Interview conducted by Monster Awareness Month member, Mark S. Deniz
It has been my great privilege to not only have Robert Hood on the team for Monster Awareness Month but to be able to read some excellent articles by him too! Now, I get the added treat of being able to ask him some monstrous questions…
1. I was going to ask you about where it all started Rob, but I think you answered that quite effectively in Where Monsters Dwell and so I’m going to focus more on the why. You’ve hinted at a few reasons in the articles for Monster Awareness Month but why are monsters such a passion for you?
That’s a difficult question, Mark, because so much of the “passion” comes from a place that’s pretty deeply buried in the subconscious.
I’d say there are two answers to it. One, the easiest, is historical. It’s a matter of opportunity. The fact is I loved monster comics from the first time I saw them, which was probably in the form of serialised strips featuring Turok, Son of Stone published in the newspaper. Turok was a native American who discovered a “lost world” and ended up fighting dinosaurs to survive. I remember hunting through piles of old papers in the local dump, back when you were allowed to scavenge and the dumps weren’t simply acres of mashed-up refuse, to fill out back issues of the storyline. Later I got to buy the colour versions in comicbook format, published by Dell. Other monster comics, like Where Monsters Dwell, followed. When we got a TV (and we were the first on my block to have one as my father worked for a retail company that sold electrical and other household goods and bought what was at the time a big one on the basis of an employee discount), I discovered old monster and other SF/fantasy movies, becoming familiar with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein’s monster and the like — but mostly the absolute dross of US 1940s and 50s monster flicks — on such shows as the horror-host Deadly Earnest’s Aweful Movies. I loved them all, good and bad — and even then got irate when I realised that the films were censored, often to remove close-ups of the monster. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. The challenge became getting permission to stay up late, which was inevitably when the best films were on. I nagged a lot. Cinema played a lesser but significant role. In the early days, I didn’t get to go to the cinema much. But when I did, one of the most memorable was Harryhausen’s The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. That would have been in 1958, when I was 7. I spend weeks afterwards drawing pictures of the various monsters from memory. Again, the experience of seeing those impossible creatures on the screen was deeply awesome.
Occasionally I’d get hold of a copy of a film magazine like Famous Monsters of Filmland and so was introduced to all the monsters from films I hadn’t seen — some of which, though I knew them well by sight, featuring in movies I didn’t get to experience for myself until decades later. One such was Godzilla. I so wanted to see the original version, but it wasn’t until SBS showed it — the original Japanese Gojira — in the 1990s that I managed to view it and REALLY became obsessed. (Remember, for most of my life there was no such thing as home video.) I didn’t see the Americanised version until later and I’m definitely glad I saw the “real” one first! Oddly, another late-viewed movie was the other great giant monster film, King Kong. Somehow, I never managed to see it on TV, though I always wanted to. It was a bit of an obsession. Then in the 70s the local flea-pit cinema showed a weird double bill consisting of Andy Warhol’s Heat and the original King Kong. I went to see Kong — and thus actually got to experience the film for the first time on a big screen. A great, indeed an awesome, moment! I could fully put myself in the place of the 1930s audience that was terrified and awed by those remarkable images moving on the screen. There’s nothing like it.
Reading over what I’ve written here it’s obvious, I think, that a central fascination in monsters for me is visual. Purely word-based monsters — introduced to me in horror fiction, short story anthologies like the Pan Book of Horror Stories series, the works of H.G. Wells, SF magazines like Galaxy and If, the copies of Dracula and Frankenstein that my mother bought me one day — came later. At first I simply loved the look of the monsters. They were something you never saw in reality. They were products of imagination. Pure products of the imagination, sometimes scary, sometimes exciting, always awesome. This in turn feeds into the concept of the Monster — the concept of not simply the non-human, but the inhuman. Monsters go beyond the natural into the world of the unnatural. I knew full well they didn’t exist in reality, even dinosaurs, but they did exist — vividly and purely — in the imagination. This brings us to the second answer to your question: the metaphysical and metaphorical power of the Monster.
