Gojira! Those who have enjoyed James Stokoe’s psychopathically detailed art on Image Comics’ Orc Stain or recently supported his Kickstarter hit Sullivan’s Sluggers are going to get a mega-dose of destruction in August when he chronicles 50 years of atomic lizard mayhem in Godzilla: Half-Century War, a look at what it would really be like to live with cinema’s most famous lizard constantly destroying Tokyo. We talked with Stokoe about his new work and Godzilla fandom, and even got some color and black-and-white preview images!
Newsarama: James, tell us about your Godzilla series – the basic set-up, potential non-Godzilla characters, etc.
James Stokoe: The series starts out in 1954, during Godzilla's first stroll through Tokyo. It follows Ota Murakami and his pal Kentaro Yoshihara, two soldiers who end up getting enlisted in the Anti Megalosaurus Force as experimental weapons testers after their run in with Godzilla.
Every issue takes place roughly 10 years after the last, so at the start they're totally fascinated and awestruck at this monster they're having to deal with, but as the years go on with no solution in sight, the frustration and desperation sets in.
When I started writing, I immediately thought about doing a Moby Dick-type story about dangerous obsession and what not, but scrapped that because it felt too cynical and didn't really reflect what I love about Godzilla.
I ultimately set it up as almost an unrequited love story, where the main character dedicates his existence to chasing this monster and in turn is barely noticed. Ota and company basically spend their lives doing that childhood thing of punching the pretty girl in the arm and then running away.
And of course, all this is wrapped up in big monster fights, masers, black-hole guns, absurd destruction, etc, which is the meat and potatoes of any good Godzilla story.Nrama: How did you come to work on the book?
Stokoe: I think my wonderful gentleman editor, Bobby Curnow, had been looking for artists for their first couple series and had seen one of my Godzilla fan comics online, and asked me to try out. I remember being in my Godzilla feet slippers, and drinking from my Godzilla coffee mug when I read the email, so I kind of flipped out and yelled "WELL, DUH!".
I did some samples off of a script (I think it was one of Eric Powell's?) and they dug it. Originally I was going to do one of the miniseries with a writer, but I got greedy and asked if I could pitch my own story, fully expecting to be turned down. But they didn't, and now I feel like I successfully pulled off the greatest scam of my career! Getting paid for drawing Godzilla!
Nrama: What's it been like working with IDW?Stokoe: It's been really great, I can't say enough good things about them. When I've worked on things like Orc Stain or Wonton Soup, the editorial tends to be pretty hands off and I'm left to my own devices, which I enjoy for my more personal stuff, but on Godzilla I've been working much more closely with my editor Bobby, whose been an enormous help. He helped tighten up the story a lot, mitigated what would or would not fly with Toho approvals, etc.
They're really great guys and gals over there, and I'd help them bury bodies out in the desert if they asked. My coloring assistant, Heather Breckel, should also be named, as she has probably saved me weeks of grueling toil.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about your fondness for Godzilla – what the character/films mean to you.
Stokoe: Godzilla vs Mothra was the first movie I ever remember seeing as a five-year-old kid, and the series has stuck with me for over 20 more years. I loved Godzilla before I got into books, comics, video games, whatever, and it's been the only thing that I've consistently been interested in for my entire life. I even had a Godzilla on my wedding cake!It's hard to narrow down what exactly it is that I love about it, but it's just the epitome of cool and probably irreversibly ingrained into my being.
Nrama: What will set this apart from other Godzilla comics, such as the Art Adams one or the one where he fought Charles Barkley? Because that's a hard one to top, let me tell you.
Stokoe: I'm sad to say that Godzilla will not be slam dunking the Grand Canyon in this series, nor fighting the Spanish Armada.
I think your question answered itself, really. I just want to do a straight up, no frills Godzilla story. The themes and concept behind Godzilla are so perfectly simple and easy to jump into that you don't really need much to spice it up.
For a while there, the comics always seemed to assign themselves some kind of bizarre novelty. The Art Adams/Randy Stradley/and company's stuff definitely was the closest to what I want from a Godzilla comic. They seemed to be mining deeper into the Showa era of the films than I probably am, though.
Also, I read the first issue of Duane Swierczynski and Simon Gane's new ongoing and thought it was really brilliant, and am looking forward to where they're going to take it. If IDW keeps putting out different Godzilla series from different creators, I can't see how that is a bad thing.You can do goofy heel-clicking Showa Godzilla, trippy acid flashback Hedorah Godzilla, paranoid Cold War 1985 Godzilla... if you treat Godzilla as a giant, walking theme then there's so much you can do with it.
Nrama: Will we be seeing other Toho monsters in this, or will you be creating any of your own creatures? If so, could you tell us about them?
Stokoe: I'm going to be sticking to the Toho stable of monsters for this one. I do kind of ashamedly think like a Godzilla purist, and am a bit annoyed whenever a non-Toho monster shows up. It's a new experience for me to approach working on a book as a fan first and a creator second, but that's been built into my DNA at this point, so there's no helping it.
This definitely won't be my most creative book from a new ideas standpoint, I'm more focused on trying to find ways on how to adapt what I love from the films into a comic book without making it a mess.
I've been kicking myself lately, because IDW just recently got the licenses for a slew of new Toho monsters which they didn't have when I started. I've had to rethink my big monster battle royale issue so I can include some of my favorites.Nrama: What do you feel is the fundamental appeal of a big lizard destroying balsa-wood cities?
Stokoe: On a more surface level, it's exactly that. It's that bizarre charm of watching those intricately made miniature cities being destroyed by a guy dressed up as an atom bomb/ecological disaster metaphor.
We don't get that kind of thing over here in North America, we seem to be stuck much more in believability than in charm. I'd rather see the wires and zippers than another uninspired CG robot doing a backflip.
Nrama: And a new printing of the Orc Stain trade just came out – with all your other projects, do you see yourself returning to that book in the near future?
Stokoe: Oh yeah, definitely. After Godzilla is wrapped up, I'm going back into Orc Stain full time. Get that dead horse back on its feet. I figure there's about five or six more trades of Orc Stain until I get to the end.
Godzilla (repeatedly) destroys Tokyo in Godzilla: Half-Century War this August.