The Official Godzilla Compendium
 J. D. Lee, Marc Cerasini
Language: English Release: 1998
Publisher: Random House Pages: 144
Genre: Non-fiction ISBN: 0679888225

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Back Cover
Nicholas Driscoll

Of all the factual Godzilla books that have been published in English in America, only one has the distinction of Toho's backing: The Official Godzilla Compendium by G-Fan founder J. D. Lees and Marc Cerasini, author of the young adult Godzilla paperbacks. (Not to be confused with Scott Ciencin's juvenile fiction series published about the same time.) Released during the Godzilla media deluge of 1998, the Compendium filled a sorely needed niche for Godzilla fandom, and for what it is, Lees' and Cerasini's book fills that niche well, albeit with a few flaws that could be improved.

The strength of official backing by Toho is immediately apparent in this volume, as the pages are replete with numerous photographs, stills, posters, and promotional materials, as well as original art created especially for the publication. The layout and design of the pages is strong as well, with attractive and consistent design elements utilized from page to page, giving the book a clean, pleasant read. Simply leafing through the pages provides a simple pleasure, especially towards the end where the monster profiles are located with excellent artwork samples from Toho's files along with the fantastic, exacting monster sketches by Arthur Adams, who also has a beautiful full-color two-page spread showcasing a group of popular daikaiju towards the center of the book.

The Compendium covers the first 22 films in the Japanese movie series, as well as some information about the Dark Horse run of comics and Random House's numerous other Godzilla-branded publications. The short chapters about each movie sometimes include interesting trivia about the production and special effects processes, but usually limit themselves to comments on storyline continuity and the evolution of Godzilla's characterization and image. Usually, little information is given about the human characters, or the actors who portrayed them. Instead, the book functions as a celebration of Godzilla himself, and it's hard not to get pumped up about the character via the enthusiastic prose, such as this piece describing the Big G in Mothra vs. Godzilla: "For the first time, Godzilla was depicted as a destructive force of nature, moving unstoppably across the country like an ambulatory earthquake" (pg. 27). The love that the authors have for the monster is consistently and joyously present, and it shows from cover to cover.

Even better than the prose about the movies are the features on specifics of the Godzilla legend and delightful guest essays. J. D. Lees, in his Wardrobe! The Many Suits of Godzilla, provides a somewhat brief but informative analysis on the many Godzilla costumes employed throughout the series, and psychologist Dr. Randall Osborne, in his essay Godzilla as a Parenting Tool, gives Godzilla fans who happen to have children ideas for how to incorporate their fandom into their parenting—and excuses for buying more Godzilla merchandise! My favorite essay, however, has to be A Dinosaur Paleontologist's View of Godzilla by Dr. Kenneth Carpenter, who has written a gleeful, tongue-in-cheek analysis of what Godzilla might be like if he were a real dinosaur, employing his considerable experience in analyzing dinosaur skeletons to scrutinize the King of the Monsters with exacting, amusing detail. Coming in at a close second is Inside Godzilla, which gives numerous fascinating anecdotes describing the rigors and dangers of performing as the Big G. Curiously, this article, along with Godzilla's Spare Parts which directly follows it, is not listed in the contents, and presumably both of them supposed to be part of the Wardrobe! article, which is not clear from the design elements utilized in laying out the pages, nor the content of the writing. Randy Stradley, one of the founders of Dark Horse comics, also gives a brief piece on the process of taking Godzilla from the movies and transplanting him to the comic book page, which proves at least mildly interesting.

Of less success is the somewhat unconvincing Godzilla Beyond the Atomic Age by science-fiction guru John J. Pierce, who attempts to make the assertion that the Godzilla character is so enduring due to the beast's soul, and then goes on to argue that Godzilla can be recreated and re-imagined for every generation successfully while other monsters like Frankenstein only have one story to tell before falling into self-parody. But it's a strange sort of soul that can be so readily manipulated and re-marketed for the consumption of any new group of people, if that really is the reason for the monster's longstanding popularity; Pierce's essay simply isn't detailed enough to satisfactorily address the issue. Random House senior editor Alice Alfonsi's essay Godzilla Invades Random House is also rather unfulfilling, coming across mostly as an advertisement for the publisher's other products rather than a truly informative piece about the books themselves.

Which brings me to what might be called the main weakness of a Godzilla book backed by Toho: The entire manuscript could be labeled as an elaborate advertisement for the studio. Nothing negative is ever said about Godzilla or any of the movies; rather, the book is almost constantly positive, with words of praise for every movie no matter how arguably poor that particular installment might be, and the ubiquity of compliments comes across as a little disingenuous after a while. On the other hand, the authors can say they think some of the movies better than others as long as they don't overtly criticize, and thus Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) is said to be better than Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (an assertion that I would disagree with), and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) is called the best of the Heisei series. Why such a severely limited rating of the movies is included is a little strange, however, as it is not very useful to the reader when divorced from further productive analysis. Coverage of films is highly uneven as well, with some of the movies, most notably Son of Godzilla (1967), having very short blurbs devoted to them, and even the Son of Godzilla suit is given short shrift in Lees' article about the Goji-costumes. Whatever the reason for this, the result is frustrating because I'd like to hear more about some of these "lesser" Godzilla films.

There are other scattered flaws throughout the Compendium as well, including an odd description of Godzilla vs. Megalon's plot wherein it sounds like Godzilla fights Gigan and Megalon alone until Jet Jaguar shows up to save the day, rather than the other way around (pg. 48): "Godzilla seems over-matched—until Jet-Jaguar reveals a previously unknown power. The robot grows to the size of Godzilla and joins the battle." Also, as much as the overall design of the book appeals, there are occasional hiccups, such as the confusing page layout on page 47 and the abrupt inclusion of the collection of color photos in the middle of the Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) chapter. Some of the color reproductions of the Japanese Godzilla posters, too, just look lousy and are too dark to make out much detail—again, oddly enough, the Son of Godzilla poster stands out particularly in the mediocrity of its reproduction here, at least in my copy. And while the monster profiles section excels as far as illustrations go, the text is weaker, completely overlooking several monsters' appearances in Zone Fighter and sometimes omitting or glossing over pertinent monster information, such as Ebirah's sensitivity to berry juice and the Heisei Mothra's origin story. Just a bit more detail would have gone a long way.

The same could be said about the entire book. The Compendium is true to its name and proves woefully short, coming in at only 144 pages, and much of that is taken up by the illustrations and photos. No information is given about the Marvel comics, the Hannah-Barbera cartoons, or the toys and other products. When I received the book for my birthday in 1998 or 1999, I read the entire book that very day without meaning to, and felt sad that it was over so quickly.

That's also a compliment, though. The Official Godzilla Compendium is a delight for Godzilla fans, with easy-flowing, well-written prose and a wealth of illustrative content. Despite the book's weaknesses, it remains a worthy addition to the G-enthusiast's collection, but once again, much like Steve Ryfle's much more exhaustive work Japan's Favorite Mon-Star, the Compendium could seriously use an update, if for no other reason than as an excuse to publish Art Adams' renderings of the Millenium series' monsters. Recommended.