I love kaiju, and have ever since I can remember. What is a kaiju you ask? Essentially, “kaiju” is a Japanese word meaning “Strange beast”….or “giant monster”. They can be found in all manner of media but these are not be known by and large for being the most artful of cinematic or storytelling experiences, however a legion of like minded science fiction fans love them. I am not sure what the draw is for the rest of the fandom, but for me, it is the size and scope of the issue. The resignation of protagonists that know there is no escaping the destruction to come, the futility of trying to negate the threat, as well as the absurdity of the threat, and yet there it stands, looming.
It is hard to create a serious kaiju story considering what the antagonist has to bring to the table. For one, how does such a huge threat go unnoticed, and if it is capable of avoiding notice…well, how the heck does it do that? These can be pretty hard questions that the storyteller has to answer before the story can be taken further, and considering how much surveillance the world is under today, it is no wonder that fresh new takes on kaiju are hard to come by.
The next item that has to be addressed in any kaiju you are coming up with is how tough should it be? In a world of nuclear weapons and advanced military technology….most nations these days could theoretically wipe your standard 1950’s style kaiju off the map. So either you have to come up with some creative way of explaining why the military is hanging back or you have to overpower said antagonist to the point where the story is not as interesting to read.
Perhaps the most driving plot point behind a kaiju is its origin. Lets examine the big three…Godzilla, King Kong and Gamera. These are arguably the most well known kaiju that there are, and they each have fantastic origins, even if they border on the slightly mysterious.
Godzilla: A relic from a bygone era, awoken/mutated by modern nuclear weapons he comes surging out of the oceans to vent his rage on anything in his path.
King Kong: An intelligent, social creature isolated on a prehistoric island all alone, fighting to survive.
Gamera: The GMO of your nightmares, he was created by an advanced civilization thousands of years ago to serve as a protector from another race of deadly creatures.
Being a huge fan of the genre, I take a glance at anything new to hit the market. Now that means I take a look – all too often I have been let down by authors whose hearts are in the right place, but they have written stories without researching what has come before…or practicing their own writing skills. So a few years ago, when I saw Project Nemesis pop up on Amazon, I let it sit there for a while. My mentality is that if it is actually a kaiju story, the momentum behind it will be as unstoppable as the creature(s) held within its media. So here I am a few years later. Project Nemesis is now a series of novels, a game and as of this summer, a comic. Now all of this aside, there are many stories out there that get loads of publicity, but I wouldn’t give them a second of my time. A very popular series of novels about vampires and werewolves being one clear example. However, after catching a glimpse of who was involved with the comic, I knew that there really must be something to this novel I had seen.
So I went ahead and purchased the first book in what has now become a series; Project Nemesis. I can safely say that I read that one start to finish in a day and ordered the second one while taking food break from the first. I have since read the sequel in a day and Have ordered the remaining novels.
These books and this kaiju are pretty damn awesome folks.
So lets talk about the novel. Firstly, at 288 pages it is not overly long or short, it’s a decent sized read. What makes the book a stand out for me though is the build up, and the growing momentum you can feel the farther you read into the book. I was really impressed by this because normally in this genre, the story falters when said larger monstrosity is not around to wreak havoc. If you know a kaiju fan, you can ask them if they know the phrase “fast forward to the good bits” – they will probably laugh and tell you how the monster parts of all the old movies were great and the bits in between with the people were boring filler.
I can honestly say that Project Nemesis has the best kaiju filler material of anything I have seen or read. It is a monster and a story powered by strong character development. The reason that these sections of the book succeed is because of the main protagonists and normal way they think and react. Something I have gotten sick of is a single, male protagonist who is an expert at every form of martial arts and fells people left and right like some kind of action hero. Project Nemesis threatened to start out like that, only our protagonist drives up to a cabin, opens the door, mistakes a sleeping mama bear for a bean back and then spends a rather humorous, if thrilling pages trying to get himself out of a mess. The next morning he is woken up by a knock on the door from the real bad ass who happens to not only be a woman, but a capable woman as well. I can safely say I was very proud of the author for not reducing her to a damsel in distress not once and for portraying her not as a one dimensional romantic object, but as a normal person who could hold her own.
The kaiju’s origin is what gives the novel its momentum, and adds a lot of the darkness and plot movement while the creature is not on the pages. Nemesis, as the monster is named, did not start out as a monster, she (and I also think its awesome the monster is a female) started as a murdered little girl. The basic origin of said creature is that a biotech company is trying to come up with a way to grow human organs for transplants. Quite noble I’d say. However, when they add a little mystery DNA to the of the organs they are trying to clone….things get a bit out of hand. Of course, the company that is doing this really wasn’t all that noble, and they knew what they were injecting into said organ mix, however they did not tell the people who were actually growing the organs. Our main protagonists, who happen to be a mix of law enforcement/government agency are just inspecting a disturbance and get pulled in at this point – and for a lot more than they bargained for.
