Words the author hadn’t spoken in over a decade bloomed rapidly, uncannily, on her tongue. Toho Productions. Destroy All Monsters. Kaiju. Don Frye. Gojira. Credit: Mark Capapas for Chicago Reader

In Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), a grieving scientist grafts rose cells to cells he’s salvaged from his dead human daughter. After the resulting human-rose is nearly destroyed, the scientist melds her with Godzilla cells he’s stolen from a lab. The result is a monster-sister forever fighting those from whence she came. 

I remember the first time I saw Biollante onscreen, cocooned with my brothers in the dry air of our GMC van, idling somewhere in the winter dark. The van’s interior was a deep, velvety purple that blurred the boundaries between us and the night, giving the impression that I was in some ancient, warm, ever-expanding cave. Midway on the van’s ceiling was a shelf: on that shelf, a tiny TV/VCR combo. I was mesmerized and more than a little afraid. In the film, after a terrific battle, Godzilla appears to immolate his sister with his legendary atomic breath. The camera lingers on Biollante, by now an enormous, pulsating being of green vines, fearsome jaws, and human spirit, as she burns. As the viewer, you’re certain she is dying, until you realize that what first appeared to be sparks flaring off of her body are actually spores, dissolving and floating in the sky. Once there, they linger before continuing their journey to space, and briefly form the outline of a rose. Biollante lives. 

In July, I was one of 4,000 attendees at the largest Godzilla convention in the world. G-FEST XXVII, announced our rectangular yellow badges, returning after a two-year hiatus that included a pandemic, a rebellion, an insurrection. Underneath that font, enough space to write in our names. Walking through the doors of the Hyatt Regency O’Hare Hotel in Rosemont, a suburb just outside Chicago, and stepping into a round glass elevator with half a dozen strangers, I felt the words I hadn’t spoken in over a decade bloom rapidly, uncannily, on my tongue. Toho Productions. Destroy All Monsters. Kaiju. Don Frye. Gojira.

Inside the elevator, a mother stood proudly next to her prepubescent son, each wearing T-shirts featuring the snubbed face of Godzilla in the 60s, when filmmakers began to portray him as the good guy in an effort to draw in kids. Rodan and Ultraman, two other kaijus (giant monsters from Japanese TV or film), peeked out from a crinkling plastic bag in the boy’s hand, sure booty from the convention’s hallowed Dealer’s Room. Two other passengers, themselves strangers until this moment, happily dished about the panels they wanted to see (“Godzilla vs. Hedorah: A Belated 50th Birthday” and “Godzilla and the Japanese National Spirit”). Through the elevator glass, I could see thousands of green pothos plants trailing the railings that crisscrossed the open-air design of the hotel. Together, we zoomed up.

It’s a powerful feeling, to come back to the salty, atomic waters that birthed you. I knocked on door 544. My dad opened it. He has brown hair that likes to puff up in humidity and gray-green eyes the color of a forest floor. We’re 21 years apart: “It’s cool,” he likes to say, “that we’re going to be old people together.” Behind him I spied the gigantic Godzilla head my dad won in a raffle in 2003 after attending G-FEST X. Meticulously sculpted from a three-foot-by-three-foot block of Styrofoam, it sat kingly in its own hotel chair, looking me over with a baleful, milky eye. My dad drove the Godzilla head, along with two of his sons, a six-pack of diet Mountain Dew, a quart of half-and-half, and a PS2, across one time zone and two state lines. My mom, who opted for a rare weekend alone instead of coming to the convention, floated in our inflatable pool. 

I turned on my recorder and made everyone introduce themselves to me as a test run. “Hi,” said my dad. “Larry Prout Sr., G-FEST veteran and enthusiast.” 

“Hi, I’m Larry Prout Jr.,” my youngest brother said. “I’m a big G-FEST fan and native.” Larry loves cats and football, and has the best eyebrows of us all. “It’s gonna be awesome,” he said seriously. “I’m grateful to be here.”  

John gamely leaned in. Built like a brick shithouse, he’s a Navy veteran and a charmingly huge nerd: while stationed in San Diego, he briefly got away to Comic-Con. “I’m John Prout, one of the other Prouts. Excited to be back after a two-year hiatus. Excited for the new hotel. It’s gonna be a good time. G-FEST.”

