Starting life as a webcomic before being first brought to print thanks to Kickstarter, Jason Copland and Michael May’s Kill All Monsters is getting the omnibus treatment from Dark Horse. Kill All Monsters is the story of a small, desperate team of human-piloted giant robots who go searching for a secret that may help them carry out the title’s command. The perfect summer movie in super-sized, widescreen comics form drops July 19th. Nick Hanover got in touch with Copland and May to discuss the Kaiju revival, influences on the book’s style, and how current events have shaped the creative team’s feelings about their apocalyptic narrative.
Nick Hanover for Comics Bulletin: When you originally released Kill All Monsters back in 2013, Pacific Rim was just coming out and it seemed like we might be in the midst of a major kaiju revival. Now that KAM is getting the omnibus treatment, do you think culture at large is more eager for kaiju material? What are some of the kaiju works that have sprung up since that you’re most impressed with?
Michael May: I hadn’t really thought of it as a revival, but you’ve got a point. The year after Pacific Rim we had Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, which was followed by Toho’s Shin Godzilla last year. In between those we had Jurassic World, which isn’t a full-on kaiju movie, but scratched that itch for a lot of people, including me. And this year was Kong: Skull Island, which is leading into a Godzilla crossover. Whatever we want to call it, it’s a cool time for fans of giant monster movies.
I haven’t seen Shin Godzilla yet, but I loved Edwards’ Godzilla and I loved Kong: Skull Island even more. Edwards’ movie gets criticized for not having enough Godzilla in it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film’s slow build-up to an amazing finish. And I don’t even have to apologize for Skull Island. That was just awesome on every level.
I can’t talk about recent kaiju stuff without also mentioning Zander Cannon’s brilliant Kaijumax, a comic book series that puts giant monsters into a prison drama like Oz or Orange is the New Black. He’s done two “seasons” so far and the third is starting the week before the Kill All Monsters Omnibus comes out. So that’ll be a great couple of weeks for giant monster and giant robot fans.
Jason Copland: I think the audience for new kaiju material has definitely been growing since the first KAM collection hit the comic shop shelves. The movies Michael mentioned above have helped create a real interest in giant monsters destroying stuff, something I think we can all agree is awesome news.
I enjoyed Godzilla and Kong quite a bit; I have yet to see Shin Godzilla but it looks fantastic. There is an amazing comic called Enormous by Tim Daniel and Mehdi Cheggour that stars some inspired giant monsters designs and some explosive action. People should track that down. I’m also a big fan of IDW’s various Godzilla mini-series. Oh and James Biggie and Frankie B. Washington’s Robot God Akamatsu is a ton of fun.
May: Oh, man. I second RGA. James and Frankie are the best.
Which historical kaiju do you think would offer the greatest challenge for the KAM team?
May: I’m terrified of King Ghidorah. Three heads and the ability to create gravity beams and manipulate energy. I have no idea what his energy attacks would do to the Bots’ systems. Plus he can fly through outer space. When he’s introduced in the movies, he sounds like one of Lovecraft’s Old Gods. If I’m the Kill Team, I’m booking it far, far away from him.
Copland: To be honest, most classic Kaiju would probably beat our lovable Kill Team. I have a feeling that the technology used for these machines would not stand up to a breath attack from Godzilla or the buzzsaw blade of Gigan. But maybe the skill of the pilots would give the Kill Team an edge…? Good question.
Even at the start, KAM was a very confident and focused work, with a lot of discipline in its narrative and impressive character design that made it feel like a fully fleshed out book rather than a work in progress. When you were revisiting it for this collection, were there any decisions that stood out to you as something you would do differently now? What are some elements of the comic that you feel are better than you remembered?
May: We actually did tweak some of the previously published stuff for the omnibus. Mostly dialogue, but there was a page of art that had to be redone. Not that there was anything wrong with the art on the original page, but there was something that I needed to set up better for the second half of the book and it meant that Jason had to redraw something. Which thankfully he didn’t kill me for. None of the changes affected the plot in a major way; we just wanted to make sure that we earned some of the things that occur in the last half of the book.
As far as elements that are better than I remembered: I really like Archer, the AI robot who’s kind of being forced on the team against their better judgment. I like the tension that he brings to the tightly knit group, but mostly I just like him as a personality.
And I like the reveal about Spencer’s physical condition. I’m so used to him that I’d forgotten what a cool moment that is.
Copland: Overall, I’m still very happy with all the art from the early years. I think I might have touched up a few faces here and there for the Omnibus but nothing anyone would ever notice.
The Eiffel Tower scene still stands out as the moment we decided as storytellers to really go for it. The gloves come off right there.
A big part of what I enjoy about Kill All Monsters is its signature aesthetic, it seems to be inspired by 2000 AD-style sci-fi as it is by manga and kaiju movie posters. What went into honing that style? What was the character and monster creation process like?
May: Jason should speak to the visual style, but a friend of mine pointed out to me that there’s a Thundarr the Barbarian feel to some of the world and I think that’s right. It wasn’t a conscious thing I was trying to imitate, but I loved that cartoon as a kid and I love the little I’ve seen of Jack Kirby’s Kamandi comics, so when I think post-apocalyptic world, that’s the imagery that springs to mind. I’m sure that influenced the script.
When it comes to creating the characters and monsters, I’m pretty loose in my descriptions. Especially the monsters. I’ll tell Jason maybe one or two things about a monster just so I have an idea of what it can do in the fight I’m writing, but then the design is all his.
Copland: The mech designs started from the descriptive names Michael gave them: Skullbot, Lionbot and Storkbot. As I worked through the designs I took inspiration from the old Shogun Warriors comics I grew up reading. I love the simplicity of the Shogun designs and tried to keep the KAM mechs from getting too complex, visually.
