Tuesday, February 15, 2005


The Golem's Mighty Swing by James Sturm is another graphic novel which was highly acclaimed when it came out, but which I didn't buy because what I saw of it didn't appeal to me. Now, three and a half years after its publication, I finally got a chance to read it thanks to my local public library. (A lot of ink has been spilled over the phenomenon of "waiting for the trade"; has anybody given any attention to "waiting for the library"?) And, as with Louis Riel, I was underwhelmed.

In the case of Golem, it's the writing that's weak. The big problem is the characterization, or lack of it. Sturm's characters are such ciphers that it's hard to care about what happens to them. Nor does the story supply the interest lacking in the characterizations; there's little plot, and what there is ends in an anticlimax. Perhaps Sturm intended his story to by symbolic of the Jewish experience in America in general. If so, the messsage would be that no matter how much Jews try to assimilate and become "Americans," they will never be accepted by gentiles, but always be regarded with suspicion and hostility. But the setting of Golem is too idiosyncratic to draw any general conclusions. The situation of Sturm's barnstorming Jewish baseball team, touring small towns where Jews are seen even more rarely than professional baseball players, has very little relevance that of most American Jews in the 1920s, or even Jewish entertainers.

What partially redeems the book is Sturm's artwork, particularly his visual storytelling, which has a restrained, classical feel to it. Sturm's storytelling, and the book, are at their best when he is simply depicting baseball being played. In fact, I ended up wondering if Sturm hadn't really just wanted to draw baseball, and come up with the storyline about anti-Semitism to give himself an excuse to do so.

(As an oddity, in the acknowledgements Sturm cites "Shonen Champion Manga" as one of his references, though on the surface his style seems as far removed from manga as possible. (It's a pity he doesn't name the precise series he used.) As another oddity, one minor character bears a close and distracting resemblance to Charley the Australopithecene from Ruben Bolling's Tom the Dancing Bug.)

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