It all becomes rationalisation after the fact from this point. My fascination for monsters (in fiction, of course) doesn’t spring from a childhood trauma as I didn’t really have one of any great significance. But Monsters clearly represent something that goes to the heart not just of Robert Hood, but of human nature in general. And that thing is, I think, imagination. Human imagination is possibly the strongest force that exists in the human world, one that drives our entire civilisation, motivates scientists and molds history. Some, such as mystic poet William Blake, saw imagination as the Divine in us. It is the primal creative force, the thing that makes us transcend the rational world — and so what must God be, he said, if not Human Imagination? As I got older and began to became a writer — a writer whose imagination was thoroughly immersed in monstrous imagery — I naturally wrote about monsters, not always, of course, but much of the time. As creatures of unrestrained imagination monsters were not only liberating and fascinating, but also powerful literary tools. Their imaginative nature makes them infinitely amenable to metaphorical interpretation. They are “living” containers of complex symbolic meaning. For me the most powerful art isn’t that which most closely re-creates the external realities of life, but that which offers an imaginative structure that allows the artist to explore aspects of life that don’t translate well into rational constructs. When, like Frankenstein’s creature, the Monster becomes a vessel for expressing the irrational and ineffable realities of existence, the result is often some of the most potent imagery that mankind has produced. The great monsters contain passion as well as thought. Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, Godzilla, King Kong, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, dragons, rampant robots, the living dead: these are all so much more than fictional entertainments. Their real power comes from the complex meanings that they carry within their nature — and often that meaning is so contentious and hard to pin down adequately because it goes beyond the rational. Gods and monsters: in essence they are part of the same imaginative super-complex that makes us human.
2. You mentioned about your writing of monsters in the last answer and so I’m going to stay marginally within that and talk about our exciting giveaway in conjunction with this interview, and that is the Daikaiju books you’ve edited. As a writer and viewer of monsters, how did editing them (with Robin Pen) compare?
The idea to edit an anthology of giant monster stories came from my own enthusiasm to read fiction featuring giant monsters and a simultaneous inability to find any, or at least none that had been collected into a single dedicated volume. Certainly, as far as I could ascertain, up to that time no one had ever edited a collection of new giant monster stories as such. Dragons, yes, but not real kaiju. Agog! Press was keen on the idea and I asked Robin Pen if he was interested in being a co-editor. I did this for two reasons: firstly, because Robin and I had bonded over our mutual enthusiasm for daikaiju eiga even though we lived on separate sides of the continent, but secondly because I wanted an independent eye to confirm (or otherwise) my choices. Having him on board also meant that I felt I could submit a story of my own. I wrote one and sent it to Robin under a pseudonym. He approved of it, but in the end I didn’t include it in that first volume as I decided it wasn’t quite appropriate for editors of anthologies to include their own work, even if independently vetted. By the third volume though, I caved in to pressure and embraced the inappropriate nature of the whole thing by putting my story into what would be the last volume. Thematically, it summed up everything that the three books had been about, so it seemed like a reasonable enough decision.
In the beginning I wasn’t sure we’d get many submissions at all, let alone good ones. But I needed have worried. Stories flooded in from around the world — excellent, good, indifferent and bad. A lot of bad, but really not nearly as many as I expected. We could be very picky, and were. I also worked quite hard with a few authors when I came across stories that contained a unique idea that appealed to me but which needed lots of re-writing to get them up to peak effectiveness. Writers were invariably (well, almost invariably) willing to go along with me, sometimes re-writing more than once and putting up with having me mangle their prose. The result didn’t always get in anyway, but in one case at least the story did get in even though it was the author’s first professionally published story — and afterwards it sometimes got singled out for praise in reviews.
In the end we had a great collection of stories — a collection that really surprised people who were expecting verbal parodies of the daikaiju films that had inspired the book. There is a huge spread of tone, approach, narrative structure, theme and storyline in the 27 stories (plus two haiku and a film commentary piece) that made it in (and made the book over-sized in terms of optimum postage rates, I might add). One of them a faux film script about giant monsters making a giant monster film (which has since been made into an actual animated film). Even the artwork proved to be special. Out of the blue I got an email from multiple Hugo Award winner Bob Eggleton, offering to do a cover. “Bob,” I said, “we could never afford you.” “Doesn’t matter,” he replied, “I just really want to do it!” So we got ourselves an Eggleton cover for peanuts. I also gained a friend in US artist Todd Tennant, who illustrated the “film script” story. We’ve worked together on other projects since and Todd has recently finished a graphic novel, It Came from Beneath the Sea… Again!, for Bluewater Productions.
