Exclusive: Zander Cannon lets Kaijumax Season 3 out of solitary

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Apr 13, 2017, 11:30 AM EDT

The multi-talented and Eisner Award-winning Zander Cannon has been delighting fans for a few years now with Kaijumax, but his sentence isn't up yet. A third six-issue season of the monstrously great, Eisner-nominated giant monster prison drama is coming this summer, and we have the exclusive first look at the cover art from the first issue and the inside scoop on the newest installment from the writer-artist.

For those who've been missing out, Kaijumax is a series that takes place in a world filled with all sorts of strange and wonderful giant monsters, who are treated as violent criminals and locked up in an ultra-high-security island prison called Kaijumax. The story takes the shape of a prison drama with all the internal conflict and escape plans that you'd expect. The first two six-issue volumes drew critical and fan acclaim for its topical and compassionate handling of issues surrounding the prison industrial complex and for its cast of offbeat, memorable characters.

Kaijumax is intelligent, biting satire, but it's also wacky, colorful and ridiculously fun. Here's the first look at the cover and the synopsis for the first issue of the new season, courtesy of publisher Oni Press:

New season! New jumping-on point! Ah, KAIJUMAX Prison ... that cesspool of corruption in the South Pacific! Tensions among the city-destroying convicts have eased after a month-long lockdown and Electrogor's capture, and now the kaiju gangs have begun vying for power again, all-out-attacking their rivals, trading addictive smog and dioxin and abusing weaker inmates. The Creature from Devil's Creek, after a long time as the low 'mon' in the Cryptid hierarchy, stumbles upon some information that makes him think it doesn't have to be like this. Also: Mind-controlled murders! Pre-smartphone navigation fails! And … some VERY old-timey religion?

Zander Cannon — known for his work on Top 10 — writes, draws, colors and letters the series himself, and I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk to him about working on the new season. We talked about shifting protagonists, digging into a new gang of kaiju, great terrible monster movies and much more!

Check out the interview below and be sure to pick up Kaijumax Season 3 # 1, which goes on sale on July 12. And if you're unfamiliar with Kaijumax, we've also included some interior pages from Season 2, the collection of which comes out on April 26 -- it makes for a great way to catch up before the new season starts.

We're officially revealing the third season of Kaijumax! When you released the first issue back in 2015, was a third volume something you were considering as a possibility?

Zander Cannon: I think as early as a few issues in, I had worked out with Oni on the overall length, balancing marketing considerations like how it would split up into larger collections and so forth with what I wanted to do creatively. But from the start, I felt like I had enough ideas and a rich enough concept that I could explore several different iterations of it before I started to repeat myself. Right now the plan is six seasons of six issues each. Beyond that, I would be worried about it kind of buckling under the weight of too much backstory and mythology, a thing I've really taken pains to avoid.

What I hadn't really thought about was how it was going to be received -- the critical attention in particular has been a great surprise. It was initially going to be a side project for me, and I thought it was so odd and kind of grotesque that I really didn't know how well people would tolerate it. It's very gratifying whenever I hear from people that they're liking it or that it affected them. Especially when people say they're getting frustrated with themselves that they're getting emotional reading a comic about goofy monsters and exploding guts and so forth. It's like "YES. That is exactly what I wanted. All of that."

The end of Season 2 kind of wrapped up the core arc of the series with Electrogor being reunited with his children who he was separated from at the very beginning. I don’t think it's a spoiler to say, however, that we don't see him at all in the first issue of Season 3. Is he taking a back seat for this round? Has finishing that arc opened up the types of stories you can tell in the series now?

Well, from an in-universe perspective, he's just not back to the prison yet. Getting all that monster back across the ocean ain't easy. But yeah, from a story perspective, it's nice to be able to show that there are other characters that are going through something central to their lives and that they can be just as compelling as anyone else. Electrogor was a great character to start with, since he plays it pretty straight and has a relatable problem, but I kind of feel like if we kept following him he would either become boring or I would keep piling problems on him and it just would seem cruel. Crueler, because he's had a pretty rough time of it already. I want to spread the cruelty around, I guess.

At the end of the day, it's the prison itself that's the star of the show, so I'd like to have a broad range of characters get to show what their arcs are.

We seem to be focusing mostly on the Cryptids this season. For those that don't know, can you explain what separates them from the other Kaiju groups?

