"Super Kaiju Hero Force" is a brand new comic book released exclusively on Apple's iPhone device. Co-created by Casey Lau and Jeff Kwan of Crispy Comics, "Kaiju" tells the story of three youngsters - Rory Robinson, Connor McCoy and his younger brother Kieran - who travel from America to Tokyo to visit the set of their favorite television series, "Colossal Man." But as things so often go in comic book fare, the boys encounter a bevy of creatures during their excursion - and might even become the fearsome "Super Kaiju Hero Force" themselves!
With comic book, anime and video game references permeating the story, "Super Kaiju Hero Force" is clearly a book made by proud geeks for proud geeks. And while it has plenty of merit on its own feet, "Kaiju" is most distinguishable for its exclusivity on the iPhone. With no plans in sight for a print release, comic book enthusiasts will need to head to the nearest Apple store in order to access the monster smash-up fest that is "Super Kaiju Hero Force" - and the creators couldn't be any happier about that.
Casey Lau, one of the co-creators of "Super Kaiju Hero Force," sat down with CBR News for an interview conducted by way of his trusty iPhone's Google Talk application. During our conversation, Lau discussed the semi-autobiographical nature of "Kaiju," his geek culture influences, the shift of comics from print to digital methods and what that means for comic books as an industry.
CBR: Here we are, conducting an interview over Google Talk with you over there on your iPhone. Are you a big technology geek?
Casey Lau: Yes, absolutely! But I was late to the iPhone party. I came on with the 3G version. But I'm definitely an early adopter [of technology], sometimes to my own detriment. I jumped into flash based comics before broadband was everywhere. I did video web content before YouTube.
And now you're putting a comic book out exclusively over the iPhone. How'd that idea come up?
This time, I think the device has caught up with expectations. The screen is incredible and it seemed to us that Apple's distribution model will make money for developers. We put this out over the iPhone not because print is bad, but because we wanted to see how original content would be accepted on a mobile device. Also, at this early stage, there seems to be less competition for eyeballs.
Do you feel like you're the king of the hill or do you feel like maybe you've gotten to the party too early -- or too late?
Great question. The iPhone comic scene has a few players - most are reformatting print to mobile and they are feeding a new breed of readers. These people have probably never been to a comic shop before, but love comic books and sequential art. How can you resist being part of that? [My co-creator Jeff Kwan] and I have been working on tons of new concepts and just basically decided to jump in on the iPhone as our first platform. As far as exclusively original content, I honestly have not seen any yet other than "Super Kaiju Hero Force," but someone told me that Clickwheel has some original stuff.
Here's a comic analogy for you: it's like the "Micronauts." Remember when they first came out with "Ka-Zar" and "Moon Knight?" Marvel made them direct sales only. So imagine a young Casey Lau who only bought comics at a 7-11 store, and he entered a world of different comics at a comic book store. That's kind of the way we're envisioning this. There's a new world of comics waiting for you when you get one of these amazing new devices. You can download a new issue wherever you are - on the bus, at school, on a beach - comics are coming through the airwaves to your handheld device. I think the iPhone and Kindle are only the Betamax of what's to come.
Are we talking about the death of print?
I don't really like that kind of talk. I'm a graphic designer and I love paper. So the death of print or paper... maybe one day it will be used differently. There's that one "Star Trek" movie where they give Kirk the book - Bones give him the book. It just looked so special even then. Maybe it's the next generation of nomadic digerati that will not care about paper anymore. But I think the internet has proven already that print is starting to get killed off, as people get their content online.
Certainly in comic books, we're starting to see that fear right now, especially with Diamond Comic Distributors making its order requirements so much stricter. New creators are struggling to get their books listed, so why turn to that medium when you can put out a webcomic?
Yes, and webcomics will get you more readers. I guess it's like the Hollywood thing - the comic book is the most pure and distinct version of a creator's voice, but if you can cash in on the movie, why not? Also, I still think print legitimizes you in some people's eyes.
