Tuesday, August 21, 2012
THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE (January 2000)
(Full disclosure: This image of the cover has been altered to more closely approximate the concept behind it. If you want to see what the actual cover looked like to the people who own this 'zine, I'm afraid one of them is going to have to scan a copy.)
If you've been following my ongoing review of OWARI's fanzines days these last two years(!), you may remember that I had been toying with doing something separate from OWARI even before I relaunched the 'zine in 1999. In fact, I spent much too much space in OWARI #5 blathering about these possibilities. Only one of these was dismissed in that issue. So naturally, guess which one actually became a reality?
THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE was an outgrowth of Ronnie Burton's column that began in OWARI #3. In truth, though, it was bigger than that. Ronnie and I had been collaborating on translating kaiju and tokusatsu film credits since 1996, but finding the proper venue for that research was another story entirely. The thought had occurred in 1999 that maybe it could exist as a standalone project, but I dismissed this because I didn't want to stretch myself too thin by juggling four separate fanzines. When the Big Bang Comics and Return of Jetman ones hit some delays, I realized I could do THE KAIJU DETECTIVE.
There was another motive behind doing THE KAIJU DETECTIVE, and it was a bit more practical. OWARI and I both had fallen off the map in the Godzilla fandom, and that was where my main audience had been. Even though I had resorted to giving OWARI away, I still didn't have many takers. Something like THE KAIJU DETECTIVE would have an automatic appeal in that community, and maybe I could use that to promote OWARI. I wasn't expecting to be deluged with orders, but I wanted to remind old readers I still existed and maybe entice a few new readers into the fold.
THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE is subtitled (OWARI SPECIAL SERIES #1) in the indicia. If you just go by the cover, the OWARI logo is the biggest one. Why? Well, I had no resources to create a proper logo for THE KAIJU DETECTIVE, and Rob Perchaluk's OWARI logo had been consigned to its smallest version on the 'zine itself. I elected to create an umbrella title for my assorted special projects, and drew inspiration from DC Special Series. And lo, OWARI SPECIAL SERIES was born, and I had an adequate excuse to slap the OWARI logo on the cover.
Even though his name is given top billing, I haven't really mentioned Ronnie Burton's participation in this project. Though much of the research presented originates from him, the truth is the actual preparation of the "book" itself was mine. I don't think Ronnie got a glimpse of the presentation until he received a copy of the finished product. This was by no means an effort to exclude him, but by choice, Ronnie had stepped away from actively writing fan articles.
THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE is 20 single-sided pages, and may tie OWARI #3 as the most labor-intensive publication I ever created. The format dictated that I couldn't include everything I would've liked, so I decided to go with what I perceived as the most "commercial" stuff - namely, Godzilla. Specifically, the coverage would be for the 15 Godzilla films from 1954-1975. Had interest warranted it, I would have followed with either the 1984-1995 Godzilla series or Toho's 1955-1970 tokusatsu films in THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK TWO. Obviously, that didn't happen, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Suffice to say, plans were never to just cover the original 15 Godzilla films and leave it at that.
In terms of presentation, this is a curious amalgam of fanzine and "book." In fact, I think I used the term "booklet" to describe it at the time. There is both an introduction and a detailed explanation of the format. Then, we dive headlong into the films. Each of them is allotted a page with as much translated data as we had on hand - titles, running times, staff and cast lists, etc. But it's more than just staid facts - there are also film stills illustrating each movie. Plus, in what seemed like a masterstroke at the time, I included illustrations depicting the Japanese titles for each movie. Therefore, the page for TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA also includes 「メカゴジラの逆襲」 ("Mechagodzilla no Gyakushu").
Rounding out the issue was something else I considered a brilliant idea. Acknowledging the fact that many of the performers listed in its pages were unknown to most readers, THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE included a "Godzilla Series Actors & Actresses Gallery." The goal here was to depict as many of them as possible, no matter how minor. So while luminaries like Akira Takarada, Akihiko Hirata, Mie Hama, Kenji Sahara, and Kumi Mizuno obviously got listed, equal time was given to such relatively obscure names as Yoshio Katsube and Hideo Shibuya. It was a great way to match a name to a face and go, "Oh, that guy/girl!"