“I’m Mike Prout, I’m the brother of John and Larry.” Like everyone else, Mike wore a Godzilla T-shirt, his shaggy blonde hair held back by a rolled bandana. Tall, strong, and lean, he’s rarely without an energy drink in his hand. “I’m excited that G-FEST is finally back.”

Barb was peeking out from behind a door. Too private to be described in detail, I’ll only say that she’s tenderhearted; for her birthday this year, John surprised her with a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. I approached cautiously, holding my recorder in what I hoped was a benign and welcoming way. “I’m here for the antique stores.”

After stepping out on the patio to take a rip off his vape, Mike came in and nestled his speakers into his drawstring backpack. He hit play. The first notes of the theme song for The War of the Gargantuas (1966) soared into the room. “Do-do-DOO, do-do-do-do-do-do,” my dad sang along with the horn, turning on the video camera in his hand. As we rolled out, I kept recording audio. My dad stopped in the doorway to zoom in on each of our faces as we passed by.

In Godzilla on My Mind, William Tsutsui writes, “If all the letters I received, the fanzines I read, and the websites I scoured left me with one abiding impression, it is this: the emotion that Godzilla stirs most powerfully in the hearts of his admirers is, without question, a bittersweet sense of nostalgia.” My dad recommended the book to me. Later, after I asked him via text what his favorite Godzilla movie is (it’s the 1954 original), my dad wrote, “It’s all very nostalgic for me. It puts me back at home as a kid watching the creature feature on a Saturday afternoon. That’s a good quote, so print that!” He is the one who introduced all of his six kids to Godzilla films; we all have memories now of checking them out at the public library, watching them while splayed out in front of our living room box fan on early August afternoons. 

In the years since we’ve grown up, my brothers—all of whom are younger than me—and I have had days or years of strain, of relationships that, for me, have been sometimes characterized by hurt, anger, and longing as I realize the fundamental distance between us. Our politics and principles, the world as we understand it and our place and responsibility within it, contain jagged differences. And yet, so much else remains: jokes and songs, the incessant need to be together, even, or especially when, it might be a good idea to take some space. Group chats are forever dissolving and reappearing, depending on who is feuding with whom. We cycle in and out of sharing the same apartment, the same clothes, the same nest.

Perhaps because of all that, plus the mortal threats some of us regularly face—Larry with his spina bifida and 100-plus surgeries to keep him alive, our dad with a progressive liver disease that flared so bad last summer he nearly died—it’s no wonder that we share a compulsive need to document each other. Larry spent the weeks before G-FEST this year watching as many of the 36 Godzilla movies as he could, and along with that, videos of us from past conventions. It might’ve been his idea to film us all this weekend, but my dad happily obliged. The temptation is to try and recreate the familiar videos of the past, rather than open up to the uncertainty of the present.

The Dealer’s Room is the beginning and the end, Valhalla via the Maxwell Street of old Chicago. Inside this high-ceilinged ballroom are dozens of vendors, hundreds of people, and thousands upon thousands of items of kaiju paraphernalia for G-Fans to buy, barter, and beg for in multiple languages. There are figurines of every kaiju you could think of and some you couldn’t: tiny King Kongs, squat Mecha-King Ghidorahs with absurdly large heads, immaculately constructed models of Godzilla from every era that go for hundreds of dollars or more. There are carefully preserved monster board games from the 1970s, only lightly water stained; tables straining under the weight of hundreds of T-shirts; original watercolors of Mothra, Ultraman, and Gamera; laundry baskets full of copies of monster movies that went straight to VHS in the 1980s; neatly stacked piles of serious, self-published lore, and boutique comic books. One man, at his table, simply holds up a hand-drawn sign: AWESOME ELECTRONIC MUSIC. The layout has room for wheelchairs—when she saw Larry, the woman counting heads at the door nodded, unhooked a velvet red rope, and let us skip the line—but it’s a real crowd. Long-separated comrades heartily embrace, slap each other’s backs, and reminisce. New friendships are forged. And small shrines to the dead are everywhere, once you begin to look. 

