DOCUMENTING GIANTS FROM JAPAN! Stephen Mark Rainey on Creating the Celebrated Fanzine ‘Japanese Giants’!

Photo © Stephen Mark Rainey.

Horror novelist Stephen Mark Rainey (who also goes by Mark Rainey) has written countless shockers over the years, but his audience may not be aware that, during his teen years, he published a fanzine on Godzilla and other giant monsters from Japan. His fanzine, Japanese Giants, would eventually see other editors who would keep it alive during the following decades, but it all began with Stephen Mark Rainey. In November 2021, Mr. Rainey answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his founding Japanese Giants.

Brett Homenick: Going back to the beginning, where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Mark Rainey: I was born in Chattanooga, TN, approximately 1,000,000 BC. We only lived in Chattanooga for a year after I was born, so I have no true recollection of the place, save for passing through it a handful of times in later years. After Chattanooga, we moved to Martinsville, VA, which is where I grew up, and it’s the place I still call home. My childhood home is now something of a weekend place for me, and I always enjoy spending time there.

BH: How did you get into Japanese monster movies?

MR: I’m fairly certain it was seeing Godzilla, King of the Monsters! when I was in kindergarten that gave me the bug. I was already keen on dinosaurs, and I saw Godzilla as a whole level above those. I remember a TV guide page from those early days that highlighted the monster movies coming on that week, and there was a photo of the Rhedosaurus from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. That ad page always stood out in my memory, and I’ve always loved that movie. But another of the movies playing that week was Gigantis, the Fire Monster. Back then, I didn’t know that it was, in reality, the second Godzilla movie, and I remember thinking how cool it was that there was another monster like Godzilla.

I believe I was eight years old on the night that Godzilla came on TV while my parents were out, and my little brother and I had a babysitter. Just as Godzilla ended, I heard what sounded like thunder, and the house started shaking. As it turned out, it was the first earth tremor to hit Martinsville in something like 150 years. The timing was propitious, I guess, for in those few moments I felt certain Godzilla was real, and Martinsville was toast. That, probably as much as anything, sewed up my fondness for all things daikaiju.

The cover of Japanese Giants #1.

BH: At the time, which kaiju movies were your favorites?

MR: The original Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and Gigantis, the Fire Monster were my first favorites simply because those were the first two of the movies I saw. My love for both continues to this day. I believe I was in third grade when Godzilla vs. the Thing came on one afternoon, and I only caught a portion of it — but it was enough to convince me that Godzilla was the best thing ever.

Somewhere in that time period, I saw The Mysterians, which I also immediately adored. Eventually, I caught Destroy All Monsters — at the drive-in theater — and not long afterward the double bill of War of the Gargantuas and Monster Zero, among others. With all that stuff happening during my most formative years, I was in daikaiju heaven.

BH: What do you think Japanese monster movies had that their American counterparts didn’t?

MR: A sense of unimaginable power. To me, those early daikaiju movies were impressive; they were about monsters as monsters, not rubber-suited wrestlers. Once the movies became more lighthearted, they began to piss me off. It was only when I got a bit older that I began to enjoy them on their own terms.

I think I saw most — certainly not all — American monster movies as less than sincere; they always seemed to be more about silly scientists and silly women having silly love affairs, and the monsters seemed to play second fiddle to that. Like Linus’s pumpkin patch, those early Japanese monster movies offered sincerity as far as the eye could see.

Stephen Mark Rainey in July 2004. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Wasn’t there an incident when you got in trouble for reenacting a scene from The Mysterians in your backyard?

MR: It’s safe to say that Japanese monster movies triggered my desire to become a master of special effects at an early age. In this case, it wasn’t long after I saw The Mysterians, probably for the second or third time. In the forest fire scene early in the film, there’s that line that refers to the trees burning from their roots. Well, I decided I could probably replicate that scene in the backyard. We had a bunch of shrubs and small trees out there. For good measure, I took a can of lighter fluid and matches from the basement, thoroughly doused the bases of the plants, and lit them up. Sure enough, with all that lighter fluid soaked into the ground, it produced the desired effect. I proudly hollered, “Look! All the trees! They are burning from the roots!” And promptly got myself into hot water. It wouldn’t be for the last time.

