Archive for the 'Interviews/Q&As' Category
`State of the Arts’ spotlights contemporary artists who I think are pretty fucking amazing and deserve your attention.
Luca Carey is a New York City-based illustrator and comic artist who graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2013. His website is Rainbots, and he’s on Facebook and Tumblr. You can request a commission here, and you can donate here (donations of $50 or more come with an original sketch of your choosing).
2W2N: What’s your preferred medium?
CAREY: Photoshop, all day every day.
2W2N: Your work has a definite otherwordly, psychedelic flavor. Was that there from the beginning?
CAREY: It’s a little hard to say what the beginning was, but I guess I would say yes. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve been trying to make stuff that’s visually appealing while also pointing towards something shocking or transcendent.
2W2N: Who are some artists you admire, visual or otherwise?
CAREY: Beksinski, Moebius, and Ashley Wood are probably my favorite artists. Music is possibly the most important thing, though, as it’s next to impossible for me to do anything without it. I especially admire artists like Susumu Hirasawa and Helium Vola because their sound captures the perfect mix of chaos and harmony.
2W2N: You did the outstanding cover art for the new Dan Terminus album The Wrath of Code (Blood Music, 2015), which is how I found you. What other projects do you have coming up?
CAREY: I’m working on a couple of other album covers, actually; one for a new synthwave project called Virtua Cult. I’m in the very slow process of writing a book, also, that I will eventually illustrate. As I like to remind myself, it’s pretty small at the moment, but not small enough to quit or forget about.
2W2N: What kind of commissions will you consider? Can we buy prints of your work?
CAREY: I’ll consider anything that pays well, is interesting, and isn’t closely associated with any kind of deeply illegal or immoral enterprise! I’m actually quite fortunate to have a style that gives me a lot of freedom; no one is writing me to commission stock illustrations, for example. I take print orders from my Facebook page at the moment, and I plan on setting up a little store on my website at some point, but first I have to get my printer fixed.
Serious study of and public interest in space colonization peaked in the 1970s, fueled by the successes of the Apollo program and a youth culture that embraced the speculative sci-fi of Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey. If the idea of hitching a ride on an asteroid outfitted with nuclear motors was utopian, it was also grounded in good sense: by the end of the turbulent 1960s, it was clear to many that the Earth was no longer a place that supported intelligent, compassionate life.
A number of books on the subject helped to launch “space activism” in the popular imagination, starting with Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill‘s The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space (1976). Due largely to O’Neill’s efforts, Stanford University and NASA collaborated to produce a series of detailed studies on permanent space settlements that continue to inspire the present-day pioneers behind SpaceX and the National Space Society.
In 1979 Usborne’s landmark The World of the Future series, penned by David Jefferis and the late Kenneth Gatland, presented youngsters with a vivid, exciting, and ultimately uplifting vision of the future—many of the authors’ predictions came true, as well. Even today, the books hold up the notion that living a better life among the stars is not just a worthy aspiration, but a worthy aspiration within reach.
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2W2N: How did you get involved with Usborne Publishing? I notice that you were responsible for art and editorial direction on the World of the Unknown series before you worked on the World of the Future series.
JEFFERIS: Some background, prior to my Usborne days:
My first job was in London, in the Art Department of The Observer Sunday newspaper, producing news graphics—maps, diagrams, drawings, charts—to highlight stories for printing in the newspaper’s weekly edition. I was soon involved in other aspects of the production, such as magazine covers, and started to create features of my own, including articles for the “Young Observer” page, DIY hi-fi systems, and so on.
One such “Young Observer” article was an interview I carried out with a Brixton man who was building a man-powered helicopter in his (small) front sitting room. He had to disassemble his machine to extract it from the front parlour, but did go on to screw it together again and test it on an airfield. Sad to say, he managed only a short hop off the ground. Enterprising though, and I hugely respected his tenacity and skill in creating something from nothing.
I worked part-time for The Observer after a while, during which time I did many illustration jobs, and this brought me into the world of book publishing, and children’s books, for which there was steady demand for the realistic art I produced. I worked with Macdonald Publishing quite a lot, and specialized in creating pre-World of the Future “science faction” futurist spreads in their non-fiction titles.
I met Peter Usborne as one of a number of editors and publishers I had targeted as possible backers for a magazine concept I created called Science Fiction Illustrated. This starred the 1950s comic hero, Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, on the cover, and—as all such things were in those days—the sample dummy for Science Fiction Illustrated was crafted by hand (mine, in this case!) with rub-down Letraset headlines, and so on.
Peter and I got on well, though he was not interested in being a periodical publisher. Some time later, an editor who worked with him in his newly-formed Usborne Publishing company gave me a call, and I started working as a freelance designer for the company.
I had offices in Covent Garden at the time—and had published the weekly “Tuesday Paper” for children there, along with other projects, such as “Lightning” for the National Magazine Company—so working in league with Usborne was a fairly natural next step, especially as our respective offices were on the same side of the street, opposite the Garrick Club.
Freelance design turned into art direction, which turned into art and editorial direction for the first Usborne book series in my charge, a five-title set called Battlegame Books. Later multi-title series—by which time I was on the payroll in charge of science, technology, and gee-whiz titles—included Young Scientist, Young Engineer, and as you noted, World of the Unknown.
2W2N: On the World of the Unknown books, what exactly did “art and editorial direction” entail? Did you do some of the illustrations as well? I’m also curious how the project was conceived. On the one hand, the art draws out the shocking and graphic nature of the subject matter (especially in All About Monsters); but on the other hand, the narrative is even-handed, even skeptical, and the tone is almost droll at times. It reminds me of the brilliant Hammer horror films of the ’60s and ’70s. Was that the idea?
JEFFERIS: The A&ED title is one that I invented, as I covered both named roles, rather than being responsible for either art or editorial.
I did a few small illustrations for these Usborne books, just fillers really as there wasn’t time to do more. Also, I had made a decision to move away from full-time freelance illustration, as it was so labour intensive and demanded too much time spent with only a drawing board for company. As quite a physical person, I wasn’t keen on the endless hours hunched up indoors, particularly with the amount of intensive preparation and repetitive work that my style of airbrush art demanded.
I’ll tell you how the change of direction happened. I was working on a “future faction” spread for Macdonald Publishing, the subject an underwater fish farm, with aquanauts zipping along, dolphins equipped with sensor packs, work domes, mini-subs, and so on. The background to the work was, naturally enough, a luminous blue-green ocean, fading into the distance. I sprayed endless fine coats with the airbrush, each layer just molecules thin, as I slowly built up the colour depth. For some reason, I hadn’t worn my surgical mask this time—and so I spent much of the following week sneezing and coughing out blue-green ink. Ugh. Today, health and safety would have words to say, and even then I didn’t feel like repeating that mistake again! The artwork looked okay though.
So far as World of the Unknown is concerned, the tone of the books fitted in with the nature of a then-new educational publisher. The idea was to draw readers in with bold visuals, then be responsible with what we were saying. It wasn’t actually defined as such, but there was an echo of the old Eagle comic there, which had done a similar sort of thing. My own book series featured mostly realistic artwork, but other Usborne output used humorous illustrations, produced by artists such as the late Stephen Cartwright.
What was deliberately avoided was a true strip cartoon approach. The British educational establishment of the day was mostly dead-set against anything that looked too much like a comic, as were educational book publishers. That said, Stephen Cartwright’s gently amusing art became hugely successful in books aimed at younger readers, and rightly so.
Two tales of World of the Unknown spring to mind. In All About Ghosts, one spread featured the village of Pluckley in Kent, a place reputedly packed with supernatural phenomena. Writer Chris Maynard spent time there with a photographer, but they didn’t see or take any pictures of any spooks, and it took some head-scratching and burning of the midnight oil back in London for us to end up with a useable spread! It’s worth worth pointing out my methodology there, which was to work with contributors, aiming for a team effort.
On All About Monsters, I spent several days around Loch Ness looking for the mysterious beast, with no convincing results. The art I commissioned from Malcolm McGregor looked extremely good, but the printed results of my own researches came to no more than a couple of pics and a mini-map! I revisited the subject recently, and produced a prototype eBook, The REAL Loch Ness Monster, available here.
