Greg Keyes and Drew Edward Johnson’s Godzilla: Dominion is the latest in Legendary Comics’ series of Monsterverse tie-in graphic novels. Dominion follows Godzilla as he restores order in chaos of the aftermath of 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. In preparation for the release, Keyes and Johnson were kind enough to answer a few questions for WWAC.
Greg, this is the first time you’ve written for a comic or graphic novel, how does the writing process vary from your usual format of novels?
Keyes: Mentally – the way things form in my head – it’s the same process. I imagine what’s happening and then search for words to express it. That’s how it starts, anyway. But unlike a book, in which the description is woven into everything else, in a graphic novel script what I “see” breaks away from the narrative entirely to become a set of instructions for the artist. In a traditional book, I’m collaborating with each reader individually; they read my words and build images in their heads based on them. With the graphic novel, I was collaborating with a single person, the artist, and the instructions often ended with something like “here’s what I think but if the artist has a better idea, go for it.” Sort of like writing recipes for a cookbook which encourages cooks to improvise a bit with the ingredients. I had seen Drew Johnson’s work, and though I didn’t know him personally at the time, I had confidence that his creative instincts would be good ones. And I was right.
This graphic novel was also different in that there is no dialogue, which sets it apart not just from most strictly prose novels, but from most graphic novels. That left me to concentrate on the captions, which I wrestled with a good bit. I wanted it to be something like an epic poem squeezed down into a sequence of haiku-like bits crossed with a nature documentary – as if my narrative was dictated by what Godzilla was doing rather than the other way around.
What was your introduction to Godzilla? How has that first experience shaped your views on the character?
Keyes: I mostly read as a child. I grew up without many movies and without much television. I was a dinosaur freak, and my connection to Godzilla was that I was aware there was there was this big dinosaur-like thing out there in movies that I hadn’t seen – and I wanted to. Godzilla was sort of this thing I was chasing that I didn’t catch until I was twelve or thirteen, something like that. That was so long ago I’m not sure what the effect on me was. My experience of Godzilla has largely been shaped recently, by the Legendary films and going back through the earlier films I hadn’t seen. I was affected by other monster movies and by mythic monsters I read about or heard about as a child. I often dreamed of giant monsters, some of which were scary and some of which weren’t.
Johnson: I grew up watching many Movies For a Saturday/Sunday Afternoon/Evening on KTLA Channel 5. A lot of these were classic Sci-Fi and horror movies, with an occasional mystery film thrown in for good measure. If we weren’t playing outside or doing chores, my brother and I would settle on the living room floor and see what movie the host, Tom Hatton, was showing.
They showed great Kaiju films on a pretty regular basis, so that’s where we first met Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and many more. These films were visually exciting, and endlessly creative. They had giant monsters fighting each other, while falling on buildings and mountains. They were amazing.
I was also intrigued by them from having watched a lot of Ultraman when I was younger. Ultraman was the first thing that spurred me to draw. I’d wear out my red and silver crayons drawing Ultraman battling giant monsters. From there, getting into Godzilla movies just made sense.
I can’t say that my early experiences watching Godzilla movies really shaped my views of the character, because my main fascination was watching him throw down with other monsters at the time. Legendary’s Monsterverse films really got me thinking for the first time about the natures of Godzilla, and then Kong. I was really struck by the final scene of Godzilla 2014, where Godzilla has beaten the other MOTUs, San Francisco lies in smoking ruins, and as he turns to go, Godzilla looks truly tired. He’s carried out his unpleasant duty to protect his Kingdom and those that inhabit it, even those obnoxious tiny things that live in buildings. He has fulfilled his natural function, and he is calling it a day.
I’d never noticed the noble side of Godzilla. I’d never even considered whether or not Godzilla was good or evil. Godzilla 2014 gave me my first inclination to consider the morality of Godzilla, and it was then that Godzilla as a character began to take shape for me.
In terms of the creative process for Dominion, did Legendary come to you with a story they wanted to have told or was it more a case of you being asked to create a story of your own?
Keyes: Legendary came to me with the idea to do a graphic novel from Godzilla’s point of view. I did a brief chapter in the novelization of Godzilla: King of the Monsters from his POV, and I think they thought it worked well enough to do a longer version. I then proposed outlines detailing the actual events of the book. There was some back and forth on that until everyone was happy with the outline.
Greg, you wrote the movie novelization for Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Do you feel that your previous experience writing for the Monsterverse and specifically for a Godzilla property has impacted the writing process for Godzilla: Dominion?