Luke Stelmaszek’s Godzilla drawings at his vendor table. Credit: Mark Capapas for Chicago Reader

The Room officially, ceremoniously opened for the weekend at 10 AM Friday morning. By two, the hotel lobby ATM will run out of cash, forcing who knows how many collectors to trek to gas station ATMs, or call family members still on their way and ask them to bring a little extra. I imagine the temple Jesus famously loses his temper in looked a bit like this, but the Dealer’s Room at the heart of G-FEST is not defiled by trade. The trade is part of the holiness.

A white man with a goatee and long, graying hair sat busily sketching at a table near the entrance, artwork for sale before him. “Huh,” John said. “That’s Eggleton. Tell him I had one of his paintings over my bed as a kid.” 

Bob Eggleton, Hugo Award-winning artist who sketches and paints horror, sci-fi, and all things Godzilla, traveled from Rhode Island to get here. Eggleton started coming to G-FEST in the 90s. Like quite literally every one of the two dozen G-Fans I interviewed over the weekend, Eggleston’s interest in Godzilla has an origin story. In 1966, his mother gave him a Godzilla board game. “From then on, it was kind of a love affair.” In 2002, Eggleton was even a running extra in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, two seconds of glory caught forever on film. 

The Dealer’s Room houses dozens of vendors, hundreds of people, and thousands upon thousands of items of kaiju paraphernalia for G-Fans to buy, barter, and beg for in multiple languages. Credit: Mark Capapas for Chicago Reader

At the next booth, a cheerful white couple from Missouri named Eric and Amy were busy selling Godzilla and related Japanese monster toys, books, records, and ashtrays to their discerning buyers: mainly vintage, mainly from the 1960s and ’70s. “I grew up watching Godzilla as a kid. He’s always been like my hero,” Eric told me. The 54-year-old has attended G-FEST since 1995, and has been collecting items since he was a teenager. His favorite? A 24-inch-tall plastic Godzilla produced in the 1970s called a Popy Jumbosaurus Godzilla.

“Luckily, I found someone who is mentally insane and likes this stuff as much as I do,” he said. “It’s the only reason she’s still here with me.”

“That’s not true!” Amy said. “Other people have pictures of houses and barns and beautiful landscapes,” she explained to me. “We have Gojira.”

The vibe of G-FEST is almost universally PG. A middle-aged Black man wore a T-shirt that said “World’s Greatest Dad,” with a picture of Godzilla and Godzilla’s treacly son Minilla underneath. A white man in his early 30s stopped to study some comic books, wearing a tracksuit and all of his IDs from previous G-FESTs. Someone else wore a sweatshirt that zipped up to the hood, replacing their face with that of Godzilla’s. Down their back, a cotton representation of Godzilla’s famous spine gently waved as they walked. A white woman in head-to-toe Harley Davidson; another, holding her toddler tightly by the hand, wore a T-shirt that depicts a stick figure human being beamed up to a flying saucer. “Get in loser,” it read, in an unusual foray into the risqué, “We’re doing butt stuff.” Everywhere there were kids, wild-eyed, astonished, shouting. A few were already cosplaying: mini-Godzillas and Mothras were a favorite, but there were several prepubescent Ultramans. Teenagers with hair the color of the rainbow huddled together in groups, geeking out over old DVDs. I spotted Larry up and out of his chair, closely examining a Mecha-Kong figurine. 

Two Japanese women stood behind a table of paintings and comic books. I approached the woman wearing a kimono swirling with red, white, brown, and blue first. Her hair was neatly pulled back; her face mask was screen printed with Godzilla’s jaws. She directed me to Ninsai, a 25-year-old kaiju artist who writes and illustrates a comic about a girl whose magical powers allow her to transform into a kaiju herself and fight monsters. 

“What do you like about kaiju?” I asked her.

“Ahhhh,” she groaned with pleasure, “Everything. Everything! The height? Strengths? Everything.”

Tsuyuki Yauchi (left) and Ninsai Kato, who writes and illustrates a comic about a girl whose magical powers allow her to transform into a kaiju. Credit: Mark Capapas for Chicago Reader

Ninsai’s gateway kaiju was Gamera, a giant, prehistoric, fire-breathing turtle cooked up by Daiei Film, a rival studio to Godzilla’s Toho Productions. She saw Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999) in junior high. As we talked, I studied a bright, riotous drawing of Biollante she had for sale. Biollante’s red-orange abdomen, which glows in the films, appeared to glow here too. 

