The world needs more comics like Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem, and more comics readers need to buy them. In an industry retrograding more and more into the quick-sale gimmicks that tore it down in the first place — All New 52!! The Death of (Insert Character Here)!! Multiple covers!!! Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman having the Sex!!! Rape!! Murder!! — Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem relies only on the ultimate gimmick; simple, beautiful, perfect storytelling.
I know it is premature to throw out terms like "potential Eisner winner" but I will say this — Breath of Bones is Eisner-worthy.
Steve Niles, Matt Santoro and Dave Wachter have produced something special with this comic. Together, they achieved that rare sense of nostalgia for a world I have never known, a life I have never lived. Nostalgia by its very nature should be for something you have experienced, so to make me nostalgic for something so far and away from my life — a small European Jewish village — is quite the skill. It's an odd, quiet sensation that only some of the most accomplished storytellers can manage to pull off, like Will Eisner and Hayao Miyazaki.
One of my favorite things about Breath of Bones is how the tension is kept up without showing the enemy. Like some of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone, we are put in a small space filled with people living under the threat of the invisible, faceless "other" (Embodied by the empty road that leads into town). The Monsters are due on Maple Street — they are coming. It is only a matter of time. The Nazis will come. And what then? The villagers cannot fight, and have only two options — run or hide.
But they cannot run fast enough, and hiding is made difficult by the arrival of a downed American pilot entering their village. Possibly, they can sell his life for their own, but then what would that make them? And who would be the monsters then? Niles, Santoro and Wachter fill this comic with some heady space, and I have no idea how I would react in a similar situation. Perhaps I would build a giant monster out of clay and will it to life.
I really can't say enough about Dave Wachter's art in Breath of Bones. He MAKES the comic. Because the story is so subtle, and relies on facial expressions, you need an artist who can breathe life into the paper with the same magic they breathe life into a giant pile of clay. Wachter has that. His lines, his ink washes, are just so fricken gorgeous. And I love his panel pacing. Read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics then see Wachter's panel pacing, and be astounded at his versatility and style. It's like nothing I've ever seen before. It's like European art with Japanese pacing.
So this is a review for issue #2, but what — did you think I was going to give you a plot synopsis? This issue is as incredible as the first one, and I have no doubt that issue #3 will be equally brilliant. So go pick up the series and don't miss out on one of the best comics of the year.
Oh, and a endnote — DIY master Steve Niles self-produced and sold 100 little golem figures that look exactly like the miniature golem in Breath of Bones. I am happy to say that I bought one of the 100, and it goes on a special place on my bookshelf. That was a VERY COOL way for Niles to promote the series, and show just how fun and innovative creator-owned stuff can be.
Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #2 drops 7/10/2013.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.