It’s not often that a graphic novel begins with a literal tour of the territory, but that’s the way Matt Kindt plays it with Grass Kings. The Grass Kingdom is a free community of settlers on one side of a lake. This is in the USA, but otherwise geographically undefined. The residents look after their own, but are divorced from the general US infrastructure, and the rumour in Cargill on the opposite side of the lake is that the Grass Kingdom shelters a killer. When a Cargill woman goes missing it feeds the paranoia and dislike held by the town, and for the Sheriff it’s a legitimate reason to stir up trouble as the first step of a long held wish to destroy the Grass Kingdom. However, the depth of feeling goes far deeper, and several of the people introduced have crosses to bear.

On the front cover Patton Oswalt tells you Grass Kings is amazing. He’s right. Matt Kindt has written some belters over the years, to the point where anything he writes is going to be worth reading, but this may well be his best yet. That opening tour of eccentric, isolated people introduces a hell of a lot of history and pain, and is all the better for Tyler Jenkins taking such a loose approach with the art. It’s not clean, but it’s deceptive, his rough splodges and wipes of watercolour disguising the solidity of the drawing to some extent, but also adding mood by the bucket. He ensures we know these people aren’t models dropped in for a shoot, but folk who’ve experienced hard times.

Kindt draws plenty of parallels. Both communities represent forms of ideals, Cargill a small town where all is well if the rules are kept, and the Grass Kingdom a type of freedom, but it isn’t as simple as that because Kindt notes other ways of life also. The Native American habit of being satisfied with enough is one. Unusual ties are also established between the two communities, some going back decades, both resentments and kinder sentiments. It’s too soon to consider whether Kindt intends Grass Kings to be an allegory for real world global tension, but as local differences escalate there’s a cultivated feeling that one step too far could be a step of no return. It works so well because Kindt ensures we understand the primary characters and their motivations, and the drama extends from strengths and weaknesses of their personalities.

There’s a complete story in this volume, one that sustains a high creative quality over the first four chapters. The fanciful narration to the fifth makes a point, but it’s clumsy and out of step, although it’s admirable the way Kindt incorporates a matter from what will have been presumed to have been just one of the colourful historical interludes starting each chapter. The drama is sustained all the way through, and while Grass Kings doesn’t necessarily require a follow-up, enough is left unanswered to prompt Volume Two.