Rodney Rodis is the 46-year-old Filipino American editor-in-chief of Bustillo Publishing—and, in a previous life, an art teacher who proposed a classwide project called “The Secret History of Japan” to his middle school students. “We had tokusatsu, we had kaiju. I sold it to [them] as, ‘Hey, these were actual people, things, events that happened,’ and just wove this alternate history. And they ate it up.”

Today, he drove in from Mount Prospect, his third year as a seller, but he originally attended G-FEST as a fan. He spoke elliptically about what he called the politics of the last few years, and the parallels he saw in the movies and cartoons of his youth. “When did life start imitating satire?” he said and laughed. 

I waded through the crowd and found my family near the exit. As we talked, Larry suddenly hollered. “He found one! Oh my gosh!” In Mike’s hand was a challenge coin. Godzilla’s face snarled on the front; on the back, his silhouette seemed to lurch into a silver abyss.

Challenge coins are commemorative coins traditionally given out in the military to members as rewards or to build morale. At a port bar, if one member slaps their challenge coin down at the table, everyone else follows suit: whoever doesn’t have a coin buys that round. John has one from his time in the Navy; Steve, our other brother who skipped this G-FEST to spend time with his wife and new baby, was given one by his trade union. Mike was bringing this coin, minted for the 50th anniversary of Godzilla (1954), back to our mother as a surprise. Now she too belonged to a brotherhood. 

The hotel’s basement floor was humid and smelled like french fries. Mothers, dressed in matching Mothra T-shirts with their daughters, rested on benches as their youngest kids lightly napped. I stood there, awash in people, and listened to a goateed man with a leashed pet pig explain that pet pigs don’t master bladder control until six months old. 

Two hallways led off the chamber. Down one, G-Fans could display their homemade art, attend a how-to session on constructing intricate models, or demo board games like GigaBash (“an arena style Kaiju Brawler for up to four players!”). The Mecha-Godzilla Arcade, a warm and windowless room, contained a half-dozen monster pinball machines, including a Godzilla one built from scratch, and rows of desktop computers on which G-Fans of all ages played Godzilla video games two to 20 years old. At the volunteer table, a volunteer dressed as an off-brand Fabio—box dyed-blonde ringlets, open leather vest, spray tan—helped Larry sign up to play in the Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee tournament, then winked at me.

Down the second hallway, you could get a massage (“Feeling a little tense?” asked the program. “Go for a monster massage. Expert attention at reasonable rates.”) or take your child to the playroom Minya’s Place. We met Preston Pollard, an outgoing, 23-year-old white Texan, near the quiet room, “which is really nice,” he explained, “because a lot of people here have special needs, like me.”

Preston wore a Godzilla ball cap on his head, his name scrawled on it in Japanese. In his hand was a Godzilla figurine he purchased in the Dealer’s Room, a miniature of the creature featured on a ride at Universal Studios, Japan. He’d driven here, with his mom and brother, for the fifth time. “G-FEST is pretty much a family reunion to meet up with people who are exactly like me,” he said cheerfully. “I can be myself and not feel like a freak. Where I’m from, people are like, ‘Who are you talking about?’”

Godzilla (1998) is a movie universally loathed by G-Fans. Credit: Mark Capapas for Chicago Reader

When he was seven, Preston was watching an episode of VeggieTales when one of the characters made a Godzilla joke. “So I asked my grandfather, ‘What’s Godzilla?’ He gets excited.” Later that night, Godzilla (1998) was on cable. A movie so universally loathed by G-Fans that, in a passing joke, Preston didn’t even need to name it (“You can literally do no wrong with [Godzilla]. Except that one time, but we don’t talk about it.”), it still served as a portal to profound meaning and connection. As he said it, that was the night Preston fell in love.

“He’s this giant, misunderstood creature who, in one movie, could be the villain; in one movie, he could be the hero. . . . There’s this tragedy to this character,” Preston continued:

“We have this animal that was bombed by nuclear weapons and became this monstrosity. He takes his vengeance out on humans for having created him, but yet he would become the hero and fight off other, more evil monsters. And yet, Godzilla still has this shaky relationship with humanity. So I guess some people with special needs kind of relate to that sense of wanting to be away from people, but also want to be with people.”

