Everyone knows Godzilla, the king of the monsters. But if there's a real challenger for his crown, it's not beautiful Mothra or triple-headed Ghidorah. It's giant interstellar turtle Gamera, the guardian of the universe. For the first time, all 12 of his films have been collected in one ginormous box set, all illustrated by Austin artist Matt Frank.
It's been a leviathan endeavor. "I have not worked harder on any one project," Frank said, and that includes his record-setting run as the writer and artist on IDW's Godzilla: Rulers of the Earth comic. "That was months and months, just grinding it out. This was beginning to end, I got to sit and make sure it looked the way I wanted it to look."
But who – or what – is Gamera? He descended from the stars in 1965, the decade after Godzilla first stomped across Tokyo. Every studio wanted in on Toho Studios' success, and what followed was what Frank called "the monster boom. It was the equivalent of the superhero boom we have seen in the last 10 years, because everybody wanted to make a monster movie." Most, Frank explained, were just "Godzilla but x, y or z," but where studio Daiei Film and Gamera creator Yonejiro Saito got lucky was in one small decision by director Noriaki Yuasa. "Gamera, for no reason, saves this little kid from a lighthouse he destroyed and bam! You have a kid-favorite."
The destroyer became a protector – an easy switch for adults who knew the legend of Genbu, the giant black tortoise who is one of Kyoto's four guardian spirits. But for kids, a turtle is one of the most common pets in Japan, so what they saw on the screen was a childhood friend, "and now he's 200 feet tall and breathes fire. There's something beautifully artistically appealing on a primal, kids-based level." Now he was Friend to All Children, and the stories become more kid-friendly – so much so that Frank described 1969's Gamera vs. Guiron as "Hansel and Gretel in space."
When Arrow Films were looking for an artist to bring cohesion their new collection of all 12 Gamera films, Frank was already a giant in the field, with work published in both America and Japan. But his work on the set went beyond just new illustrations: A historian of kaiju culture, his personal archives included VHS footage never previously released on DVD or Blu-ray that could be included in this release. He was able to connect the studio with other experts for commentary tracks, and even recorded the commentary for the ninth film, 1995's Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. The set even includes the first ever U.S. printing of his 2018 graphic novel Gamera: The Last Hope, previously only available in Japan. But most of all, he found space to stretch himself as an artist, using new techniques to make a landmark tribute to the monster who will truly save us all. "The character does mean a lot to me," he said, "which is why I threw myself in so vehemently."
Gamera: The Complete Collection limited edition box set is available now from Arrow Films. The regular edition will be released later this year.
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