Kaijumax is written and illustrated by Zander Cannon and published by Oni Press. The series began in 2015 and is currently on its sixth (6th) and FINAL season. Rob McDonald was able to lock-down an interview with Zander Cannon to discuss monsters in lock-up.
COMIC BOOK YETI: So, you're coming to the end of Kaijumax – how do you feel? Relieved? Disappointed?
ZANDER CANNON: More relieved than disappointed, for sure! It's always been a pretty exhausting book, and I've gone through a couple medium-sized burnouts in the process of making it. Also, I always felt like this series, even though it was pretty rich soil for stories, had an expiration date of sorts. Since it's a satire, I felt like when I started getting to the point where I had to really assess the established lore and keep it consistent (rather than just go for the funniest joke or most relevant political metaphor), it would probably be best to move on
and go out on a high note.
CBY: Is how energy-intensive it has been something you maybe now regret? I seem to remember you saying early on that the original intent was for an artist (can't remember the name now) to work on it with you, but you ultimately decided to take it on yourself.
ZC: I don't regret it at all! I am really grateful that it gave me an opportunity to really polish certain skills (color, letters) and kind of put together an overall look for my creator-owned work. I think it lasted longer this way, too, since being a one-man band (plus Jason Fischer on color assists) let me pivot in terms of tone and direction more easily and keep it fresh and interesting. I wish I had been more able to complete each 6-issue season during the U.S. school year, though, so that I could properly take a summer break with my son (student) and wife (teacher).
CBY: How do you think that you, as a writer and an artist, have evolved over the 6 seasons? Is there anything you wish you could go back and change, or do you try and keep looking
ZC: I don't have anything that I'd change, per se, but I think that as a writer I found a more comfortable tone over time. Early issues had a slightly artificial cruelty to them (to match existing prison dramas) but as I got the standard prison tropes out of the way, I felt like at least the cruelty I inflicted on the characters was more genuine.
ZC: As an artist, I discovered a lot of working processes that improved my work over time. I was always really impatient while inking early on, and that's why so much of the early books are less detailed. But once I started realizing that I can (and should!) put on a movie or TV show while I ink on a smaller Cintiq on the couch or in bed, it made putting lots of little details and texture in the background completely manageable. I've also cycled through a bunch of coloring techniques and figured out a lot of efficient workarounds, so what used to take days can now take hours. It's been surprising to see how much I started
enjoying each step as I learned more about it, more than 25 years into my career!
CBY: The comment about artificial cruelty and prison tropes struck a chord in me. I don't want to put words in your mouth or anything, but is the shower scene with Zonn and Electrogor maybe something that in retrospect you'd change? Without wanting to sound overly critical, when I read it the first time it struck me as a little out of sync with what I enjoyed so much about the series and felt very much like you wanted to put the trope in more than anything that assisted the story at that moment. It comes back in a later series and comes full circle, but when it first happened it seemed a bit grim.
ZC: It's hard to say if I would take it out. I think it fits in with the themes of the book, broadly, and it's integral to a number of other storylines, and I do think the aftermath is handled with sensitivity. But you're right, it gets way more intense than the book was up to that point, and I know for certain it chased off a number of potential readers. It isn't a scene I would write again, I don't think, and any potential adaptation (TV, etc) would have to contend with it in some way. It's certainly the most artificial of the tropes – basically, the central prison conceit that everything kind of centers around, so it has to be addressed in some kind of way. I thought pairing it with a scene in a '70s Gamera movie would make it absurd and fit right in with the rest of the book. I just didn't realize until the day that I wrote the scene that it was going to be so unpleasant.
CBY: How did you manage to make the characters so three-dimensional and get people to invest in monsters? Seriously, it's like watching a brilliant magician sometimes. Whenever I read it I hear David Harper's voice in my head talking about The Creature from Devil's Creek. I think a lot of people pick up on a character to root for.
ZC: The toughest thing about being an indie artist has always been overcoming people's indifference. Once I started realizing that people had favorite and most hated characters in Kaijumax, or plotlines they were invested in, it was like I came alive. It's an incredible feeling. I think I have a tendency to create a lot of characters that are sort of depressed or
numb or perpetually stunned, and there can be a lot of depth to that, but it can also easily become boring. The fact that there's this story construct of prison danger all around, as well as colorful nonsense everywhere, complements those kinds of characters really well, I think.
I also believe that there's a lot to be said for a cartoony art style. At the end of the day, whether they're monsters or people or demons or bugs or whatever, they're all just cartoon characters. And when you allow yourself to make something that doesn't have to represent reality properly, you can really make them "act," and it's that much easier for people to see themselves in that position.
CBY: Looking back, what is your favourite storyline from the run? Or is that like picking between children?
ZC: I really liked the plotline about Dr. Zhang and her friendship with Go-Go Space Baby, and how that was sort of a truly functional friendship after all of the weird relationships and gaslighting (and murder!) in the previous volumes, and then how it all went downhill because of something she'd done in the past. I think that was a tidy bit of storytelling. And I've always loved All Monsters Attack, so I really enjoyed the storyline of Whoofy and
Li'l Boy, taking something nice and holding a horrible mirror up to it.
CBY: Dr. Zhang raised conflicted feelings in me for sure, especially in the seed of that story and how she turns on Electrogor. Very strange being so angry at such a cartoony character but I think you're 100% right about the cartoony nature of it all. It's easier to almost
acknowledge the heavy stuff but not let it weigh you down when it's a cute little monster, if that makes sense? It allows the characters to move and progress freely, and obviously, Dr. Zhang becomes a bigger character later and her story with Zonn becomes a major arc.
ZC: I think it's pretty interesting to make a character a "bad guy," but carefully keep them from doing anything unforgivable. She is corrupt, and does damage to our protagonist, but has been taken in by someone who abuses her trust. She murders someone, but storywise, it's
no one we're sad to see go. I like that we can set up a character who is complex, does bad
things for particular reasons, but can be set on a better path, rather than a true villain who
we just have to start liking because the story says we must.
Making my cartoony art style – a liability, to hear some people tell it – into a crucial asset
in negotiating this weird absurd world was sort of by accident (I can't draw any other way).
It certainly papers over a lot of plot holes that might bother you if it were drawn to be vividly
real, and I think it keeps the violence from being so upsetting. Same goes for the staging
that I tend to use: neutral compositions and conventional page layouts make us read a lot
of grim stuff as comedy (or absurdity) rather than horror or tragedy.
CBY: Also, Li'l Boy is a monster.
ZC: He's fun to draw, though. I really love the end of his story in Season 6.
CBY: Speaking of picking between children, which is your favourite season?
ZC: I don't know if I have one. The interesting thing is that I have things that I like and dislike about every season; each one has some good stuff and some clunky stuff, and I kind of like that the whole run – at least in my opinion – has a kind of roughness and imperfection about it. It keeps me from getting too precious about creating stuff and just lets me keep cranking it out.
CBY: I guess one of the main questions for you after all this is what's next? If there's anything you can announce, that is.
ZC: I'm intending to complete The Replacement God, my '90s b+w fantasy series, in color. That's a big one on an old, old to-do list.
CBY: Zander, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.