Mignolaversity’s kicking off 2016 with an interview with Christopher Golden. We’ll be discussing Joe Golem, Occult Detective and Baltimore, and what 2016 holds for both series. We also have an exclusive look at the cover of Baltimore: Empty Graves #1.
Spoiler warning: We discuss major spoilers for both Joe Golem, Occult Detective: The Rat Catcher and Baltimore: The Cult of the Red King, so make sure you’re up to date with them.
The Rat Catcher, the first arc of Joe Golem, Occult Detective, just wrapped up. This story was Joe’s first appearance in a comic, but not his first story. Prior to the comic, Joe appeared in the short story Joe Golem and the Copper Girl and the illustrated novel Joe Golem and the Drowning City, both of which came out in 2012. Although it seems the story was always destined for comics in one way or another. Mike Mignola was working on a version of Joe’s story as early as 2002. Could you tells us about the series’ evolution into its current form?
Christopher Golden: I’m glad you put it that way. “Current form”. Yep, Mike had a version of Joe Golem actually earlier than 2002. It had been percolating in his brain for a while, but then 9/11 happened and I think he both lost interest in telling a story about a devastated New York City and probably also figured it might not be the best timing. So the story went fallow for a while.
Meanwhile we did the Batlimore novel. Over the years he mentioned Joe Golem to me a number of times, but it wasn’t something we were making any plans for at that time. We developed the initial film version of Baltimore and that didn’t go. I’m terrible with chronology, but I’m pretty sure it was around that time that Mike suggested we do Joe Golem as a novel. There was a lot of conversation about titles, as I recall, and what we were REALLY going to call the lead character, but eventually we sold Joe Golem and the Drowning City to St. Martin’s Press, along with the novella Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism. The short story, Joe Golem and the Copper Girl, was something that was done mostly as a promotional piece to accompany the release of the novel, but it turned out to be a very valuable exercise, because it helped me to develop some idea of what Joe’s story and world would feel like outside of the specific events and plot of the novel.
Eventually Constantin Film optioned the film rights to Joe Golem, but by then Mike and I and Scott Allie had already had several conversations acknowledging that Joe would eventually make his way to comics. We just needed to find the right moment and the right artist. It sort of had its own momentum at that point. When the idea of Patric Reynolds came up—that might’ve been Scott or a conversation between Mike and Scott—we knew the time had come. I jumped at the chance to have Patric on the book. We needed an artist who could take monsters, weird occult stuff, flooded Manhattan and its bridges and boats and docks, and give it all a textural realism that would unify it. Patric’s done that.
Yeah, Patric Reynolds really brought this world to life, especially the Drowning City part. I felt like the best stuff he did in The Rat Catcher were all the underwater sequences. It hits home what happened to this city when you can see 1920s cars in the flooded streets. And the stuff with the creature in the third issue, in that room with the floating kids with slashed “gills” on their necks… That was the crowning moment. It was both creepy and sad, a combination that works very well for Joe Golem, I think.
CG: Creepy and sad may be two of the defining characteristics of this series, but what I love about Joe is that he’s a character full of hope and good will, in spite of whatever grimness or sadness might burden him.
Joe also demonstrated a bit of empathy for the creature in this story. I think most would look at that room and see only horror, but Joe saw the creature’s loneliness and desperation, and through that was able to see much more plainly what had really happened. After having that moment in issue two with him insisting to Mr Church that he was more than just his eyes and ears, it was good to see Joe have this moment where we could see his strengths as a detective.
CG: One of the most interesting elements of this story to me is that despite his origins, Joe is a person of great empathy—and yet Mr. Church’s efforts to, shall we say, protect him from himself, are preventing him from really putting all of the pieces of his consciousness together. There’s a disconnect inside Joe that makes him constantly unsettled, forever troubled. He’s trying to solve other people’s problems partly because he can never seem to solve his own.
That’s an interesting take on the character I hadn’t considered. I’ll have to keep that in mind when I reread the novel.
I wonder what happened in 1955 after Joe emerged from the golem. While he may have emerged as a man, he didn’t emerge with a name. That was given to him by Church. And I don’t think that was all he gave him.
In The Rat Catcher, Joe’s been a man for a decade, but he believes he’s been a man all his life, a life that he believes began in the Twentieth Century, not the Fifteenth. It seems likely Church isn’t just suppressing Joe’s memories, but also giving him false ones.
CG: I also wonder about the events immediately following Joe’s “return” in 1955. That said, I disagree with your last assertion. Joe believes he suffered some traumatic experience just prior to Church coming into his life, and that is why he has no memory of the time before that. Most days, he believes this, but some days he definitely suspects otherwise. Church hasn’t given him any false memories. It might have been kinder if he had.
True. Because now he knows he’s got a life that’s a giant question mark. That’d be hard enough for anyone to ignore, but Joe’s a detective.
I’ll be curious to learn what Mr. Church has been doing this past decade. After all, he’s a detective too, even if he’s bound to his home. Somehow I doubt a mystery like Joe would simply be put out of mind. He’s a character I’m interested to learn more about.