This time Nessie was the solitary star and focus of the book, so it was good to do some in-depth research. Just as important, the research paid off with a scientifically elegant and believable theory—of which the Oxford University experts approved!
In the early days, I did visuals for every page, breaking down information into the box-by-box sequence approach being pioneered at Usborne. There were plenty of variations used at Usborne for other series and titles. For example, the illustrator Colin King did his own pencil roughs when working with in-house editor-writer Judy Hindley on How Your Body Works.
In summary, my titles may have been aimed at young readers, but they didn’t talk down to them, the text level being easy to understand, but not stupid. The information in a typical book could have been published in any intelligent, mid-market newspaper.
2W2N: You wrote the World of the Future series with the late Kenneth Gatland, who had by that time written a number of titles for Usborne relating to space travel and space exploration. How did you meet Ken, and can you tell me how World of the Future was developed? I imagine it was inspired by all the space colony concept work NASA did in the 1970s. Was it also banking on the massive success of Star Wars?
JEFFERIS: At that time, Kenneth Gatland was past-President of the British Interplanetary Society, a highly respected organisation, known for its pioneer work in outlining designs for Moon landers back in the 1950s, and for the Starship Daedalus concept in the 1970s. The BIS was a natch for technical support on the World of the Future, so I called Ken, a quietly spoken man, full of ideas and a pleasure to work with. I had worked with him on an earlier Usborne title, Young Scientist: Spaceflight, and we were both keen on this new project.
Regarding the genesis of World of the Future, I’m not sure who actually came up with the idea, Peter Usborne or myself. Either way, the series came out of a short meeting in Garrick Street, and I went away fired with enthusiasm. Was Star Wars an influence? To a degree, yes, but there were other big sci-fi movies at the time too, the most influential probably being Stanley Kubrick’s far more serious 2001: A Space Odyssey. Usborne was an educational publisher, so we had to be seen to be fact, not fiction. And of course, space was a popular subject with our principal markets: children and parents, educators and schools.
A big influence came from childhood, in the form of Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. The panel-by-panel presentation of the Eagle comic was similar to the Usborne educational style we had developed, and had Hampson been available for World of the Future, I would have been delighted.
Blue-sky thinking from NASA and other space organizations was huge, and Ken Gatland’s BIS connections made a huge difference to the ease of accessing photos and prints, as well as library material to which he had access. I too had a large and growing library, so between us we had call on impressive information resources. Today, my library has been mostly digitized or sold on to collectors via eBay.
Early on in the World of the Future project, Ken and I agreed on an outline flatplan—a small-scale, spread-by-spread book visualisation—which allowed each double-page spread to be effectively self-contained, though presented in a logical sequence. The three individual World of the Future titles were 32 pages each, allowing a dozen spreads to tell the story, the rest consisting of prelims and introduction, timeline and index.
I drew up detailed full-size page visuals in pen and marker, making adjustments and changes with Ken until we were both okay with the content. Once a spread was locked down, I then commissioned an illustrator to create finished art, based on my visuals. A reference pack of images, photos, books, magazines—whatever was needed—was posted off, with phone conversations on arrival, to ensure that the illustrator understood the brief properly. It’s a shame that those visuals of mine went in the bin, as they were a tremendously important part of the book creation process. But storage was a huge issue, and once finished art arrived, they were dead meat.
As a side-note, it’s worth knowing that back then, making illustrated books was a highly physical business. World of the Future was created before the Internet, or even faxes, and that meant continuous multi-way movements of hardcopy information. Reference books, clippings, sketches, notes—all had to be sent and returned by post, messenger, or rail. It was slow and expensive. In today’s money, delivery of some rigidly-packaged finished-art boards using rail and messenger bike might cost $200 USD or more, a sum that could be repeated multiple times during production. If changes were needed on a piece of art, the two-way delivery process had to be repeated. I am very pleased that no one has to waste time and money like that any more!
2W2N: Futurism these days seems much less exciting than it was when the World of the Future series debuted, revolving mostly around self-centered—and somewhat frightening, to my mind—internet and virtual reality technologies (i.e. Google Glass, Oculus Rift). What happened to exploring the universe outside of us and building bold new worlds?
JEFFERIS: I think the term ‘exciting’ depends on what you mean. The star-spanning world of the future envisaged by me and others was certainly exciting in a gee-whiz sort of way, but some of the more way-out space ideas were products of technical naivety as much as anything else. For example, the 1950s sci-fi hero Dan Dare flew spaceships like they were Spitfires, with navigation carried out with the flick of a slide-rule.
And—bearing in mind our target audience—we deliberately left out political messages in World of the Future. But perhaps we shouldn’t have, for even then Apollo was teaching us that while political will can achieve many things, including going to the Moon, elected leaders don’t have sufficient time in power, and therefore the long-term vision needed to command vast budgets for decades at a time. Without the will, the time, the money, visionary ideas will fail. I got rather depressed about it all for a while, especially as I had drawn up in 1970 a nuclear-powered Mars ship concept, based on von Braun’s ideas. His timeline was, “…the early 1980s.”
But we are now in a better place, where I see entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson achieving great things by virtue of their foresight, drive, and access to finance. It’s my belief that if future spaceflight is fueled by commercial profit more than pure politics, then out into space we’ll go.
Which is not to say that organizations like NASA or ESA (European Space Agency) are redundant, far from it. Plans and intentions are as dramatic as ever, and I would certainly like to see the ‘floating buoy’ Titan probe go ahead in the not too distant future. But space agency budgets will always be at the mercy of headline-grabbing budget-cutters, so let’s just say that I heartily approve of the commercial sector flying space missions too.
Whether such blue-sky dreams as warp drive or other faster-than-light technologies will ever appear is unknown at present, but people like Miguel Alcubierre and Harold White seem to have opened the conceptual door just a crack, and with it, perhaps a gateway to new worlds—the stars our destination, to paraphrase Alfred Bester. The Lockheed Martin Skunk Works may also play a role if compact fusion lives up to its promise, with Earth-to-Mars trip times of just one month a possibility a decade from now.
As for internet and virtual reality technologies, they are a growing part of our present future, one that was largely unforeseen, though Ken Gatland and I did our best. I’m guessing that they will blend seamlessly into our lives, in the same way that personal computers and mobile phones have done. However, I don’t see too much in internet technology that is going to change the actual nature of humanity. We are still much the same as, say, the citizens of ancient Rome, many of whom would probably fit into present-day Western culture without too many adjustments, though having machines to do their bidding instead of slaves might be hard to accept. In fact, give a time-slipped Roman some money, and a few servant-slaves would probably be installed in no time at all.
Access to the internet is on its way to becoming ubiquitous, though it’s not exactly an overnight process. I am still amazed and unamused that where I presently live, connections are frustratingly slow and patchy, and mobile phone communications even worse. Despite this, things will improve in years to come—so they tell me!
As for the future, I’m guessing that the internet is in the early stages of becoming the brainstem of a planetary AI of some sort, perhaps one in which humans function as semi-independent mobile elements. Note the ‘semi-independent’—I’m not alone in not wishing to be cut off for more than a few hours, and need my regular information fix. One thing is for sure—my various laptops have functioned as a second brain for many years.
And we previewed the Apple watch by a long way—though we called it the ‘Risto.’
2W2N: You are still active in writing, publishing, and futurism, and you’ve described yourself as a “solar evangelist.” Can you tell me more about your current projects?
JEFFERIS: The solar evangelist tag is a direct descendent of ideas that Ken Gatland and I promoted in World of the Future, and you can see what I mean on the jacket for Future Cities. Look closely and you’ll find a solar-powered house, an idea that’s now hit the mainstream, with rooftop panels widely available to homeowners. I have been working with an excellent renewables company, and we feel we are helping to save the planet in a commercial environment, much as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are aiming to profit from space, or Tesla with electric cars. Incidentally, automated battery-swapping at recharge stations is an idea Ken and I pioneered, and at last something of the sort is coming to fruition.
As for solar, according to some estimates, in the United States alone, a home or business goes solar every four minutes. To put the following numbers into perspective, one gigawatt of electricity is enough to power some 750,000 homes. China smashed the record for new solar installations in 2013 by adding 11.8 gigawatts, bringing its total solar capacity to more than 20 gigawatts.
