Talking Comics with Tim | Michael May on ‘Kill All Monsters’
OK, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Kill All Monsters co-creator/writer Michael May is a friend of mine and a fellow contributor to ROBOT 6. Conflict of interest disclosed. Still, I interviewed him about collaboration with artist Jason Copland, which is set to be released in a collected edition (Kill All Monsters: Ruins of Paris) in June from Alterna Comics. He and Copland are in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign (ending May 10), which has already achieved more than 230 percent of its goal $2,500 goal.
In this interview, we discuss the collaborative process on the webcomic/upcoming collection as well as the Kickstarter. My hat is off to May and Copland for writing a great Kickstarter FYI blurb that efficiently describes the project: “Kill All Monsters: Ruins of Paris is the printed first volume of the hit webcomic about monsters and the giant robots that kill them.”
Tim O’Shea: I went into this work assuming it was going to be all giant robots and monsters, but it contains a great deal of human interaction/drama. How early in the development of the project did you realize the story needed that balance?
Michael May: Right away. I’ve never been interested in slugfests for the sake of slugfests. A story has to give readers a reason to care about the people in the fights. If anything, I needed encouragement to make the fights a bigger part of the comic so it wouldn’t just be people talking about fighting monsters. No one — including me — would want to read that, but characters and drama is where my interest always goes first. It’s a tough balance though and one we worked hard at, so hopefully we got close to achieving it.
What was it about Jason Copland’s art that made him the ideal collaborator for this project?
I do have an answer to that question, but I want to clarify that this wasn’t one of those projects where the writer had the idea and went out and recruited an artist. Jason and I had already been friends for a few years and were looking for something to work on together, so Kill All Monsters was born out of our shared love of giant robots and monsters.
The longer version of that story is that Jason wanted an excuse to cut loose a little after drawing a lot of comics that were more focused on drama and character interaction than adventure. Not that there’s anything wrong with those kinds of stories, but he was just looking to do something different. He actually came up with the robots-vs.-monsters concept and asked if I wanted to help with it.
What makes him ideal though is related to that first question and the balance you asked about. Jason is exactly the kind of artist people go to for stories about human interaction and drama because he’s crazy talented at designing different looks for characters and then putting those characters through their emotional paces with body language and facial expression. Like I said earlier, I had to be pushed a little towards making the action big enough and part of that was because of what I knew Jason could do with drama. I didn’t realize at the time how awesome he also is with action and world-building.
That moment in Paris in the story. With that landmark. [I intentionally avoid certain details to avoid spoiling it for people yet to read the adventure.] Who had that idea?
I’m happy to say that it was mine. But of course Jason had to execute it and it’s incredible that he made it even cooler on the page than it was in my head when I imagined it.
What prompted you to set the base of operations in Africa?
When Jason and I first started working on the story, a mutual friend of ours named Alex Ness wrote up a thumbnail sketch of the world. It was his idea to make it post-apocalyptic and he also identified where he thought the major areas of human resistance would be, including Africa. I made my own modifications to the world, but I loved the idea that Africa — the source of humanity — could also be the source of humanity’s salvation.
Also: I’m a big fan of jungle-adventure stories, especially ones with lost cities. I couldn’t think of a cooler place for the Kill Team to be based out of than a hidden temple in the middle of the African jungle.
Your Kickstarter has already reached its goal — in fact it is 235 percent funded. Was it a success because your goal level was not too ambitious, or what made it succeed in your opinion? What will you do with the excess money you will have raised?
I’d love to know the secret, because I’d love to be able to repeat it. All I can tell you is what we did and what our thought process was behind it. Which part was the magic bullet is something I don’t know.
We purposely asked for less money than we actually needed to pay for printing and distribution, so that possibly played a part. We talked to friends who’d run successful Kickstarter campaigns and they recommended that approach to us. Our philosophy was that $2,500 towards production costs was better than $0. If we asked for what we actually needed and potential backers thought that goal was unrealistic, we ran the risk of getting nothing.