CG: I’m sure he’s kept himself busy, although Mike and I are more interested in his life before Joe. We have no specific plans, but we’ve definitely discussed the possibility of exploring Church’s earlier adventures as a Victorian detective. So we may learn more about him eventually.
Oh, I’d be very interested to see that.
This series is set in 1965, but the original novel was set in the 1970s. Is there a particular reason you decided to set this series a decade earlier?
CG: While it’s likely that we’ll eventually tell the events of the novel in comics form, the novel itself is a vital turning point in Joe’s story. Nothing’s ever the same after that. Mike and I wanted to build and explore the world and its characters with a freedom and breathing room that decade provides. I also can’t emphasize enough how important it was to me that readers NOT see Joe Golem as a spinoff. I was unhappy with the marketing choice to link the comics to the novel so outwardly. I’m afraid that some readers may have stayed away from it, thinking they needed an interest in the novel in order to read the comic, and nothing could be further from the truth. This is a comics series. We’re building a world. Yes, it has a prose fiction counterpart, but while we won’t really contradict that, the comics series is complete unto itself.
I make a point of acknowledging the novel, while not discussing the events of it on the site. I figure many (maybe even most) readers will be new to the series, and I’d don’t want to take away from their experience of reading those moments on the comics page.Continued below
I happen to rather like your short story Joe Golem and the Copper Girl. To me that story shows that this world has interesting corners to explore, and made me really want a comic series of Joe Golem long before one was announced. And it is a really big world; big enough that I could see the series eventually dropping the Occult Detective subtitle and adopting another to signify a shift in the story, much like B.P.R.D. has done with the Plague of Frogs and Hell on Earth subtitles.
CG: If we eventually go beyond the events of the novel, that subtitle would have to change. No question. But for the moment, we’re focused on this era of Joe’s long life.
Next month a new Joe Golem story begins, The Sunken Dead. Would you care to tease our readers about what you and Patric Reynolds have in store for them?
CG: Following up on the idea that the Occult Detective subtitle indicates an era in Joe’s life, The Sunken Dead is another adventure. It’s a dark thing, and we get to see Mr. Church out in the field. We also get to see the tension in Church as Joe gets a bit closer to Lori, and we continue to reveal some of the elements of the golem’s history. More than that, you’ll have to discover for yourself.
The Rat Catcher wasn’t your only book to come out last week; the sixth collection of Baltimore came out too. The Cult of the Red King was a huge game-changer in many ways. For one, the series changed from being solely focused on Lord Henry Baltimore to being an ensemble with nine central characters (although that number was significantly less by the end of the tale). We lost Thomas Childress Jr, Captain Demetrius Aischros, and Simon Hodge in the stunning finale.
CG: Spoilers! Maybe put a warning in there for folks. The Cult of the Red King is very intentionally the story that pivots us toward the ending. The moment the rollercoaster crests. The moment from which there is just NO coming back. We’re going to get a tiny bit quieter next time around… and then we are going to go to the place where this was going all along.
It seems only fitting that the next Baltimore miniseries is titled Empty Graves. (Cover and solicitation blurb at the end of this article.)
CG: You have no idea.
Peter Bergting is returning as the artist for this series. I’m very excited about this. He blew me away with his work on The Cult of the Red King. He took the story to an otherworldly place.
CG: Peter is extraordinarily talented. His prior work often had a fantasy bent that is beautiful… stunning stuff… but we needed a tangible reality in this world, and Peter has proven himself to be incredibly versatile. Having first Ben Stenbeck and now Peter Bergting on this series… what a gift it has all been.
You’ve said before that The Cult of the Red King was the beginning of the end for the Baltimore series, the first part of the final act. That’s not to say the end is imminent, but you know exactly how many issues remain now. How have you found it writing Empty Graves with this clear target ahead?
CG: Empty Graves is something I had a very clear vision for… a very clear end goal in mind. You’ll see when the issues start to arrive what I’m talking about. The characters continue to evolve, and the mission grows darker and the little sparks of hope are being snuffed out one by one. I’m really pleased with how it’s all coming out, but the real challenge is in very carefully constructing what comes after it. Which I can’t say any more about until the final issue of Empty Graves hits stores.
A new issue of Joe Golem hits shelves next month, and Baltimore returns in April.
Joe Golem, Occult Detective #4
The Sunken Dead (Part 1)
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Patric Reynolds
Colored by Dave Stewart
Cover by Dave Palumbo
On sale February 3, 2016
A search for the source of a signal picked up on Simon Church’s paranormal detector leads Church and Joe Golem to a mansion in submerged Greenwich Village, where a millionaire is going to supernatural lengths to recover what the Drowning City has taken from him.
Baltimore: Empty Graves #1 (of 5)
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Peter Bergting
Colored by Dave Stewart
Cover by Ben Stenbeck
On sale April 6, 2016
With no bodies to bury, Baltimore lays to rest the memories of good friends, while the strange worshipers of the Red King make use of the corpses of his fallen allies.