China is now second to world solar leader Germany, which is nearing the 40 gigawatt mark. On June 9, 2014, German solar supplied 23.1 gigawatts, more than half of the country’s total energy demand. So it’s an exciting time for me—reaching into the past to power the future.
Despite all that, publishing remains my first love, and my stuff ranges from books to prints.
My website www.starcruzer.com will shortly become the launch pad for ebooks, such as Ness: Hunt for the Loch Ness Monster. This is a ‘Visual Companion Edition’ of The REAL Loch Ness Monster, with a double-page visual of the monster we think lies behind the legend.
2015 titles include Space Probes, Space Stations, Black Holes, The Aces, to be published on an ebook-a-month basis on Amazon for Kindle and other e-readers. In addition, I will be establishing a presence on the micro-funding site Patreon.
Prints: I haven’t produced illustrations for book publishers in a long time, but I still draw for myself. I also love photography, probably spending more time tweaking in Photoshop than I ever did in creating airbrush art. I plan to showcase art and images on Saatchi Art in 2015.
As of now, you can read a compilation of all three books in The World of the Future series at the Internet Archive.
The first time I saw The Evil Dead was in 1985. I was 13 or 14 years old and four of my teeth had just been pulled—one of the nastiest experiences of my life. I was lying at home in agony, waiting for the Tylenol-Codeine to do what it was supposed to be doing. I asked my mom to go to the video store (where I worked at the time) to pick up some horror flicks I’d set aside, including one that had just come in—I had no idea what it was about, but the VHS cover showed a young woman in a nightie being dragged into hell by an uprooted, decomposing demon arm: I was in. Mom (bless her) brought the movies back in a flash, I plunged Sam Raimi’s manic, gruesome masterpiece into the VCR, and in less than 10 minutes I had completely forgotten about my teeth. I was smiling instead.
Like Night of the Living Dead, The Evil Dead is one of those inspired cultural moments that change the genre, and filmmaking, forever. A large part of the movie’s magic was conjured by Tom Sullivan, who handled nearly all of the effects for the film, including make-up, animation, and prop building (The Book of the Dead and the ceremonial dagger are his creations). In his 1983 review in The Boston Phoenix, film critic Owen Gleiberman called The Evil Dead “a dreamy delirium of terror” and said of Sullivan’s climactic stop-motion depiction of zombie decay that it was “a special effects coup as stunning as the climactic meltdown in Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It’s so true, and Sullivan did it—not just the one sequence, but all of it—with almost no money and no time.
I was really lucky to talk to Tom about The Cry of Cthulhu (“the greatest movie never made”), where he got his start doing pre-production art and sculpting, The Evil Dead, and his tremendous—and overlooked—illustration work on Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, one of the smartest and most influential role-playing games of all time.
Tom tours widely and will be appearing next year at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Fest (March 6 – 8) and Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia Expo (April 10 – 12). Check his website, Dark Age Productions, for a complete, ongoing list of appearances. Anyone interested in purchasing replicas, art prints, or commissions should email Tom at email@example.com.
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2W2N: How did you become involved with The Cry of Cthulhu and what exactly were your responsibilities on the film?
SULLIVAN: I met a magnificent dreamer and one of the to-be producers, Bill Baetz, at the Jackson (Michigan) Space Museum. There was an event that featured J. Allen Hynek of the U.S Government’s Project Bluebook (UFO research organization) fame. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was being released and Professor Hynek was on tour and, being fascinated by UFOs, I had to attend. Bill was working at the Museum and I met him after the presentation. We got to talking about movies and I told him about my artwork. And that set it off. Bill Baetz and David Hurd (a.k.a. Byron Craft) were preparing to make a horror film based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Dave had a script and my job was to illustrate production designs to help promote the film. I was happy to join in. The story was based on the cosmic Lovecraft—not a strange and foul family living outside of town, but portals to terrifying dimensions and journeys to Unknown Kadath. I was new to Lovecraft, so off I went to local used book stores to educate myself on the Cthulhu Mythos.
Bill introduced me to a very young Cary Howe, an ambitious artist full of enthusiasm and talent. We each did sculptures called maquettes of the various creatures the script demanded. We shot them in natural settings and in a few instances used a primitive rear screen projection behind the sculptures. All our work paid off with a great article in Starlog and the late, great Fred Clarke’s Cinefantastique. The articles were written as though the film was being made and that it would be a great venture for potential investors to join in. Alas, it was not to be.
2W2N: Is that why the film didn’t get made, ultimately? Budget difficulties?
SULLIVAN: It didn’t get far enough to have budget difficulties. The story Bill told was that they took the script and articles to Los Angeles to try to sell the film. They pitched it around and finally to a female executive at one of the studios. She said it wasn’t for them and Bill and Dave went home empty handed. Six months later they got a bill from the I.R.S for a half million dollars. It seems that the executive greenlit the project and collected the three million dollar starting fund, leaving a paper trail that made it look like Bill and Dave got the money. I’m guessing she is getting out of prison right about now.
2W2N: How did you come to work for Chaosium on the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game? Was it in part because of the work you did on The Cry of Cthulhu?
SULLIVAN: Back in my married days, my wife Penny and I moved to San Francisco. After months of getting settled in I purchased a table at a comic and film convention in downtown San Francisco and took my artwork to show off. This was in 1982, if I recall. Up comes the late Lynn Willis, who worked for Chaosium on their role-playing games. I had some paintings from my The Cry of Cthulhu production work that sufficiently impressed Lynn to ask me about illustrating for Chaosium. And I said yes.
For the next 18 years I did many game book covers and interior illustrations for them and I kept my copyrights and originals. What I find interesting is that when I am a guest at horror film and comic conventions, Evil Dead fans come up and see my art print gallery filled with Evil Dead and Lovecraft artwork (mostly from Chaosium projects), and they put Evil Dead Tom with Chaosium Tom. And I am thrilled with that.
2W2N: I had no idea what Call of Cthulhu was at the time, but I remember ogling the cover of Shadows of Yog-Sothoth in the hobby shop. It’s really a beautiful piece, and such a perfect distillation of Lovecraft. Was Chaosium pretty specific about what they wanted for each project? Did you work with Sandy Petersen?
SULLIVAN: Chaosium, through Lynn Willis, usually would give me a paragraph or so from some Lovecraft writing appropriate to the game illustration they required. I took the illustrations as if they were book illustrations, so this worked out well for me. While I was aware of Sandy Petersen and his important Call of Cthulhu contributions, we didn’t work closely together. We had our picture taken with Lynn Willis for use as human scale images for the size comparison chart in the back of S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters.
2W2N: The Book of the Dead from the original Evil Dead franchise is one of the most famous horror movie props of all time. How long did you have to design and create it for the first film, and was there a particular inspiration for the overall look?
SULLIVAN: It didn’t take too long to assemble. I had made molds of all the cast members but Bruce [Campbell]. He only had bruises, so he didn’t require a mold. I took Hal Delrich’s mold and slushed some liquid latex into it—about six or seven layers, I think. Then I took some corrugated cardboard and folded it into a book cover. I attached the latex face piece to the cardboard with contact cement. For the pages I used store bought parchment—just dyed, thick paper. I made bindings made of folded grocery bag material and glued the pages into the binding. Later, during the shoot in Tennessee, I would stay up late and draw the pages while I talked film with Josh Becker. And Josh knows his film history. The artwork on the pages was influenced by Da Vinci’s notebooks. I didn’t have a copy with me but I had studied them for years and had a good idea of the look I wanted.
2W2N: The design of the Book of the Dead (Necronomicon Ex Mortis in the sequels) changed with each Evil Dead film. Were you responsible for each of those designs?
SULLIVAN: I designed, built and illustrated the Books for Evil Dead 1 and 2. I believe the art director for Army of Darkness sculpted their derivative version. Not my favorite. They used some of my artwork, photoshopped to combine text and my drawing.
