass Kings visually, because the story, world, characters, and meaning have all changed.
BCP: You’re working alongside your wife Hilary again on the visual side of the series. How does the collaborative process work between the pair of you?
TYLER: I draw it. She paints it. We chat about stuff. I tell the story, she tells the mood.
BCP: It feels like your style is fairly unconventional for a direct market comic. Did you ever consider ‘selling out’ and going for a more traditional approach?
TYLER: Selling out is not an option really. I have tried to sell out… everyone needs money… I couldn’t sell out hard enough for people to actually believe it.
BCP: You’ve also turned your hand to writing recently with BOOM!’s THE STORYTELLER series – is that something you’d like to pursue as your career continues to grow?
TYLER: Actually, I don’t mind writing. But I want to do the art and I like collaborating more than doing it all myself… so there’s the answer.
BCP: And finally, back to BLACK BADGE – what should readers expect from the series as it unfolds? What sort of tone are you guys going for?
MATT: The tone of this book is tricky. It’s not like anything I’ve ever really worked on before. I’ve done all-ages books and I’ve done books for adults, but I think this is in a tricky space between that. It’s definitely for adults. It’s not a good-time adventure book by any means even though it has a lot of surface elements that those kinds of books have. This is a little more subversive. We’re having fun with the format and the idea of these wholesome kids following a moral code… but that moral code being subverted in a lot of ways. It’s a strange combination of funny and tragic put together.
BCP: Thanks for your time, gentlemen.
BLACK BADGE #1 – featuring a main cover from Kindt and variant covers from both Jenkins and Jeff Lemire (see below) – goes on sale in print and digital on August 8th.