The Politics of “Grass Kings”

Matt Kindt’s Grass Kings (2018) is trailer-park Shakespeare. Three brothers (Robert, Bruce, and Ashur) reign over an illegal rural “kingdom” that was formed as a sort of libertarian, off-the-grid protective measure from the federal government. The members of The Kingdom all think they live in a utopia, and outsiders think they are crazy hicks. Robert, the eldest brother, inherited the kingdom from his parents and has been a mess since his daughter died. The middle brother, Bruce, is a disgraced former Sheriff of a neighboring town who still wears his old uniform while patrolling The Kingdom. Ashur, the youngest, is also the least important brother; he tends to hang out with his best friend Pinball, rather than getting involved with the politics of the park. 

In the third volume, The Kingdom finds itself in the federal government’s crosshairs after the “thin air killer” grabs their attention. The feds think Archie, the town’s watchman, is the killer. Preparing to go to war with the feds to protect their sacred land, Robert commands his people not to agitate — they want the feds to look bad for the media. After showing off their firepower, the feds ensure Robert they only want Archie, which puts him in a tough spot because he knows Archie is not the “thin air killer.” (In vol. 2, Archie admitted to burning down Jen’s house, one of the victims, in efforts to hide his affair/love letters to her, but said that she was already dead via hanging. This was later confirmed by Humbert, who saw the autopsy.) 

It turns out that the sheriffs of Cargill, Humbert Jr. and Sr., made deals with the real killer to keep their own dirty deeds secret. The real killer, it turns out, is both an outsider and an insider: Hemingway. Hemingway moved to The Kingdom to write a book, which he said in earlier issues was meant to be a history of The Kingdom but morphed into being about the killings themselves. Humbert Sr. kept a notebook that detailed his “pact with the devil,” which Bruce finds when snooping around Humbert Jr.’s house. 

Robert has him fed to the birds, while the rest of the key characters seem to grow out of The Kingdom. 

In the process, Kindt is quite explicit in his political allusions, especially in the third volume which recalls the Waco siege — a classic tale of people vs the government. It can even be interpreted as praise for the “good guy with a gun narrative.” There is no doubt that readers are on the side of The Kingdom, who assembles a militia to defend itself against the feds. After it’s revealed that Archie isn’t the killer (though, he did kill a Cargill henchman in Vol. 1), the brothers, particularly Robert, convince themselves that the killer isn’t of their commune — their utopia must be immaculate. 

Hemingway has been part of the community for a long time, but is still a second-generation member. More importantly, he keeps to himself to write his novel. In this way, even the brothers see him as a welcomed outsider— an insider and outsider. Just as Maria, Humbert Jr.’s wife who sought shelter in The Kingdom (vol. 1) says in issue 12, “I ran away from Cargill ‘cause Humbert was brutal and corrupt. But this place is just as bad.” 

Rather than one side being at blame, the bad egg is the writer of The Kingdom’s narrative. There is no such thing as a “good guy with a gun” or a “bad guy with a gun,” according to Kindt. This narrative itself, and the people who write it, have misled us.

Sign up for my newsletter “The Good Stuff.”

Subscription received!

Please check your email to confirm your newsletter subscription.