2W2N: With the exception of maybe Jurassic Park, I can’t think of one example of CGI that left me with the same feeling of magic, of total participation in the fantasy, that I get when watching, say, Harryhausen’s skeleton sequence in Jason and the Argonauts. What do you think of contemporary effects, and what do they mean for the future of the fantasy, horror, and sci-fi genres?
SULLIVAN: I am thoroughly blown away by today’s special effects. I do several horror and comic conventions every year and this subject comes up a lot. The fans are unanimously in favor of practical effects. They like the real thing actually there, even if the seams or strings can be seen. As a geek with a passion for and background in stop-motion animation and practical effects, I am actually enthusiastically for CGI effects. When I see Jackson’s King Kong, I see a living, thinking animal actually there. When done with talented animators and artists, properly budgeted and with enough time, what is produced today by CGI techniques is photo-realistic and miraculous. There is still room for the approaches of Harryhausen, O’Brien and the countless other pioneers of cinema magic, as well as other powerful tools to amaze the world.
2W2N: There’s a 2014 documentary about you and your work called Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist. Can you tell me how it came about? Does it span your entire career?
SULLIVAN: I met gung ho filmmaker Ryan Meade over ten years ago and he’s a huge Evil Dead fanatic. Ryan’s been making very entertaining comedies and action films on no budget and they work quite well. He had done an interview with me around 2005 and I think that started the gears turning for him. Once he had made up his mind, we started contacting the Evil Dead gang, cast and crew members, and we started the interview process. And my good friends from Evil Dead came through like the champs they are. I supplied Ryan with my artwork, Super 8mm movies, videotapes, behind the scenes stuff and other materials that fill up the ultimate wish for Evil Dead fans. There is a lot of talk about the Evil Dead film productions, behind the scenes stories and a lot of the unsung heroes of the films. And we are getting great feedback and reviews for Invaluable. I couldn’t be more pleased.
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Go here to see the trailer for—and buy a copy of—Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist.
At one point in the late 1970s, after almost two decades of middling adaptations, H.P. Lovecraft fans were very close to getting a movie worthy of their devotion. The Cry of Cthulhu was written and co-produced by a young cosmic horror adept named Byron Craft. It promised to be the first Lovecraft adaptation to directly—and faithfully—address the Cthulhu Mythos, and a number of future special effects superstars were slated to work on the picture, including Tom Sullivan (The Evil Dead), Ernie Farino (The Terminator, The Thing), Lyle Conway (The Dark Crystal), and Craig Reardon (Poltergeist). Ultimately, Hollywood machinations quashed the much anticipated project, but, as the mad poet said, “that is not dead which can eternal lie…”
The Alchemist’s Notebook, Byron Craft’s novelization of his original screenplay for The Cry of Cthulhu, was released in early 2014. I had a chance to ask Byron a few questions about his book, the enduring appeal of Lovecraft, and the history behind The Cry of Cthulhu.
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2W2N: How and when did you first discover the works of H.P. Lovecraft?
CRAFT: I was twenty-two and attending college, in the latter half of 1968, when a good friend of mine, Bob Skotak, got me started reading Lovecraft. If my memory serves me correctly, the first of Lovecraft’s works I read was “The Colour Out of Space.” It was one of Bob’s Favorites. I couldn’t put it down, and within a six month period I devoured everything HPL wrote, including a collection of his letters. I am still obsessed (or is it possessed?) to this day.
2W2N: Lovecraft experienced quite a resurgence in the 1960s. Why do you think that was? What drew you personally to his work?
CRAFT: The 1960s resurgence of H.P. Lovecraft and the writer aficionados who followed him was owing to several reasons. It was the era of the Vietnam War, an emerging drug culture and a revolution against the then government establishment. It was the age of the anti-hero. One of the remarkable things about Lovecraft’s stories is that his protagonists were rarely handsome men of action; as readers of that period we preferred to follow his scholars and amateur investigators as they pursued the winding road of mystery, uncovering ancient secrets that sometimes led to insanity.
The dreams, the drugs, the witchcraft and the wormholes all played well to the “Turn on, tune in, and drop out” crowd. The desire to expand the consciousness welcomed the aliens and their alarming deities to the mundane world where the deviation from the normal was embraced. All of this oozed from the pen of one of the most influential sci-fi fantasy and horror writers of the 20th century—H.P. Lovecraft.
Fandom also grew in the 1960s during the “Monster Boom,” which was bred from the revival of the Universal monsters and merchandise, including publications like Famous Monsters of Filmland. Plus, August Derleth’s Arkham House publishing house was going strong back then with its hardcover reprints of Lovecraft’s stories. Ballantine Books picked up the rights from Arkham House to do paperback editions of the same, thus bringing Lovecraft very close to mainstream status, primarily with the youth of the hippie movement.
Having discovered the stories of Lovecraft when in my twenties, I immersed myself in every one of his works. Later, I explored those who continued the Cthulhu Mythos, as well as the authors to whom Lovecraft thought of as contemporaries, such as Lord Dunsany, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. To this day H.P. Lovecraft holds a strange attraction for me. He was the creator of Arkham, Innsmouth and Cthulhu; and he was the quintessential outsider who believed that human laws, interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos.
2W2N: When did you write (as David Hurd) the original The Cry of Cthulhu script, and when did you start shopping it to the studios?
CRAFT: Bob Skotak and his brother Dennis and I produced an independent film titled Timespace that never got past the rough cut. I also worked with them on some amateur film projects. Bob and Dennis relocated to the west coast sometime in the mid ’70s. I wrote The Cry of Cthulhu screenplay, final draft, in 1976. In 1977 I hooked up with Bill Baetz and we became the co-producers of the project. Bill had several connections in Hollywood by way of his uncle Jerry Logue. Jerry was a retired VP from United Artists and a grand gentleman. Mr. Logue set up several appointments for us with a variety of studios over the next few years to pitch our story. Around that time was when Bill Baetz introduced me to Tom Sullivan and Tom did several awesome pieces of artwork for Cry. We used Tom’s works in our presentations. We had color 35mm slides of Tom’s paintings and in the days before PowerPoint we would put on slide shows for various studio executives.
2W2N: Was the late Dino De Laurentiis one of the executives interested in your script?
CRAFT: I believe it was the summer of 1978 that Bill Baetz and I met Dino De Laurentiis. It was during that time that we were carrying on several correspondences with Arkham House’s attorney and April Derleth Jacobs, the daughter of August Derleth. We sent them a copy of The Cry of Cthulhu screenplay and asked for permission to make a film in the style of H.P. Lovecraft. We legally did not have to get their permission because Lovecraft never copyrighted any of his works and, as many of his fans know, he encouraged other writers to carry on with the Cthulhu Mythos. All the same, Bill and I believed that a friendly working relationship with Arkham would be best in the long run. The results were favorable and we carried on an amiable association with Arkham House.
Both Arkham’s attorney and Ms. Jacobs told us that they were very disappointed with the Lovecraft films that had been made up to that point and that they had been contacted by Dino De Laurentiis. Mr. De Laurentiis, according to them, was interested in acquiring the rights to one of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. As the account was related to us, they were familiar with Dino’s track record (i.e. King Kong 1976) and they refused to do business with him.
Later, our agent Jerry Logue was contacted by Dino De Laurentiis’ office and told that Mr. De Laurentiis was interested in financing our film project. After our communications with Arkham House we were very leery. We sent word back that we were not interested in selling the project to Mr. De Laurentiis. A very short while later we were contacted by his office and told that Mr. De Laurentiis wanted to finance the project, that he would not be involved in the production of the film and would get the credit of executive producer. We knew that he had made similar arrangements in the past, so we flew to the west coast to meet the great Dino De Laurentiis.
When we walked into his office it became a horse of a different color. There was no film production investment made in heaven. Instead, he acted like his office never proposed a co-production deal. He offered us $100,000 for the complete rights to The Cry of Cthulhu. We would have no hand in making the film, we would not have any additional piece of the action and we would lose all ownership of the project including sequels, prequels, spin-offs, novelizations and product endorsements.
