A reworking of the 400-year-old Jewish legend of the Golem of Prague is the foundation for this contemporary exploration of life, crime, and death in Venice Beach, California.

Adam, the Golem, now resides in California and has a direct link with the human protagonist Jake, a secular Jew hipster. Jake’s bloodline has been historically protected by the Golem, demonstrated in the graphic novel in two historical vignettes taking place during World War II. This background is further explained through discussions with Jake’s Uncle Steph. Jake’s life, and Adam’s existence, become imperilled when Jake falls for a neighbour with connections to a Santa Muerte cult and drug-dealing gangsters.

The legend of the Golem is born of violence towards Jewish people. In Venice Beach, the violence is not motivated by antisemitism but the death cult of the antagonists as they secure their drug fiefdom. Nevertheless, there are numerous connections in the storyline to Jewish culture, traditions, and history through the agency of Jake’s uncle and the vignettes. Adam may not be regarded as a legendary creature by the citizens of California, but readers have no doubt who he is and has always been although he does not physically resemble his ancient origins of a man made of clay. He is, however, a very large being that locals call “The Giant of Venice” or “El Gigante”.

Contemporary Venice Beach itself is a primary character in this tale, exemplified by Vanessa Cardinali, who provides potent contrasts between the sunny and exuberant day time scenes and the dramatic noir scenes at night. The original script for the storyline, written by Chanan Beizer, won the inaugural ScreenCraft Cinematic Book contest in 2018 before being offered as a Kickstarter project. Vanessa Cardinali is the lead artist with a variety of others illustrating the balance of the story.  Bill Sienkiewicz created the striking cover as well as the uncompromising prologue depicting the origin of the Golem. Jae Lee was responsible for the World War II flashbacks, Paul Pope for the Golem’s interface with two teens, Michel Allred for the map of Venice Beach, Nick Pitarra for his double-page spread of the neighbourhood, and Stephen R. Bissette’s horror dream sequence. All the artists, colourists, and letterers are identified and celebrated within the graphic novel. The different styles and use of colour add to the enchantment of the book and the understanding of the time sequences of the story. The major disappointment was that the story-arc is divided into two volumes. This first one ends in a cliff-hanger that requires patience for readers in the resolving of the tale. I had not realized this when I first dove into the novel although the number 1 is visible on the spine but not the cover.

I therefore am recommending it with reservations. I am unable to pronounce the ending as satisfactory until the second volume is published. The story is extremely violent and includes images of sexual congress and horror but is fascinating at the same time. I am looking forward to finding out where the storyline will take me and the Golem. I will admit that I have a fascination with the Golem and have visited Prague and the supposed place of the creation of the clay creature and so may be successfully drawn into this world because of that. I may have been drawn into it because it is well told and effectively and thoughtfully illustrated and packaged. Or, as I highly suspect, for both reasons.

The Golem of Venice Beach, Vol. 1
By Chanan Beizer
Art by  Vanessa Cardinali, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jae Lee,
Clover Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781951038601

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Jewish
Character Representation: Jewish

  • Gail

    | She/Her Professor, Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta

    Reviewer

    In addition to teaching at the School of Library and Information Studies (University of Alberta) where she is an adjunct professor, Gail tells stories and conducts workshops on a wide variety of topics across Canada and the United States. Each year she teaches the following courses for the University of Alberta. All of her courses are delivered online: Storytelling, Comic Books and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries, Canadian Children’s Literature for School and Public Libraries and Young Adult Literature. She also teaches a course on Indigenous Literature for the ATEP program (Aboriginal Teacher Education Program) at the University of Alberta. Gail is the award-winning author of nine books on storytelling and folklore in popular culture.

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