Zander Cannon Kaijumax S2 Issue 3

Last year, Oni Press and Zander Cannon teamed up to deliver one of the most critically acclaimed comics in recent years, KAIJUMAX. The story of an alternate world where kaijus and humans live together in a state that could never be described as harmony. In fact, most kaijus are rounded up and herded to a prison for crimes they may or may not have committed. It’s a bright, brilliant take on kaijus that hasn’t been explored in any medium before. With issue #3 of KAIJUMAX: SEASON 2 coming out this Wednesday, ComicsVerse got an exclusive opportunity to talk to Zander Cannon about KAIJUMAX, its origins and his creative process.

Zander Cannon Season 1

ComicsVerse: At the end of the trade for KAIJUMAX: SEASON ONE, your letter states that you resisted a lot of things before creating the series. Working for smaller publishers, monthly titles, writing and drawing on your own are a few examples you bring up in the letter. What is it about KAIJUMAX that made you get past those things?

Zander Cannon: I spent a lot of my 30s being pretty cautious about what I got myself into. I’m married, and we have a son who is 8 now. I felt, once I was 30, that I really needed to be professional and consistent and make good money, so I took jobs that — I thought — were low-risk and paid consistently. Sometimes I was right and sometimes I was wrong, but I was almost always somewhat dissatisfied. Either I was working on projects that were uninteresting, or my input was so small that I didn’t have much impact on or investment in the work, or I killed myself making it fun and interesting and it just didn’t go anywhere. KAIJUMAX (and before that, Heck) was a complete reversal on my conventional so-called wisdom about what sort of job to take. To look at it made me think: it’s too big, it’s too fast, I’m taking on too much, there’s not enough money, etc. But the truth of the matter was: I was unhappy doing anything other than the whole job, and there was never as much money as I thought in cranking out stuff for whoever wanted it.

So at age 40 or 41, I was going back to doing the sort of thing that you only expect these young people with no fear to do: every writing and art chore, on a tight schedule, for a middle-sized publisher. But the difference was that I’m far, far more efficient, skilled, and savvy now than I was 20 years ago, and I can see the bumps coming (sometimes) long before I used to be able to. I’ve seen that it isn’t really worth it (for me, anyway) to do work for hire. I’ve seen that having a publisher with a lower bottom line means that I am more valuable to them and can have greater leeway and we can take greater risks together. And I’ve seen that the reason I became a cartoonist in the first place wasn’t to just draw some funny pictures, it was to engineer an experience — a unique experience, hopefully — that people could enjoy.

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CV: KAIJUMAX isn’t the first comic book series with kaijus that you’ve worked on. I know in previous interviews you’ve stated that a lot of the inspiration behind this title comes from ULTRAMAN. After reading TOP 10, the book you co-created with Alan Moore and Gene Ha, I have to ask if characters like Ernesto and Gograh from TOP 10 lend any influence to the world you’ve built in KAIJUMAX?

ZC: Absolutely. There was a line in TOP 10 said by Gograh that got a lot of my initial thoughts going about doing a monster book. He complains in one issue that all of the monsters on the Monster Island equivalent didn’t drink; they were just a bunch of potheads. I loved that kind of weird, seedy anthropomorphism that popped up here and there in TOP 10, and I wanted to do a monster book that went into their relationships beyond just being enemies or allies for one movie at a time.

Zander Cannon TOP 10 gograh

CV: One of the most fascinating things about KAIJUMAX is that each species of kaiju have their own culture practices, loyalties, and religions. What species have you enjoyed developing the most?

ZC: I actually really love the Cryptids. I haven’t shown them that much, which wasn’t intentional. I had several plots that were going to weave into the first season, but they didn’t end up fitting, so they’re going to form the backbone of Season 3. I basically based them on the Aryan Brotherhood in that they’re solitary to the point of nonexistence on the outside of the prison, but then form one of the most powerful and violent gangs on the inside. I also kind of like giving them this false persecution complex that they pull out anytime someone starts challenging them. And most of all, I like that the parallel isn’t exact; it isn’t a racial thing just transferred over. I like that it — barely — makes its own internal sense rather than just being a mystery to unlock. The Cryptids can have a Sasquatch, and a Mokole Mbembe, and a Chupacabra and they’re all part of the same team, even if a Congolese person and a Mexican person wouldn’t exactly be welcomed into the Aryan Brotherhood with open arms.

READ: Want more Oni Press interviews? Check out this one with the creative team from RICK AND MORTY!

CV: In KAIJUMAX, the kaijus have a distinct dialect they use when talking to one another. What did you look to for inspiration in their speech?

ZC: There are a couple different aims when I do that. The main one is color. The book is so downbeat and grim in tone that I like to punch it up with some jokes, just so I can constantly remind readers that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The second thought is just the raw X + Y aspect of KAIJUMAX. For every monster trope, there’s a corresponding prison/crime trope, and I try to have the language reflect that. Third is logic. I try to have them not use idioms that have something to do with the human experience and instead make them more reflective of being huge monsters. That’s not a major consideration, but when it occurs to me, and it doesn’t make the dialogue too clunky, I try to weave it in as best as I can. The last consideration is simply appropriateness. I try to keep the comic kind of PG-13, so I don’t want there to be any actual swearing. I know a lot of people feel like the ship has kind of sailed on any teen-friendliness in KAIJUMAX, but I feel like it does a lot toward reminding readers that this is all in fun; there’s dark stuff going on, but it’s all kind of a satire and a comedy-drama, rather than something that is deathly serious.

