This November, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and New York Times bestselling novelist Christopher Golden bring their original creation, Joe Golem, from prose to comics in the five-issue mini-series, Joe Golem: Occult Detective. Illustrated by artist Patric Reynolds (Aliens: Fire and Stone) and colored by frequent Mignola collaborator Dave Stewart, Joe Golem takes place in a murky, morally-compromised, partially submerged New York City, and follows the titular occult detective as he explores his own mysterious origins.
Paste got an exclusive first look at Dark Horse’s new series, and a comprehensive interview with Mignola and Golden about bringing Joe into comics, the pair’s evolving collaboration over the years and what’s next for the prolific creators.
creator Mike Mignola & acclaimed novelist Christopher Golden Bring Joe Golem To Life Again In November 2015
Joe Golem: Occult Detective dives right in to the mythology and world the two of you introduced in The Drowning City. What do readers unfamiliar with the novel need to know before they crack open the first issue?
Mike Mignola: Nothing. The beauty is that it is a prequel to the novel, so you really don’t need to know anything. Everything is meant to set up to eventually adapting the novel, so the more you come in with no knowledge of the novel, even, the better, because then you will be surprised by things that happen in the novel.
Christopher Golden: Not a thing. While I’d love the comic readers to pick up the novel, you don’t have to have any prior exposure to the characters to step into this story. The events of this miniseries take place years prior to the novel. Of course, if you’ve read the novel there are certain things that will resonate for you a little stronger.
For those who are curious, though: in 1925, a cataclysm occurred that caused massive upheavals around the world, including an earthquake that caused the bedrock under lower Manhattan to sink and the sea level to rise at about the same time. From around Times Square downward, the island is under 20 to 30 feet of water. But New Yorkers are resilient and stubborn people, and a lot of them never left. They just adapted. The streets are now canals. Joe is an occult detective who works those streets under the guidance of his mentor, Simon Church, an aging Victorian detective who has kept himself alive with magic and strange mechanisms. Even as Joe goes about his work, he’s haunted by dreams and visions of another time, of a small village in Croatia centuries before, when a stone golem protected the locals from a band of inhuman witches…
Paste: When we meet the title character, he’s being kept in the dark about his origins by the clockwork man Simon Church. Flashbacks feature pretty heavily into the first issue—should we expect Joe to stumble across any major revelations or does his past continue to elude him?
Mignola: Well, I don’t want to give anything away. This is always the tricky thing about doing a prequel, especially because in the novel, he discovers who he is. You can’t really have him discover who he is [in the comic], but there are things we’ve worked in so the reader will be ahead of Joe in understanding stuff. Basically, we do get to do an origin story for him in the comic, which we never really got to do in the novel. We have to keep Joe in the dark to a certain extent, but at the same time, give this interesting backstory to the reader.
Golden: Joe’s not stupid. He’d have figured out the meaning of his visions long ago if it weren’t for the fact that Church thinks that would be a bad idea. The struggle between what he knows and suspects, and Church’s concerns about that, is a dark current that flows through the series.
Occult Detective is set before the events of the novel. Will familiar faces pop up as the story goes on, or does this tale stand completely apart from Drowning City?
Mignola: We will at least tease. With the exception of the major characters that were introduced in the novel, the little girl and the magician, everybody else…we will see. There really aren’t that many main characters, and the beauty of the comic is that we can introduce a whole lot of new characters who will come and go before the events of the novel.
Golden: Oh, I think you’ll see some familiar faces before too long. But again, our goal here is to present a comic series that works just as well for people who’ve never heard of the novel as it will for those who’ve read it. We’re focused on introducing this world completely anew.
Paste: Years ago, when promoting the original novel, you mentioned the possibility of doing Joe Golem stories set much earlier in the timeline. Is that still in the cards?
Mignola: As with Baltimore, the plan is, if things work, if people buy it, to do a series of prequels, slide into the novel, then go beyond the novel. Even when we did the novel, I think Chris immediately came up with the idea to do two sequel novels. For whatever reason, we didn’t pursue the novels, our publisher didn’t pursue sequels to the novel, but we know where to go after the novel and the world of Joe is so rich that there’s room to do the prequels and then go beyond the original story.
Certainly Chris and I, from day one, we knew that there was a much bigger world here. There is the old guy, Church, who had a career as an occult detective. The idea of doing stories about that character, there’s just a lot there. It’s a much bigger world than Baltimore. If the public demands it, I guess we can do it, but it’s nice to just do this one thing.
Golden: I think everything’s on the table. Joe’s story has a narrow focus, but the world around him is complex. Church has a fascinating history, and so does Joe. Not to mention the Drowning City itself. If I say more than that, the Dark Horse assassins will slip into my room late at night and it will be all over for me.