We refused the offer. It was immediately evident to us that he was unwilling to discuss any other alternative and we started to leave. De Laurentiis left his chair and with clenched fists started jumping up and down, screaming and yelling, “I don’t need you! I will make my own Lovecraft movie.” Normally, I don’t put up with anyone’s nonsense, but I was temporarily in shock to see a grown man behave in such a way. My partner Bill was more audacious then me that day and said, “No you won’t. We talked with Arkham House and they refused to sell you the rights to any of Lovecraft’s stories.” Dino got really fired up after that and I was afraid that he would spontaneously combust. I guess he never knew that ole’ HPL’s work was public domain. We left in a hurry and it was the last time either one of us saw Dino De Laurentiis.
2W2N: Was a director ever attached to The Cry of Cthulhu? If so, did you have conversations with him or her?
CRAFT: The director that Bill and I had signed under a conditional contract (conditional upon The Cry of Cthulhu being produced) was Wolfgang Glattes. We had several conversations with Wolf and we also met with him in my home. Mr. Glattes was particularly interested in approaching the portion of the film from the female protagonist’s point of view.
2W2N: Can you tell me why the film never got made?
CRAFT: We simply ran out of money and patience. We both had families that needed us more than the film project. So we shelved it and went on with our lives.
2W2N: When did you decide to adapt your The Cry of Cthulhu script into novel form, and how did you find the experience? Adaptations usually go the other way around.
CRAFT: It was something we would discuss, from time to time, during the pre-production and pitching of the film. It was only talked about and I had nothing on paper besides a few scribbled notes and my screenplay to use as an outline. I always wanted to approach the novelization of the screenplay with a slightly uncommon style. I wanted to tell the story from three different people’s points of view. I always wanted to do it as three separate narratives wherein, as one leaves off, the other begins, seamlessly weaving the entire story together.
Part One is titled “The Schloss,” which was taken from the diary of Janet Church. Part Two became “The Alchemist’s Notebook,” which was from the journal of Heinrich Todesfall, followed by Part Three, “The Cry of Cthulhu,” which was written by Faren Church, the male protagonist of our tale.
In 1979 Bill Baetz was contacted by Heavy Metal magazine. They wanted to print an excerpt from the novelization of The Cry of Cthulhu for their special October/Halloween/Lovecraft issue. Bill committed us and I was forced to perform. Rather than approaching the story from beginning to end, like any sensible earthling would do, I decided to start in the middle. I made the decision to write Heinrich Todesfall’s narrative first. Todesfall was an aging Nazi with a mind that had been warped and twisted by a world war. Becoming a master sorcerer, he searched the world for arcane secrets that he would eventually use for his own selfish and destructive end.
The Todesfall portion of the novel, for me, was easy as well as fun to write. It also contained an element within the structure of the story that made it a stand-alone read. It was a perfect pick for Heavy Metal’s October issue. My only regret is that the piece was hurried and was truly a rough draft. I apologize to the readers of that decade for a rushed job. If you are kind enough to pick up a copy of my novel, The Alchemist’s Notebook, you will find that the ravings of the megalomaniac Todesfall are done in a more polished and mature style.
As it turned out, years later, when I completed the first draft of the entire novel, my expectations as an author had reversed. Having Todesfall’s story primarily behind me, I was very apprehensive about writing Janet Church’s narrative. I figured that when it came to writing the husband’s account it would be a piece of cake. All I had to do was write it as if I was the one experiencing the terrors… right? But writing a portion of the novel from a woman’s perspective was daunting. Facing up to the challenge, I began writing Janet’s story next and at once discovered that when I got her narrative started I couldn’t shut the old girl up. It was just the opposite with Faren. Writing his narrative was a very difficult and arduous task. Nevertheless, as the old adage is recited, “If it isn’t hard it isn’t worthwhile,” and Faren’s chronicle eventually became a labor of love for me. I was able to dig down into the depths of Church’s soul. We have become close friends ever since.
I hope that whoever picks up The Alchemist’s Notebook will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
2W2N: Much of Tom Sullivan’s original concept art for The Cry of Cthulhu was used to illustrate The Alchemist’s Notebook. How did that come about?
CRAFT: The final edit of my novel The Alchemist’s Notebook was completed around April of 2013. I always wanted to use Tom Sullivan’s painting of Faren Church (the male protagonist of the story) digging up his great Uncle’s coffin. It is a frightfully good rendition of what happens in The Cry of Cthulhu, with his uncle’s screaming, rotting corpse rearing up out of the grave and the demon Yath-Notep rising up in the background. The problem was that Tom and I had gone our separate ways and we hadn’t communicated in 35 years.
It was Google to the rescue. I just did a simple search for “the Artist Tom Sullivan” and voilà, there was his website. I went to Tom’s contact page and the next day we were reminiscing on the phone. Originally we made a deal for the use of the painting as the book cover alone. About a week later I was kicking myself for being stupid because Tom had originally done eleven paintings and illustrations for the film project, and I should have attempted to include them in the book as well. We amiably renegotiated a new deal, and The Alchemist’s Notebook ended up with a dynamite cover and fantastic interior illustrations. I have probably received an equal amount of complements for the artwork as I have had for the novel itself.
2W2N: What’s next for you? Can we look forward to more Lovecraft-inspired novels?
CRAFT: I have been writing reviews and historical articles for Strip Las Vegas magazine for going on ten years (over a hundred articles), but I do have quite a bit coming up in the fiction market, all Lovecraftian. I have a short story soon to be available on Kindle titled “Pilot Demons.” A friend of mine is after me to change the title to “Cthulhu’s Minions.” He may win that battle. If you have read The Alchemist’s Notebook, you will be familiar with the little revolting creatures. One of the main characters in the book describes them as “ethereal puffs of smoke that sometimes take shape and solidify.” Like the pilot fish of a whale they wait in subterranean depths to guide their master into our world. The short story takes place in Arkham and my main character is “the detective with no name” who is saddled with a case of serial killings that appear to have been done by hideous dwarfs.
I am currently working on my next Lovecraftian novel. It seems of late that I am having difficulties naming my works because I really wanted to call my next book “Tunnels,” but I’ve recently learned that there are several books on the market with the same title. I have re-titled it, but for the time being it is a secret. The story is about a group of scientists and military personnel who discover a network of tunnels beneath the Mojave Desert. They soon learn that the tunnels were constructed millions of years ago by an unknown race. They also realize, to their horror, that something still lives in the ancient passageways.
I refer to these works as “THE ALCHEMIST’S NOTEBOOK PROJECT” because it will be a series of five Cthulhu Mythos novels dealing with mankind’s internal, as well as outward struggle to control their own destiny while encountering malicious beings from another time and space.
All of the Tom Sullivan artwork included in this article—and more—appears in The Alchemist’s Notebook and is © Tom Sullivan.
The Starlog #24 (July, 1979) feature on The Cry of Cthulhu is posted here.
The article is from Starlog #24 (July, 1979). The “lost” Lovecraft movie reportedly secured a $7 million budget, received the blessings of Arkham House (Lovecraft’s longtime publisher and champion), and was slated to “showcase several new techniques applied to stop-motion animation.” What makes it so much more interesting is the special effects talent lined up for the project.
Ernie Farino, hired as special effects supervisor and animator, got his start on Galaxy of Terror the following year, where he met James Cameron, who hired him as special effects coordinator on The Terminator. Farino also worked as an animator on Saturday the 14th, The Thing, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, and Dreamscape.
Lyle Conway, character designer and model builder, went on to do creature design and effects for The Dark Crystal, The Blob (1988), and Deep Rising.
Craig Reardon, special make-up effects, worked on The Goonies (he created Sloth!), Poltergeist, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Dreamscape, and The Gate, to name a few.
The concept art you see in the Starlog article is by Tom Sullivan, best known for designing and animating The Book of the Dead in The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead II. Sullivan also did many beautiful illustrations for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu role-playing game.
The Cry of Cthulhu was supposed to be something of a sequel to Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time. I don’t know specifically why the project fell apart, but I imagine it was a combination of money and studio cowardice. Based on an earlier blurb in Starlog #6 from 1977 (below), the film was initially a low-budget affair to be shot entirely in Michigan.
