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Friday, November 22, 2013

The Golem. Chris Kent (Writer & Artist). Graphite Fiction (2013)

 Very striking art and a quiet, strong story combine to deliver an intriguing comic. In 18987 Alfred Larchmont, a stage magician at a small theatre has a family and debts that are pressing strongly on him. He receives a message that he has been left conjuring equipment by a fellow magician. Alfred is set up by the theatre manager and two other performers and finds himself being blackmailed by them after his act goes horribly wrong. At the end of his tether Alfred remembers the gift and investigates it, finding a mysterious mannequin in the chest. This mannequin proves to be the Golem, a clay figure brought to life by magic, Alfred hopes that the Golem will prove to be a new act that will rescue him. The story moves quietly and forcefully as Alfred Larchmont and the Golem fight back against those who betrayed him.
Chris Kent has made a very dramatic artistic choice in this book, the art is done entirely in grey pencil, it looks a little like woodcuts at times. It is not at all fluid or naturalistic, it is explicitly flat and overwhelming. The backgrounds of the panels are filled in by pencil cross hatching, the figures are presented at odd angles, faces loom from the panels. The 9 panel grid is used throughout the story very effectively, sometimes the panels are used as parts of a bigger picture, sometimes a full pages other times two panels.
In the face of such loud art the story has a chance of being submerged, in particular as the tone of the story is consistently low key. Chris Kent had made equally bold choices with his story that allow it match with the art and  meet it on equal terms. The story is rather abrupt, with a grim slightly surreal quality  that artfully recalls the stories of Kafka without ever shouting the comparisons. The story is delivered without a context, it operates solely on its own terms and its own logic. It is this that allows the story meet the art and not be overwhelmed by it, the story is as abrupt as the art, the unsettling atmosphere needs a unsettling style to bring it out so that The Golem can work. A creature of magic, it would unbalance a more conventional means of telling the story and become the centre of the story rather than the human cast.
The motives of the cast in their actions against Alfred Larchmont seem out of proportion to what they want to achieve, they should undermine the story and any hint of realism would ensure that they do so, there would need to a more convincing set up. The art lets Chris Kent get away with very abrupt storytelling and the abrupt story telling gives the art a focus and intent it needs.
A very individual artistic imagination is at work in The Golem, Chris Kent has taken considerable risks and they have strongly paid off, memorable and unexpected, a pleasure.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Chris Kent. The Golem  can be bought at Forbidden Planet, Glasgow and Edinburgh and directly from the website,

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