Godzilla comic duo on Pacific Rim, Gareth Edwards, and Toho

Godzilla: Rulers Of Earth duo Matt Frank and Chris Mowry on why kaiju are king

Stunning wraparound cover for IDW's Godzilla: Rulers Of Earth #1
Stunning wraparound cover for IDW’s Godzilla: Rulers Of Earth #1

Pacific Rim may have had a soft landing at the US box-office, but its thunderous reception in geek means that bigger is most definitely better. Pacific Rim 2 and Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla reboot may be a long way off, but you can get your kaiju-smackdown fix in thrill-packed monthly instalments courtesy of IDW’s ongoing Godzilla comic-book.

Hitting harder than rocket-punch from Gypsy Danger, the first two issues  Godzilla: Rulers Of Earth have struck that perfect balance between engaging human drama and city-stomping spectacle with a cast of rarely seen Toho behemoths. Writer Chris Mowry and artist Matt Frank spoke exclusively to SciFiNow ahead of the release of Godzilla: Rulers Of Earth #3, on sale 28 August 2013…

Heartwarming opening question: What do you guys love about comics?

Matt Frank: Comics, for me, are a playground for creativity. You can get away with stuff in comics that you can’t in other media, and play with storytelling that you can only tell in comics. Something about being able to slow down and appreciate every aspect of a story (the art, the writing, etc.) can only be found in a medium like comics.

Chris Mowry: I guess I’ve always liked the fact that anything can and will happen. Not just in a monthly story, but the artwork. You see things that no budget can restrain like say in a movie, and no matter what book I read, I’m always somehow adding to that panel in my mind. Sounds, the way people move, etc. It’s no wonder that they’re a global form of entertainment for so many.

How far back does your own association with Godzilla go? Have you always been fans or did working on the IDW series pull you down a thunder lizard rabbit hole?

Frank: My love for Godzilla began when I was pretty young, and it spiralled out of an obsession with dinosaurs, as it did for many fans. Godzilla was the greatest dinosaur ever – a “natural” evolution of how awesome dinosaurs were (and are). Working with IDW on the Godzilla series has only deepened my adoration of this franchise, as working with Toho on a professional level grants one a newfound appreciation for the creative process.

Mowry: Very clichéd answer, but for as far as I can remember. Working at IDW and helping them get the license was just the icing on the monster-sized cake so to speak. Growing up with the films on television every Saturday as well as having the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon series really helped me appreciate the big guy. But then again, I’ve always loved dinosaurs and monsters, so Godzilla was and still is, my absolute favourite. To say I’m living a dream right now is a huge understatement.

Destroyah, last seen in 1995 film Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah is coming in Godzilla: Rulers Of Earth #3.
Destroyah, last seen in 1995 film Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah is coming in Godzilla: Rulers Of Earth #3.

You guys have got a whole ecosystem of Toho critters to bash around, how do you decide where to start?

Frank: For us, we were basing a lot off of the previous ongoing series, especially what had or hadn’t been utilised before. The previous ongoings made good use of the primary cast of Earth-based monsters, and then the space kaiju…and we then noticed that many of the kaiju that were left over were aquatic, and a new story kind of spun out of that.

Mowry: For me, I think it has more to do with what they’d be doing to show up in the story. They’re all characters on their own, but what would they do if they ran across blank monster, or this one? Why would they be there? How would they react? Those things are what Matt and I talked about from the start and we really wanted to not just have them be there just to be there. In Issue #5 you’ll see how some monsters make their appearances and even why they act the way they do.

Has it been difficult creating a cohesive style for all of these Kaiju plucked from different periods in Toho’s history? Finding a way to make Zilla work in the same visual world as Mothra or Rodan, for example?

Frank: As the artist, all of the kaiju go through a certain level of “filtration” when I adapt them into my drawing style. And since Toho’s kaiju are almost all brought to life with suitmation or puppetry, nothing feels too out of place. Heck, Gigan was considered pretty extreme back in the day, but he’s relatively tame compared to the Ultraman kaiju! As for Zilla, he’s not too extreme to stand out all that much. He’s a big, spiky reptile…plenty of those in the Tohoverse!

Mowry: I think it’s been surprisingly easy. Again, it’s really more of a puzzle where instead of forcing them into situations, we try to match up monsters that should or could be in that situation. The rest really just plays out as it should… they’re monsters and they’re going to do what big, mutated animals do.

Godzilla fans have been the fiercest critics of past runs and the loyalist supporters, what’s your technique for keeping them happy?

Frank: Monsters, monsters, monsters! And fights! That seems to be the ticket, after all. We of course like to try and wing some interesting character beats when we have the opportunity, but generally the fans are most excited to see the monsters and what we do with them. This book here was pretty much tailor-made for the fans, so there’s something to that. We’re also trying to add a little more direction and motivation to what’s happening in this universe, which is something fans have also been asking for. It’s a tricky balancing act, no question.

Mowry: I read every review, good and bad and I take them all to heart. But the fans are what really are the most important goal I set for myself. Making them happy is what I feel my job as a writer should be and although Matt and I do have some crazy ideas coming in the next few months, we tend to listen to our “customers” and try to do the best we can. The good thing is that Matt and I are both rabid fans, so we’re just as feisty about our own work as our fans can be. I think that only helps us strive to do the best we can.

