Ok, first a few things up front. Yes, I am a literature fan, and it is apart of my working life. I must admit, however, that I have never been interested in the work of H.P. Lovecraft (and I have been engaged by many over the years who are fans of his work), and my connection to his writing has come primarily through the work of comic creators (as is the case with Golgotha). As I have encountered Lovecraft allusions, references, and adaptations over the years, the one question I keep coming back to is—What is it about Lovecraft and his disturbing view of the spaces in and in-between reality that has such a strong pull on so many? One conclusion I have come to is that perhaps the appeal can be chalked up to the power of metaphor in literature (and stories generally), the wonderful way subtext only opens up to certain people in specific ways, that magical personal reader response I am always trying to get people to talk about whenever I am engaging with others about the things we read. If literature has provided us with anything, in a macro-sense culturally, it is that we love to connect to stories of struggle and pain, and however the window dressing of writers and artists can sell that, we will go full in if we can connect. Lovecraft’s endurance may be then, if everything I am reading about his work is correct, his ability to connect with readers about the pain and disconnection of existence.
The word Golgotha is a noun for pain, and there are specific religious denotations and connotations attached to it (I will let you, gentle reader, investigate that further). Harrison and Slominski use Golgotha not only as a word to situate a viewpoint of Lovecraft as a writer, but adeptly in the way good story tellers can use it as an extension to tell a story about one part the pain of the journey of maturation, and the other part the pain of loving something as a fan. Both themes are melded together by these creators to form a deceptive story of growing into an understanding of who your friends really are when the chips are down. That melding is what makes Golgotha charming in its own way, even as it spirals you out into situations with characters that you do not always feel 100 % comfortable spending time with.
Golgotha is a story of slackers living out lives in Providence, R.I., the backyard of Lovecraft. Harrison and Slominski channel their inner Richard Linklater, crafting a buddy road trip story that moves simply within the perimeters of the town city limits. Golgotha is set in 1997, and America is just at the cusp of the tech explosion and struggling with the waning years of the political regime of the Clinton administration. Was life, to be a bit anachronistic, a little slower then? Sure, but it wasn’t that it was simpler or even a time of ignorance necessarily, rather it was a feeling that there was something brewing, and we, as a society, had no idea that in four short years we would see the tech bubble rise and burst, the media landscape move closer to the future casting of so many sci-fi visionaries, and the onset of the darkness of a deeper uncertainty in America after 9/11. Thus what makes Golgotha in my opinion partially a story about physically searching for meaning is that it can only take place in a time (e.g. the mid 1990’s) when physicality and personal relationships was the only recourse for a “quest”. In other words you had to do your footwork most of the time if you wanted to get things accomplished or make discoveries, and that meant getting help from people, actual people, that most likely care about you in some capacity.
If the story is one part about a physical search for meaning, I believe you can alternately and/or additionally read Golgotha as being about nostalgia, sort of the same way that all comic fanboys/fangirls recognize—that when you love something so much you will do anything to help if trouble arises. The trouble in this case is the skull of H.P. Lovecraft has been grave robbed, and Lovecraft fanboy supreme Aleister cannot rest until it is recovered. Contextually imagine that you, comic fan reading this, found out that your favorite monthly serial character/book has been canceled, and the outrage you feel is tantamount to the most unspeakable evil that your brain rationalizes as you argue with others online and probably though a series of tweets, hurling accusations at the corporate shills that have deprived you and your clan of the small joy in life that only you understand. You are upset that a precious artifact has been stripped from culture, your culture, and you have become mad as hell and you are not going to take it sitting down. That is the kind of place Aleister is in, and he, accompanied by a colorful cast of drugged-out loners, goths, and other outsiders, play out the obsessive trip to set right a wrong that only Aleister really cares about. There is a wonderful interpersonal twist to the story in the context of fan obsession that you discover as you read Golgotha, and I credit Harrison for making sure to insert just enough commentary about why we may love or care about things (and people) that can be viewed as flawed.
The artwork of Karl Slominski is expressive and dark, a wash of black and white that is sometimes extremely delicate in landscapes and other times as horrifying and psychedelic as it needs to be. His character design struck me as a strange blend of Sam Keith and Mad Magazine parodist Mort Drucker, with his overbites and detailed faces that can stretch and bend comically or manically. Amongst the outrageous gesticulations though are the moments in which we see the vulnerability of the rag tag group, especially Aleister in full physical form. He is undersized, skinny, strung out, lost. Slominski renders moments when you can look in the eyes of the protagonist and see the mixture of loss, anger, and fear that people in a constant state of transition seem to remain within.
Sequentially it is paced nicely, and I like how Slominski overlaps panels and images on pages, slanting action here and there and moving the pace of the story along when it is beginning to stall a bit. One standout sequence is a mock car chase between a seemingly hulked-out orderly and our Scooby-Doo gang of skull chasers. Playing with perspective is important in selling the tone of the story, and Slominski ensures the necessary moments and panels pay off in letting us see unexplainable things except by those characters pushed chemically to extremes.
It is hard for me to engage with stories featuring characters that are strung out. That is not me taking a moral position, rather, it hits close to home and makes me reflect on that era, the late 1990s, that Golgotha is positioned within. I knew people like Aleister, Jude, and Crazy Henry; I think a lot of us have. These are the people that perhaps fell through the cracks in our lives as we moved away from experimenting to become some other person, not necessarily an infallible person but just somebody else. For some chasing the high is the way of life, and dealing with reality is always going to be too much without some assistance from this or that. But that is why it is good to have friends who care, and I think that is the major point of Golgotha, however twisted the road to that point may be.