What if you were a bullied 12-year-old in New York City who found access to an ancient power – the power of a Golem? What kind of creature would you create? What would a being of clay and magic be like in today’s world? And most of all…what kind of dangers would you have to face?
Writers Adam Glass (Suicide Squad, Rough Riders) and Mike Benson (Moon Knight, Deadpool) and artist Harwinder Singh team up to answer these questions in Brik, a new series from Oni Press that premieres in July. It’s a uniquely personal urban fantasy that touches on elements of Jewish mythology, real-life New York landmarks, and of course, big clay creatures.
Newsarama talked to Glass, Benson, and Singh about how this book came about, with a first look at character designs from the project.
Newsarama: Mike, Adam, Harwinder – how did this collaboration come about for you?
Mike Benson: Adam and I have collaborated on a number of books at Marvel – Deadpool: Suicide Kings, Deadpool Pulp, Luke Cage Noir. And we had this opportunity to work with Oni Press's James Lucas Jones, and we wanted to take it.
Adam Glass: Yeah, it was to time to do a creator owned book and Mike and I had been kicking this Golem idea around and Oni was the perfect company to do it with.
Harwinder Singh: Just sounded like a very fan book to draw. Twelve-year-old kid summons a Golem and fights the Russian Mafia. What’s not to love?
Nrama: Okay, you’re pronouncing “Golem” as “Gol-LUM,” and I’ve always heard it as “GO-lem,” and I’m not sure which one is the right pronunciation.
Glass: I always heard “Gol-LUM”
Benson: Me too.
Glass: But remember, I’m from the Bronx and Mike spent a lot of time in Yonkers. You have to factor in the accents we heard growing up.
Nrama: But the Golem is one of the major mythological figures – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay even uses it and the Jewish mythology behind it as a direct correlation to the creation of superheroes, this protective figure.
Glass: No doubt. The Golem speaks to many different things, and Kavalier & Clay really rocked my world when I read it. And Mary Shelley, I think there was a mention of the Golem in her work – it was in some ways the original Frankenstein's monster.
And that’s such a powerful idea – what do you do with this kind of power? How do you control it? When we sat down with James to pitch this book, one of the things we asked was, “What would you do if you were a 12-year-old boy and you had the remote control to a Frankenstein's monster?”
Nrama: Well, that’s an interesting age to have a Golem under your power – one translation of the word is “Unformed.” And when you’re 12, that’s pretty much the state of being you’re in.
Benson: Very true.
Nrama: Who’s your human protagonist for this book?
Benson: Drew is a kid growing up in Yonkers, where, you know, parts of it are pretty rough. He’s bullied, he has few friends. His best friend is his grandfather, who is kind of his father figure – his father being out of the picture – and tells him these stories.
And his family is being threatened by this by the Russian Mafia –
Glass: They come in and start trying to push people out. Which is a real thing, something we’ve seen in New York City in Brooklyn and other areas. They come in, buy up the real estate, and start pushing people out.
Drew’s grandfather owns a sandwich shop – the kind of local places Mike and I remember growing up –
Benson: Like those Italian bodegas.
Glass: Exactly. And Drew’s family is being pressured to sell their property at a low, low price.
Benson: So Drew sort of feels like the world is coming at him from every side – there’s pressure no matter where he looks. And he creates this Golem, Brik, who in a way is like an imaginary friend come to life.
Nrama: What’s this being, Brik, like? Can he do cool clay stuff, or is he mostly super-strong?
Glass: He’s no Clayface, definitely more Frankenstein's monster in scope. In Jewish Lore a Golem is made out of clay, but in our story he is a mix of dirt and things that Drew finds in the local junkyard. Drew is also a tagger, so he puts his tag on Brik. In other words, Brik is made from the local environment, thus a true New Yorker.
So Drew creates this thing that his grandpa spoke about, and Drew uses it the way a lot of us would when we were 12…for self-gain and revenge. But like Spider-Man, he has that realization that he needs to find a way to use this power to help others.
