Manga: Movie Comics - Godzilla


Movie Comics: Godzilla

Japanese Comic Title

MOVIE コミックス: ゴジラ
[Movie Komikkusu: Gojira]


Shin Watanabe, Shuichi Nagahara


Akita Shoten





By: Nicholas Driscoll

I’ve never been overly fond of comics made from still images taken from movies. Despite the fact that comics use a lot of the same storytelling devices as movies, such as a lot of the same angles, and despite the fact that many comic artists take advantage of movie-like “camera placements” in their art, something is inevitably lost when you create a comic book using movie stills—even when those movie stills are taken from animated movies and thus retain something of the drawn look of “real” comic books. But that doesn’t stop publishers from making such comics! No, sir!

Years ago I picked up the “movie comics” version of The Return of Godzilla comic (not to be confused with the Kazuhisa Iwata version) with my copy of Battle History of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah off of eBay. I barely looked at the “movie comic” because I was so much more interested in the manga adaptations in the collection. The Return of Godzilla (1984) has never been one of my favorites of the series, and seeing it retold with garish and ugly movie stills really turned me off. Now that I have read the book, I am even less impressed.

Manga: Frankenstein vs. the Subterranean Monster
Here is an example page from The Return of Godzilla Movie Comic. Note the fellow who appears to have his eyes closed.

The problems with the adaptation rear their ugly heads immediately. Movie stills are not composed with the strictures of a comic in mind, and so the compositions of the shots have to be recut and tortured to get them to look anywhere close to comic-appropriate. Even when recut, they often look out of focus, and the normal human facial expressions often appear unconvincing or even just boring when printed in the form of a comic book. Sometimes I was baffled by the images chosen, as one looked like they just chose a shot when the guy happened to be blinking! Sometimes the panel layouts are just difficult to decipher—it can be hard to figure out what just happened because we don’t see the action unfolding as intended. (Of course I have read plenty of “real comics” with confusing panel layouts and action, too.)

Another problem is with the word balloons, which are just gaudy and look bad in this instance. For some reason they are pasted on with random colors. I thought maybe the colors were going to be coded to specific characters, but such was not the case. Sometimes one character would have multiple word balloons in one panel—and each would be a different color. I don’t know if they thought the comic would look more authentic with the different colored balloons, but it actually had the opposite effect, and I felt relieved when I saw normally colored white balloons crop up occasionally.

It’s not all bad, of course. The story is readable, and even if you can’t read Japanese, you can follow with the pictures fairly well. It’s interesting to see the movie stills assembled as a comic just for the novelty, and some of the action scenes especially come off as reasonably tense. I also thought it was interesting how the comic dealt with the scenes of, say, Russians speaking on the submarine. When Japanese characters are talking in Japanese, the text is vertical like a normal Japanese comic. When the foreigners are talking, the Japanese text is read from left to right like an English text (or Russian). It really threw me when I first read saw the left-to-right text, but I got used to it and found it novel.

And really the appeal of the book is in its novelty, not in its quality. For me at least, reading a comic book with real illustrations is far and away much more interesting because I love to look at all the hard work that goes into the character work, the expressions, the backgrounds, the designs. Just throwing together a comic by using movie stills must also be a lot of work, but it feels like a cash grab. The fact that this book also has advertisements for movie comics of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee really surprises me—but not enough to go out and buy them! There are five of these books available in the original “movie comics” run, and I am going to go ahead and review them all over the coming days, but I suspect they will all have similar issues, so these reviews may get a bit redundant. As for this volume, I would recommend it only for the completionist.