With 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, newcomer Tyler Boss showed himself to be among the best comic book storytellers in the industry. You can read the first issue for free, so see his abilities for yourself if you haven’t already. His panel layouts and pacing show a command of the medium that artists with decades of experience should envy. I only read 4 Kids for the first time a month ago, but as soon as I did I knew I wanted to talk to Tyler and was very glad he was interested. Read a wide-ranging interview with Tyler Boss, covering his collaborations with Matthew Rosenberg, feelings about art school, and love of drawing “the weird absurdism that is living a human life.”
How did you and Matthew Rosenberg find each other?
Matt and I met in 2011. I just moved to New York City in August to attend college at the School of Visual Arts, living in West Harlem with my girlfriend. I managed to get a job at Forbidden Planet a couple of days after moving there. About two months after I started working at Forbidden Planet this bearded kid with a heart pendant choker and 7 Seconds patched blacked shorts got hired.
Every new hire at Forbidden Planet was regulated to bag check at the front door. Bag check was sort of like hazing a new pledge at a frat (I assume.) Once, while covering bag check, a person handed me their brown paper shopping bag which had a 14-foot boa constrictor nesting inside of it. I’m terrified of snakes. To put it bluntly, the job fucking sucked, and that’s where they stuck this new guy on his first shift.
I already made up my mind that I wasn’t going to talk to the new guy until he had been there for at least a couple weeks. We had a lot of turnover and I didn’t see any point in getting to know someone if they were just going to disappear the next day. Really nice, right?
But there I am re-stocking the glass rare book display when I hear the new guy behind me say, “Is that the hardcover edition of Big Questions? Anders Nilsen is my girlfriend’s favorite artist.” Alright, I guess I have to talk to him, at least his girlfriend has good taste. Guy’s name is Matt, he wants to be a writer and thought it would be a good idea to see how shops work if he’s going to try to be a professional. I tell him I had the same reasoning but that I wanted to be an artist.
Seven hours drag by and were closing the shop at midnight. I and this Matt fella and the other couple of co-workers left all walk to the train station together. A few of the folks go the N train, another to the 6, and myself and Matt head to the L platform. Turns out we’re both taking it westbound. Turns out we’re both transferring at 8th Ave. Turns out we’re both transferring to the A train. Turns out we’re both getting off at the same stop in the upper hundreds of Harlem. Turns out this guy I wasn’t going to waste time on talking to was not just my fellow lacky at the comic shop, but also my neighbor, my commute buddy, and eventually my creative partner.
What went through your mind when you received the script for the first issue?
Shit, I guess Matt can write.
The pacing of the book feels like the work of an artist with much more experience. How did you have such command of pacing so early in your career?
I had really good teachers. I have a lot of complicated feelings about art school and the money it costs. Graduates enter a field where only one in a million makes enough money to pay off their student loan debt working in the industry. That said, I would not have a career without Klaus Janson. I don’t even know where to begin talking about Klaus. Everything I know about telling a story in the comics medium starts with him.
When you first start to make comics it’s all based on intuition. You have this inner knowledge of how to string pictures together to make them add up to a story. Klaus wasn’t having any of that, though. His teaching style was sort of like the boot camp section from Full Metal Jacket. He broke down all of our pre-formed notions about what it meant to make a comic and then re-built it back up to the point we knew “the rules” so well that the job becomes intuitive again. To be clear, Klaus never yelled like a drill sergeant. He’d just sort of chuckle and shake his head if you did something dumb.
Did Matt break down each panel in his script or were those choices left up to you?
Matt is a full scripter. He doesn’t really call shots unless he has a really clear vision for what he thinks will work, but he is big on describing what characters are doing. He really loves to add little character actions so that everyone is always active and acting. That said, after receiving a script from Matt I have free reign to do what I think is best. Our works are true collaborations in that we go back and forth with each other constantly and when the project is over we have a hard time remembering who came up with what.
Looking at your work I sense a strong David Mazzucchelli vibe. Is he a big influence on your art style?
Mazz is my creative ideal. I went to the School of Visual Arts specifically because he taught there. He was my senior year portfolio teacher where I drew the first issue of 4 Kids. It was pretty amazing to have a weekly critique of my first big comic from my creative hero. David ‘s the sort of once-in-a-generation mind, thinks about comics is unlike anyone else. Outside of his creative prowess, he left drawing superhero books to do his own thing at a time when that unheard of. Even when working on Big Two books he never felt tied to one visual aesthetic. The man stays true to what interests him and, as an artist, it’s helpful to have a model of someone who doesn’t compromise their interests. That’s probably enough hero worship.
Most of your comics are set in more or less the real world. Do you want to draw comics in other genres like science-fiction and fantasy?
I like doing things in the real world because all of my work tries to express some kind of core human emotions, everything between hilarity and anguish, the weird absurdism that is living a human life. At the moment, I try to convey that through a place of specificity. The “real worlds” I design are all existing in a “no time” place. You’ll see contemporary fashion butted up against 70’s muscle cars next to people going to movie palaces from the ’40s. I’m trying to create a place that feels real in its specificity even though these places could never have really existed at the same time. I’ve been joking with Matt that our next book together is us doing our fantasy series. It’s the least “real world” I’ve ever done, and to my mind is a fantasy story. It’s just my version of fantasy still involves combat boots and Hall and Oates records.
Are you interested in making comics for Marvel and DC at some point?
Yeah, I would really love to have at least one full book published by either of them. To do a Daredevil run is the dream. Beyond loving the character, to come to the table where so many of my favorite creators from Wood to Miller to Brubaker to Lark to Maleeve to Bendis and, of course, Klaus and David, that would feel really special. That said, I’m not holding my breath.
Is The Furthest Place From Here still set for November?
Who knows. The book is a weird bit of creation that comes in fits and starts. I will say we have it all completely outlined and the first two issues finished. Sort of, anyway, we keep going back to change and add things. The first two issues add up to over 100 pages, which for some is a full book in it of itself. Because of how odd our creation process is with this one we are finishing the entire first chapter before we release any of it. Making it top of our other work has slowed it down, but we promise we are working on it and it will definitely come out at some point. In the meantime, Matt has some awesome stuff he is doing at Marvel that everybody should check out, and I have my first solo series coming out in April 2020 that people should keep their eyes peeled for whenever that’s announced.
What do you and Matt enjoy about really long titles?
The short answer is we think it’s funny. The long answer is that, working in a comic shop. Matt noticed that people would come in asking for books but couldn’t remember the titles that were one word. James Tynion wrote a book called The Woods at the same time Warren Ellis created a comic book series called Trees and customers and other shop employees would get confused about what book they were looking for. So Matt figured even if somebody came in asking for “3 Children Take Out a Loan” the comic shop clerk would be able to figure out what they were looking for pretty quickly.
What makes Furthest Place a spiritual successor to 4 Kids, as it’s been described?
Besides the obvious response that it’s a book by me and Matt, the series deals with some of the same concepts from 4 Kids. What family means, what friendship means, how you relate to a harsh world that doesn’t care about you. Furthest Place features another ragtag group of kids trying to parse these questions while they’re on this journey we put them on. The main characters are a little older than the main characters in 4 Kids, so the new series deals with love and romance and sex. There are also some nods and easter eggs to the other books we’ve done together as Matt and I build the Bossenberg Universe. Bossenberse?
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at firstname.lastname@example.org.