James Stokoe is best known as the writer and artist behind the creator-owned titles “Orc Stain” from Image Comics and “Wonton Soup” from Oni Press, not to mention the recent success of the Kickstarter-funded “Sullivan’s Sluggers” which he illustrated for writer Mark Andrew Smith. However, the creator is just as passionate about taking on a certain well-known character as he is about his own creations. In August, Stokoe will write and draw the five-issue miniseries “Godzilla: The Half-Century War” for IDW Publishing.
CBR News spoke with Stokoe about his plans for the title and history with the city-destroying monster dating back to his childhood.
“‘Godzilla vs. Mothra’ is probably the first movie that I have memories of watching (it was either that or ‘Robot Jox’), so it’s been ingrained into my being since a very young age,” Stokoe said. “It’s really the only thing that I’ve consistently had an interest in for my whole life.”
Stokoe’s lifelong interest in all things Godzilla comes in handy for “The Half-Century War,” which, as the title indicates, spans five decades of Godzilla history. It stars Lieutenant Ota Murakami, who encounters Godzilla during his first attack and develops an obsession with the creature that lasts for the next 50 years. “Ota starts out the series as a tank commander in the Japan Self-Defense Forces during Godzilla’s initial 1954 attack on Tokyo,” Stokoe said. “He develops a rather peculiar sense of awe and devotion over this giant destructive lizard that’s burning everything around him.”
From there, the series moves through various eras in Godzilla’s colorful onscreen history. “Each issue takes place in a different decade across the globe, so we’ll see Godzilla in different places than he’s been before,” Stokoe told CBR News. “I’m trying to touch on all the different eras and tones of Godzilla, so there’s a bit of that Showa-era goofiness in issue #3, some of that more clinical science approach of the Heisei period [post-1989] later on. It’s not a true, spot-on chronological history of the Godzilla films, but there’s definitely a bit of all of the series in there.”
It’s all tied together by Ota himself, whose attachment to Godzilla remains strong. “The first issue was the hardest for me to write, because I had to figure out what it is exactly that I found so appealing when I first saw Godzilla, then instill that same sense into Ota,” Stokoe explained. “I ended up writing the series as an unrequited love story, which probably sounds a bit goofy for a Godzilla story, but makes a weird kind of sense for the character.”
Tasked with writing and drawing a series so steeped in the Godzilla mythology forced Stokoe to come to terms with exactly what he found so appealing when he first saw Godzilla. “On a surface level, there’s really nothing more charming to me than a guy in an elaborate monster suit destroying intricate miniature sets,” Stokoe said. “That always looks cool to me, even at its crudest.
“Godzilla has always had strong themes attached to it, masked in ridiculous and colorful window dressing, which is something that appeals to me greatly,” Stokoe continued. “I like how the tone and idea of Godzilla has evolved and adapted over the decades to fit those themes.”
Ask Stokoe to name his favorite Godzilla movie, and he’ll have a hard time picking just one. “‘Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack’ probably has some of my favorite scenes in a Godzilla movie, but it’s hard for me to tack down which film is my favorite,” he said. “‘Godzilla 1985’ was the first one I actually owned and ended up watching a million times, so that movie has a special place in my heart. ‘Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster’ is another one. It depends on my mood, really. Right now, I’m feeling pretty ‘Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II.'”
Fans who are as dedicated as Stokoe is will find plenty to like about “The Half-Century War,” but Stokoe wants to make sure he keeps the series accessible to Godzilla newbies as well. “There’s plenty of nods and Easter eggs G-fans will get, but I’m trying my hardest not to cater to anyone in an overly referential way,” he said. “That’s something I’ve always felt is kind of disrespectful to fans. They know their Godzilla knowledge and don’t need me winking at them every other panel to remind them.
“Godzilla is a universally recognizable character and a fairly simple idea to wrap your head around, so I think it will be a pretty easy series to jump in on,” Stokoe continued. “I’m using the first film as a starting point, so a cursory viewing of that might help, but even if you haven’t the vaguest idea of what Godzilla is, it should be fine.”
Stokoe will be returning to work on “Orc Stain” after “The Half-Century War” wraps up, but he appreciated the unique experience of working on a character with so much history. “A licensed property like this, I feel like you need to really think about it and try to take more care,” he said. “There’s been precedent established, so you can’t just wing it like it was your own. You need a respect for the material, and a desire to try and dissect what it is you like about it.”
IDW allowed Stokoe the chance to do just that, and the writer/artist would gladly return for more Godzilla tales down the line. “Toho and IDW have been really great about giving me a good deal of freedom,” he said. “There’s been a couple snags here and there during the scripting process, but it’s all been over licensing stuff and easy to work around.
“IDW just recently got the license for a whole slew of new Toho monsters, so I’ve had quite a few new ideas lately. Someday, I would love to do a story set in Kowloon City during a Godzilla attack.”
“Godzilla: The Half-Century War” #1 is available from IDW in August.