Now I am not going to give away any more plot than I already have because when telling people about a thriller/horror with kaiju in it – what is the point of making a recommend when you give away all of the fun bits?
That said, I am going to do you a solid. After reading the book, I got in touch with two people who have helped breath some life into Nemesis. First is the author of the novels, Mr. Jeremy Robinson who was kind enough to answer some questions for The Grid about Project Nemesis the book and some of the side “Projects” that have sprung from it.
How did the concept for Project Nemesis come to your mind? Specifically, the creature’s origin?
The initial trigger for creating Project Nemesis came about when my editor, who knows how much I enjoy kaiju stories, asked me, “What haven’t you written a kaiju novel yet?” My response was basically, “Uhhhhhh,” and then I started working on it. The rest of it is kind of a merger of elements. I wanted the story to take place somewhere new for a kaiju, so I put it in my backyard, literally (the FC-P Crow’s Nest is located in my childhood neighborhood). I wanted the monster to stand out visually, so I included the glowing membranes and hired Matt Frank to flesh out the design I’d written in words. As for the creature’s origin, that’s one of those weird elements that comes out of the creative ether. I close my eyes and let my imagination run. I came up with a bunch of origins that didn’t work (and I don’t remember) and then the idea of having the creature be spawned, in part, from the DNA of a murdered little girl. It’s a horrible thing, but I knew it was right as soon as it entered my head. I then researched gods of vengeance, found Nemesis, and that’s when it all came together.
The pacing of the story in my humble opinion is well done, it does not go from zero to apocalypse in 2-3 chapters, there is a steady build that comprises most of the story. Was this a deliberate choice, or did it just flow out that way?
Most of my novels move at the same kind of pace. It’s something I’m well known for and have honed over the 30ish novels I wrote before Project Nemesis. Fast pacing was something I worked on for years. It’s a tricky balance to keep things fast, but also let readers get to know the characters. But I’ve been doing it long enough now that the pacing just flows. I don’t really have to think about it anymore. It’s more like instinct.
Stemming off of my last question, was the origin the majority of the story because you already knew you would be writing more than one book?
I knew I wanted to write more than one story, but I had no idea how people would respond to a kaiju thriller, which didn’t
exist before Nemesis. Yes, there were a handful of Godzilla novels in the 90s, but they weren’t exactly thrillers (with that pacing you mentioned). So when I wrote Nemesis, I didn’t know it would become a five novel epic. I ended the first book in a way that could have stood on its own or lead into a sequel. To my great delight, Nemesis was a fantastic success worthy of multiple sequels, a video game and a comic book. I’ve currently writing the fifth and final Nemesis book, and am still having a blast.
So you make it perfectly obvious that you are an avid kaiju fan. What is your favorite kaiju film and why?
It’s always hard for me to pick a favorite. I have different favorites for different reasons. My top pick from childhood is Godzilla V. Megalon, with Gigan and Jet Jaguar. You can see the influence that movie had on me in Project Hyperion. As an adult, I’ve always had a soft spot for Godzilla 2000, not just because it’s a really good Godzilla flick, but also because it’s the only Toho Godzilla movie I saw in a movie theater. I’m also a really big fan of all three Gamera movies, and prefer them over most Godzilla movies, aside from the two I mentioned.
What got you started in the kaiju genre?
Like most nerdy kids growing up during the 80s in New England, I spent Saturday mornings watching a TV show called Creature Double Feature. Project Nemesis is dedicated to the show. Every Saturday (after watching Force Five, The Herculoids and Thundaar the Barbarian) I would watch whatever monster movies were playing, which more often than not, included Godzilla. I sat on the living room floor, eating Cocoa Pebbles at the coffee table and drawing Godzilla, Harryhousen monsters and my own creations. It’s probably a weird thing to say, but these memories of being creative while watching monster movies, are some of my fondest childhood memories, and kaiju were a big part of that.
Now the first novel has been translated into comic form, can you tell us a bit about that process? What was the biggest change between that and the novel?