Zander Cannon Kaijumax cover

CV: Prison drama and kaiju cinema are two vastly different genres in tone and direction. KAIJUMAX meshes the two perfectly in a bright, cartoonish style, and I feel like that has a lot to do with the color. Why did you decide to approach a dark story with such a bright color palette?

ZC: Part of it is just the way that I color. I initially intended it to be a more subdued palette, but frankly, I was not sophisticated enough as a colorist to hit that mark on a regular basis. Once I started seeing what was coming out, I started really liking that it pushed my art in peculiar directions. My natural inclination can sometimes be to work with desaturated or cool colors, and throwing a hot pink or glowing green in there really made me have to work extra hard to balance it out. Now I really enjoy the process of thinking about the color schemes of each section of the comic and how that will herald tone changes and such things like that: all the stuff that REAL colorists do all the time. And, like you say, it helps to both make what would be a pretty grim story seem more palatable.

LISTEN: Are kaijus your guilty pleasure? Find out ours on the GUILTY PLEASURES PODCAST!

CV: As mentioned in my first question, KAIJUMAX is the first monthly comic you’re working on where you are the sole writer and artist. How does your creative process differ working on this title in comparison to TOP 10 or HECK?

ZC: In TOP 10, I was just one link in the chain. Alan came before me, and Gene, Todd Klein, and the colorist came after. A huge part of my job was just to be fast. That training has really paid off in the long run. (I wasn’t particularly fast then, but my storytelling chops have gotten fairly speedy at this point.) HECK was another work process altogether. I did that while I was doing a great deal of other illustration, storyboarding, layout, and comics work, and I would approach it as a stream-of-consciousness attack that would basically be 2 or 3 separate days a month, in which I would do 6 or 8 pages a day. You can tell, and I like that roughness and how the simplicity and intuitiveness (and uninventiveness, really) of the storytelling pulls you through the page at a pretty good clip. On KAIJUMAX, the big difference is that I’m balancing a lot of storylines (like I had done on STAR TREK, and TRANSFORMERS, and the TOP 10s I wrote) but on a very tight deadline, which made me have to become quite a bit more efficient and better at planning. I try to keep the storytelling pretty intuitive and workmanlike so that you aren’t distracted from the content by the technique, and I have been taking some of the tricks I learned from HECK to try to get more content on the page and make it more of a story than a showcase for my new best drawings. I end up feeling like most of the pages are kind of 80% perfect, which I think works for comics, and keeps it feeling a little unpolished and alive.

Zander Cannon Kaijumax fight

CV: KAIJUMAX: SEASON 2 started two months ago and the third issue will be coming out on July 6th. What should readers look forward to happening to these characters as the series progresses?

ZC: The second season takes place almost entirely outside the prison, and ostensibly follows Electrogor as he tries to get to his children. But the nature of a fugitive story involves a lot of police work and unwilling allies and so forth, so there are a number of digressions and grim atmospheric stories that fill in some of the gaps of what the world is like on the outside of the prison. I wanted to approach it all with a sense of unchangeability, which flies in the face of the story that has the main character wanting to change his life. And so all the incidental characters, whether they are parolees or drug addicts or predators or cops just doing their job or whatever, are trapped in a kind of whirlpool they can’t escape, where they have to find whatever little bits of happiness they can.

The character of Jeong, the guard that begins to grow additional armor and weapons all over his body in response to a trauma, hitting rock bottom and trying to find a way to get his life back on track, gives the story an upward tilt, and I like the fact that all that weaponry hanging around on his back has a Chekhov’s Gun kind of vibe about it. The other main character, Chisato, a fast-learning but naive police rookie, is very helpful as someone who can see a lot of things for the first time with readers but provides a moral center to the story. She can be pulled in one direction or another, but more than anyone else, her heart is in the right place. It’s nice to have a “good guy” character, because when everyone’s awful, you feel compelled to punish them all the time, and that’s not always fun to read. But more than anything, I think it is fun to have two relatable and sympathetic characters, Chisato and Electrogor, leading two parallel narratives, with the implicit understanding that they are going to come into conflict by the end, which leaves it a little up in the air who you are going to root for.

LISTEN: For another great interview, check out our podcast with Greg Rucka!

There you have it, folks, an in-depth look into the world of KAIJUMAX and the mind of Zander Cannon. The series is two issues into the second season now, and it continues to be as ground-breaking as the first. We’re happy to bring this interview to you readers; ComicsVerse will continue to cover and drool over KAIJUMAX and Cannon’s work! For more KAIJUMAX, make sure to pick up KAIJUMAX: SEASON TWO #3 from your local comic shop or online this Wednesday, Juley 4th 2016! You can find more from Zander Cannon on his Tumblr and Twitter!

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