Such enthusiasm was the key to the Daikaiju! project. Robin and I were enthusiastic and so were the authors, who managed to mingle enthusiasm with sheer creative intelligence. As I say, the result surprised people, who hadn’t expected the theme to allow for so much inventiveness and literary nous. I was really pleased when Daikaiju! Giant Monster Tales won the 2006 Ditmar Award for Best Collection and stories from it were nominated for assorted awards. One story, a short and clever piece titled “Read It In the Headlines!” by Garth Nix, ended up in David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer’s Year’s Best Fantasy 6. And of course there were so many worthy stories left over that we eventually produced two more volumes, supplementing stories we had retained with specially commissioned additions. The first run of the first volume sold out quickly and Agog! did a second run. That has now sold out as well. Agog! Press subsequently made a deal with Prime Books for all three volumes to be published in the US. The Australian editions might be sold out, but the books are still available on Amazon — even in hardcover, no less. Unfortunately Todd’s internal illustration couldn’t be included in the US edition for logistic reasons, but the winner of the Monster Awareness Month competition will receive what is literally the last remaining spare copy of the Aussie edition — and that only turned up by chance when I found it at the back of a cupboard when I was moving offices at work!
So, did I answer your question, Mark? I’m not sure. I love writing stories and I love watching the giant monster movies — and I loved editing Daikaiju! Sure, the lengthy reading period we set drove me mad, and the editing was time-consuming and exhausting, but it was definitely worth the trouble. I still firmly believe that Daikaiju! is the best book of its kind ever.
3. My son, Maddoc, has been obsessing a little this weekend about a certain Gojira character after seeing a couple of clips from Godzilla tributes and the remake. I remember when we visited you a few years ago you had an entire glass cabinet full of Godzilla figures. When did your obsession with them begin and how is the collection looking at present?
As I’ve mentioned, though I knew about the Big G, I didn’t get to see any of the Godzilla films until the late 1990s, thanks to SBS (Australia’s Government-funded international TV network). It was the original Japanese version — and I loved it immediately. After that I sought out other G films, though at first all I could get hold of were the (mostly) very poorly edited and dubbed US versions — you know, the ones that most people in the West associate with bad Jap monster movies, albeit fun. A lot of them simply weren’t available. This led me to what has been dubbed my “Godzilla supplier” — a fan who produced good quality DVDs and provided dubbing also done by fans. I’m not a supporter of piracy, but he couldn’t have been in it for the money as his DVDs were very cheap — and anyway once the films became available commercially, I bought them again. In fact once they became commercially available he stopped selling them. Seeing them as they are supposed to be seen was a revelation — especially in the case of King Kong vs Godzilla — though that film still isn’t available anywhere (legitimately) in its original form. The version available on Amazon is the truly insulting US edit.
Anyway by the time I had all the G films in original Japanese versions with English subtitles (and a whole lot of other Japanese kaiju and SF/fantasy films to boot), my interest was fairly ingrained and I purchased some of the monster sculptures and models out of sheer fannish glee. Also out of an appreciation of their inherent beauty. The collection hasn’t grown much since you saw it — no room and they ARE expensive — but I still love looking at them. And so do visitors.
The one I REALLY wanted was a working model of Godzilla I saw in Chinatown in Sydney that was about two foot high, beautifully made and robotic. Yes, it had a supposed repertoire of 48 movements, with sounds effects and everything! But it also cost $3000. At the time we were considering buying a house — so the choice was between somewhere to live and a robotic Godzilla. Sensible logic pushed me toward the house. Pity really.
$3,000? Oh my! Well Maddoc has now switched from Godzilla to Rodan, so I’d better not be thinking of surprising him with gifts like that, especially with his fickle moods…
4. There’s something very exciting and fun about the Kaiju but what about a subject that you and Sharon Ring have been tackling regularly during this month, that of the man as monster?
In many ways, monsters are an incarnation of aspects of humanity that we are perhaps reluctant to admit to, but which horror fiction throws in our face and makes us embrace. Some of the greatest monsters make this explicit — such as Mr Hyde, and endless killers such as Hannibal Lector, Jack the Ripper (real but fictionalise) and even supernatural foes like Freddy Krueger.
Other monsters display the connection between man and monster more symbolically, in terms of human responsibility in creating them — Frankenstein’s monster is one such, but so is Godzilla, though in a different way. Many (if not all) kaiju and other giant monsters are products of human greed, ambition, folly… or are awakened by our careless actions — some deliberate, some unintentional. Such monsters become symbols of responsibility (or our failure to recognise it) as well as the negative consequences of our civilisation, our scientific striving to gain power over the environment or even simply our deepening understanding of the world and what makes it tick. In this latter aspect, they shouldn’t be understood as propaganda against the pursuit of science (as they are often portrayed). But they are a recognition that with increased power over nature and with greater understanding comes heightened risk, greater danger and deeper responsibility. After all, it was the gaining of hitherto forbidden knowledge that caused Adam and Eve to be driven from the idyllic safety of the Garden of Eden out into a world of death, violence, failure and striving. With ambition comes the potential for evil. With understanding comes the loss of innocence. That is the monster … and it is as human as it comes.
