Everybody loves Kaiju — giant monsters that demolish cityscapes and battle each other in epic and destructive conflicts. Everybody, that is, except those affected by their rampages. If Kaiju were real, you’d probably want them locked away somewhere very secure where they’d be no threat to life and property. And in cartoonist Zander Cannon‘s latest series, which debuted in April from Oni Press, that’s exactly what happens.
With equal parts humor and pathos, “Kaijumax” takes readers behind the walls of a penitentiary designed to contain unstoppable engines of destruction. Of course, once these creatures are among their own kind, their behavior is rather different form what we’re used to seeing on the silver screen — it’s entirely human, you might say.
CBR News: We know Godzilla and Mothra and all of that, so I think most of us understand why people don’t want Kaiju roaming free, but in “Kaijumax,” you’ve taken a very different approach with these monsters. They’re not simply large, destructive monsters, right?
Zander Cannon: The approach I’ve taken is that these monsters, when taken out of the context of the usual story that they’re presented in, are really just individuals who are out of step with modern times. The skills and coping strategies that would have ensured survival in a previous era, say in the late Cretaceous, end up running them afoul of the ruling class — humans — regardless of their intentions.
But they do destroy things, right?
Oh, most certainly. Or frighten couples in lovers’ lane, or siphon energy from undersea cables, or drive people to insanity, or stomp nuclear facilities. They run the gamut from young punks hanging on a street corner eating pedestrians to the big yakuza-like bosses telepathically commanding armies of larvae.
Electrogor comes forward as the central protagonist in Issue #1. Where did the central tenet for him come from, and what can you tell readers about his ordeal as he enters Kaijumax?
Every story about a strange new place needs a viewpoint character, and despite the fact that he’s supposed to be very monster-like and alien to us, I wanted to make sure that he had a relatable problem. His kids are in a cave and are too young to take care of themselves, so he finds himself in very vulnerable positions in the prison as he tries to negotiate with people to ensure his children’s safety. This series is nevertheless intended to be an ensemble drama, and the problems and triumphs of the other monsters and guards will rise and fall with each issue.
It doesn’t take Electrogor long to get an idea of who’s who in Kaijumax. For instance, there’s Kang, who keeps all the monsters in line. I suppose we’ll be finding out fairly soon how independent he is and how well he cooperates with the warden?
He’s obviously expected to abide by the rules. Kang is a tough-but-fair type, perhaps a little too much of the hardnosed, by-the-book warden who sees all the inmates as scum. But he’s got some surprising secrets buried in his past that will give us a little context.
And through Ape-Whale’s plight, we begin to witness the power structure within Kaijumax — the blackmailing, the shivving, the who-not-to-mess-with. Even the fresh meat, like Electrogor, is expected to fall right into line, aren’t they?
Certainly. The power structure in Kaijumax is meant to be very rigid, but with the knowledge that it could change drastically at any moment. I like that it makes the characters kind of bored, complacent, and terrified all at once. Bringing in all those different types of characters — representing both various types of monsters, aliens, and cryptids, but also various different types of criminals: gang-bangers, predators, drug-lords, and addicts — makes it quite fun to see an array of reactions to any changes that happen on the island.
I notice that you stayed somewhat away from the most common designs — no giant, green thunder lizards, for example (though there are mecha-Kaiju!). Was it just a case of wanting to create your own designs? Do many of your monsters have origins in established Kaiju lore?
All monsters in the book are meant to evoke classic monsters, whether they’re from monster movies, folklore, video games or comics. I wanted Electrogor to be central, so I gave him a familiar Godzilla-like shape and posture, but changed up the color and texture. Since Godzilla looms so large (ha ha!) in monster movie lore, I wanted to avoid making a direct analogue. Rather, several different characters share certain aspects of certain different eras of Godzilla.
There’s Ape-Whale, who has a disappointing, lumpy son like the Showa-era Minilla; there’s a character named Zonn who humans battled by constructing a mecha-version of him; and there’s Electrogor himself, who, like Godzilla, is more of an anti-hero or a force of nature than a true villain.
How detailed is your map of where “Kaijumax,” as a series, is headed?
I like to structure stories by character, or character group, so I know where they are each headed individually, just not when, and I may not know with whom their story intersects. I have nice endings in mind for a great number of the characters and an overall structure that will allow us to reveal them in a satisfying way.
Do you plan to explore where these Kaiju come from?
There will be a lot of flashbacks to tell us what woeful set of circumstances and bad decisions led all our characters to end up at Kaijumax. They will tend to play themselves out much like the cast of characters in a prison drama: drug use, bad parenting, falling in with the wrong crowd, as well as behind-the-scenes organized crime tales. What I try not to do is make it too monster-movie-esque. I tend to be a world-builder by nature, so I have to focus pretty hard on not getting too wrapped up in my own mythology. Keeping it very crime-oriented and metaphorical keeps the jokes and stories on track.
You’ve had a very diverse career in comics. Do you feel like you’ve maybe managed to avoid some of the typecasting that some artists are saddled with (the good girl artist, the horror artist, etc.)? When you’re considering your next project, are you actively looking for something different to provide a new challenge?
That makes it sound a little more intentional than it actually is. I do like to try new art styles or art materials and see how that affects my style and what I end up creating. Going from stark black and white brushwork (as well as working very small) in “Heck” to an all-digital full-color process with “Kaijumax” introduces a lot of changes to the sort of things I end up drawing even if I don’t do it consciously.
I am pleased that I’m not pigeonholed as one type of artist, although I have to say it was a real hindrance for many years in that no one knew what to do with me. Branding and typecasting seem to be two sides of the same coin, and while branding helps move things along, it can sure be limiting. I’m glad to be able to go from a dark pulp novel to a bright colored Kaiju fantasy and have it not drive people away.
I hope to be working on “Kaijumax” for several years. I have a number of series and novels of various lengths planned that, as I mentioned above, are sort of a grab-bag of artistic experiments and visual approaches. And of course, there are always fun side-jobs like doing illustrations for “Game Informer” magazine or layouts for certain DC comics.
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