Paste: Much of your work, including your collaboration on Baltimore, pulls liberally from ancient cultures, Victorian mysticism and the occult. Do you feel any additional responsibility using the myth of the golem, given its origin in the Jewish faith?
Mignola: Purposely, we did kind of a non-religious version of the golem, even in the origin stuff. We shy away from the real Jewish mysticism and do this ancient wisdom thing because I didn’t want to get that stuff wrong. I didn’t want to alienate people by getting the myth wrong. It’s just a terrific name, a terrific idea for a character, so I guess our conceit would be that this is knowledge that existed in ancient cultures and shy away from it being specifically Jewish.
If that’s going to upset people, I’d rather them be upset by us avoiding it rather than by us doing it wrong. And that’s the reason, up until this novel, I’ve never really done anything with Judaism, because I didn’t want to get it wrong. There’s a whole lot of culture stuff that I haven’t dealt with, mostly because the mythology is so complex. Maybe it’s just lazy on my part. [Laughs] I didn’t want to do the research that would allow me to do it correctly, so I tend to vaguely suggest certain things unless I know the specifics.
Golden: The golem in this story is related to the creature from Jewish folklore, but not the same. We’ve never really discussed it, but in my mind both types have existed in this world. Mike and I—both as a team and individually—make a practice of drawing from folklore as inspiration to tell new stories, and that’s what we’ve done with Joe Golem. But then, you’re talking to a guy whose second novel (in 1995) established Jesus as the first vampire. World folklore is a tapestry, and it’s always exciting to weave it into something new.
Paste: Between Joe Golem, Baltimore and the Hellboy prose novels, the two of you have become frequent collaborators. How did you get started writing together and what keeps the partnership going project after project?
Mignola: Poor Chris, he has to put up with me a lot. A billion years ago, he was interviewing me for a magazine and he suggested writing a prose Hellboy novel and serializing it in the back of a comic. That turned into the Hellboy prose novels that we did. We did two together and then he edited the line of novels that Dark Horse and whoever, some real book publisher, published.
Joe Golem, like the Baltimore thing that Chris and I wrote together, was going to be a comic. In fact, I was about to start work on Joe as a graphic novel for Dark Horse when 9/11 happened. I was in New York, about a week away from starting Joe Golem, and I was looking out my window, down the street, at where the opening scene in Joe Golem would take place. I was scouting places in New York where stuff in Joe Golem happens, and then 9/11 happened. Suddenly the idea of doing a book that took place in a partially ruined New York City really lost all appeal. So that went way far back on the shelf and eventually, once Baltimore was up and running, I said to Chris, “Well, why don’t we do this thing too?”
Golden: Mike and I are very different people. In order to be both friends and collaborators in any creative field, you have to have a certain level of trust. What we share, I think—outside of a love of folklore that informs our work—is a certain work ethic. We’re working on something else together right now that I guess I’m not supposed to talk about, but it’d make a lot of people very happy if it works out.
The original Joe Golem and the Drowning City illustrated novel
Paste: How does the writing tend to break down between the two of you? Has the division of labor changed in the leap from prose to comics?
Mignola: Yeah, I do even less work on the comic. [Laughs] It’s nice. On the novels at least, because both Baltimore and Joe Golem I intended to do as a comic, and I had quite a bit of the story, so it was a matter of writing outlines notes—in some places very specific notes, some places very vague notes—for how the novel would go. I gave that to Chris and he wrote the novel, and as he would write it, every chapter or two, he’d send it to me and I’d go, well, can we change this, can we change that, so I’m almost more of an editor once Chris starts writing. And the comic, because we’re co-creators of the thing—once we’re done with the novel, he’s generally as invested or more invested as I am—he will tell me a direction, or we will discuss, if we’re going to do this thing as a comic, what should the story be? I’d say more often than not, Chris is generating the stories, and as with my comic stuff, I’m more concerned with the big picture. We’re going to set up these stories to evolve into this kind of story to get to this particular place. So it’s a little harder to say who does what on the comic. In the case of Joe Golem so far, we discussed the general direction, but all the stories come from Chris.
Golden: It varies from project to project, though I do most of the actual putting-words-on-paper part. Sometimes there’s a lot of prep to begin with, plotting and planning. On the Baltimore novel, most of the story elements came from Mike. I filled in what wasn’t already there and wrote the first draft, sending him chunks of it for review, comments, edits. The Joe Golem novel worked much the same, though more of the plot structure came from me than on the first one. With the comics, there are a lot of phone calls, planning sessions, and he’s looking over my shoulder, but the nuts-and-bolts writing is me. Then we get on the phone again and tweak it, which usually consists of him beating me up about some of the visual stuff and getting me to take out any of the dialogue and captions that aren’t necessary. He’s usually right, but it’s a collaboration, so I’ll make my case when I disagree. I don’t think we’ve ever argued about any of that stuff for more than 30 seconds. I’m mellowing in my middle age.
