Mike Mignola Signing at Golden Apple Comics

We swung by Golden Apple Comics Saturday afternoon to check out the Mike Mignola appearance. Ryan and the crew were suited up in their finest occult-fighting Men in Black attire to assist as fans young and old came to meet the creator of Hellboy and participate in the Dark Horse ‘Join the B.P.R.D.’ campaign. Badges were handed out and an awesome photo booth was set up for pictures form the event. We got to meet and talk a little with Christine, his wife, and have arranged to set up an email interview with the man himself, so if you’ve got any questions for Mike, let us know, and maybe we’ll throw yours in!

Here’s some pictures from the event:

Lots of folks waiting...

Mike signs for a fan

Golden Apple's own Matt makes photo booth images on the fly

Mike signs for one of his youngest fans

Mike answers questions as his daughter looks on

Ryan Leibowitz: International Man of Mystery

Ryan Liebowitz: International Man of Mystery

The Mignola Clan: wife Christine, daughter, and Mike

Free Comic Book Day & A Conversation with Greg Pak

From all accounts I’ve seen, Free Comic Book Day was a rousing success this year. We had a chance to head over to Golden Apple Comics on Saturday afternoon and things there were crazy busy like you wouldn’t believe. So busy, in fact, that we missed almost all of the free books. Luckily, the Atomic Robo book from Red 5 will be released online later this month, and Friend of the Department Dan Faust wound up with an extra copy of the Iron Man/Thor book that he’ll be sending our way. Thanks, Dan!

photo by 'pinguino k' on flickr

There were still lots of great deals to be had, and we like throwing one of our favorite shops money for books.  There were also a ton of cool creators on hand to sign books and chat with folks. Ryan was gracious enough to let us have a little time with filmmaker and Marvel writer Greg Pak. Greg’s best known in comics for his work on The Incredible Hulk, Incredible Hercules, and War Machine, he also has a miniseries starting this month featuring Amadeus Cho, a character he created back in 2005. (Amadeus Cho in his own book! We can’t wait.)

On the film side, Pak’s written and directed several of his own shorts, including Mister Green– which was being screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, another great reason to be in town this weekend- and Super Power Blues. He also wrote, directed, and stars in the 2002 feature Robot Stories. I didn’t get a chance to watch it until after talking to him, sadly, but, having done so, I highly recommend it.

As always, many thanks to Ryan, Sharon, and the entire Golden Apple crew, who all busted butt to make an awesome FCBD, and to Greg for being an awesome interviewee.

On with the show!

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Chad Collier: What is it about Hulk that draws you to the character?

Greg Pak: From the beginning, when I first started working for Marvel, I guess I always had my eye on the Hulk.  I think partly because I loved the character as a kid- I loved the Bill Bixby show. I had a few Hulk comics as a kid that I read and re-read over and over again. I think that the character is really attractive because the metaphor is so simple. He’s about anger, right, and when you get down to it he’s about the price of anger, the price an individual pays when he loses it. That’s something all of us can sympathize with and understand and all of us can kind of vicariously enjoy, because every day we’re confronted with things that drive us crazy and we wish we could Hulk out. But we can’t, because we live in a civilized world and we want to try and fit in, to a certain extent. The Hulk is a great vicarious way to let off steam.

But what makes him great, I think, is that there’s always a price to be paid, and the Hulk always pays that price. Whether or not he really deserves it, because… nine times out of ten, when the Hulk blows up, he’s blowing up at the right people. But still, with that kind of anger, there are consequences that you bring upon yourself if you ever unleash it, no matter how justified you are. I think that’s one of those universal human truths that somehow this crazy pop-culture character embodies. It makes him a lot of fun to read and to write.

CC: Hercules. When I checked out your films, I noticed it was always, “Greg Pak: Writer, Director, Editor.”

GP: [laughs]

CC: What’s it like on the other side of that, collaborating with Fred Van Lente?

GP: Neither of us had any idea how it was going to work when we started, but as soon as we got underway we realized it was going to work really well. We have complimentary sensibilities and fundamentally we really love the characters in the same kind of way. It’s funny because it’s a buddy book, and Fred and I have become buddies during the course of working on the book. It’s a really good vibe and the dynamic just really works.

I think we also have the advantage that we both live in New York, so we can sit down face to face, go through the stories and talk it out. We also have a lot of fun just jawboning about this stuff. It helps when you just enjoy hanging out with the other guy. It’s worked out remarkably well.

