Review: Golemchik by William Exley

I recently picked up another book from Nobrow Press’ 17×23 line. The series is a great introduction to new cartoonists, so I was pleasantly surprised with William Exley’s Golemchik, a modern take on the ancient golem story.

In  Golemchik, the main character Kevin is a little boy all alone as his friends go off to camp and vacation. Armed with a survival guide, a pile of comics, a sack lunch, and a red cap, Kevin wiles away the boring days. But when the cap, placed on a pile of rocks, is left by Kevin in the woods overnight, the pile of rocks comes to life a la Frosty the Snowman. But unlike Frosty, Kevin’s golem has a hard time understanding the human world, and ends up causing trouble for Kevin and his little village.

Exley’s art is lovely. There’s a storybook quality to it, with strong character design and an eye for natural shapes. Like many of the other 17×23 books, Golemchik features a limited palette, which is appealing both for its simplicity and for the tone it sets. Loneliness is a part of the framework of this comic, and you can see it reflected in the muted blues and oranges of each page.

The golem story is very well worn, and its roots are deep in human history, but I think Exley does something very interesting in Golemchik by setting up the generation of the golem as unintentional. Most of these stories, the golem is created intentionally, either to protect its maker, or “because I can.” In these stories, man’s ingenuity is useful for a time, but that usefulness dissipates as the golem (whether that is the classic Golem of Prague or Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein’s monster) causes havoc. We see that havoc in Golemchik, part of the package deal that the golem story comes bundled with. Golemchik is also about the nature of homes, and how everything we build comes at a cost. Creation may be universal, but it is inherently transformative, which isn’t necessarily a positive trait.

Golemchik doesn’t necessarily stick the landing – there’s an amplification of violence that seems like a deviation from the rest of the book, and the themes Exley builds get dropped without much resolution. Part of the nature of the 17×23 series is that it’s a place to experiment and learn as a creator; I’m willing to cut Exley some slack if his ambition outstripped his
page count.

William Exley @william-exley is a London-based illustrator and cartoonist. Golemchik is his first major work. You can find Exley’s illustration and other information here.

Nobrow Press @nobrowpress-blog is an independent publisher of comics and children’s books (via their Flying Eye imprint). Another of their 17×23 comics, Mean Girls Club by Ryan Heshka, was nominated for a 2016 Ignatz Award. You can check out their catalog here.

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