The monster designs are tons of fun to work out. Michael tends to give me two word descriptions like “seaweed monster” or “bug monster” and a list of the things that the monsters can/will do in the story and then I just have at it. I try to make the monsters unique by staying away from a humanoid shape. It’s a challenge but I think it helps KAM be more interesting.
Regarding the visual style of the book, it’s just how I draw. Years of drawing has led me to where I am now, stylistically speaking. The book is just me having fun and drawing the way I want to draw. The use of zip tone was a new element that I was excited to introduce, though, and the grayscale aspect was something that we sort of stumbled upon after we were finished pitching the book. After pitching KAM as a full colour book, we stepped back and considered making it a B&W book which would ring truer to the pulpy nature of the story. Once I did a few pages in grayscale, we knew we had the final visual component we were looking for.
Although KAM is a story about monsters taking over the world, like most good disaster stories it’s also about human perseverance and behavior. When the comic was first coming out, society seemed to be in a more hopeful place, whereas now things feel pretty dire to a lot of us. Has that shift in society altered your own perception of this story?
May: I think that’s really interesting, because as dark as the world feels right now, and as big a fan of Barack Obama as I am, I didn’t feel like society was ever in that hopeful a place during his administration. I mean, look at all the dystopian futures that were created in pop culture over the last eight years. It’s a bleak landscape. Global warming and terrorism and gun violence and racial injustice were still terrifying realities. We certainly have additional fears to wrestle with now that we didn’t have then, but when we were making KAM, we were doing it in the middle of a world without a lot of hope.
That said, the world that we now live in does add a new perspective to the story. When I was writing the script, the world seemed messed up, but there was no one person or group of people to blame for our troubles. All of us messed up the environment. And the horror of random shootings in this country and terrorism all over the world was evidence that whole cultures and societies needed looking at and fixing. There was no evil mastermind behind it all. So the “villain” in our story has always been Nature itself, with some hard questions being asked about humanity’s role in its own suffering.
The difference since last November is that now we do have someone to hold up as The Villain. Many of us have a specific, human face to put on our troubles. And what’s weird and coincidental is that our story does that, too. Anyone who’s read the Kickstarter volume knows that there’s a big twist that creates a human enemy in addition to Nature. There were dramatic reasons that led us to that, but it also speaks to a deep need that humans have to simplify our problems. Nature is such a big adversary, but if we can identify a group of people to fight, then that gives us hope that maybe we can prevail.
The tragedy is that even if we fix the problem of the US’ current leadership, we’ll still have the same issues to deal with that we did before Trump took office. Just like the Kill Team – once they’ve dealt with their human adversary – will still have giant problems to deal with. I don’t mean to make light of very real troubles and fears by comparing them to issues in our fiction, but our book was always meant to reflect and comment on real world problems, so I hope it’s able to do that successfully on some level.
This omnibus collection gives us a glimpse at how some of the rest of the world is fighting back against the monsters outside of the core Africa-based group the main story follows. Will the next volume go further with this? What are some locations and characters you’re eager to show off?
May: We’ve hinted at Canada and Japan in the extra stories that are in the omnibus, so I expect that they’ll be among the first to get fleshed out more. But the beauty of Kill All Monsters to me is that since the giants are a global crisis, we can go anywhere on the planet to deal with them. I’d especially like to do something in the southeastern US though, since that’s where I grew up. And it would be amazing seeing the Kill Team fight giant monsters in the Himalayas. That’s something that needs to happen.
Copland: I tend to stay out of Michael’s way where crafting the story is concerned. I give little to no input at the start of a script. So reading the script is always a blast for me because I am learning about the world like any other reader of KAM would. Sometimes I will suggest pacing or story elements but I do that after the bulk of the story has been written.
Having said that, I would love to see a Canadian robot in the mix!
One of my favorite characters in the story is the rookie AI robot Archer, his arc involving his desire to be accepted by his human peers is a high point of KAM, in my opinion. Given the ending of the first volume of KAM, it seems like Archer’s role in the story is only going to grow. What inspired his creation? There seems to be a little of Iron Giant in his design and personality.
May: I’m sure there’s some Iron Giant DNA in Archer, because I love that movie, but he comes from a different place. We came up with Archer because even though we kept referring to giant robots when we talked about the story, there actually weren’t any. They’re human-piloted mechs. And it seemed like a natural development to get a bona fide AI robot on the team. As great as our human characters are at piloting their Bots, there’s still a delay in reaction time as they come up with fight strategies and then push buttons to make their Bots execute those plans. How much more efficient to have an AI run the whole thing.
But that opened up a scary can of worms in a world where technology had previously gotten so out of control that it created giant monsters. So our heroes are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of giving up that control again. And their fears are completely understandable.
On the other side of that, we have Archer who’s got a sweet, innocent personality, so how can you hate him? That felt like a great tension to put the characters and the audience in.
Copland: The addition of Archer was genius. It talks fully about the unease that we as humans feel about handing over much of our control of tasks to technology. I’m not sure where Michael is going to go with the AI angle but I can see Archer playing the role of the hero just as much as I can see him playing the villain. That’s exciting to me.
Outside of Kill All Monsters, what projects do you have in the works together and separately?
May: Nothing that I can talk about yet, but I’m working on a few things, both in comics and prose. Jason and I are beyond excited to do more Kill All Monsters though, if there’s an audience for it. Dark Horse, too. We just have to see how this book does first.
Copland: I’m currently drawing issues #3-5 of IDW’s Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth. A dream job, for me! After that I will be finishing the writing of my first large story and then doing a Kickstarter for it. It’s called FULL TILT and it’s my chance to draw anything and everything I want, so I’m stoked about that. I know there will be more KIll All Monsters, too. How could there not be more, right?