Publisher Kristopher White’s The 36 is a strong tale of survival and endurance. The story centers around 36 people in the world that in times of need, these people emerge from anonymity and save humankind. Kris took time out to share his concept and discuss the mission behind The 36…
JMH: What is The 36?
KRISTOPHER: “The 36” is a graphic novel based on kabalistic legend that says there are 36 people and were it not for them our world would be destroyed. The legend doesn’t dwell on who they are or how they save the world – or what saving the world even means. It simply says that in times of need they emerge from anonymity and save us.
However, like any good story, the heart of the story focuses on the relationships between our lead character, Noam, and those he protects. Noam is a classic reluctant hero. Armed with the fabled Staff of Moses (the same one used to split the Red Sea), Noam’s found himself with the burden of being the “shepherd” of the group, charged with watching out for them, even though he doesn’t know who half of them are. For him, the cost of being the leader is already too high. The love of his life fell into a coma shortly after he became one of the 36. He’d like nothing more than to revive her, but the consequences of that are potentially deadly, and tie directly into his fate as one of the 36.
The first two chapters of the book really stand alone, in terms of the overall arc, which is a great entry point for newsreaders. It follows Noam as he investigates a murder spree committed by someone using a golem — an ancient creature created from mud. The trouble is, no one’s seen one of these creatures since the 15th century. So who sent it and what it’s after are the key questions. In the course of his investigation, Noam tries to protect the next victim, a young woman named Lenore, who, of course, develops an infatuation for him.
JMH: Can you describe the world/universe they’re from?
KRISTOPHER: Tonally, “The 36” borrows heavily from Bill Willingham’s Fables, with the source material being Jewish mysticism. It’s a world of magical realism in which golems exist and 36 humans have God-given abilities and the task to “save” humanity. These abilities range from the mundane, like speaking with animals, to the super, like wielding electricity.
A lot of the conflict in this world comes from the 36 themselves. What does it mean to “save the world”? One person’s definition may be completely different from another. And the road to Hell is often paved with good intentions. The people who are chosen to wield these powers have the potential to do a lot of good, but it’s a test –and one not everyone will pass.
Though the book draws heavily from Jewish mysticism, anyone can enjoy it. Indeed, as the world expands(in the future), we’ll learn that not all the 36 are Jewish. That will, of course, introduce more ambiguity and conflict. Some will begin to question the fundamentals, like is there even a God guiding this whole thing? And, of course, there are plenty of monsters and creatures out there trying to take advantage of mankind. So that just adds to the fun. One monster in particular that we deal within the first graphic novel is the Leviathan.
JMH: Does The 36 have supporting characters and if so can you tell CBI about them?
KRISTOPHER: One of the key supporting characters for Noam is his younger brother, Levi. Though he’s a modern-Orthodox Jew, he’s a scientist at heart – which seems like a conflict at first, but really becomes a fun canvas to explore down the line. Personally, he’s as likely to have a grease stain on his shirt as he is to have a prayer book in his pocket. What Levi lacks in social skills, he makes up for in intelligence. He’s also the only stabilizing force in Noam’s life, and his only family. One of the key questions for him is the difference between science and spirituality. It’s a line that, for him, can quickly become blurred.
Another key character in the beginning is Lenore, a young woman that, we quickly learn, is a target for the golem. Up to this point, she’s lived a fairly normal life, one in which mud-man creatures only existed in bedtime stories. As she gets pulled further into this world of the 36, she serves as the perfect stand-in for the audience, asking questions that Noam may take for granted… like “what is a golem?”
JMH: Was The 36 inspired by anything from your past or real life experiences?
KRISTOPHER: The legend of the 36 has been with me for a long time. They are similarly known as Lamed Vavniks, which means thirty-six in Hebrew. About five years ago, I taught religious school at Temple Israel of Hollywood and I remember coming across this idea. It immediately sparked my imagination and I started ruminating on it then. It just feels like such a great legend and I was kind of shocked no one else had done something similar to my idea before, especially with movies like Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code floating around the zeitgeist. Incidentally, those two movies really served as models for how to tell this story successfully. Both draw from the Bible without being so enmeshed in them that the average viewer can’t enjoy them.
JMH: Do your stories carry a message to the readers?
KRISTOPHER: First and foremost, my goal is to entertain. I want people to put down the book and feel like, for the hour or two it took them to read it, they had a good time and were told a complete story. Beyond that, I hope the book opens up a new world for people and maybe inspires a few daring souls to go back and look at the original stories that these ideas and creatures came from. No matter what your belief system is or where you stand, knowledge is power and good stories are stories.
JMH: Talk about the creative team involved with The 36…
KRISTOPHER: Inking and penciling is being handled by George Zapata. He’s a relatively new artist based in New Jersey. After honing his skills at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic art, he made his comic debut in the SIX anthology as penciller and inker of “The Altruist”. I love that his work has a fresh edge to it. My goal was, especially being an indie book, not to feel like we were (literally) drawn from the same cloth as Marvel or DC. Also, I love the subtle Bill Watterson influence he brings to his work.
The other key thing for me, and he more than excels at this, is his ability to tell a story sequentially without any dialogue. A lot of new artists out there are great at drawing, but fall short when it comes to envisioning a story on the page.
JMH: What advice do you have for aspiring creators?
KRISTOPHER: I really think that the digital revolution has given new life to indie comics. Couple that with websites like Kickstarter (which we’re using to raise funding for our initial book) and the barrier to entry is that much lower. However, the key for aspiring creators is always to have a great story with compelling characters. Your artwork could be stellar, but if you’re not telling a story that’s interesting – and telling it well – you won’t keep an audience. There are just too many choices out there.
The other key thing, for me, is to be clear about who your audience is. You can’t just say, “boys”. Or “everyone”. More and more, it’s all about super-serving niche audiences. So, for example, you could target a story toward Goth-steam-punk-loving sci-fi folks. In my case, I’d say my core audience are fans of LOST, young Jewish males, and people who love a good twist on mythological tales ala Indiana Jones and Fables.
JMH: Where can fans get a hold of The 36?
JMH: Thanks for your time. All the best!
KRISTOPHER: Thank you.
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