One writer I really admire is Cory Doctorow - that guy put his book online for free! Of course he did it to pump up his print sales, but still its just awesome the level of eyeballs you can get when there are no physical borders.
When you and Jeff Kwan had your initial discussions about releasing "Kaiju," was there talk about doing this as a more traditional webcomic on a website, or did you know from the word go that you'd be putting this out over the iPhone?
We're such rebels, we said iPhone or nothing. Actually, it was developed as an animated series. When that fell on the wayside, we wanted to make it a comic book. Then I got the iPhone 3G. Bu the cartoon version would have been very sanitized, so by doing it ourselves, we get to be a little more open with the dialogue.
The tone is sort of like "Shrek," where there are a lot of jokes that a kid won't understand, but a more mature person definitely understands the wordplay.
Thanks so much! That's exactly the style we're going for, I'm glad that came across. We always modeled it after "The Simpsons." That is a great show to watch if you were a kid when it came out, and then as you grow up you get the other jokes - that's when Homer becomes better than Bart. I only wanted Bart stuff when I was a kid. Now I need the Homer Duff Beer plus doll. Barney, Krusty and Mr. Smithers look more realistic as you get older!
So far, in the first two issues, you haven't explicitly said the kids turn into the monsters - but you can tell who's who by the shared coloring between the characters, right?
Yes. That's the tough thing about doing a first issue. Since we're going to do the origin story, you don't see them as Kaiju until I think #4. So we decided to do it as a flashback so you can see them in the first chapter. It really does spiral into total chaos by #5.
How long have you been itching to do a big monster beat-'em-up book like this? Has this specific story been percolating in your mind for a while?
Yeah. I love monsters. I love this Japanese show called "Ultraman," and basically "Super Kaiju Hero Force" is a total riff on it. That show has been around since 1966 and they used miniature sets to make everyone look gigantic. Fast-forward to 2009 - "Ultra Galaxy" - it's still dudes in suits with small sets! It's so hilarious to see. The effects are kind of cool now but the minimal movement of the "Kaiju" in foam rubber suits is so hilarious. Sure it's for kids, but I enjoy it like I enjoy William Shatner's acting in the '60s.
Aside from the whole turning into a monster thing, how autobiographical is "Kaiju?"
It's my dream life. I just got back from a trip to Tokyo, and "Kaiju" is my dream life. My real one isn't so exciting. Tokyo is like Las Vegas - it's just another world. You just cannot believe it. I'm a pretty optimistic guy, so while I love Ben Grimm, he's always so sad to be The Thing. The kids in my story are so happy to become Kaiju. That might be a T-shirt - "Happy to be a Kaiju!"
Can the kids turn their "Kaiju mode" off, or are they locked into monster form?
I think that the Ben Grimm reference should give you a hint.
What's the collaboration process like with Jeff Kwan, your co-creator?
We've worked together for years. We're like the two guys that are always talking about Wolverine versus the Hulk, and what if Lou Ferrigno was really the Hulk and Bill Bixby was really Bruce Banner - it keeps us young!
The initial germ for "Kaiju" was my idea. I wanted to do this. So I wrote a complete first bible myself, then it goes to Jeff and he does a pass at it. We go back and forth until we're happy with it. Since it was an animation idea, it has a full bible with a season's worth of ideas. Now as an iPhone comic, I write the plotlines and he puts dialogue on the art, Marvel style. Then we put it in that Blendtec blender and out pops a new chapter.
Putting this together for the iPhone screen is very trial and error. You can kind of see a different feel to #2 over #1. We don't want to cram stuff in, but it's hard. So it's a learning process, but we're having a blast.
Looking forward in that Tony Stark futurist way, where do you see the comic book industry going? We've talked about the "death of print" - or maybe the "evolution of print" would be a kinder term - where do you think comics are headed?
As a format, comics will not change, but the distribution method will. Webcomics are getting bigger and bigger. I think motion comics are already an interesting move. I'm amazed that Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev are doing original motion comics - that is bold!
For more on "Super Kaiju Hero Force," head over to Crispy Comics.