Wednesday Whittling: Wearing the Mask

Welcome to Wednesday Whittling, late Thursday Edition! This
week I check out the way 4 Kids Walk Into
A Bank
begins its issues. The book is by artist Tyler Boss and writer
Matthew Rosenberg, and they have a wonderful way of showing how we willingly
wear a mask. While the textual evidence is there, my focus will also include a
look at a few panels. And you’ll find an original comic at the end! Get into
it!

First, some background: 4
Kids Walk Into A Bank
is a five issue miniseries from Black Mask Studios. The
story revolves around 11 year old kids doing what they do best, which is goofing
off and simultaneously meandering through grave teaching moments. The main
character, Paige, is a tomboy who pals around with three dudes named Walter,
Berger, and Stretch. They’re dorks who get picked on for being themselves.

In issue 1 we see Paige and her friends getting made fun of
by other kids. By the end, we see them catching crap from grown goons in the
vein of Ace and the Cobras from Stand By
Me.
Her dad comes to save the day only for us to see him yukking it up with them in the final scenes of the issue.
Shymalan!

Now, this is where wearing the mask comes into play. The
deception of Paige’s dad lays the groundwork for a serious plot to tag along
with a beautiful, quirky narrative on youth. But we get told up front that
people are naturally drawn to acting.

The opening scenes of issue 1 introduce us to Paige and her
friends as they play Dungeons and Dragons…only we don’t see them around a table
rolling dice. Instead, we get illustrations of their D&D characters with
descriptions matching their personalities. It’s fantastic.

image

Let’s look at Berger’s character. He plays an orc named
Crotch the Sticky, and is described as “kosher,” who “curses too much” and is “kind
of annoying.” If we just got that information in exposition, we’d still totally
understand what we’re about to walk into. We could see him arguing over how
legitimately he’s spending a borrowed quarter or plainly but aggressively
stating how someone is walking into a diner. But Crotch the Sticky shows how
even when he gets to be someone else – something
else, that he chose – he still thinks of what he doesn’t have by wishing he “was a
fucking a dragon.”

Orcs don’t breathe fire. They’re adorably small compared to
dragons. They look more stupid than harmful. This scene whimsically depicts how
we let our imaginations slink away from our own brains just because we can.
Berger put on the mask of an orc for D&D. He went to fantasyland. And then
he still saw something cooler.

Now, that’s Berger. He’s the kind of person who will always
think of the things he doesn’t have and imagine what it would be like to have
them. It’s both kind of charming and kind of gross. But let’s look at what
happens in the opening scenes of issue 2, where the kids are playing an arcade
game.

As they talk to each other, we see their conversation coming
again from the characters they’re playing instead of their backs in front of
the machine. Berger asks how to beat a level boss, while Paige says she’s never
made it this far. Berger shoots back, asking, “I don’t understand what the fuck
is going on, is that a troll?” Paige
goes on to outline a plan while Berger questions how a troll is ever friends
with zombies. Bickering ensues between all four and they get killed, thereby
losing the game.

image

The key thing to remember about this exchange and its
illustration is that these are middle schoolers. Them playing an arcade game
facilitates this open, unchecked flow of consciousness that shows us, as
readers, another thing or two about wearing a mask. We’ll dress one way and
speak another rather deliberately, according to our audience. We can take both
seriously. We can ask questions that don’t need answers, like if we can have a
piece of gum while time on our objective runs out. So what good does the mask
do if it and our actual face are fighting for airtime?

The short answer is I don’t know. And maybe that’s a
question that doesn’t need an answer but rather prompts a decision: we can wear
a mask or not, but either way we better be aware of the choice we’re making. It
seems the people who are end up being most successful.

I don’t think 4 Kids
is trying to be profound, but it sure feels that way. And that rules. Advocating
for awareness in an engaging format is no small task, so thanks to Boss and
Rosenberg for making it happen. They’re telling a simple story that focuses on
providing more layers than smiles, and that actually begets more smiles. Since
it’s a miniseries, each new issue inches closer to the end. While the taste
gets more and more bittersweet, I’m looking forward to it.

And now, this week’s original comic! Don’t blink or you
might miss it.

image

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