July 13, 2016

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Stokoe Otomo Woodring-- thoughts on Godzilla: Treasury Edition


Godzilla: Treasury Edition
Written and Drawn by James Stokoe
Color Assists by Heather Breckel
Published by IDW Publishing

The Godzilla: Treasury Edition collects two of James Stokoe’s comics-- Godzilla: Half Century War #1 and Godzilla in Hell #1-- and the differences in Stokoe’s storytelling between both comics is stunning. One of the comics is Katsuhiro Otomo while the other is Jim Woodring. There are plenty of ways that we read Otomo and Woodring that can be applied to reading Stokoe’s Godzilla comics. Stokoe’s comics stand perfectly on their own; you can read these as Stokoe’s comics and that’s how you should read them but they also exist within the world of comics and Stokoe shows himself as both a student and a master in this lovely oversized comic book.

In Otomo’s Akira, the old Tokyo was destroyed. It’s where Kaneda and his buddies go for their joy rides but Otomo’s depiction of this bombed-out ghost town only hint at the majestic buildings and architecture that once stood there. In the first chapter of Half Century War, Stokoe is drawing the moment of destruction that’s only hinted at in Akira. Otomo’s nuclear bombing is replaced by another nuclear, 1950’s era fear; Godzilla himself. Telling the story of one of the soldiers who encounters Godzilla during his initial rampage through Tokyo, Stokoe’s story focuses on the anger and rage both of the monster and of the soldier. Through the chaos of scale and perspective, Stokoe shows the destruction of Tokyo that comes originates in the same fear of uncontrollable forces as Otomo’s stories.

Godzilla: Treasury Edition by James Stokoe


From Akira Volume 3- Katsuhiro Otomo

Stokoe’s split point of view between Godzilla and the soldier’s forces him to often get both of them in the same panel, creating a distorted sense of scale in the book. Godzilla almost exists on a completely different visual plane than the humans who are reacting to his destruction. Unfortunately thanks to reality and the movies that now try to emulate it, the sense of destruction of a city is something that is all too easy to see in our mind’s eye but Stokoe makes it this playful activity of imagination again as the power and forces at work on these pages happening at both the macro and micro level conflict with one another. Adding in the size of the Treasury Edition (think approximately the size of the old Marvel/DC editions) and this story becomes about the competing forces of the macro and the micro.

To build the tension, Stokoe uses the his compositions to create an emotional push and pull. Whether through scale or through perspective or through color, this first chapter of Half Century War uses all of these elements and more to pull the reader into the story and into the conflict. Godzilla is more than either hero or villain in his story because Stokoe makes him into this incomprehensible force of nature. Whether it’s trying to judge the monster’s actions in a city that because of its constrictions may as well have been designed to imprison him or the sheer madness of all of these lines of the buildings shooting off and crumbling off in so many different directions, Stokoe depicts this world caught between chaos and order. And his drawings fall into an order that’s so twisted that it creates the chaos of the issue.

As this chapter of Half Century War is almost all about this madness of Godzilla’s conflict with the “real” world, Godzilla in Hell lands Godzilla in an alien and horrific landscape. As Stokoe tells his story only through image (even if he cheats with some monumental and statuesque words dotting the hellish landscape here and there,) this chapter of the book starts to feel like an arthouse monster movie version of one of Jim Woodring’s recent Frank comics; Weathercraft, Congress of the Animals, and Fran. And in this silent story, Godzilla more resembles Woodring’s Frank, a character who doesn’t so much have agency in his own story as much as he’s a pawn of the stories’ own agency (and maybe by extension, the creator’s.)

Godzilla: Treasury Edition by James Stokoe


Congress of the Animals by Jim Woodring


Even the landscapes that Stokoe creates for his Hell feel like one of the absurd scenes out of a Woodring story. Stokoe’s architecture places Godzilla in a completely different world than the first story in this collection did. For the character, it’s a completely different setting than any movie as well. By removing Godzilla from a recognizable reality, the monster actually becomes more of a character as he becomes more human. This is Godzilla’s stranger in a strange world story so Godzilla becomes as disoriented and shaken as the readers are. In Woodring’s stories, Frank’s journey becomes our journey because we have to learn about the rules and logic of Woodring’s world and that is the same position that Stokoe places us in in Godzilla in Hell.

The nightmarish quality of this story and the lack of any dialogue places us more in the monster’s head than most Godzilla stories can. It’s not just enough to read the plot points Stokoe’s story; you’ve got to read the character and he provides a fun and slightly disturbing text here. You’ve got to watch Godzilla’s actions and reactions to understand the character. The chaos and madness of structure are abandoned and instead, Stokoe replaces it with the build up and releases of the horrors hidden in the images.

Even though Godzilla In Hell was a miniseries (each issue written and drawn by different creators,) Stokoe’s comic works wonderfully on its own as his story is an unending nightmare for the monster. The end of the issue loops back around to the beginning of the story as Stokoe creates a closed loop for Godzilla. This playfulness of time is something else we see in common with Woodring’s stories. With the lack of dialogue, time and pacing become so much more integral into the storytelling as they direct the reader through the story. The pacing of this Stokoe comic or a Woodring comic is crafted through the panels and drawings that the cartoonists put down on the page.

All of James Stokoe comics should be published as oversized comic books. Stokoe’s comics have been published at all sizes- from digest (Wonton Soup) to oversized (Sullivan’s Sluggers)-- and his comics always have this great energy in them. Godzilla: Treasury Edition reprints some great comics but the large format is a much better showcase for these comics because it creates more space and scale for the monster to exist in. With the larger page, his storytelling grows to fill it and becomes grander and more awesome because of all of the visual details and storytelling moments that become exponentially more vivid and delightful.