Hence, among other reasons, the quiet room.

During their two years apart, Preston kept up with his G-FEST community via YouTube, Discord, and other forums. “Oh, it’s been very nice, getting to see everyone again,” he said. “It feels very nostalgic.” A cosplayer who’d been missing his favorite stage, Preston came this weekend ready for the costume parade. He would be Controller X, the Xilien bad guy from Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). “The guy in the trench coat and red vizor. The one who yells,”—Preston widened his posture, spread his hands, titled his face to the heavens—“GIGAN!” 

“I ’ve loved Godzilla since I was five years old,” said Walter Ross, a middle-aged Black man from Monroe, Louisiana. It was evening now, with many G-Fans catching dinner before deciding between “Radioactive Karaoke” or a late-night showing of Godzilla vs. Kong (2021). I took a walk through the bar, then walked along a series of chairs on my way back to the elevator. Walter sat alone in one, reading through the program.  

When he was younger, Walter took a look at his older brother’s copy of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. That issue, Godzilla and Rodan happened to be on the cover. Later that very night, Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) was on TV; together, they watched it in his brother’s room. “It’s stuck in my mind, in my heart,” he said. “That just changed me forever.” 

Credit: Mark Capapas for Chicago Reader

Before he attended his first G-FEST, Walter said he was incredibly nervous. “It was just the fact that I’m involved with people that A) I don’t know and B) I’m gonna stand out like a sore thumb. Even though I love Godzilla, it’s like, well, am I gonna really be—not so much welcomed with open arms—but will I actually feel like I belong here?” To his surprise, G-Fans made him feel not only welcome, but wanted. “They do not look over newcomers. No, [they] say, ‘Hey, you’re one of us. You like Godzilla? We will give you a hug.’” Over the years, Walter’s grown comfortable arriving at G-FEST on his own, alone but really not. These days, he’s woven into the community tapestry, such a reliable thread that strangers greet him by name. “They say, ‘Wait a minute, you’re Walter, we know you!’ It humbles me, you know?”

When I asked him what it is that he finds so compelling about Godzilla, Walter took a beat before sharing that he grew up without a father. “And we won’t go into that detail,” he continued. “But Godzilla helps individuals like myself realize, ‘OK you may not have a father, but at least you have something that you can look over as a father-figure motif, somebody who doesn’t take no guff. He’ll fight his own battles. He’s someone who is going to stand up for what he needs. He doesn’t have to back down in a corner.” 

Credit: Mark Capapas for Chicago Reader

After saying goodbye to Walter, I met up with my family upstairs. Within 15 minutes, John and I were in a shouting match that ended only when Mike tiredly asked if we were going to check out Radioactive Karaoke or what. While John and Barb stayed behind, I followed him down the glass elevator and into an immense ballroom, where around a hundred G-Fans watched a 34-year-old Mothra sing “Love is a Battlefield” under uncomfortably bright lights. Out loud, Mike wondered if she had a boyfriend. Having interviewed her a few hours before, I knew she had gotten into Godzilla because of a New Year’s resolution she’d made as a joke; the joke became sincere and changed her life. Now, she’d driven in from North Carolina with her brother, who wasn’t a G-Fan but who nevertheless gave her his full support. “She’s here with a brother who respects her,” I whispered furiously into my recorder while the song went on, careless of who saw me cussing into my hands. “Must be fuckin’ nice.”

At 4 PM on Saturday, an hour before closing for the night, the Dealer’s Room was much less crowded than before. At the G-Fans Helping G-Fans table hung “in memoriam” posters, dedicated to Godzilla actors, directors, and fans who had died since the last convention. Behind the table, a small woman with long black hair, red lipstick, and a bright-blue shirt kindly explained to the G-Fans who approached her too late, clutching their tickets, that the raffle had already been called. But did they sign up for the silent auction? she asked. There was still time. How was the Arcade Room? Did they play in the video game tournament? How’d it go? She was very good at being empathetic without being patronizing. The front of her shirt was a screenprint of a beaming boy’s face—glasses, bright full cheeks—wearing a Pokémon ballcap. I’d seen a few other G-Fans wearing it, too.

