Sean McGuinness is the creator of the website Neo Monster Island and the webcomic Twisted Kaiju Theater it hosts. Kaiju is apparently a Japanese term for monster. McGuinness makes TKT with his own collection of Godzilla toys so you know it's a labor of love… of love and smashing Tokyo to bits. I got a chance to interview McGuinness about his long-running webcomic (since August 2000!) via email last month.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Lesse. I’m a 37 year old kid married to a beautiful woman who not only tolerates my hobby, but encourages and participates in it. I’m one of the few people who can say they met their dream girl at a science fiction convention. I was invited to the aforementioned convention [I-Con 24] because I run Twisted Kaiju Theater, one of the last bastions of positive Godzilla fandom on the interwebs.
I’ve loved Godzilla since I was a little boy and my parents took me to the matinee to watch monster movies. Over the years Godzilla slipped to the back of my mind, then I swept up a bunch of discounted Godzilla toys at a local Toys R us. Years later it became my passion and my creative outlet.
What's a typical day for you like recently?
Work. Eat. Sleep. Step and Repeat. Then the weekend hits and I immerse myself in the fandom of comic books, Heroclix and video games. I deal with the TKT haters who level such soul-destroying barbs such as “Well, shin needs to make up his mind. Which is more important, a wife, or vinyl toys?” to which I get to reply, “Uhhh…both!” Somehow in between home, work, chores, and an understanding wife I get to slam out three updates a week for the TKT webcomic.
Where are you located these days?
It’s a pleasant little backwater hellhole called Columbia, South Carolina. Women JUST got the right to vote and we’re still having a
spirited debate on whether or not having clean running water is the devil’s work. But we’re expecting the state senate to wrap that discussion up by the end of the year.
Do you have another job besides working on comics?
Yes, but first of all I’d like to state that webcomicry is not a job. For me it’s a passion. A job involves some place where you’re forced to go to earn money. I don’t earn anything like the cooler webcomics do. Places like Penny Arcade, 8-Bit Theater and PVP are always hanging out in the bathroom, smoking cigarettes and talking about which fangirl they bagged over the weekend while showing off their leather jackets, while I’m stuck in the classroom cramming for a test I’m more than likely just going to squeak by with a C- right before I have to skip going to the prom because I have to help with the family farm. But that’s ok, because I didn’t have a date to the prom anyway.
Back to your original question, I work at a print shop. I can’t do TKT full time to earn a living not only because my traffic doesn’t support
it, but Toho Studios would probably slap me with a Cease and Desist for the tomfoolery that I have their icon go through on my site without cutting them a check. So I’m happy to skirt under the radar and keep this corner of the web a hobby instead of a job.
Do you read other comics? What are you reading online or in print?
Generally, I read lots of comic books, like Ghost Rider, Thor, Walking Dead, Green Lantern, Booster Gold and others. As far as webcomics go, there’s a very small list I read, only because of my personal and professional jealousy of everybody else. I see myself more like the Mole Man of webcomicdom while the rest of society is Manhattan. However, I do read Cru the Dwarf, Goblins, Insecticomics, Dueling Analogs, VG Cats and Zombie Hunters.
Give me the 30 second "convention pitch" for your comic.
Twisted Kaiju Theater is a combination of mentally sodomizing Godzilla toy webcomic humor, and super hawt adult cheesecake Kaiju Girl galleries. It’s been the premiere place for the dedicated Godzilla fan and the person who has never seen a Godzilla movie. I was the first to do a toy webcomic and am one of the most successful ones.
How has the strip evolved over time?
I used to be an overactive fanboy who would prop his Godzilla figures up on a shelf, photograph them and then add word balloons to go along with a toilet humor script. Now I’m an overactive fanboy who shoots against bluescreens, interposes his Godzilla figures against custom backgrounds, adds word balloons and special effects, digitally edits the figures piece by piece, and runs the gamut of comedy, drama, and dramedy…and poop jokes.
The problem is that photocomics don’t get the respect that they should. Of sure, A Softer World whips my monkey butt every year at the Web Cartoonists’ Choice Awards, but toy comics really get seen by the public as a waste of time. Alien Loves Predator was really good but it folded after a really short time.
Do you have a favorite strip or storyline from the comic? Which ones do fans seem to bring up the most?
