Interview with IDW Cover Artist Matt Frank
Author: Bob Johnson
Special thanks to IDW Comics
As fans eagerly await the debut of IDW’s Godzilla Kingdom of Monsters comic, SciFi Japan caught up with cover artist Matt Frank and discussed the comic and what to expect in the months (years?) ahead. We also have an exclusive look at the Rodan cover for issue #2! So scroll down, read on and enjoy!
SciFi Japan: Tell us about your beginnings. Where did you grow up? What was life like, pre-comic biz?
Matt Frank: I grew up in good ol’ San Antonio, Texas, and promptly moved to Austin for college, and have yet to find a reason to leave. Growing up I loved drawing dinosaurs, and my parents saw fit to take me around Central America and encourage my love of other cultures, not to mention the occasional surfing lesson from my dad.
SFJ: Were there many dinosaurs in Central America?
Matt: Heh….lots of huge rock lizards and crazy-lookin’ birds down there, so that’s a start!
SFJ: What is your art background? Were you always interested in comics or were you going in another direction?
Matt: I attended college at the University of Texas in Austin, but most of my training was in modern art sensibilities. Between classes, however, I found time to study comic book art, not to mention concept art and animation. Manga was my first love when it came to sequential art, but some helpful friends allowed me to branch out and really dive into all of the various genres of comics. During college I also started a little fan project called “Godzilla Neo” that gave me an excuse to make character illustrations at least once a week. Good times.
SFJ: What exactly was “Godzilla Neo”? What kinds of things did you do with it?
Matt: “Godzilla Neo” was a little project where I started taking Godzilla characters and redesigning them for fun. Maybe switching up origin stories or re-imagining various monsters…like how Gigamoth is the ancestor of Mothra and Battra, or combining the events of YAMATO TAKERU with the mythology of GMK. It was just for fun and I still dabble with redesigns to this day.
SFJ: How did you get involved in the comic book business?
Matt: I had wanted to draw comics since high school, but my first professional gig can in 2006, I believe, when Blue Water Productions brought me in to help with the Ray Harryhausen Presents series. I managed to get a one-shot out of it, Wrath of the Titans: Cyclops, and also got a few Transformers-related jobs with IDW in their early days, particularly the Beast Wars Sourcebook.
SFJ: Were you a fan of Godzilla and Japanese monsters growing up?
Matt: Of course! Daikaiju are a huge part of my life, and a big inspiration for when I draw. It was the Dark Horse Godzilla comics that really got my blood all fired up, especially the work of Art Adams. I used to carry at least 7 issues of that series in my backpack to school, where, while waiting for my parents to pick me up, I’d climb out onto the playscape and re-read them over and over and over.
I’ve also come to really admire the artistic vision of Honda and raw creative power of Tsuburaya. Granted, my love of kaiju films also allowed me to really begin enjoying Ultraman and other tokusatsu, and it was that love that was a springboard into Japanese culture, anime, manga, and, of course, comics! So there’s your connector point!
SFJ: You know, Keith Aiken, who runs SciFi Japan with me did inks on some of the Dark Horse Godzilla comics, as well as storyboards on the Sony Godzilla cartoon. So it is always nice to see fans get their professional breaks and actually get to work on this stuff. What was your reaction to finally get your hands (or pens) on Godzilla?
Matt: I spoke with Keith once or twice, and he did mention that! It’s pretty cool how things come about like that. When I got the job, most people expected me to jump up and run around the house screaming in joy, but I took all that excited energy and funneled it directly into sketching and laying out concepts for the covers. The only thing better than enthusiasm is promptness!
SFJ: How did you get the job doing the covers for Godzilla?
Matt: Matt: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” or so my mother always says. After doing some Robots who happened to be In Disguise, I would periodically pester Chris Ryall and the guys at IDW for work, and would drop some subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints that they should consider picking up the Godzilla franchise. When the news broke last October for the new series, I could hardly contain my excitement, and started harassing poor Chris again. He then approached me with the idea of this awesome store promotion, and away we went! Around that time, he also came up with the idea for these collectible portrait covers.
SFJ: How true to the original characters do you have to be? Or do you have freedom to expand on or update the monster designs?
Matt: Toho is remarkably dedicated to accuracy when you’ve selected a particular design. For example, Fire Rodan’s spines and spikes must be just so, and Mothra’s colors must be correct. Their notes are quite helpful artistically, however, as sometimes they catch things, and I’ll look at it and think “Oh wow, that’s a good idea! Why didn’t I catch that?” As for expanding on monster designs…that’s an interesting topic, because I did make a Godzilla design that has yet to see the light of day, and they quite liked it! Maybe I’ll get to use it someday!
SFJ: What is your favorite Godzilla design? And which is your favorite film?
Matt: My personal favorite has to be the “Bato-Goji” from 1992’s GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: BATTLE FOR THE EARTH. I especially love the face – that shrewd mix of feral mammalian intelligence and cold reptilian fury. However, I feel that the GMK Godzilla is the most believable and “realistic,” not to mention one of the best suits. And who doesn’t have a soft spot for the late 70’s Big G? That cuddly superhero take is just too much fun.
As for my FAVORITE? MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964), more than any other, though GMK comes nipping at its heels. I do feel that GODZILLA’S REVENGE is terribly underrated, though!
SFJ: Do you prefer your Godzilla to be a city basher? Defender of the Earth? Somewhat ambiguous or a combination? And how does that vision fit in with what IDW is portraying him as?