Mary Jane Lee is a Chinese American G-FEST fan, volunteer, and longtime community member. For the last seven or eight years, she and her son, Nicholas, drove to G-FEST from Downers Grove. Growing up in the Chicago area, Mary Jane used to watch old monster movies on Channel WFLD TV-32. She loved Godzilla, but she really adored Mothra, a glistening, powdery giant moth with blue eyes and gorgeous black, red, and yellow wings who first appeared in her own feature film of the same name (1961). Of the kaiju, Mothra is the most benevolent, the most consistently heroic. She’s also, unlike many other monsters, female.

“As a mother myself, when you know that you would do anything for your child, then I’m bawling, instead of being just wowed by the fantasy,” Mary Jane Lee said of Mothra. Credit: Mark Capapas for Chicago Reader

As a child, Mary Jane loved that Mothra was beautiful, strong, and good. As an adult, her relationship to this kaiju deepened. When I asked her to explain, she mentioned Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). In the film, Mothra sacrifices herself to help save Godzilla. “I didn’t see those connections when I was younger. But then, as a mother myself, when you know that you would do anything for your child, then I’m bawling, instead of being just wowed by the fantasy.”

After hearing her repeatedly name “inclusivity” as one of G-FESTs best qualities, I asked Mary Jane to elaborate. “My son Nicholas—that I’m just talking about so much—is this boy,” she said and pointed at her shirt. “Nicholas. Godzillaguy54, that’s his YouTube channel. He’s a stop-motion creator. I would help him with the filming and stuff like that. He just passed away—” a huh!, a huff of sound, escaped her involuntarily—“just three days after high school graduation, unexpectedly.” 

Nicholas was born with Morquio Syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disorder that progressively impacts spine, bone, and organ development. When he was born, Nicholas was “an average baby,” Mary Jane said, but as he grew, his body began to change, and his health deteriorated. Still, she said, her only child lived every day like it was his best day—not because it’s the comforting thing to say about disabled children who may live short lives, and not because she worked to keep the fear of his prognosis out of their home, but, she said, because he was just like that: warm, bighearted, and curious about the world.

In life, Nicholas made the kind of fan movies teen kaiju lovers so praise. He loved to study lore on Monsterpedia. Once, during a sudden, unexpected hospitalization, Mary Jane asked him what he was looking at on his phone so intently. “He was studying,” she said now, “his Monsterverse!” He loved Godzilla for his great battles, but, said Mary Jane, he really cared about a movie monster’s motivation. He loved plot. “His favorite characters were like Godzilla or King Kong. He would say they were misunderstood. He knew that they needed support, so he would root for the underdog in every movie.”

The first G-FEST they attended, Nicholas and Mary Jane closely bonded with the volunteer staff. From then on, Nicholas was a G-FEST VIP. Every G-FEST activity was (and remains) accessible to G-Fans who use wheelchairs. One year, Nicholas was desperate to enter the Saturday night Costume Parade, a G-FEST tradition and cosplayer’s delight. Film and costume makers (and G-FEST staples) Dojo Studios designed a costume for Nicholas that would work with his wheelchair, rather than against it. That night, Nicholas was transformed into Tank M.O.G.U.E.R.A., a cyber kaiju shaped a little like a rocket. Regardless of who pushed his chair, it looked like Nicholas was driving.

Their G-FEST friends were at Nicholas’s celebration of life. Afterward, one made sure that Mary Jane knew she was wanted at G-FEST XXVII. The hotel room originally meant for two could still be hers. And if she came, he promised to put her right to work. “That just really struck a chord with me,” Mary Jane said to me. “‘I can do that! I’ll have a role. I’ll have a purpose.’”

Normally, in times of great transition or great stress, Mary Jane said she vanishes, pulls in and away. But their friend kept gently checking in to see if she had the convention on her calendar. “He helped me not retreat,” she told me. She decided she had to be there, because she wasn’t the only one who missed Nicholas. At G-FEST, the community could talk about him as they liked, grieving and healing together.

When I went home, I told myself I’d watch one of Nicholas’s videos. Mary Jane even sent me one to start with. One week became two. It wasn’t until I was home, visiting my family again, writing upstairs in Larry’s bedroom while he played with our niece below, safe in the knowledge that he was still living, that I was able to watch. I hit play on “Godzilla War on Monster Island,” and settled in. 