I imagine it also helped that a large chunk of the story was already available for free online. Even if people hadn’t read it before, we were able to point them to where they could read it. And related to that, it probably didn’t hurt that the project was completely done and there was zero risk on that side of things.
One last thing is that it’s just a great-looking book. I don’t know what goes into Kickstarter’s selecting items for Staff Picks, but they were very complimentary of the art when I submitted the campaign for review and I’m sure their extra support went a long way towards our meeting our goal in the first day. We also got a nice write-up from MTV Geek that first day, which had to have helped.
So, yeah. I have no idea what the most important element was. Mostly, Jason and I are just stunned and so very, very pleased that people have responded to it this way.
As for the extra money, I’m resisting getting over our head with stretch goals, but we’re not closed to the idea. We’re not considering a hardcover version or anything like that at this point though. We’ll see how much extra money we actually have once Amazon, Kickstarter and the government take their cuts and we’ve paid the costs of distributing the book and fulfilling rewards. It may not be as much excess as it looks, but right now the plan is to pay the creative team something, including letterer Ed Brisson and editor James Powell.
In terms of developing characters, when did you realize you wanted to have a character like Spencer happen to be a double amputee? (Not to say his physical condition defines or limits who he is, I must add.)
Having a diverse cast was always important to me. That’s why we made the Kill Team an international force. They’re based and led from Africa, but they each come from different parts of the world and bring different experiences to the unit. Spencer’s being in a chair is part of that. The experience of losing his legs to the monsters has shaped who he is, but like you say, it doesn’t define him. I just like all the options a diverse group of characters offers as I’m writing.
Do you have a finite end in mind for the series or could you see yourself and Jason pursuing a great many stories indefinitely, should demand make that possible?
Ruins of Paris is the first half of a complete story that will end in Vol. 2, but the overall saga doesn’t necessarily end there. I’m not saying whether the characters will succeed in fulfilling the imperative of the title, but it’ll be a satisfying conclusion. Jason and I have talked about how we might keep it going past that, but that’s contingent on a lot of different factors. We’d certainly love to and we think the world is rich enough to support it.
What factors prompted you to team with Alterna?
It was partly that Jason had a previous relationship with them, but we also liked their terms. They’re not structured like a traditional publisher, so we pay for printing and distribution costs, but we also keep most of the profits, full ownership of everything, and a great deal of freedom. Their cut is for their assistance navigating the business of getting the book distributed, for which Jason and I are extremely grateful.
Do you watch monster movies sometimes to get in the right frame of mind to write Kill All Monsters?
Not like right before writing, but I try to keep the input coming pretty steadily. My son is a huge Godzilla fan, so we like watching those movies as a family. Frankly, though, those aren’t huge influences on KAM except for the idea of Godzilla’s being a metaphor for something else. I love that and wanted to make sure our monsters (and robots, by the way) are more than just punching machines. But the Godzilla movies do get silly as the series continues and hopefully KAM won’t.
List your three favorite monsters that Copland has designed and your three favorite robot weaponry.
My favorite monsters:
1. The transparent blob with the brain floating inside it
2. The floating, tentacled jellyfish that vomits acid
3. The shaggy, horned creature that teams up with the brain-blob.
1. Archer’s sonic ray (I mean anything that lets me write the words “wooga wooga” into a script…)
2. The Lionbot’s wrist blades
2. The Skullbot’s “hurtaped” units
Left-field question: Your wife, Diane, is a professional freelance artist & painter. How much do the two of you bounce creative ideas off of each other?
We don’t bounce a ton of creative ideas. She’ll sometimes ask my opinion about a painting and she’s helped me out as a beta reader on occasion, but most of our artistic conversations are about the business side: how to handle a difficult request from a client, how to market something, what kinds of non-creative activities are worth investing time for; that kind of thing. We’ve both been creating for a long time, but we’re pretty new to the business part, so that’s where we help each other out.