Paste: You chose Patric Reynolds for this project after his work on Aliens, a franchise Mike has drawn in the past. What does Patric bring to Joe Golem?
Mignola: We had actually worked with Patric a couple times in the past on various books of mine, and he was really good, but I didn’t think he was quite right for this thing until I saw the Aliens stuff, which had a wonderful atmosphere. He’s gotten a lot better since we originally worked together. He’s radically different from anything else we’ve got going on. It’s a book about people, so I wanted a guy that was really strong with people, and Patric’s a photo-reference kind of guy. He gives things an overall grimy mood and texture to things, because he’s a dry-brush guy, but he’s also a real-world kind of guy. I didn’t want New York to turn into a fantasy city, I wanted it to be New York if it sunk underwater, so having a guy who’s realistic is going to help sell that world.
Golden: More than anything else, this series was going to stand or fall based on the level of tangible reality the artist could bring to the Drowning City and to Joe. We needed someone who could make this world live and breathe. We’ve known for a long time that we were going to do these comics eventually, but we weren’t in any hurry. We were just waiting for the right artist to come along…and then we found Patric.
Paste: Outside of Baltimore and any future Joe Golem tales, where can we expect to see you next? Mike, the Mignolaverse solicits have been teasing big changes… Should we expect more standalone work from you in the future?
Mignola: It’s possible. There’s one other novel project that’s in the works, pretty far down the road, but again, it’s something where you go, That would be a pretty good comic… [Laughs]
It’s never been my goal to expand as far as I have. Once you think of stuff, you go, Yeah, there’s a good place to do those stories. Right now, I think we’ve expanded as far as we can, and we’re stretched pretty thin as it is. Frankly, I’d like to have a little time off. I know Chris is up to his eyeballs, too. If it happens, it happens, but there’s no plan to do more.
Golden: My near-future thriller Tin Men was published in hardcover on June 23. My next horror novel, Dead Ringers, will be out in November. And you can always keep up at www.christophergolden.com.
Official Press Release
June 29, 2015: This November, legendary Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, New York Times bestselling novelist Christopher Golden and Dark Horse Comics will unleash the first ever comic book appearance of their character Joe Golem from their novel Joe Golem and the Drowning City. A five-issue Joe Golem: Occult Detective mini-series will be co-written by frequent collaborators Mignola and Golden, with art by Patric Reynolds (Serenity), colors by award-winning colorist Dave Stewart and covers by Spectrum Award-winning painter Dave Palumbo. The new series takes place prior to the events of the illustrated novel Joe Golem and the Drowning City. Set forty years after an earthquake leaves Lower Manhattan partly submerged under 30 feet of water, Joe Golem must hunt a horrifying creature that is pulling children into the depths of the city’s canals.
“For years now, since we first saw Baltimore work as a comic, Chris and I have talked about doing comic book sequels and prequels to Joe Golem,” said Mike Mignola. “But, as always, we needed to find just the right artist, and when I saw Patric Reynolds’ recent work on an Aliens comic, I knew he could pull off the world we created in the novel and capture the mood we were looking for. When you find the right artist for something, you don’t want to let him get away.”
Like their collaboration on the Baltimore graphic novels, the events of Joe Golem take place outside of the “Mignolaverse”, the strange, shared universe inhabited by Hellboy, BPRD, Abe Sapien, and Frankenstein Underground. The horror of Joe Golem is distinctly urban; the series offers a haunting dystopian mid-twentieth century New York.
“Joe Golem is full of pulpy goodness, weird alternate history, monsters, and magic and it’s full of insanity you’re not going to find anywhere else.” said Golden. “We’re telling the story of Joe Golem: Occult Detective, solving mysteries in the flooded streets of mid-20th century lower Manhattan with the ancient Simon Church, who’s keeping himself alive with magic and machinery at the same time he’s keeping Joe in the dark about his own origins. We want to immerse you in Joe’s world, what life is like in the Drowning City, and with issue one, we dive right in.”
Mignola and Golden are currently writing Baltimore: Cult of the Red King, with art by award-winning children’s book illustrator Peter Bergting, colors by the award-winning Dave Stewart and stunning covers by Ben Stenbeck (Frankenstein Underground). Golden’s most recent novel, Tin Men, was published by Ballantine Books earlier this month.