My favorite storyline was “Restless Dreams,” heavily influenced by the Silent Hill video game. It was the most cinematic of my works and culminated from the threads of several storylines I had done over the years while introducing some new characters, and killing some others. It’s about as close to a Crisis on Infinite Earths as I could come for such a home-spun webcomic. It ran for the better part of half a year on my website and grew bigger than I initially planned. I was surprised that the fans came along for the ride as enthusiastically as they did.
The fans have their own favorites, mainly the very first episode which provided the most shock humor. But “Restless Dreams” is the work I am most proud of.
Are there any of your characters you're really fond of? Any that are particularly difficult to use?
The smaller figures are the most difficult to use because they have no points of articulation. If I want to have one throw a punch or hold a PSP then I sometimes have to rebuild their arms from scratch, as well as their torsos. My six inch collection of Godzilla figures is much easier to use, because I don’t have as hard a time Photoshopping them.
I’ve never really though about my favorite characters. GMK-Zilla has a nice western cowboy aspect to him, and I like scripting the drawl in his dialogue. Shin-Goji and Murugu have a nice chemistry between them, even if that chemistry is hot and sticky. The fans all have their favorite characters, which is good because that makes me feel like the comic is well-rounded enough that people get excited when their favorite shows up.
Do you have any long term goals or ambition for the future of the comic?
To last as long as I freaking can. I want to be the one who turns out the lights when everyone else has left. I want Twisted Kaiju Theater to be a haven for all the different fans of Godzilla and their own different visions of his legacy. Ask 100 Godzilla fans what he means to them, and you’ll get 100 different answers. I have one of the greatest forums in the world that have been mostly flame free for years because of an thorough moderator presence, and some of the greatest, most respectful people you’ll ever meet.
I have gone so far as to create a back up plan to make my final goodbyes to the fans should something unfortunate ever happen to me. I know my ghost would never rest if I didn’t get to end the comic on my own terms. So should I pass on before I publish the final comic, someone will make sure the fans get what they deserve; a final word and an ending. How many people look to the mortality of their own work?
Any plans for a print collection?
None. Because of the medium in which I work, I can’t publish anything. I won’t lie to you, I get a serious jealous twinge when I go into the comic store or Waldenbooks and see some webcomic published in a print format. But I can’t draw, and I don’t have any original characters. So that’s why I work with toys. I accept my role in the universe, but that doesn’t stop me from lobbing spitballs from the back of the class.
How do you go about promoting your work? What seems to be most effective at pulling in new readers?
Most of my readership comes from advertising, but I owe everything to a crossover I did with Brian Clevinger’s 8-Bit Theater. On that day I went from 88 hits a day to 1199 in a single update. Then I have been aggressive in advertising through other webcomics. But considering my material is mostly controversial or adult, and considering the galleries of Kaiju Girls, there are quite a few sites who turn down my advertising because they don’t want to be associated with me.
Even though advertising has brought in the most readers, I still am amazed at how many of our overseas American Military reads TKT. I get letters from Iraq and other stations from soldiers who are reading my work from satellite laptops in some of the most godforsaken places in the world. They e-mail me and tell me how the comic gets them through their crappy days. Can you believe that? Some soldier away from their family, sweltering in the hellish heat, coming under enemy fire and suffering injury thinks I’m cool. When I get letters like that it makes me double the effort to increase the quality of my comic, because I want to entertain them and let them know someone over here cares about them. It floors me every time.
What conventions are your favorites to exhibit at? What advice do you have for others just starting to show their work at conventions?
I haven’t gone to a convention in years, but I-Con in Long Island, New York is my favorite. It’s the only place where I’ve ever really felt like and been treated like a star. It’s where I’ve never felt ostracized for being who I am. It’s where I met my wife!
If you are going to do a convention, be prepared. You have to plan months in advance. And for God’s sake, be friendly. Don’t treat the people who have traveled hours to see you like they are a burden. I still remember being kind of stand-offish to one fan, then when I finally let my guard down I realized how cool he was. I ended up inviting him to the wedding.
Do you have a favorite convention story?
I’ve got a couple. I’ve never scored any con nookie, but I’ve come close.
The one that sticks out in my mind was I was in a panel at I-Con 24. I won’t name who was there, but all of a sudden a wave of furry-bashing started. I keep quiet while each of them went on about what freaks people who liked anthromorphic girls were. Then I spoke up and talked about how I wasn’t a furry, but I was a scaly. I pointed out they must not have noticed the sexy lizard girl that was on the cover of the CD collection I was pimping. Then I leveled the room by telling them that were I not in a committed relationship, not only would I nail aforementioned sexy lizard girl, I would brag about it, sell the DVD rights, and tell them all to sod off. The real irony of the story is that one of the panelists was a homosexual, who was an organizer of a gay science fiction convention and participated in gay rights activities. I thought it was a hypocricy that someone who knew what discrimination was had the nerve to criticize me for who I was sexually attracted to. I felt really good about standing up for myself and others of my kind.