Destroy All Computer Generated Monsters (Part Four): Mikey Walters’ Top Five ‘Guilty Pleasure’ Kaiju FilmsPublished April 25, 2014 Contributors , Kaiju , Kaiju Project , Mikey Walters , Movie Posters , Sci-Fi Movies/TV 1 Comment
1. King Kong Escapes (1967)
What It’s About: An evil genius has trouble getting his giant mechanical ape to dig for Element X, so he decides to capture the real King Kong to do the job.
Why It’s Unique: I can’t help it, Mechani-Kong is just fantastic.
Favorite Scene: Kong’s battle with Gorosaurus is fun, but I also like the effective Tokyo Tower close-ups of girders crushing as Kong and Mechani-Kong climb and fight.
Watch the English trailer here.
2. Space Amoeba (1970)
What It’s About: An extraterrestrial amoeba inhabits various Earth creatures and mutates them into kaiju.
Why It’s Unique: This is a super fun triple kaiju (giant squid, giant crab, and giant turtle) film, and just thinking about it makes me wish I had a toy Gezora.
Favorite Scene: Gezora’s huge eyes and floppy tentacles are so much fun to watch moving upright on land!
Watch the original trailer here.
3. Latitude Zero (1969)
What It’s About: Rival super-scientists pit their super-submarines against one another over a super-utopia at the intersection of the Equator and the International Date Line.
Why It’s Unique: Truthfully, this is more of a straight tokusatsu film than a kaiju movie, but at least there’s a giant flying lion, and everyone needs to see Cesar Romero’s performance.
Favorite Scene: Malic (Romero) is deliciously insane as he uses a rotating saw and a hand drill to perform a human-lion brain transplant.
Watch the English trailer here.
4. Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)
What It’s About: Gamera saves children from alien cannibals on another planet.
Why It’s Unique: Guiron is a giant knife who slices up his enemies, and he also shoots throwing stars out of the side of his head just for fun.
Favorite Scene: Guiron is introduced by defeating a Space Gyaos, and after the battle he proceeds to sushi-fy the dead creature!
Watch the original trailer here.
5. Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)
What It’s About: Gamera meets Fantastic Voyage as kids pilot a small sub into the giant turtle’s body to save him from a baby kaiju.
Why It’s Unique: Jiger essential lays an egg inside Gamera, a pretty unique method of attack!
Favorite Scene: Pre-teen boys show absolutely no fear entering Gamera’s huge mouth. “Wow, a big tonsil!”
Watch the trailer here.
Destroy All Computer Generated Monsters (Part Three): Mikey Walters’ Top Five Kaiju Films Not Featuring GodzillaPublished April 18, 2014 Contributors , Kaiju , Kaiju Project , Mikey Walters , Movie Posters , Sci-Fi Movies/TV 3 Comments
1. Mothra (1961)
What It’s About: Infant Island’s kaiju protector retaliates against atomic testing and the kidnapping of the Shobijin (“small beauties”).
Why It’s Unique: Filled with wonder, beauty, and mysticism, Mothra’s introduction is essential viewing.
Watch the original trailer here.
2. Rodan (1956)
What It’s About: Giant pteranodons awaken and wreak havoc.
Why It’s Unique: Another great kaiju introduction, made even better by the suspenseful plight of miners being attacked by giant insects.
Favorite Scene: I love kaiju films that build the tension as long as possible before the first reveal, and Rodan manages to build for 45 minutes before the flying beast appears.
Watch the original trailer here.
3. War of the Gargantuas (1966)
What It’s About: In this sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), which almost made the list, humanoid kaiju Gaira and Sanda battle in all kinds of terrain, from mountainside to city.
Why It’s Unique: Humanoid kaiju allow for some great battle scenes and highlight the detail of the wonderful forest and mountain miniatures.
Favorite Scene: I’m a fan of all the Maser Cannons used in the film, but the “shock” scene winner has to be Gaira casually swallowing a woman whole, then spitting out the bouquet of flowers she was holding.
Watch the trailer here.
4. Gamera (1965)
What It’s About: A prehistoric giant turtle who consumes fire and flies with rocket power must be stopped.
Why It’s Unique: The first film of the second most popular kaiju series has a serious tone—unlike the rest of the franchise, aimed squarely at children—and features wonderful effects.
Favorite Scene: While Gamera destroys a ship stuck in the ice, tiny animated figures run away from the wreckage. Also, as Gamera stomps through the city, people can be seen running by in building windows (achieved with a filmstrip-like effect).
Watch the original trailer here.
5. Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)
What It’s About: Through a mystical bond with a young girl, Gamera awakes to defend Earth against his ancient foe, Gyaos.
Why It’s Unique: Gamera’s first Heisei film features incredible effects and a more mature tone, so this is a great one to show your friends who don’t “get” kaiju.
Favorite Scene: In the middle of fantastic fighting and destruction effects, watching poor Asagi (the young girl mentioned above) feel Gamera’s pain is intense!
Watch the trailers here.
1. Gojira/Godzilla (1954)
What It’s About: Godzilla terrorizes Tokyo in the midst of a love triangle and scientific sacrifice.
Why It’s Unique: The original, classic Godzilla defined the kaiju genre. It has everything from serious drama to groundbreaking special effects.
Favorite Scene: Godzilla’s breath melts electrical towers that were painstakingly constructed of wax to achieve the effect.
Watch the original trailer here.
2. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
What It’s About: Mothra and her larvae save Japan from Godzilla, even though, ultimately, greedy businessmen are at fault.
Why It’s Unique: Always a kaiju fan favorite with an excellent Toho kaiju crossover plot. Mothra’s mystical nature is explored, while Godzilla remains a ferocious force.
Favorite Scene: Unique Godzilla reveal as he rises up from underground rather than the ocean. Also, the webs the larvae use to battle Godzilla were an incredible effect for the time, created from liquid Styrofoam.
Watch the original trailer here.
3. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
What It’s About: Planet X steals Godzilla and Rodan through trickery and unleashes them on Earth along with King Ghidorah.
Why It’s Unique: Alien invaders become a staple of the series and Godzilla does a famous dance.
Favorite Scene: There are some amazing optical effects of the Xians and their huge flying saucer, but Kumi Mizuno steals the show as Miss Namikawa, convincing Glenn her love is real by saving his life.
Watch the original trailer here.
4. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
What It’s About: Cyborg love (spoiler alert) helps Godzilla defeat Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla.
Why It’s Unique: Last film of the Shōwa series with excellent continuity from the previous Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974).
Favorite Scene: There’s a beautiful “real sky” shot of Titanosaurus (kaiju were rarely shot outside of a studio), and Mechagodzilla often becomes a giant fireworks display as he blasts his array of weapons all at once.
Watch the original trailer here.
5. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
What It’s About: Godzilla is revived by the spirits of World War II Japanese soldiers and can only be stopped by a trio of kaiju guardians.
Why It’s Unique: Mothra, King Ghidorah, and Baragon are “re-cast” as mythical guardians.
Favorite Scene: A terrified woman, helpless in traction, screams as the possessed, white-eyed Godzilla stomps past her hospital room. As she breathes a sigh of relief, Godzilla’s tail swings around to destroy the entire building!
Watch the trailers here.
Part one of Destroy All Computer Generated Monsters is here.
The idea here is pretty simple: Kaiju, a Japanese film genre focusing on giant, mythic monsters, turns 60 this year. Before Hollywood tramples the elusively deep tradition for a second time (third, if you count Pacific Rim), I wanted to go back and talk about the real deal, especially with the curious beginner and lapsed fan in mind. We all watched and adored Godzilla and his cohorts as kids. With a little patience and imagination, the experience can be even more rewarding as an adult.
There will be four parts in the series. In part one, I talk with Mikey Walters about the origins, characteristics, and themes of kaiju, as well as the evolution of the Godzilla character. In parts two through four, presented on consecutive Fridays starting next week, Mikey will offer his personal essential kaiju film lists, which include (1) his favorite five Godzilla films, (2) his favorite five non-Godzilla kaiju, and (3) his favorite five “guilty pleasure” kaiju.
For reference, most kaiju movies are classified according to release dates roughly corresponding to Japanese historical eras: the Shōwa era (1954 – 1975), the Heisei era (1984 – 1995), and the Millennium era (1999 – 2004). Each era has its own flavor, method, and continuity (or continuities). I should also mention that, in English, ‘kaiju’ can refer to the film genre, or it can refer to the actual monster(s), depending on the context. In the original Japanese, kaijū refers to the monster (literally ‘strange creature’), and kaijū eiga refers to the monster movie.