In terms of art and story, how do you get that balance right between large scale action and the human element, without one being swamped by the other?

Frank: That’s a tough one. The human element, I believe, is extremely important as a compliment to the kaiju element. And it is difficult to keep everyone happy, especially when the fans are so vocal about wanting more kaiju battles, and kaiju battles are what sell books. Yet sometimes the human story gets swallowed up or tossed aside entirely, which is a problem that many kaiju films also share. If given the opportunity, I’d love to spend whole issues dedicated to our human characters. It was something that was very important to Ishiro Honda, the director of most of Toho’s classic sci-fi films, and we’d like to honour that notion in our own comics.

Mowry: It’s tough on the writing side, and especially with some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that’s happened with the book. We’ve had to rewrite and reshape things numerous times, and all while getting a book out every month. Pretty much the norm for the industry, but I’ll be the first to admit that some things have not gone as planned. However, I always try to get a good mix of both monster action and story in there, but every issue or so, you’ll see one just trumps the other. I mean, come on, if there’s four monsters slugging it out in Vegas, people are going to want to see them destroy things and each other, not a bunch of people reacting to it. So with that streamlined approach, some characters unfortunately just don’t get the screen time they might in a similar book.

How do you collaborate for the larger set-piece action scenes? Is there a lot of back and forth?

Frank: Chris is pretty darn great in his own right at creating dynamic action. I sometimes come up with certain aspects or actions that I request to be integrated into the book, but nowadays Chris is pretty much on the same wavelength that I am, so I don’t need to sweat that angle.

Mowry: At first, yes. I think Matt and I have a good relationship where I can write something and he’ll give his thoughts on it. Usually he’s happy, but if not, he knows that his input is welcomed and appreciated. I mean, I can be either vague or super-detailed at times, so it’s only fair that the artist should say “hey, man, this is a lot of panels to draw” or something like that. But I trust Matt’s judgement and skill. I mean, he’s without a doubt born to draw this stuff and it shows.

It must be exciting to be doing a Godzilla book at a time when Guillermo del Toro is hitting monsters with boats – did you get emotionally invested in the success/failure/reaction to Pacific Rim?

Frank: It was a heck of a flick, so I definitely enjoyed it and hope for its continued success. I don’t think that the domestic under-performance can be attributed to the kaiju genre, especially considering the buzz surrounding the new Godzilla. It was a combination of laser-focused marketing on the Jaegers, leading many to assume it was “just like Transformers,” and the simple fact that it wasn’t Grown Ups 2. It was an unknown, a brand new franchise, whereas Adam Sandler is a known commodity. There’s so much information out there grasping for your attention that it’s hard to take a risk on something brand new. The international numbers and the rabid fanbase attributed to the film are a testament that it has legs in some capacity, so here’s hoping!

Mowry: I liked the film, but I can see where people loved or disliked it. As fans, we haven’t had anything like that in years and for two genres (giant monster and giant robot) clashing like that, it was great to see that done right. The whole thing was just like I had hoped it would be. Granted, I felt some things were a bit too tame, but then again, it was a movie… budget restraints, remember?

Gezora, who first popped up in Toho's Godzilla-free 1970 monster movie Space Amoeba, will also be returning for Rulers Of Earth
Gezora, who first popped up in Toho’s Godzilla-free 1970 monster movie Space Amoeba, will also be returning for Rulers Of Earth

As fans, what’re your hopes for Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla?

Frank: At this point, I’m past hoping for the standard checkboxes on my Godzilla Fan Rulebook. Looks like Godzilla? Check. Nuclear proliferation themes? Check. Other monsters? Check. Good actors? Check. At this point? I just want a good movie. Something that works fundamentally and isn’t just shrieking noise like so many blockbusters. Fingers crossed!

Mowry: I’m really looking forward to it. I was able to meet Max Borenstein (one of the writers for the film) and Gareth Edwards at San Diego Comic-Con. I just ran into Mr Edwards one night, but I gave them both copies of Rulers Of Earth #1 and #2 and told them that we’re all looking forward to it. From all that I’ve heard and seen, it’s going to be done right. From the news that’s been posted, to things I may or may not have seen from other sources, I have absolute faith in the team behind it. I think it’s going to do for Godzilla what Tim Burton’s Batman did for that franchise. I think it’s going to take people back to the origins of the monster and show that he’s not a tail-sliding, self-magnetising, flying-via-breath monster that so many might remember him as. Nothing wrong with the Showa stuff at all (it’s my favourite era), but I think we’ll see the horror and grittiness of the first film, reborn for a new audience. I’m just bummed that they didn’t ask me to play Godzilla… I’ve been auditioning for that role all my life. Hear that, Mr. Edwards? Please?

What should we look out for in issue 3 of Rulers Of Earth?

Frank: The major point of this coming issue is that people often forget that monsters come in all shapes and SIZES. There’s more threats out there…and many of those threats aren’t even monsters, per se. We’re close to revealing our Invaders from Beyond the Moon (that’s a good band name…), so that’s a major aspect we’re going to be having fun with.

Mowry: The plot of the story thickens big time. We’ll see just who might be behind the monster invasions and how Godzilla may have met his match. Just because he’s on the cover to Issue #4 doesn’t mean that he… well, I won’t spoil anything.

Pick up Godzilla: Rulers Of Earth from all good comic stores, or digitally from Comixology