Singh: It's a very personal story, with a few sprinkles of fantasy.
Nrama: Harwinder, what were some of the unique challenges in designing Brik?
Singh: Brik was somewhat difficult. Our world was so grounded, and he is something out of a fantasy book. It was a challenge to make the two things blend. but very fun.
Nrama: And who’s your antagonist?
Glass: You actually don’t get to see him for most of the book – he’s this almost mythological kind of figure, “Little Stalin.” You hear about him, you see him in shadows –
Benson: He’s our Keyser Söze.
Nrama: That’s an interesting concept, using elements of his environment to make the Brik Golem.
Glass: We wanted to do a fresh take on the concept. So it’s the story of the Golem, but in modern times, in Yonkers. That modernized look is part of what we’re trying to achieve.
Nrama: And it’s interesting that this derives specifically from the New York environment – those early Marvel books, the Spider-Man stories in particular, were very much New York books.
Glass: Well, Mike and I, from the moment we met, we talked about how both of us loved Heroes for Hire, the Luke Cage and Iron Fist stuff, and the Spider-Man books. They felt like they were taking place just outside our window.
Benson: Well said.
Nrama: Did you go back to those areas to research the story?
Benson: I went back just to visit family, and toured a few places – there’s a scene at Yonkers Raceway, and I just drove around it. Things don’t change in Yonkers too much! Some of the stores change, but there’s still places like Nathan’s and the Raceway –
Glass: – and Rye Playland –
Benson: -- and Rye Playland. So what’s nice is that we’re showing this iconic area that was never really given its due.
Glass: By the way, in Big, that’s where Tom Hanks puts the coin in that magic machine, Rye Playland.
Nrama: I always had so many questions about that machine…
Is this more of a self-contained story or an ongoing narrative?
Glass: It started out more self-contained, but as it went on, we realized we had a lot more stories to tell with these characters, and their relationships.
Plus, here’s the great thing about Golems – the mythology is wide open. There’s only so much out there about it, and things that can be explored, and added to. Like, where does the Golem spirit come from? Is it someone close to you? Is it evil?
Nrama: Well, that would make it a Dybbuk, wouldn’t it?
Glass: [Llaughs] Funny thing! I always thought those two things were close.
Nrama: So guys, what’s your collaborative process like?
Benson: We talk about the big picture, and then we get myopic and talk about the scenes, and then we’ll switch off and write different issues, and then we’ll rewrite with a sort of “global pass” on the issues. So there’s a bit of a writers’ room type of mentality in there.
Glass: I agree, Mike – we both come from TV, so we brought a very TV-type of mentality to it. You come up with a story, you break it, you do an outline, and then you write it, and then you go over each other’s work.
Nrama: What’s your collaborative process like with Harwinder?
Benson: Our collaborative process on this was…we’d send our scripts to Harwinder, and we’d get art almost out of nowhere. It took a while for the book to get done, but everything was amazing.
Singh: Collaboration with Adam and Mike was a pleasure. It was so much fun, amazing scripts.
Benson: What I liked about Harwinder’s style was that it’s detailed, but not really reminiscent of anything I’ve seen – the closest maybe being Gilbert Hernandez’s Love & Rockets. When we were thinking about what Brik would look like, a lot of images came to mind, like Ben Grimm or Concrete, and he just nailed it.
Glass: We really kept looking at those classic Concrete covers, and Harwinder definitely captured that look. We really put a lot of ourselves into this, so many of our memories and our feelings and what it was like growing up.
Benson: I have twin 12-year-old boys, and Adam has a daughter and son, so we’re still living in that world of teenagers in a way. [Laughs]
Things are different – they’re constantly on the computer and playing video games, and have a wealth of entertainment and devices and stuff.
But you see them going through the same struggles you did – with their friends, with school, that feeling that other people are always good at what you’re not. So we got to relieve a lot of that through our kids, and in a way, put them through new, even more horrible stuff. [Laughs]