Meet Matt Frank: The Kaiju King
Matt Frank is a professional illustrator who is known in Japan and the U.S. as the "Kaiju King." He has been the cover artist for several Godzilla series, and provided interiors for Transformers titles. He is recently working with Tsuburaya Productions on a number of projects. Mac Salman tracked Matt down and asked how he became the King.
Hi Matt. First up, how did you get into this genre?
Like a lot of kaiju fans, it started when I was a child. I loved dinosaurs, and then Godzilla started me on my evolution to modern-day dinosaur mayhem. In addition, growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, a lot of kids in America were inundated with Japanese media, so I was destined to become mired in storytelling and artistic influences from Japan.
How did you go from that into drawing Godzilla professionally?
Honestly, the idea of drawing Godzilla professionally never really entered my mind growing up. The idea seemed somewhat ridiculous: Why would an American draw Godzilla when Japan has some of the greatest artists in the world? American-licensed Godzilla media—comics and cartoons—had almost completely stopped when I was in college. I knew I wanted to be a professional artist, but working on Godzilla felt like a dream I did not dare to consider possible.
However, the opportunity presented itself when IDW Publishing obtained the rights. I was already familiar to them through some work I did on various Transformers publications, so I lobbied hard. Luckily, I had already established myself making Godzilla fan art online, which helped tremendously.
Was it that work that first brought you to Japan?
Phase 6, a translation company in Tokyo, sought to translate and distribute "Godzilla: Rulers of Earth" into Japanese. This comic was very popular among fans, and Andrew Hall, the owner of the company, personally expressed his interest to me while visiting America. He obtained the license, and commissioned me to make artwork for new covers promoting the comic’s Japanese release. That was truly the work that allowed me to justify visiting Japan as a professional, not merely a tourist.
"The series had become something of a cult classic for being surprisingly brutal."
You have a project with Phase 6 called Redman. What is that?
Redman is a comic based on a tokusatsu TV series of the same name from the 1970’s, when Tsuburaya Productions made a budget series of three-minute episodes based around a hero running around the wilderness and fighting kaiju. The series had become something of a cult classic for being surprisingly brutal. And the minimalist filmmaking—along with the lack of dialogue—made it a show with a very unique flavor. In 2016, the show became something of a viral sensation when Tsuburaya added it to their Youtube channel. So, Andrew Hall suggested we make it into a comic series and pitch it to Tsuburaya, and I agreed, not really considering that it would actually get made. Surprisingly, they liked the idea, so we proceeded to adapt the show into a comic!
What are your favorite Tokyo spots?
Oh wow, there’s so many to name! Nakano Broadway comes to mind, as it is the home of the legendary Mandarake, which specializes in hard-to-find collectibles. Nakano also has a lot of lovely restaurants nearby.
I love going to the Kaiju Sakaba, the themed restaurants in both Shinbashi and Kawasaki. And I recently became familiar with the Odaiba area, and had a lot of fun exploring the waterfront area’s many attractions!
And of course, visiting my friends in Japan and going to their homes and spending time with them is very high on my list.
A few more favorites: favorite Godzilla film and favorite tokusatsu project?
That’s difficult! My personal favorite Godzilla film is Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack from 2001. It’s a surprisingly satirical film that has a strong message underneath it.
My overall favourite kaiju movies are the Gamera trilogy from the 1990s, which are excellently made and very exciting.
There’s too many other projects to name, so I’ll spotlight two more: Howl from Beyond the Fog, directed by my friend Daisuke Sato (the Japanese title is Sagiri no Kuni [Land of the Fog] I believe), and Tekkouki Mikazuki, a TV series from the early 2000s spearheaded by the legendary Keita Amemiya! Not many folks remember this show today but it was very expensive and creative!
"Shin Ultraman feels like a warm blanket made out of nostalgia with a few new ideas thrown in."
What are your thoughts on the Shin universe? Shin-Godzilla and Shin-Ultraman?
I think these are great for boosting the profile of various tokusatsu franchises in both Japan and America. Hideaki Anno is very popular as a creative force, and his approaches to both Godzilla and Ultraman, along with the creative teams he’s working with, have injected a lot of vitality into these franchises. Shin Godzilla is a fascinating film, and Shin Ultraman feels like a warm blanket made out of nostalgia with a few new ideas thrown in. I’m very curious to see Shin Kamen Rider.
Can fans of yours find some of your work in the Godzilla Stores in Japan?
Yes! I’ve been making Godzilla Store exclusive covers for various Godzilla comics that are available there. My work is also available on the official GodziHam-Kun merchandise, and recently they unveiled my Gigan 50th anniversary artwork on various products!
What the heck is a GodziHam?
Haha! GodziHam-Kun is the name given to the version of Hamtaro, a popular anime character, when he’s wearing a little Godzilla costume! The collaboration began in 2001 as a tie-in with Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah, and I was hired to make the key artwork for the 2020/2021 revival!
Tell us about some of your latest projects?
I partnered with Ultraman director Takeshi Yagi to work on a new tokusatsu project called AKARI, which can be previewed on Naro TV’s official website. I designed the heroine at Yagi-san’s request.
That sounds incredible. Can you tell us more about the genesis of the Naro project?
Yagi-san approached me about the project earlier this year, and introduced me to Jordan Smith, who is running the project, and their passion and earnest attitudes made me really want to join in. I designed the heroine, “Akari,” and she wound up being a really unique design thanks to Yagi-san’s direction and encouragement. The kaiju was designed by the veteran kaiju artist Akihiko Iguchi, who designed many Tsuburaya monsters and characters, and even designed Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus for Toho! The production was initially conceptualised as a technical class, where Yagi-san would teach about the production of tokusatsu itself. However, it has had such a great response that now the team is exploring expanding it into a series!
And for Phase 6, we completed work on an anthology series called "Spectreman: Heroes!" The comic brings together multiple heroes from P-Productions, a company famous for making unique tokusatsu in the 70’s. In addition, I am working on a new IDW Godzilla project that I cannot reveal yet!
"I am extremely fortunate to have found such a wonderful following in both Japan and America."
Do you have any advice for budding creators? For example, is sharing your art online a route you would recommend?
Well, it’s functionally the only way to really build one’s career these days! I began sharing art online back around 2005, and I was fortunate to build a following thanks to the large number of kaiju fans who were starved for content at the time. Unfortunately, trying to build an audience online in this era is extremely difficult. Thanks to an unforgiving and inscrutable series of algorithms, it is difficult to get one’s artwork in front of people who might be potential followers. However, if you’re able to break through those barriers, the internet has made connecting artists with those who will forward their careers much easier than in the past.
Any final message to fans reading this?
I am extremely fortunate to have found such a wonderful following in both Japan and America. I have laughed and cried with many of you, and your support and enthusiasm is the reason I keep doing what I do. It is thanks to you that I’m able to explore my artistic journey and hopefully continue to provide you with entertainment and joy!