Matt: Though morally ambiguous city-smashing can be quite cathartic, I like my monstrous anti-heroes to have a little motivation. I always preferred it when Godzilla is acting on the specific ideal that he’s defending his territory, only really stomping ashore when he’s got an enemy to fight or when humans have just honked him off a wee bit too much. Thus far, “blind indifference tempered with aggression” seems to be the IDW route, and that works fine for me!
SFJ: How do you put your own unique style or signature on creatures that are already designed by someone else?
Matt: A lot of it comes from how you render or interpret the characters. An artist’s style is in their very lines, in the way they compose an image or choose to position a character. For example, I had never seen an image of Anguirus mounted atop a hill, howling right at the viewer. I took that idea and ran with it!
SFJ: Speaking of Anguirus, when you see him or Baragon or Varan in the movies, the suit actors are on their knees in the suits. Is that something you have to incorporate into the designs or can you make them more biologically correct?
Matt: Well, with the Anguirus cover, the obvious solution was to have his feet hidden behind those rocks! But I think a little flexibility should be fine as long as it doesn’t stretch the design too much. Just shorten the legs for a more quadruped pose and they’re good to go.
SFJ: I see that IDW is overworking you already with 80 covers for the first issue. That’s quite an undertaking! Can you tell us how you went about doing that?
Matt: A lot of Ibuprofen and bionic implants. Seriously though, I had help. Originally I was supposed to do all of the covers myself, and got about 5 or 6 done, but that was when we only had 10 or 20 stores signed up…then, it exploded! Before we knew it we had 75 stores to draw and only a few weeks to do it! We got Cassandra Gibbs, Joana Lafuente, Gordon Purcell, Alan Robinson, Kris Carter, and Jamie Snell drawing stores, and Liam Shalloo, John Paul Bove, Kote Carvajel and my right-hand-man (and Transformers comics veteran) Josh Perez coloring them. I also reached out to kaiju artist Frank Parr to lend a hand, unfortunately he had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t help out much.
I also did the lines for the Wondercon exclusive cover, and had Perez work his magic on that as well. Perez colored almost all of my covers that I didn’t color myself.
I personally drew maybe about 30 of the covers (including the base foot art, of course), and edited/re-drew another 20, but the whole lot couldn’t have been completed without so much help in such little time! It was a strenuous task drawing stores AND leading an art team, but it was fun and totally worth it!
SFJ: How did they come up with the idea for the covers? Did they expect so many stores to sign up?
Matt: Chris Ryall was the guy who came up with these great ideas – an elegantly simple promotion and a cool idea for collectible covers…I believe Bambi vs. Godzilla was the inspiration! I do believe that they HOPED they would get a lot of orders, but I don’t think anyone anticipated so many so quickly. It just goes to show you that EVERYONE loves Godzilla.
SFJ: What was the process that you went through with the covers? Reusing the foot and other elements, then drawing around it for each cover?
Matt: My “core image,” the foot and some debris, was the template that each cover required. The stores and people were drawn in under the foot, using reference materials provided by the stores. When completed, the artists would send the covers to myself and IDW for approval, then IDW sent all of our work to Toho and the stores for their approval.
SFJ: Do you have covers planned out? How many of the other monsters will get their own cover?
Matt: As far as I know, probably all of the monsters in the ongoing will get their own covers. I’m planning out covers as I’m informed of the starring monsters in each issue. So there will be plenty to come!
SFJ: Any hints on who we might see coming up?
Matt: Well, as you may have spotted with Eric Powell’s first wraparound cover, Rodan, Anguirus and Mothra are the first to appear, aside from Godzilla. Ghidorah and Kumonga will come skulking in soon enough…but with practically the entire kaiju roster at our fingertips, there’s almost no telling who will be next!
SFJ: Aside from covers, do you have any other Godzilla aspirations? Would you like to do a whole issue?
Matt: Squeaky wheels and grease and all that! I can’t say much, but with everything they’ve got planned, I’ll get an issue yet! I do have some rather…interesting ideas that I’m tossing about right now. We’ll see!
SFJ: How much control does Toho have over covers? Do you have to submit the art to them for approval?
Matt: Toho has final approval over everything, and they definitely do want to make sure that the covers are not only accurate, but artistically sound as well. They have high standards, and it’s always gratifying to meet those standards.
SFJ: If so, how have they been to work with so far?
Matt: Very polite and helpful. They’ll send tons of reference material from stuff that I didn’t even know existed. They are absolutely dedicated to a quality, consistent product.
SFJ: I know they have different artists working on covers. What is the rotation? Are you contracted for a certain amount or is it open-ended?
Matt: It’s fairly open-ended, but it generally seems to be that they’ve got Powell and I as the only regular cover artists, whereas each issue will also have different alternate cover artists for different issues, such as Phil Hester (the interior artist), Jeff Zornow and Alex Ross.
SFJ: What are the plans for the comic? Can you give us any hints on storylines or directions it might go in?
Matt: I’ve gotten a peek at issue 1, and I gotta’ say, it starts off with a bang! Really, this thing is going to be epic if the first issue is any indication. I’m reminded of the Random House Godzilla novels… a sort of “Earth 2” revamping of the Godzillaverse, as Chris Mowry (the head Godzilla guru at IDW) puts it. There’s another mini-series coming after the start of Kingdom of Monsters that is looking really cool, but it won’t take place in the same universe. There’s all kinds of stuff IDW has planned for this franchise – definitely akin to their massive Transformers catalog, and everything thus far is really going to make fans happy.
Below is a collage of covers for issue #1 of Godzilla, Kingdom of Monsters. Can you find your local comic shop?