Then again, Forbidden Planet‘s monsters from the Id are a direct representation of the dangers we face from the repressed forces that dwell deep within us — dangers that will destroy us unless we face them, understand them. This is something that many monsters are made of. In essence, of course, the Monster is the Other — that which is not us, or which we choose to disown. Often it becomes a monster because we disown it, deny it, let it grow hateful and bitter. So if in one way monsters are a product of the striving for knowledge, they are also the result of ignorance and denial.
Malicious ghosts are most often the result of murder or injustice (another failure of responsibility), or tasks unfulfilled. Vampires are those aspects of humanity that feed on us, drain us of the ability to live, even though their own origins are human. Werewolves are the beast in us, the passions we can’t control. All these are related, but it’s not hard to see the human aspects of them all.
The mystic poet Blake saw monsters as the result of division and self-delusion, our denial of humanity. In the end, we can’t simply destroy them — because that gives them power over us and as the endless resurrections of Godzilla, Dracula, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees etc. illustrates, they just return stronger than ever. It’s recognition they want.
But it’s a complicated business, this monster-hunting, and what I’ve said barely scratches the surface in terms of the meaning of this particular product of our cultural imagination. You could write a book about them — and many people have. But that’s what’s great about them, what keeps us fascinated with them. They are the Other, yet they are Us. Whether we are conscious of doing it or not, monsters make us question our world and ourselves — and the love-hate relationship with have with them is part of the love-hate relationship we have with ourselves.
Mind you, sometimes, it’s enough that the monsters are simply fun!
5. What have been your highlights of the month, Rob?
Just thinking about all things Monster under the guidance of interested and well-informed folk has been a great pleasure. Reading the views of others — even if you disagree with particular statements and judgements — makes you query and refine you own point-of-view, and helps to remind you why you love the Big Ugly Brutes (the monsters, not the writers). In particular I enjoyed Sharon Ring’s perceptive and detailed examination of Clive Barker’s view of the Monster in his work — though of course there are many other entries that could be highlighted for praise. And being forced to write my own articles — and hence think about and delve into films (and, as it happened, comics) that I love is a wonderful impetus to both renewed enjoyment of them and inspiration for my own writing.
6. There have been 28 films showcased in the month too, and I think the team has given those coming along a good sense of the monster in film. Are there any other films you would recommend as a follow-up for those thoroughly caught up in the monster films?
As anyone who read my Ultraman article might have guessed, I’d suggest seeing some Ultraman — the original series if you must, but better for the uninitiated would be one of the recent movies. Ultraman (2004; dir. Kazuya Konaka) [aka Ultraman: The Next] would be ideal, and it is available on DVD in the West. While I’m on all things Japanese, I’d strongly advise people to seek out Shusuke Kaneko’s 1990s Gamera trilogy, especially the third — which I would rate as probably the best single daikaiju eiga ever:
- Gamera daikaiju kuchu kessen [trans. Gamera: Giant Monster Midair Showdown] (1995; dir. Shusuke Kaneko) [aka Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe (US, 1995; dir. Shusuke Kaneko and Matt Greenfield)]
- Gamera 2: Region shurai [trans. Gamera 2: Attack of Legion] (1996; dir. Shusuke Kaneko) [aka Gamera 2: Advent of Legion, Gamera 2: Assault of the Legion]
- Gamera 3: Iris kakusei (1999; dir. Shusuke Kaneko) [aka Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris and Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris]
Also take a glance at the recently released Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone (Japan-2007; dir. Masayuki Yamaguchi, Kazuya Tsurumaki and Hideaki Anno), which is the first of four animated films remaking Hideaki Anno’s influential anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. It offers an intriguing, and quite unique, take on the Monster, from many angles. Check out my recent review here: http://roberthood.net/blog/index.php/2011/03/01/review-evangelion-1-11-you-are-not-alone/
Leaving giant monsters for a moment I’d add the superb Hammer version of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit [aka Five Million Years to Earth] (UK-1967; dir. Roy Ward Baker). Kneale had a unique approach to the monstrous that is at its peak in this film (and in the serial that originated it). Here, in a way that isn’t all that predictable, the Monsters are indeed us.