BH: Were you familiar with The Japanese Fantasy Film Journal around this time?

MR: I ordered JFFJ because Greg Shoemaker posted an ad in Famous Monsters of Filmland, which I believe was in 1970. That would have made me ten or eleven — and I imagine the forest fire incident was sometime thereafter. In fact, now that I think about it, I’d guess it was around the time JFFJ #6 came out — 1971, most likely — as it had a Mysterians filmbook.

BH: What led to the creation of Japanese Giants?

MR: JFFJ certainly inspired me, as did a few other fanzines I began picking up in the early ‘70s. I loved monster movie magazines of all sorts, and so I decided I wanted to produce one of my own. Given my ongoing fondness for Japanese monsters — and my particular love of Destroy All Monsters, which I had seen several times by then — if I were going to produce a monster magazine, one devoted to daikaiju was inevitable. The first issue featured a Destroy All Monsters filmbook.

From left to right: Stephen Mark Rainey, Brett Homenick, and Brian Thomas. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How did you decide on the name?

MR: It was the first thing that came to me. It had a nice ring.

BH: How was it produced?

MR: I typed everything on galleys, pasted in art and photos — mostly cut from the Destroy All Monsters pressbook I owned then, and still do, with most of the images taped back in place — and printed it offset at a local print shop. To save money, I just had the pages printed loose, and I collated and stapled all the copies by hand. I believe I ordered 200 copies, and I sold probably a hundred or so of them in that first year. At 50¢ per copy, I still came up a bit short on the printing cost, but my dad was impressed by my dedication and willingness to work and learn, so he made sure the bill was covered. I sold most of the rest of the copies over the decades that followed, occasionally at staggering prices from die-hard collectors.

BH: What kind of feedback did you get from readers?

MR: In general, people seemed to enjoy it. Now, it was clearly produced by a kid — as a labor of love — and more serious fans were fairly forgiving, probably for that reason. It got some acute criticism as well, which was generally spot-on, as best I can remember. For its time, 50¢ for 18 pages was pretty steep, and I think I heard about that more than anything. But it was a great learning experience.

BH: What kind of expectations did you have for it?

MR: I had expected to be propelled to the heights of fame and attract all kinds of young women. I guess it worked, after a fashion. I’m famous, but nobody knows it, and I’m married to a lovely young woman.

BH: Do you remember what kind of circulation it had at the time?

MR: Well, I sold those hundred-plus copies, and, for me, it was a one-off. So that was it.

Stephen Mark Rainey with Toho special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano in July 2004. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What else could you tell us about working on it at the time?

MR: I enlisted the help of a couple of friends who were Godzilla fans, if a bit more casual than I. Working on the magazine inspired me to try my hand at all kinds of monster-related activities. I wrote a filmbook of Godzilla vs. the Thing for The Monster Times around then. Japanese Giants #1 came out in spring of 1974, and that issue of The Monster Times — #42 — came out in summer of 1975. I also wrote and drew a bunch of Godzilla comic stories — just for me, for the fun of it. Objectively, they were nothing great, but they provided a desirable creative outlet at the time.

BH: Looking back on it, what are your thoughts on the first issue of Japanese Giants?

MR: I suppose it could be considered a milestone for my personal creativity. And, through JG, I met folks like Ed Godziszewski, Bill Gudmundson, Doug Pelton, and others with whom I’m still good friends. Whatever one might think of the magazine itself, it paved the way for bigger and far better things.

BH: Did you have much correspondence with Greg Shoemaker around this time?

MR: I did. For many years after our first contact in 1970, Greg and I exchanged letters. He was a mentor to me in many ways, whether he knew it or not. I saved almost every letter he wrote to me, so I have quite a large folder containing our correspondence. I met him face to face in Chicago in 1982, and he attended my wedding when I lived there in 1986. The last time I saw him was at a G-Fest, when he won the Mangled Skyscraper Award. When he passed away, it was a hammer blow to me; I still have a hard time accepting that he’s gone. He was truly my first friend in the world of daikaiju fandom, and that friendship was still going strong when he died. 

