So Long, Kaijumax, and Thanks for All the Megafauna

My beloved ends today. Let’s look at it one more time, with insight from its creator.

A new issue of cartoonist Zander Cannon’s magnum opus, Kaijumax — his Oni Press series that explores the lives of those who reside (and work) in a supermax prison for kaiju 19 — arrives in comic shops today, but this one is a bit different. It’s the finale, bringing the tale to its long planned conclusion. This would normally be where I’d tell you why this heartbreaking work of staggering genius (and kaiju/prison movie references) is worth a multi-feature celebration, but you’ve heard plenty from me already about what makes the series special. Perhaps too much, which I say knowing full well that there’s an entire feature still to come. But it isn’t just me that thinks the world of this series. Others had thoughts about why Kaijumax is so incredible before we get into the meat of today’s celebration.

“I was already a huge fan of Zander’s but seeing him tackling kaiju (something else I’m a huge fan of) was like peanut butter and chocolate! Two great things that are even better together,” cartoonist Chris Samnee said. “I fell in love with the art and the character design— but the world building is second to none. I’m sad to see it ending but so excited to see how he wraps it all up.”

“Everything?” cartoonist Ryan Browne answered when I asked him about what made the series and Cannon’s efforts special. “The connections he made between prison and Kaiju tropes are truly otherworldly.”

“The magic of Zander’s storytelling in Kaijumax is that he is able to juggle the absurd and the hilarious, but also level the reader with some devastating emotional turns that are entirely earned from a pure character level,” Oni Press’ EVP of Creative, Charlie Chu, told me. “For me, this book has been everything I love about comics.” 20

To like Kaijumax is to love Kaijumax; you’re either all in or all out. Unfortunately, as noted earlier, everyone is now all out. The series concluded with the sixth and final issue to its sixth and final season. I can confirm that it’s everything I wanted, somehow delivering both on that volume’s key arcs while giving readers satisfying conclusions for each of their favorites. That’s a tough line to walk, but one Cannon deftly balances.

Which is nothing new for the cartoonist. Over the six seasons, 36 issues, and seven years of the Oni Press series, Cannon has managed an astonishing balancing act, always finding a way to deliver a story that’s hardened yet hopeful, satirical yet serious, grounded yet goofy. It can make you think, mad, cry, and laugh in the same issue, all while investing you in its immense cast of archetypal kaiju and prison guards, even if sometimes you’re mostly invested in their demise. 21 It’s a remarkable achievement, and one I’m sad to say goodbye to.

Now that it’s finished, I wanted to give Kaijumax a proper sendoff. It is a remarkable comic, but behind the pages and panels some of us loved, there was Cannon, tirelessly working to bring an astonishing, absurd series to life. As the door closes on Kaijumax, let’s look back on its own story, with insight from Cannon on how it started, evolved, and concluded, becoming the best ongoing series of the past decade in the process. 22

Kaijumax began as a fusion of references as much as anything, growing from Cannon’s love of kaiju and prison movies as well as his consideration of what a marriage of those two might look like. To the cartoonist, it seemed as if it could be a potent pairing, and one he’d revel in. This wouldn’t just be him playing the hits, either. Cannon’s well of potential references ran deep, ranging from the most famous tokusatsu and prison works to insights he learned listening to related podcasts. He plumbed the depths to build up the idea and this world. 23

Series lead Electrogor was an ode to Godzilla, guards were typically Ultraman or Voltron/Power Ranger analogs, groups in the prison were often organized by origin stories, 24 there was a particularly famous joke from the first season in which inmates worked out by pushing over fake buildings, the bottom of the sea housed Lovecraftian parallels, etc. etc. Those are just a few examples off the top, but you get it. Cannon described these references as “a foundation” from which the story was built from. It was just a starting point, but one Cannon found to be a rich sandbox to play in as its sole creator, save for Jason Fischer providing color assists.

Looking at the series now, it’s impossible to imagine Kaijumax any other way. This exploration of prison life with kaiju making up its population and Ultraman-like super people acting as the guards is inseparable from all facets of Cannon’s talents as a cartoonist. His cartoony art style defined it, cutting some of the more intense beats of the series while delivering much of the empathy we have for the cast. But Cannon drawing it on top of writing it wasn’t originally part of the plan. The Kaijumax we know and love almost wasn’t a thing, at least not in the same way. That’s because Cannon wasn’t meant to draw it: Browne was.

Cannon pitched Browne about tackling the series at New York Comic Con in 2013 or 2014, with the artist going so far as designing characters and drawing pitch pages. 25 That version of the project was even approved by Oni. It seemed as if it was going to happen. The only problem was, Browne’s solo series God Hates Astronauts was picked up by Image at roughly the same time. Browne described it as a “tough choice” to move on from Kaijumax, but one that “certainly worked out for both of us.”

That’s an incredible What If…?, but one that seems to have played out perfectly, even if it might not have seemed like it at the time. When Browne moved on, Cannon admitted he thought Kaijumax was dead. Who could he get to draw it? That was when Oni came back and asked, “Why don’t you draw it?” He was skeptical at first, especially considering that he’d have to pay people to fulfill other roles on the book. Given its niche nature, that might be a drag on Kaijumax’s feasibility. But then he had a thought: maybe he could just do it all himself!

The rest of this article is for
subscribers only.
Want to read it? A monthly SKTCHD subscription is just $4.99, or the price of one Marvel #1.
Or for the lower rate, you can sign up on our quarterly plan for just $3.99 a month, or the price of one regularly priced comic.
Want the lowest price? Sign up for the Annual Plan, which is just $2.99 a month.

Already a member? Sign in to your account.