Herotaku Archives: Interview with Matt Frank
Hello Herotaku, this is TaJa Doyle a.k.a. Wheelchair21 bringing back with me an old interview I conducted with comic artist, Matt Frank. Matt Frank is an IDW illustrator, who is best known for his work on the Godzilla comics, select Transformer titles, and convention appearances for the publisher. In this interview, Matt and I talk about how he got interested in drawing, being a fan himself and what lead him to where he is currently as a comic illustrator.
How were you introduced to Godzilla, Tokusatsu and Transformers? And what was it that actually got you hooked on these programs?
It is funny because I was thinking about this subject the other day. When I am normally asked this typical opening question the reporter asks ‘Why’ instead of ‘How’. Never the less in my early years I discovered Godzilla through my love for dinosaurs and prehistoric animals, then it spiraled out to Ultraman. Having the love for dinosaurs also led me to Power Rangers where I stumbled upon the commercial for the series. Now, as for Transformers I am unsure how I discovered them, but the Dinobots surely helped me.
During your youth what were your favorite shows/movies from these series, and what has changed since then?
My first exposure to Godzilla was posters or toys, the movies were out of reach either through TV or rental stores. In my area certain Blockbusters would carry select Godzilla movies, never were they all the films together. As a kid I leaned more towards the Showa films where he is the hero, rather than the villainous or anti-hero Godzilla was in the Heisei movies. However, now I enjoy all Godzilla films. When I got into Transformers it was through Beast Wars, even though I was aware of the original series. With the tie-ins between the two series, it made me go back and watch G1. Finally I can say Power Rangers, made me Sentai fan. Yet, I still like Power Rangers when it is written fine, and I won’t say the original series is the best because it did have some flaws.
From growing up with the shows, was that how you discovered art was your best outlet or was it through a process of trial and error, in becoming a part of the business?
Drawing was just one of those things I did like most kids, especially when it came to my love for dinosaurs. I locked on to the subject, mostly centered on dinosaurs and the old Trendmasters Godzilla illustrations. I worked hard to emulate those images, and drawing became an obsession where in high school I would go through a sketchbook each month. Now, as for becoming an artist I went to the University of Texas at Austin, where I didn’t come away with a lot. It was not really the school for me, but I wanted to be artist bad enough that I found the time to learn. I had to really push myself since my teachers mostly taught fine art, heck some of those classes were my worst class I had. However, I took great courses at like coffee shop workshops, where we did like those community college-like courses.
Now, when did IDW publishing pick you up as an artist? And what were the first titles you were assigned too?
Near 2007 or 2008, I had sent in some art to IDW after doing work for Blue Water Productions on a Ray Harryhausen themed series of books in 2006. I got some notoriety from Blue Water Productions, but they did not have too much to offer their artists, so I put out my feelers. Since IDW had recently gotten the Transformers license at the time, they were still on the rise and were taking submissions thus sent in my own work. I would later receive a message from editor, Chris Ryall, who is now an editor-in-chief at IDW gave me a shot on the Beast Wars sourcebook. What caught his eye specifically was I had mentioned Beast Wars in my initial e-mail, and he had me work on a photo of Tarantulas. That is how I kind of got into IDW, but I did not do too much afterwards. Finally in late 2010, when IDW announced the Godzilla license I hit them up on the job offer and discovered they had already considered me for the series.
Starting out what were the hardest parts when you began working for IDW, and how has it changed for you?
Problems can arise when one is stretched between titles, while taking on commissions. When working on monthly books, if one starts falling behind it can affect the next month. For example I am working on both the final issues of Godzilla: Rulers of the Earth and the Botcon comic, it is stressful to juggle the titles. Now, when I first started out with Blue Water Productions I had very little time to work because I was unaware to schedule one-self and was still a college student, so the editor took me off the project. After college I found it easier to schedule myself, but had trouble with the work ethics.
What is your favorite parts about the Transformer comics either working on them, or actually reading? And what are some of your favorite titles?
I currently believe that James Roberts work on Transformers: More than Meets the Eye is one of the best being made at this time. James’ ability to craft stuff on the fly is amazing. I would really like to collaborate with him again sometime.
Now, what made you or others sneak in Tokusatsu “Easter Eggs” into the Transformer comics?
I think I was the first guy to that with V3 when trying to make up Decepticons. What made the character be V3 exactly was my friend Jarrod pointed out to me that Megagurius from Godzilla vs. Megagurius was originally supposed to homage V3’s color scheme, so I then followed up on that idea. At the time I did not think anyone would catch that, but people did and I was surprised. Then Alex Mill put in a Transformer on Den-O, and I am following suit with the Botcon comic. The Easter Eggs are more than less just stuff we put in for fun normally at the beginning of a comic title’s production.
Can you tell us how did IDW get the Godzilla license, and what went into make the series’ first issues such as its planning? From there how did it expand into the other titles?