Stephen Mark Rainey and Brett Homenick interview Teruyoshi Nakano, with Robert Scott Field as translator. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Why did you hand the reins of Japanese Giants over to Brad Boyle?

MR: Basic economics. I had started putting together JG #2, but since #1 had never quite earned out, I was in a quandary about how to proceed financially. Somewhere in there, Brad Boyle offered to take over its publication. I felt it was a fair prospect — the magazine would continue, and I’d no longer have to be on the hook paying for it. It seemed like a win-win proposition.

BH: Did you still contribute to the fanzine after he took over?

MR: I did, in various capacities. I provided a few articles, contributed artwork, that kind of thing. Nothing very noteworthy, but in hindsight it all provided me with good experience.

BH: How do you think Brad Boyle did as the editor?

MR: Generally, quite well. He corrected a lot of the mistakes I’d made early on. He communicated frequently with me, which I appreciated. And the magazine improved by leaps and bounds as Brad gained experience.

BH: Could you tell us about the time you met Don Glut?

MR: It was a New Year’s Eve party in Chicago that I went to with Ed Godziszewski and Alex Wald. A loft apartment, if I remember right. I knew of Don by way of Famous Monsters and such, and it was cool to meet him in person. I don’t remember much about the party itself; that was quite a few years ago, and Don and I — and probably most everyone else there — ended up downing a lot of beers. I reckon it was a great party; I recall Don proclaiming it so at some point.

BH: After your fanzine days, you created Deathrealm. Could you talk about it?

MR: Deathrealm was a very different animal than Japanese Giants. It was a horror fiction magazine, which required a different editorial approach. In college, I had become a fan of H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction, and there were a number of small-press magazines out there influenced by his —and his circle’s — work. I very much enjoyed some of them, and I believed I could bring a new perspective to that field. I had the resources to create a quarterly, digest-sized magazine, so I up and ran with the idea.

Deathrealm went on for ten years and 31 issues. It featured hundreds of stories, poems, and works of art by many of the most noteworthy names in the horror field. It was quite a job, producing that monster, but it paid off in spades over the long haul. I’m currently planning a new pro anthology based on Deathrealm, so I hope it’ll fly.

BH: What do you remember about interviewing Stephen King?

MR: I never actually interviewed Stephen King. I swapped a letter or two with him and had stories appear in a couple of books with him. That was about it, other than his using my surname for his story Secret Window, Secret Garden.

BH: How did you find out about the character of Mort Rainey in Secret Window, Secret Garden?

MR: I read the story in Four Past Midnight, and, since I knew he was aware of my work, I figured he’d “tuckerized” my name, as authors are wont to do. He confirmed it in a letter to me.

Stephen Mark Rainey poses with Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah actor Robert Scott Field in July 2004. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How well did Johnny Depp capture you in the 2004 movie adaptation [Secret Window, directed by David Koepp]?

MR: The character wasn’t patterned after me at all. So Depp did a lousy job capturing me because he wouldn’t have had a clue who I am. By the same token, I doubt I could capture Johnny Depp worth a good goddamn either, since I can’t act my way out of a paper bag.

BH: What are your thoughts on some of the more recent kaiju offerings, like Shin Godzilla (2016)?

MR: Initially, I found Shin Godzilla so boring — other than some impressive monster scenes — I didn’t think I wanted to sit through it again. Eventually I did, though, and on that occasion I found I connected somewhat more with it. I do love the final Godzilla design. It’s the classic design warped enough to be unsettling — agreeably so. While I feel like I understand why the story is what it is, it’s still more ponderous than the monster itself.

On the flight back from our most recent trip to Europe, I watched it on the plane, and I did enjoy it overall. My opinion of it is certainly better than my first impression, though with some serious caveats. On the flight over to France, I watched Godzilla vs. Kong for the third time, I think it was. I slept through most of it the first time I saw it, and I felt like sleeping through it again. Like its predecessor(s), it has some impressive moments, but the stories are mostly so dopey they make [Godzilla vs.Megalon feel like high art. The Monsterverse movies go best with a few strong cocktails.

BH: Do you have any final thoughts for this interview?

MR: I’m trying to think, but nothing happens.

BH: I know the feeling. Thank you very much for the interview, Mark.

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