...So it's a pity the thing printed so badly. I'm sitting here looking at the original layouts, and while they are far from crystal clear, there's nothing to indicate just how poorly they would reproduce. I'm still just as disappointed today as I was when I saw the results of weeks of careful work rolling out of the photocopier. It eases my pain a little bit that someone in Japan has created a webpage that is the same basic idea. Unfortunately, their version is Japanese-only.
I ended the proceedings with an ad touting OWARI, which I called "[a] newsletter of the profound and the absurd (but mostly the absurd)." If I'm being honest, that was likely only there because I needed to fill out the 20th page and ran out of pictures of performers. Ah, necessity.
My initial printing of THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE was a conservative 14 copies. That's because the thought of collating the darn thing by hand filled me with dread. I figured I could always print more when it became necessary, and I'd just make do with what I had at hand. I mailed out sample copies to a few folks, placed a classified ad in the pages of G-Fan (shades of OWARI #1!), and waited to see what would happen as I worked diligently on the next issue of OWARI.
So what did happen? Well...not much, as it turned out. Everyone who saw THE KAIJU DETECTIVE raved about it, despite its crude reproduction and spotty editing. There just weren't that many people who actually saw it. I'm trying to remember exactly how many responses the G-Fan ad generated. One? Two? In any case, I still have a copy of THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE in my files after filling orders and sending comp copies. That means there are, at most, 13 copies of it out in the wild. Unless someone bootlegged theirs, and I'm sure that would have looked positively dreadful if it happened.
How did I go from distributing 60 copies of OWARI #1 in 1995 to 13 copies of THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE in 2000? That's a good question. I'm sure the price had a lot to do with it. I had priced OWARI #1 at $1.50, while #2 and #3 had been $2.00. Those prices "sounded right," but in practice, I lost money on every single issue I sold. I wanted to at least break even for once, so I arrived at the sum of $5.00 for THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE. This would cover the cost of physically producing a copy of the 'zine and mailing it out.
Was $5.00 too much? Probably. G-Fan itself was only $3.95, and it had become a professional-looking publication. I realized I was probably cutting into my potential audience, but I held out hope that diehards and fans of the esoteric still might take a risk. It just didn't happen. I can't say I regret the price point, because I arrived at it after a lot of consideration. It just probably didn't help.
A larger problem was something that had happened during my extended hiatus from active Godzilla fandom - the Internet had become a much, much larger part of it. I don't need to explain what the Internet is to you, but it was not nearly as big a factor in 1995 as it was in 2000. By that point, there was much less need for a lot of cheap fanzines. Someone could just go online and create their own GeoCities/Angelfire/Tripod site instead.
Make no mistake, there was a glut of kaiju-related fanzines in the 1990s, and I was definitely just a small part of it. But that fad had largely passed by 2000 (I realized in retrospect), and the fanzines that remained were mostly firmly established. OWARI was not one of them, and I did not have the name value to sell my work based on reputation alone. I had been laboring on my fanzine for almost a year in the hopes of rebuilding my audience, only to realize too late that said audience had already left me behind.
To his credit, J.D. Lees believed in THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE enough that he continued to carry my classified ad for it long after the fee I'd paid for it had expired. I'm still flattered and humbled that he chose to do this, as it caught me completely by surprise. I don't remember when, but I ultimately asked him to drop it because there had just been no real response and I didn't foresee there being one. Still, I'm grateful for that and all the plaudits THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE earned for Ronnie and I from its miniscule readership.
Though OWARI SPECIAL SERIES was conceived as the first in an ongoing series of specials, there were never any others. The failure of THE KAIJU DETECTIVE BOOK ONE to find an audience meant there would be no future volumes of that title. The Big Bang Comics deal was finally incorporated into an issue of OWARI rather than risking another high workload/low reward one-shot special. The Return of Jetman volumes ultimately never happened, as detailed here. There was some consideration given to having Lewis Smith do a solo special highlighting his current work, but the onus of THE KAIJU DETECTIVE's fate coupled with some outside concerns torpedoed that idea, too.
For the remainder of OWARI's print incarnation, it would be my sole focus. However, the notion that fanzines were passé had been planted in my brain. I soldiered on with what I knew, but the creeping feeling was that the times had passed me by. It was an attitude that would color the remainder of my days as a self-publisher.