I not fully aware, but from I understand they had been working on for a while. Back then I had sent a message to Chris Mowry, after an interview he did where he mentioned he would enjoy working on a Godzilla comic. In my message I asked him about IDW getting the license, and having us work on it. I would later learn he had to bite his tongue since negotiations were already on-going since 2008, and he wanted me on the project. The deal really rested on having the Toho Classic Kaiju being featured in the comics, with Mowry really pushing for their creation who is now our writer. The process was very length, because of how Toho needs to overlook our work.
What has been the hardest when making the Godzilla comics? Are there any restraints issued by Toho on what IDW can and cannot do?
Yes there are restrictions, which is due to the 1998 film. The 1998 film really screwed things up, even though its market campaign was great it wrecked several things such as the Trendmasters toy company. From their companies believed Godzilla would be a poison to their company, making Toho more protective on the character and other Kaiju. As for the comics, we get requests to make Godzilla accessible to all ages and that Godzilla is the “King of the Monsters”, where he cannot be on the ropes. Like I was surprised IDW got away with what we pulled off with Godzilla vs. the Gargantuas in Rulers of the Earth 10. Luckily enough now Toho knows how we work so do not get too many problems with the home office.
Is IDW able to use other Kaiju from Toho’s library such as unmade Toho Kaiju, Video Game Exclusives? As for the use of Zilla, could other mutant monsters from the animated Godzilla series be used or is that SONY copyrighted material?
The use of Kaiju depends on the copyrights IDW actually has, like in the past we would submit a list of Kaiju we want to use. Then IDW has to negotiate with Toho on what to use, where there they have to see what version of the Kaiju designs were are permitted to have. We normally get the ones we want too, so there is not normally an issue. One thing Toho normally asks of us is to Heisei Godzilla, because that is the version the Japanese audience prefers. Now, as for the video game characters Krstalak or Obsidius, IDW could use those, but as for other Kaiju from animated series or other comics that is probably a no. Bagan, who is a video game kaiju and un-made movie kaiju is probably a no too because it was abandoned. IDW learnt that Japanese copyrights, may have a lot of red tape scenarios due how their system works; the best example is Xilians or Kilaaks we just could not get those characters.
If given the chance to work on other Tokusatsu for IDW publishing what would want to work on first, and how would you like the direction to be for the series?
I would love to, but I wouldn’t see IDW getting any other Toku license anytime soon. I would love to work more on Power Rangers and Sentai, since I am a huge fan as well as build off to Ultraman. One of the issues is that Power Rangers is the only thing that can capture the attention and audience of people here in the states.
Other than IDW comics, you’re working on the Sunstone Game “Colossal Kaiju Combat”. What lead to you working with the company, and how do you come up with the designs for the Kaiju?
It was a long in coming collaboration since I knew Simon Strange from previous podcasts, where it all began with a Kickstarter. The first Kickstarter we did for the game, did not even make the funding by the idea alone until the artwork began appearing. The work has been constant, but it is a lengthy process to make an actual video game.
What was the first convention you ever attended as an attendee, and/or a guest?
I think the first convention was for Ushicon, an anime convention in Austion, Texas and I really enjoyed it. The next big con I attended was A-Kon in Dallas. Now, the first con I went as seller or artist was Staple an art-con here in Texas and then it was G-Fest. When I attended Staple it was very last minute too, whereas G-Fest I had help from my parents to get there. G-Fest was basically my only con until 2011 when I would get to go to Botcon or the Albuquerque Expo.
When going to conventions what is different for you, now being on the opposite side as guest than a con go’er?
When as a guest or artist there is a certain zenith a person hits where one needs to consider whether or not one is getting everything he or she needs for a profit. I started thinking of using my talents to go to cons and break even, then getting older I realized it needs to be treated as a business venture. When going to G-Fest I miss out on a lot the con itself, such as panels or autographs. It is tough being a business man and fan, but luckily enough my wife is helping me now to do both.
How are you normally greeted by fans, and how do wish for someone to approach you?
I think artist should talk or be asked this often, so we can tell our fans its cool hearing from them just beware if I am in the middle of work or heavily greeted by others, maybe stop by later. Try to catch me during those open times when I am just sitting around. I love engaging my audience at the booth, or meet me up at the bar like areas either featured at the convention center or hotel.
Do you have any words of wisdom to those seeking a job in comics?
The industry is full, go elsewhere… No, I am kidding. I think that the comic industry is tough, and can be hard to earn money. Income is not always guaranteed, but if being an animator or artist is the thing you want to do then stick with it. Always one needs to be able to gauge criticism correctly, listen to all of it but know not everyone is out to tear you down.
Finally, how can fans contact you?
My primary contact is MattFrank.com, and I have a Tumblr (Spankzilla 85) where I normally respond to people there faster. Contacting me through those mediums can take awhile or slip through the cracks, because I do not have a secretary and I cannot hire my wife. Just I try to answer back to everyone, so to those out there feel free to hit me up…
Anyways that concludes our interview with Matt Frank! We here at Herotaku, hope to bring Matt back in the future to talk more about his work with IDW, and current projects. Also please do not forget to check out and subscribe to Herotaku’s Youtube channel, where one can listen to the extended audio edition of this interview. Next time, Herotaku Archives will be introducing our interviews with the cast of Fujiyama Ichiban; starting with its creator, Michi Yamato!
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