Do your fans bring you cool things at shows?
Sometimes they bring me stuff, but I receive more cool stuff by mail. I get liquor, toys, custom figures, music, art, the works. I never ask my fans to buy me anything because I feel that violates the trust and respect that they have for me. But I have more donated artwork to my site than I think any other webcomic.
When you create a comic, how do you appproach it? Do you start with the words and then think about the scene that should go with it or do you start with more of purely visual approach or none of the above?
I’m inspired a lot by comedy, movies, comic books, politics and everyday life. I keep a book full of story ideas that come from just walking around or daydreaming. I’ll block out the script and storyboard in my head. Occasionally I’ll draw it out ahead of time, but it always looks like Rob Liefeld with Down’s Syndrome.
What tools do you use to make comics? Can you give us a brief walkthrough of your process?
Well, the camera and the toys are the some of the most important tools, but the script really comes first. As I mentioned above, I’ll build everything in my head. Then I’ll shoot the figures from multiple angles, and digitally remove the backgrounds so I can impose them against a cityscape or inside a building. Then I arrange everything in Photoshop with special effects, different poses and dialogue. I can get a four panel decent comic out in about an hour. I used to, at least. Now I’m doing eight to fourteen panel comics in around two hours. The story sometimes evolves right as I’m building it on the laptop. I even have a portable studio for when I travel.
Did you do your own website? What software are you using on it?
I started my own website, but I was constantly changing it. I finally broke down and inquired a professional as to how much it would cost for him to redesign my site. Irish luck was with me, because it turned out he was a fan who did it for free. I ended up making more changes even after that, just because I’m so manic. I use Adobe GoLive for the html. I had the opportunity to use the latest versions of the Photoshop Suite and Dreamwaver. But I actually uninstalled them and went back to GoLive and CS2 just because I was more comfortable with them.
How would you describe your relationship with your fans? Do you engage in a lot of online interaction with your readers?
I would like to say that I have one of the most interactive relationships with the fans. I’m constantly on my forums, and I try to respond to
e-mail within a day. I care so much about the forum experience that I personally hand-approve every single application to weed out trolls and spambots.
Did you read comics as a kid? Which ones? What are your influences from comics today?
As I mentioned, comic have had a huge influence on me. I look to modern comics for special effects, how to frame a shot, word balloon and dialogue techniques, and of course story ideas. I’m influenced by such a wide variety that it would be too long to go into, but Josh Whedon’s Astonishing X-men, and several other Marvel titles like House of M and Civil War have given me perspective and inspiration.
Other non-comic influences on your art and/or writing?
I don’t read books as much as I used to when I was growing up. I’m disappointed by so much out there I don’t feel like investing time to be wasted. But movies and television are inspiration as well. I use my comic to spout my social/political displeasure about the world while trying to do it in a humorous way. I have a GREAT love of zombie movies and Asian horror, both of which have found their way into my storylines.
What is it about comics that leads you to pour your creative impulses into that form as opposed to writing or some other art form?
Well, I work in a visual medium, and I don’t think I have the talent to turn that into a literary one. I always had trouble when reading a book trying to imagine what someone looked like from the novel’s description. I think that a Kaiju Girl webcomic would be popular, but I can’t draw and don’t honestly have the time nor inclination to learn. I don’t think Twisted Kaiju Theater would be as popular as a drawn comic as opposed to a toy based one.
Any other creative endeavors you're working on?
I’ve got something super-top-secret under wraps right now, something that will literally change the face of my webcomic, and has never been done before in the webcomic world. I’m dying to talk about it, but I want to see the shock on my readers’ faces when they see that I have the stones to do what I’m about to do.
But I can talk about the Twisted Kaiju Theater convention that we are working on for the 10 year anniversary in 2010! We’re not talking
anything even close to what Penny Arcade does, but it’s going to be about 40 to 50 fans gathering for some fun and games in the Twisted Kaiju vien.
Anything else you wished I'd asked you about?
I can’t stand looking at my old work. Any time I do I want to shred it to bits and start from scratch using my modern techniques and technology. But it shows a progression from a foul-mouthed otaku to what I consider to be a well rounded storywriter.