Mikey Walters has been a fan and student of kaiju for many years, and has been studying the Japanese language since 2004. He has talked about the genre extensively on his own blog. This project was made possible by all the time, energy, and knowledge he so generously devoted to it. (Please note: the inflexibly purist views expressed in the title and first paragraph above are mine, not his.)
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2W2N: `Kaiju’ in the English world usually translates, in spirit, as ‘giant monster on the rampage’. Is it really that simple? What are the defining characteristics of kaiju? Does the genre have to feature suit work, for instance? Can an American movie ever properly be called kaiju?
WALTERS: My thoughts on the kaiju genre have grown out of my admiration of Japanese tokusatsu (special effects) films, which I discovered in my childhood. That admiration has developed into a true obsession over the years. There are many excellent sources of scholarly research on kaiju films, both online and in print, of which I’m completely in awe (see a partial list at the bottom of this Q&A). However, I can certainly offer my opinions as a fan and student of the genre.
As mentioned, a kaiju film certainly has to have a giant monster in it, but I feel there are more qualities that make the genre unique. First, while most would label these movies as science fiction, I think the creators of these films thought of them as fantasy. In science fiction, situations need to feel consistently real or at least possible, but in fantasy, it’s okay to bend the rules. Since the plots of most kaiju movies are like morality plays (more on that in a moment), it makes sense that they should almost feel like fairy tales. Eiji Tsuburaya, Toho’s special effects master who worked on most of the classics, was keenly aware of this, and wanted the audience to feel like a participant in the fantasy. In fact, he often opted for less realistic effects shots to make this point. In Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), for instance, there is an infamous scene where Baragon destroys a farm and an obviously miniature horse is knocked over. Tsuburaya could have used an optical print to matte in a real horse, but he wanted the audience to be aware of the fantasy and stretch their minds and emotions to accept it and be a part of it. (I can’t resist mentioning that this horse was included as an accessory with the recent Revoltech Baragon toy as a wonderful nod to serious fans!)
Second, I think most kaiju films contain a positive moral or message of some sort. Sometimes this message is the classic one of mankind or science going “too far,” such as the nuclear testing that created the original Godzilla, or environmental abuse, such as the heavy-handed scenes of pollution that spawned Hedorah (a.k.a. the Smog Monster). But more often, these films are about the unity, spirit or will of mankind, not to overcome kaiju, but to somehow coexist with them. Kaiju are usually thought of as a force of nature and often seen as mystical, as if their presence, regardless of the calamity and destruction they bring, is “ordained” to bring mankind together.
Third, and I realize this is a chicken and egg situation, kaiju films have developed many strong traditions, both in the realm of special effects and character archetypes. While more recent Japanese kaiju movies have increasingly improved special effects with the use of CGI, they have never abandoned the artistry of suit actors stomping through a detailed miniature set, and it would probably be unthinkable for them to do so. This tradition not only honors the special effects masters who invented the techniques, but also maintains the fantasy that I mentioned before. Many movies include certain characters like the “grizzled general with a past,” or the “sensitive child who loves kaiju,” among many others, and while kaiju films are not known for character development, these archetypes do seem to have a natural arc that is resolved along the way.
It’s hard to make a judgment call on American kaiju films, but my opinion is that it can’t truly be done, simply because American audiences demand too much realism and are unwilling to “partner” with the filmmakers in the fantasy. Pacific Rim (2013) was a fantastic love letter to the genre, and felt more like a real kaiju film than any other American attempt (even including the character archetypes), but the special effects were just too modern and broke the traditions I think are necessary. That’s not to say I didn’t love the movie, but I often found myself hoping for simpler cinematography so I could determine my own sense of participation in the battle.
2W2N: The giant monster genre started in 1933 with the hugely successful King Kong. The movie had a tremendous influence on the two men who would perfect their respective techniques and define the genre forever: Eiji Tsuburaya and Ray Harryhausen. Do you know how Tsuburaya came to “suitmation” instead of stop-motion? Was it because Japanese effects artists were so much more advanced with miniatures?
WALTERS: Tsuburaya was certainly a huge fan of King Kong (and later The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which Harryhausen made in 1953, just before Godzilla‘s premiere in 1954), and actually dreamed of mastering the stop-motion process. There were several reasons that Tsuburaya settled on suitmation. First, Toho wanted Godzilla (Gojira in the original Japanese) made quickly and inexpensively, and Tsuburaya estimated that it would take years to bring his monster to life using stop-motion. Incredibly, Godzilla was shot in only three months, so he certainly made the right choice.
Second, and probably more important, because suitmation defined the kaiju’s “real world” size as the size of the suit actor, the scale of the miniature environments was drastically larger than would have been possible with a stop-motion armature. You can imagine the difference between a skyscraper built to the scale of a 12-inch puppet versus the scale of a 5-foot man! Tsuburaya was already known for his fantastic ability in miniature photography. (He is famously known for shooting a miniature recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a scene from the 1942 Japanese film The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malay, that was later mistaken to be actual footage by the U.S. military!) These larger sized environments allowed for extreme detail that simply would not have been possible at a smaller scale, allowing Tsuburaya and his skilled crew to realistically recreate Tokyo landmarks and even place individual roof tiles for Godzilla’s stomping pleasure.
It’s interesting to note that Toho did allow Tsuburaya to experiment with stop-motion in a limited sense. In fact, the original Godzilla does contain two stop-motion segments: one of a truck crashing onto its side, and one of Godzilla’s tail. There’s no reason the truck crash couldn’t have been shot in live action, although sometimes I think Tsuburaya “prepares” the viewer for a cut to a miniature scene by using a transitional scene like this. Later, in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Tsuburaya experimented again during the giant octopus attack. One quick scene uses stop-motion as a tentacle grabs a doomed native, while the rest of the sequence uses a live octopus. These scenes are fun to see, but ultimately I think Tsuburaya and Toho realized they were defining a new genre with their films, so they abandoned the stop-motion experiments.
2W2N: I want to go back to the kaiju themselves. They’re certainly forces of nature, as you said, but don’t they also represent us, our struggle to cope with our own destructive impulses? There’s no exact analogy in American film, but I’m thinking of George Romero’s zombies/ghouls, or even Jason in the Friday the 13th franchise. We can’t kill the monsters because the monsters are part of us, because inhumanity is part of humanity. To be more specific, is it off base to say that the kaiju genre—initially, at least—was just as much a statement against Japanese imperialism as it was against the atomic bombings that ended the Empire?
WALTERS: That’s a difficult question, since true kaiju films are very much a product of Japanese culture, and it’s impossible for someone raised in another culture to fully relate to the Japanese mindset, especially as it was in 1954 at the release of the original Godzilla. Without a doubt, nearly every kaiju film ends with a variation of the lament: “The human race has pushed science too far! Our own arrogance has awakened the beasts!” However, I think “awakened” is a key concept. Most Earth-born kaiju (excluding kaiju from space used for invasion purposes, such as King Ghidorah or Gigan) already existed and were simply slumbering, inside a mountain or at the bottom of the ocean, and were awakened by mankind’s interference. So we didn’t actually create the kaiju, we only angered them (or perhaps enlarged them via radiation) by our hubris, abuse of science, or disregard for the environment.
There’s no question that the original Godzilla was a statement against nuclear weapons, but in addition to the obvious references to H-bomb testing on Bikini Atoll or the hardships of life in a post-nuclear tragedy (brought out in an interesting conversation on a train in a scene that was cut from the U.S. release), the plot involving Dr. Serizawa and the Oxygen Destroyer seems to mirror the idea that mankind has incredible destructive power. So perhaps the end of the movie does speak to your point—“we can’t kill the monsters because the monsters are part of us”—because although Serizawa has destroyed all of his research material that led to the creation of the Oxygen Destroyer, he still realizes that he must destroy himself as well. Because he does not trust himself to keep his scientific discovery a secret forever, as a representative of mankind and science, he made sure the one and only use of his discovery would result in his own death.