The good news is that I wrote the comic book so the tone and voices of the characters are the same, as is the crux of the story. All of the important stuff is there. But you can’t make a six issue comic book out of a 300 page novel without cropping stuff. Most people notice that the bear scene near the beginning of the novel is missing*, but it’s still alluded to. Other than that, the comic is mostly missing details from certain scenes that had to be compressed. The history of the Crow’s Nest. The history of Truck Betty. Mostly background type stuff, and action that is good fun, but not integral to the plot. The biggest challenge was deciding what to cut. I wrote longer versions of each script and then went through them all, hacking them down to 22 pages each. It’s never easy to cut stuff (I rarely have to do it in a novel) but the end result was fantastic, so I got over it.
* Joe from The Grid here….the bear scene is hilarious and awesome, but only readers of the novel get to know why
Ok, a potential spoiler, in the first novel, what was the most fun part to write?
The most fun, well that would be just about any time Jon Hudson opens his mouth. He’s sarcastic and says what he thinks most of the time. He’s also verbally creative, so I had a great time coming up with creative insults and phrasing. And I think his voice is what keeps the book fun. Nemesis is a tragic story. It’s dark and twisted. And without Hudson, it could have been a really depressing read. But Hudson brings the fun to any situation, so I really enjoyed writing him. Answered without a spoiler!
Jeremy and I carried on a conversation as I read the sequel, and as a recommendation for anyone who reads the first book and wants to jump to the second, you may be better reading his other novel, Island 731 before continuing to Project Maigo, the direct sequel to Project Nemesis. It will not hurt you if you jump straight to the sequel, but you may have even more fun with it if you already know some of the other characters that are brought in ahead of time.
The other person that I spoke to was the ever awesome and all around artist spectacular, Mr. Matt Frank. Matt had the job of fleshing Nemesis out as a monster based on Jeremy’s descriptions. He is also the artist for all of the interiors of American Gothic Press’ Project Nemesis comic. The comic itself is a slightly shortened version of the novel, but having been able to see a few panels, I can tell you that no punches are being pulled when it comes to the horror or darkness found within the pages of the novel.
I asked Matt to sit down and pull some of his favorite pages that he did for the Project Nemesis comic and explain why he enjoyed these scenes so much. So without further adieu, Matt’s choice picks from the series:
This page is a great example of collaboration. Jeremy and I went back-and-forth on this scene a few times, Originally I believe he wanted it to be the entire scene of Maigo’s murder from the book, but I suggested that we keep it short, simple, and shocking. A slow reveal of the catalyzing moment for the entire story. Jeremy then put the Nemesis mythological quote over it, and the page just sings as a result. Diego’s colors are on-point here as well.
Diego’s colors really bring this one together. it’s a fantastic compliment to the cool colors of the previous page, and I’m particularly proud of how my lines on panel 4 beautifully dance with Diego’s soft reds. It’s a great “DAMN” moment.
Out of all of the books this is probably my favorite splash page of Nemmy (notice how all of my favs are near-full-splashes?) I was really just having a ton of fun with her anatomy here, trying some new poses and positions throughout the book, and this one caught my eye. It’s funny how an artist can look at his old work and say “Oh, did I draw that?!”
Now, as if Matt’s inside panels weren’t enough of a treat, the real comic collectors out there can hunt down and collect alternative covers done by the legendary science fiction illustrator, Bob Eggleton. I have attached my personal favorite cover that he has done below.
So for those of you who would like a summer read that breaks the mold, and also gives you something to move onto once you have finished the first novel, I recommend Project Nemesis as a stand out option. It takes the genre to places it hasn’t really strayed conformable into before, and gives fan service to everyone already familiar with what kaiju have to offer.
Project Nemesis and the three novels continuing the story, Project Maigo, Project 731, and Project Hyperion are available now, you can find them quite easily on Amazon.com. The fifth and final novel in the story, Project Legion, will be available in October. For even more kaiju thrillers from Jeremy Robinson, be sure to check out his newest kaiju thriller, Apocalypse Machine, and the upcoming new kaiju series, Unity (available in July). To stay up to date, with all of his projects, visit his website at: bewareofmonsters.com and subscribe to the newsletter. Jeremy was also kind enough to let me know that while the comics run for Project Nemesis is wrapping up, a collected trade paperback by American Gothic Press will be released sometime now and the end of September – so look out for that if you want to get the story and Matt’s amazing art as well.
For those of you who are fans of Matt Frank, you can visit his site at www.mattfrankart.com and see some of the amazing art that he has done for other projects.
Now obviously you are going to read the books and the comic, who wouldn’t after a shout out like that!? But what we would really like to know, once you have read the books, seen the comic….is do you want to see a film version come to life?
Otherwise give us a shout and say what you enjoyed most from reading either the novel or the comic!