As a shorthand, I essentially equated them with the Aryan Brotherhood gang when I started the series. The Aryan Brotherhood is an extremely powerful gang that is essentially nonexistent outside prison. I liked the idea that there would be these solitary creatures who would form together only once they are locked up and that they have a huge persecution complex, even as the town they're from will throw them a parade every year.

The other gangs are like the Mafia, or the Yakuza, or the Russian mob, or the cartels, but I felt like the Aryan Brotherhood kind of exemplified what a prison gang was all about and could allow me to tighten my focus on the intricacies of prison life for this coming season.

Getting a chance to really look into Cryptid lore is pretty fascinating, too, because they're all these rich narratives that are completely disengaged from all the kaiju stuff that I'd been using. I like that there are all sorts of incidental details to all of the legends that can be tied into their slang and so forth, and that there could be a central figure — in this case, Charles Fort — who could serve as a kind of deceased spiritual leader. Finding random quotes from him and tying them into tattoos or language to be either a joke or a hint at a larger world is really fun and it makes the story feel a little more grounded.

The Creature from Devil's Creek wasn't a character I would have expected to see as a protagonist in the series, but he's surprisingly compelling. What made him a character you wanted to dig into more?

Basically everyone who's written into the comic has said that he's the saddest character. I like that aspect of him when he's a secondary character and meant as a counterpoint to Electrogor, but I felt that if we were to follow him as a protagonist, he would necessarily reach a point where he couldn't take it anymore, where he felt like he had to do something or else he might as well be dead. That's something that I feel is — you know, outside of the tropes of prison stories that I've hit pretty hard — a fundamental story when you've got a bleak setting like this. I tend to tie into all my stories a basic narrative of despair and whether you get hope or death at the end of it.

Are there any characters you initially conceived as background monsters that grew into something more?

Nearly all of them! Mechazon was a punchline about religion in prison and became a very thoughtful and conflicted character over the course of a dozen issues. Jeong, the guard, was meant to be a major character, but his initial arc — as someone who becomes overwhelmed and quits — was not enough, and I felt like I needed to see more of his story through in the second season. There is a character in the third season — his name is eventually revealed to be 'Gragga' — who actually appears in the background in the very first issue and who doesn't become a major character until some 13 issues later. Such is the power of liking a visual design.

Kaijumax has garnered a sizable fan following, so I'm sure you get recommendations for monster movies all the time. Have you learned of any new ones from fans that you think people should check out — or avoid?

Well, there's a good lesson here in that sensible people should avoid monster movies that I like. I am firmly on the record as loving All Monsters Attack, which is by all measures a terrible movie. It's a little counter-intuitive, since so much of the love of monster movies is about nostalgia, but a lot of my own love for monster movies comes from me watching them for the first time as an adult — sometimes with my son, sometimes not — and mining them for good Kaijumax gags. Watching movies and being on the lookout for specific designs, tropes and illogical nonsense is a very different experience than watching them for fun. And so that's why I especially love all the '60s and '70s incarnations of Ultraman, Gamera, Kamen Rider, Super Sentai and Godzilla, as well as the also-rans and never-wases of that era, like Iron King, Red Baron, Johnny Sokko, Yonggary, Gappa, Dinosaur War Izenborg, Space Giants and of course, War of the Gargantuas. I have an ever-growing list (and pile of bootleg DVDs) of recommendations; it's kind of a comfort to know I will almost certainly never run out.

You do everything on this book, so from a writer's perspective what has you most excited about Season 3? And as an artist?

As a writer, I like that this season is going to focus on some less-splashy things; the mechanics of dealing with other gangs is a great deal of monitoring who says what to whom, who breaks a truce, who punishes whom for what and other little nuances of this society that essentially only rewards power. Tying all those systems into stories that have to deliver humor and catharsis every time is a fun challenge and a very satisfying job.

As an artist, I am excited about the fact that I'm about 300 pages into what was for me a new art style: working digitally with a clear line style and creating most of the rendering in color. Each issue and each season gives me a little more polish and allows me to save time on some things and spend more effort on others. I'm working more with light and color saturation, making the rendering as simple as I can and making the art more and more appealing and readable. The story and the characters and the situations are so bizarre and weirdly transgressive that I feel like I spend as much time as possible making the visuals pleasing to the eye.

Also, I like drawing the drug cartel of evil bunnies that live on the moon.