2W2N: Good points. I’m probably trying a little too hard to push my own Western interpretation. Let me go in a different direction, since you mentioned Serizawa. I thought of the character recently while watching Robert Oppenheimer’s famous TV interview in 1965, when he describes his feelings about developing the atomic bomb with a quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” The footage is absolutely chilling. I know this is a tough question, but do you think Serizawa and his final sacrifice were meant to be a statement about the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project?
WALTERS: You aren’t kidding when you say it’s a tough question! It’s hard to say that there’s a real connection between the Manhattan Project and Serizawa, but I do think there’s a statement about humanity, since director Ishirō Honda often liked to show that, regardless of our destructive nature, there is hope if we grit our teeth and do the right thing, no matter how tragic. Whether it’s self-sacrifice to destroy a rampaging kaiju, or even altering the Earth’s orbit with huge rockets to avoid colliding with a star in Gorath (1962), making the hard decision can redeem us, at least temporarily.
I have to admit my historical knowledge of Oppenheimer is lacking, but I think Serizawa’s situation differs in a few ways. His discovery of the Oxygen Destroyer is an accident, and he immediately decides to keep it a secret until he can find a way for it to benefit humanity. I think he only tells Emiko about it as a weird way to impress her, since he’s insecure in the love triangle. He is so adamant in his decision not to use the Oxygen Destroyer that nothing can convince him to do otherwise, until he hears a children’s choir on TV singing for peace. Later, as he starts to burn all his research, Emiko cries because I think she already knows Serizawa will sacrifice himself, because he knows how to make the hard decision to avoid Oppenheimer’s later regret. In the Heisei series, this becomes incredibly ironic, because the use of the Oxygen Destroyer in Tokyo Bay mutates prehistoric creatures that eventually form Destoroyah.
2W2N: The self-sacrifice required by duty and honor is certainly sacrosanct in Japanese culture, isn’t it? Let’s talk some Godzilla, since he’s (is he really male, or is that presumption on my part?) the most popular kaiju by far. Rewatching all the films from the Shōwa era, it’s really interesting to see how the character develops and the mood of the films changes. In the first two movies, Godzilla is something of a plot device, albeit a magnificent one, that generates the human drama. The third, King Kong vs. Godzilla, is a traditional monster mash. But by the time we get to Mothra vs. Godzilla, things have changed entirely. There are multiple kaiju now, and they’re unquestionably front and center. The tragedy of Serizawa (and Kobayashi, in Godzilla Raids Again) is replaced by the tragedy of Mothra. The mythology surrounding the creatures starts to build. The fantasy elements begin to take over.
How and why did the direction change so quickly?
WALTERS: Godzilla Raids Again (1955) was rushed into production quickly (it’s quite amazing to think that a special effects oriented sequel could be in theaters only a year after the original), so inventing another kaiju (Anguirus) for the new Godzilla to battle was perhaps the easiest way to get things rolling. This quickly established the kaiju vs. kaiju format, and I think the fact that audiences enjoyed these massive matches influenced the direction of future movies. While I love to think of kaiju movies as art films (and I feel like this interpretation is valid in many ways), there’s no doubt that Toho was looking for box office success and made an effort to give the public what it wanted.
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) is quite unique (and the best of the series to many fans) in its mythology, but it benefits greatly from the fact that Mothra was fully introduced in her own 1961 film, so she brought a significant backstory that made a great story even richer. But the biggest change in direction for the series comes in the very next film, Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), when Godzilla does his famous “victory dance” after driving off King Ghidorah, now considered to be the moment when Godzilla becomes anthropomorphized into a superhero. From then on, Godzilla starts displaying human traits and even human movements that Japanese audiences would recognize from contemporary celebrities, and once Toho started to realize how children loved cheering on Godzilla, the tone of the movies changed drastically, until it seems like every film ends with Godzilla walking into the sunset while children wave and scream goodbye. I still enjoy these lighthearted scenes in the series, but I think they also drove away the “serious” audience and caused a somewhat necessary end to the Shōwa series before the Heisei reboot in 1984.
2W2N: A couple of moments stand out for me in terms of Godzilla becoming a real character and superhero/anti-hero. The first is in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), when Mothra tries to convince the warring Godzilla and Rodan to join forces and defend the Earth against Ghidorah. Godzilla responds that he has “no reason to save humans,” who are always “bullying” him, and Rodan agrees. But they do eventually team up when Ghidorah starts to bully Mothra. All of this is archetypal anti-hero behavior.
The second, from Invasion of Astro-Monster, comes after the Xians have dumped Godzilla and Rodan on Planet X. As the Earth astronauts are taking off, Godzilla gives this plaintive wail, and we understand that the Earth is his home too, and that he’s not just a mindless beast to be bartered and enslaved. It’s the first time I really felt sorry for the big guy.
What do you make of Destroy All Monsters (1968)? It’s certainly a lot of fun, but how does it fit into the franchise and the kaiju mythology? It was originally supposed to be the final Godzilla movie, correct?
WALTERS: I love both of the moments you mentioned, and they seem to drive home the feeling that Godzilla morphs into a “protector of the Earth,” not necessarily a “protector of humanity.” By the time Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) comes around, Godzilla is definitely fighting to save the planet from a creature literally made from mankind’s own sludge and waste, and although he does work with the humans to help with their Hedorah-drying electrode plot, I distinctly get the sense that Godzilla is annoyed the whole time. It’s really interesting how Godzilla’s “purpose for being” changes multiple times, especially as the Heisei series kept restarting the continuity. In Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), he is almost a spiritual protector of Japan, as seen in the flashback scenes of the young Godzillasaurus fighting back U.S. troops to protect Japanese forces on Lagos Island; and later, in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), by far the most mystical plot of the entire series (not to mention the film with the longest title), he’s revealed to be “powered” by the spirits of Japanese soldiers lost in World War II, a far cry from his days on Monster Island buddying around with Jet Jaguar!
Getting back to the Shōwa continuity, Destroy All Monsters is certainly epic, but also unusual simply because the kaiju who we’ve seen to be so mighty and awe-inspiring have allowed themselves to be corralled onto Monster Island where they all just live in peace. During most of the movie, as they ransack all the great cities and monuments, the kaiju are under Kilaakian mind-control, so even their usual out-of-control rampaging nature has to be spurned on by external forces. There’s no denying that the final battle with King Ghidorah is one of the best (even including bloodshed, which was somewhat rare at the time), so when the kaiju finally do wake up and have to fight together for their own survival, as well as Earth’s and humanity’s, it’s worth the wait. You are correct that Toho considered making Destroy All Monsters the final movie, maybe just to get the entire dream team (Honda, Tsuburaya, and longtime composer Akira Ikufube) together again at least one more time.
2W2N: You’ve been a serious kaiju student and enthusiast for going on 10 years, to the point where you enjoy listening to and analyzing CDs filled with “kaiju roars and growls” and various sound effects from the movies. What is it about the genre that you find most fascinating and inspiring?
WALTERS: Of course there are many reasons that I love these films, such as the wonderful imagination that spawned so many unique kaiju (as evidenced by the more than 100 kaiju toys on my shelf), or the fun juxtaposition of seriousness in the midst of often incredible situations, but what really brings me back to the genre again and again is the true craft of the special effects. Regardless of how many books I read or behind the scenes clips I watch, I am constantly thinking about the hard work of building the kaiju suits, the detailed miniatures, setting up each shot, and planning it all in the first place. I love seeing the “brush strokes” of the artists’ work, and their pioneering and ingenious efforts are mind-boggling to me. In the same way that I prefer hand-drawn animation to CG, there’s just something about seeing enough of the “rough edges” to know that what I’m watching is a masterpiece. To me, kaiju are so incredible because it took unbelievably talented artists like Tsuburaya to bring them to life.
Mikey’s suggestions for further reading include Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman, Godzilla, and Friends in the Golden Age of Japanese Science Fiction Film (2014), by August Ragone; A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series (2010), by David Kalat; The Good, the Bad, and Godzilla (Ragone’s blog); and Toho Kingdom.
This article is © 2014 Michael Walters and 2 Warps to Neptune. All images © their respective creators. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the copyright holders.