Keyes: Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, Dominion is an outgrowth of a chapter I wrote in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. I was allowed to add a fair amount of content to that book that wasn’t in the movie, but that meant working very closely with Legendary’s mythology team as well as running most of it past the people at Toho. By the end of that process, I had a fairly good feel for what would and wouldn’t work in the context of the Monsterverse. Or at least a head-start on it.
Drew, do you feel that your previous work on Godzilla: Aftershock had a positive impact on your creative process during the production of Dominion?
Johnson: Absolutely. Illustrating Godzilla: Aftershock, I had to see from Godzilla’s point of view, as well as from the points of view of the humans who’d made careers of observing him. This was not as full a view inside of Godzilla’s nature and his world as readers will get in Godzilla: Dominion, but in Aftershock, we’re shown an even more heroic and self-sacrificing view of Godzilla. His sense of duty and his instincts to protect his Kingdom are on full display. By the end of the story, Godzilla has lost a significant part of his own body in defending the world from Gin-Shin Mushi. Again, at the end, he is battle weary, and injured as he makes his way home to his well-earned rest. Alone, he bears the scars of a necessary battle. There’s a kind of noble alienation there that reminds me of many other iconic heroes.
Greg, how would you say that your background in anthropology has influenced your work?
Keyes: I think you can see threads in all of my work that come from that background. My focus was on the anthropology of belief, myth, and legend. These elements are fundamental to fantasy, and I feel that having a solid grounding in mythologies beyond the usual European ones – Greek, Norse, Irish, etc. allows me to do something a little different. It was particularly good preparation for Dominion, which moves between the intimate and the mythic, and happens on a world stage.
You’ve both previously worked within the Monsterverse and specifically with Godzilla, how do you feel that your contributions have helped to flesh out the monsterverse?
Keyes: I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it that way. Working with Legendary, I’m not the primary creator. The Titans I used, for instance, had already been dreamed up by the mythology team. I got to realize them on paper, and to some extent shaped how they were presented. Likewise I wrote original content for both novelizations, all of which was pretty thoroughly vetted. It’s difficult to separate my contributions from those of everyone else involved.
Johnson: I think that each Monsterverse project unveils a bit more of the bigger picture of the universe that’s being constructed. For my part, I’ve designed and helped bring to life some new members of the MONARCH team, as well as Ginshin-Mushi, the Great Dragon Beetle, in Aftershock. In Dominion, I designed Amhuluk and Na Kika, and made modifications to Scylla, Behemoth, and Tiamat. I got to help show readers an up-close and personal view of Godzilla’s Kingdom.
How did Covid-19 impact the process of creating Godzilla: Dominion?
Keyes: I finished the major writing of Dominion before the pandemic kicked in, but the delay of the release of Godzilla vs. Kong gave us all many more months to edit and perfect the final product. We were able to take our time with it.
Johnson: Well, my studiomates and I had to close our Garage Art Studios office, which was really sad for us, and I found myself working exclusively at home, now with my wife and kids at work and school around me.
The adjustment was tough on us all, and often, work was slower than I would have liked, but fortunately, our deadline wasn’t pressing hard. COVID had necessitated the delay of the release of Godzilla vs. Kong, and the wonderful folks at Legendary kept me working steadily, with much kindness and encouragement. Ultimately, I feel lucky for the extra time I was allowed for doing the best work I could do on Dominion. Plus, it’s been fun to be able to show my kids the evolution of an entire Godzilla graphic novel in real time.
Drew, how do you approach drawing a non-humanoid character like Godzilla in terms of making them relatable to readers?
Johnson: Like humanoid characters, it’s all in the acting. Especially in Dominion, where there is no human narrative to explain the Titans’ actions or motivations. Expression and body language in the Titans is everything.
For Godzilla, I thought of him almost like a Superman archetype—a lone protector of people and planet from threats as powerful or more powerful than himself. Godzilla is plugged into the planet and has a built-in understanding of its inhabitants. He’s the King, though, guarding a Kingdom, and unlike a Superman type, he won’t allow his subjects to get in the way of his larger duties.
I try to convey Godzilla’s sensitivity to the world around him as much as possible. I hope to create a sense of Godzilla’s instinctual awareness of his place in the world as he passes through it. Other Titans in the story are not nearly as aware of the world around them as Godzilla, and that’s the source of much of their threat. These other Titans want what they want, and that’s the extent of their necessary visual acting. My hope is that the readers of Dominion can see in my illustrations, the self-awareness and the nobility that separates Godzilla from the other Titans, and the advantages those attributes give him.
Godzilla: Dominion is available now, in both physical and digital formats.