Through so much of G-FEST weekend, I was suspended from the world outside the hotel, avoiding news about the next presidential election or a morphing pandemic, burning forests and mass death by bullet. I wanted it that way. I wanted to pretend that the good times my siblings and I had at G-FEST were common, would always last. I was afraid to view his movie, I think, because the idea of watching a stop-motion Godzilla film created by a disabled boy who was now dead would make me far too sad. I was wrong. “Godzilla War on Monster Island” connected me to the artistry, humor, and deft eye of a boy who knew how to live. It rips. You should see it.

The costume parade Saturday night began with a memorial and ended in applause. Over a thousand G-Fans crowded into the ballroom until they lined the walls and sat on laps. After a short, tearful tribute to the actor Akira Takarada, followed by a moment of silence, was the G-Fan Hall of Fame ceremony. Then: “Please leave the aisle clear,” the MC announced, “so our contestants have a way to walk.”  

For two hours, G-Fans walked, stomped, and crawled in a costume parade. Credit: Mark Capapas for Chicago Reader

You could call it walking, or you could call it stomping or crawling, swimming or flying. For two hours, over 40 G-Fans paraded, ages single digits to 70s, veterans and first-timers, from every coast in the country and a few coasts that aren’t. Tomorrow, a winner would be announced, but tonight, the applause was theirs.

A Godzilla in a green onesie too short to reach the mike: the MC had to bring it down to him to roar. When three sisters from New Jersey—one dressed as Mothra, two dressed as the Elias, her tiny fairy priestesses—sang Mothra’s song, the thousand went silent. When another Godzilla stomped and snarled his way across the stage, only to be tackled out of nowhere by a lumpy King Kong, they leapt out of their seats with their fists in the air, shouting as the two tussled. Preston was there, serious-faced, committed to every step as Controller X, halting dramatically in the middle of his walk to give the Gigan speech. So was Ninsai, gender-bending in silver, her hair spiked as she put her own strut to Controller X’s character. More Godzillas, multiple Mothras, whole families as different beloved side kaiju from the 70s, 90s, now, and a handful of Biollantes, hideous and powerful in their full monstrous bloom. Every character got their applause, every monster their opportunity to roar. One G-Fan, dressed in costume, made his way deliberately, with intention, and leaned into the mike. Here was his chance. He took it. 

“Up from the depths,” he began, his voice alone at first, then joined by dozens, hundreds, a thousand others, including me, “30 stories high”:

Breathing fire!

I want to graft memories to memories, an effort to keep those earliest bonds with my siblings alive. And yet, to do that is to overlook the present, alive and roaring all around me. A new memory now, and unexpected. After a few songs, Mike and I left karaoke, but when the elevator door opened, John and Barb were inside. Together, we headed back to the ballroom. On the escalator, John abruptly put his arm around me. I’m sorry, he began. His apology was so specific and sincere that it startled me into offering him one, too. Later, a whiskey deep and cheering from the audience, I have a thought. Like Godzilla, my idea is neither good nor bad, but chaotic, instinctive. 

“Have you ever done karaoke before?” I asked John.  

“Nah,” he said. 

“Will you do it with me?”

Nearly three hours passed before the MC called our names. We spent them drinking, whooping, catching up. Some of the songs were Godzilla or monster-adjacent, some were not. Someone’s pubescent kid went up and sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” with their whole pure heart. “Like a G-FEST, like a G-FEST,” sang a middle-aged man with spiky hair triumphantly. “Now I’m feeling so fly, like a G-FEST.” The crowd lost their minds.

Occasionally, John left the ballroom with his phone pressed to his ear: I found him in the quiet hall, listening carefully to the song we selected, after much discussion, from a Halloween playlist we made years ago. Back in his chair, he jiggled his leg the way he’s always done whenever he’s nervous or excited. By the time we go up, it’s midnight. Perhaps 15 people are still watching. We’re the last G-Fans to perform. We scream-sing with all we’ve got. Together, we close out the night. 


The three Ryans

An interview with a trio of teenage boys who shared a passion for Godzilla and for calling each other “brother,” though it had only been an hour since they’d met.