Retrospective Interview: The Golem
You might know Hilary Goldstein from his work at IGN as Editor-in-Chief, but since then he’s become a published author of a short story collection and the Integrated Media Manager at ChAIR Entertainment. Before Goldstein was EIC, he headed up the Comics channel, so it’s fitting that he eventually went on to create his own. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Goldstein was able to fund and complete his 4 issue graphic novel, The Golem. With the final issue available on Comixology, we decided to ask Hilary some questions about the story, the process, and his thoughts looking back on the experience.
Spoilers below for all of The Golem
Q: You’ve said Lone Wolf and Cub is one of the bigger influences for the book, and obviously Judaic myth of The Golem itself is informs the whole story, but are their any other things you looked to for inspiration, especially in terms of the cyberpunk aesthetic?
Goldstein: Pretty much every movie or TV show where horrible people are made out to be likable or have a hidden heart of gold. I wanted to tell the opposite of that. I wanted mercenaries who kill for money to be selfish, cold, detached from the world. They’re all sociopaths. That’s why they can do what they do. At the start of The Golem, I think it’s easy to be tricked into thinking Danya is good, maybe even noble. Because that’s how Jonah sees her too. And as his view starts to change, so does ours.
Q: Giovanni Timpano is doing awesome things on Frost and The Shadow, how was it dealing with him having to walk away mid-project?
Goldstein: It was a mix of bad and good luck. I wanted Gio on the book because he’d done some G.I. Joe stuff in the past and I knew he could do awesome action with guns and swords. Losing him set the project back a couple of months.
Q: That isn’t to say that Emerson Dimaya didn’t deliver once he took over. Did his style lead to any changes in the book, or did you two just get right back to work?
Goldstein: I was lucky … because I’d just finished working with Emerson on a story for Hoodlum #4. We were already talking about doing something else together and so it was an easier transition than it could have been.
Q: The book is dark and violent, but it really highlighted the softness between Danya and Jonah throughout. At the end it even looked like Danya would finally let herself have some happiness, and something resembling normalcy, but then she threw it away. Was it challenging to write a character who had such a self-destructive, singular purpose?
Goldstein: The hard part was keeping myself from judging Danya in the writing. I’d rather just let her be her, do the things I think someone like her would do, without putting a direct judgment on her in the story.
Q: That thirst for revenge consumes Danya and makes her a kind of shitty person, she’s definitely not the prototypical hero (even though she does kill some horrible people). Jonah, on the other hand, feels like he’s good to the core. One scene that stood out to me was towards the end where he lets Rourke’s henchman live, Danya sees it as a tactical move, but to me it felt like Jonah thought up a good reason to allow him to live. Is Danya’s broken nature part of the reason why you made Jonah seem incorruptible?
Goldstein: The conflict between Jonah and Danya really comes from my experience reading Lone Wolf & Cub. I love that series. It’s about lost honor and a son learning from his father and redeeming the family name. Reading that, I always wondered how the story would turn out if the son who was taken for this journey of revenge had the free will to decide he didn’t want to be a killer.
Q: Part of that journey of revenge put Jonah through some really challenging things, you put him through the wringer. Before the final confrontation Danya mentions that his childhood would die that night. How important was it for you that she be the one to ultimately deal the final blow to his innocence and betray him by killing his father?
Goldstein: I knew how the story would begin and how it would end. And by end, I mean literally just how Danya would get her revenge. The rest I discovered as I wrote. It wouldn’t be as interesting a story if Jonah just went along with everything his mother did. Then it was just a matter of figuring out ways to build a conflict between them. As I plotted out the story, it became clear that the conflict between the two had to culminate on that final page. Then I had to ask, “Why would Jonah want to stop his mother?” And the idea of Rourke being his father formed and it seemed to work.
Q: Even though you didn’t originally plan it that way, it makes sense that it would have to be Danya that would kill Rourke, so that her story (and the need to appease the Golem) could end. In a lot of ways, though, the book almost feels like a prologue for Jonah’s story. Have you thought about revisiting this world and his character, to see the man he grows up to be?
Goldstein: Those who backed The Golem Kickstarter are getting three bonus short stories. One of those stories will tell what becomes of Jonah and Danya 20 years later. As for another comic? Probably not. Comics are expensive and the Kickstarter didn’t even come close to covering the costs, unfortunately.
Q: Speaking of Kickstarter, your book isn’t the first comic to use the platform, and it’s not going to be the last, and it feels like it might be an avenue that (along with Comixology Submit) can really change the comics landscape. However, it seems like it can be blessing as well as a curse: you can cover some of the upfront costs, but it seems like with rewards and the lead time to the final product that it can be really stressful. Looking back would you do anything differently? Do you have any advice for people looking to launch similar projects?
Goldstein: I would have done a black and white book, that’s for sure. Just purely on cost alone, color is a killer. Colorists aren’t cheap (and a bad one can ruin a book) and the cost of printing a color comic is about double a B&W book. Like many Kickstarter creators, I was naïve about the costs. I wanted a chance to publish a comic book – something I’d dreamed about since childhood – and the Kickstarter funded a good portion of the expense. It wouldn’t have been possible without it.
For anyone who wants to start a Kickstarter, you should first be willing to pay for the project on your own. Don’t think of the money as “this is how I make this happen.” You have to be willing to find a way to make it work on your own. Because you really should start your Kickstarter below what you’d need to do the work. Start and only a few thousands bucks, because once a Kickstarter is successfully funded, you get way more backers who come on. But, that also means you take the risk that if it doesn’t give you all the money you need, you have to foot some of the bill yourself.
I’ve seen lots of Kickstarters that ask for way too much to reach their goals and they fail. Be prepared to spend to see your dream come true, because most likely you won’t cover the full costs even if you’re wildly successful.
Q: I know that Hoodlum, unfortunately, didn’t take off and you recently started the new gig at ChAIR that’s keeping you busy, but do you have anything else in the works for people to look forward to? And even if you don’t at the moment, this isn’t the last time we’ll see a book with you name on it, right?
My work at ChAIR keeps me pretty busy. I was able to write quite a lot when I didn’t have steady employment, but honestly 95% of my brainpower is focused on my job. However, before I started at ChAIR I wrote for one other comic book project, which I can’t talk about yet. It’s for an upcoming indie videogame and will serve as a prequel.
And the three short stories Kickstarter backers get for free will be released on Kindle sometime this year.