What I also love about it is that the book is way better than it would be if either one of us were doing it solo. You know we… [love-struck sigh] we finish each other’s sentences! [laughs] We literally finish each other’s sentences. And it’s that kind of funny thing too where, sometimes we’ll set each other up for jokes that we didn’t even see coming. We tend to split up a book by pages; somebody will write the first half, the other guy will write the second half, and then we trade back and forth and edit each other’s stuff until we’re both happy. Sometimes one guy will write an entire book and the other will write the next book and we’ll trade back and forth. But we’re always going back in and editing each other, and during the course of doing that, it is kind of amazing how many times one guy set’s something up without quite realizing how good a setup it is, and the other guy sees where it goes and buts the button on it. It’s just a blast having someone else to catch you like that.

CC: How about what’s happening with Amadeus Cho, are you excited about that?

GP: Oh, yeah. Amadeus is just a huge amount of fun to write. It’s fairly rare for a new character to stick around this long and to have a shot the way Amadeus has had. It’s a blast to be part of that, definitely.

I created Amadeus in 2005 for a book called Amazing Fantasy #15. It was a anthology book and the editor gave us writers a challenge of picking an old Golden Age name that Marvel owned and re-imagining a character based on that. I picked Master Mind Excello, and that was my inspiration for Amadeus Cho. People liked him, and then we brought him back for World War Hulk. Then he ended up buddy-ing up with Hercules, and now he’s got his own mini-series that comes out in May. It’s been a lot of fun being able to build his storyline over the course of five years now. It’s pretty gratifying; it’s fairly rare for a new character to get traction.

CC: I know you started in film, and that’s how you got into comics. How does working in both affect each other? How do the comics affect the films and vice versa?

GP: That’s a good question. Definitely working in film set me up for writing comics in the sense that it’s the same kind of storytelling. It’s visual storytelling, dramatic storytelling. You’re telling stories for pictures, essentially. So the same basic principles apply. Of course there are differences in format; comics are actually a little harder to write than film because comics writers are… I think you have to do a little more work, in the sense of, you know, you break down each page and describe what happens on each panel in a way you wouldn’t quite do for film. You’re writing a little more evocatively in film, and leaving it up to the director and the DP to figure out how they’re going to break it down. It’s like a comics script is like a film script with director’s notes sort of built in.

I think working in comics has been good for me as a filmmaker just because- and I’ve been doing this all through filmmaking in a sense- working in comics gave me even more practice and experience working with other creative people and collaborating. And that’s what both of these mediums are all about. You’re working with your DP’s and your creative team and doing your best to help create the look and get the feel that you’re going for.

Both mediums require really fast decision-making. That’s also helpful. Churning out [scripts] and being on the monthly schedule with comics, doing, say, three books a month, you have to make decisions every single day and send in notes almost every single day and you just have to live with it. It’s the same thing on a film set; you have to make snap judgments every single second on set. There’s nothing a crew hates more than a director who can’t make up his or her mind, because then nothing happens and everything falls behind and it all falls apart. For better or worse you just have to make your choices and just go go go.

CC: Yeah, I’ve been there.

GP: [laughs] Exactly. But comics are good for maintaining my chops in that regard.

CC: Talking about movies, real quick, are you excited about Iron Man 2? Have you seen it yet?

GP: No, I haven’t, but I think I’m going to see it next week though, and yes, I’m incredibly excited about it! I think it looks amazing. The first Iron Man movie I thought was the best superhero movie… basically ever, with the possible exception of the first Superman, the Richard Donner Superman. But yeah, I’m thrilled. I’m really excited about the Scott Pilgrim movie, too. That’s the other one I’ve got my eye on this summer.

FCBD Freebie: Peter David talks iPad, Avatar, digital comics

It’s Free Comic Book Day, and that means plenty of books to pick up at your local store– a new Atomic Robo and Friends from Red 5, Top Shelf’s latest FCBD Owly, Fraction and JRJR’s Iron Man and Thor, and the Archaia Fraggle Rock/ Mouse Guard double issue, among others. (If you’re in LA, Red Fraggle will be helping the Meltdown Comics staff with their FCBD celebration at 11am, 7522 Sunset Boulevard.)

If you’re going, though, remember– your local has to pay shipping to get those comics they’re giving away. Why not buy a little something while you’re there to help them make rent? I recommend Justin Theroux and Joe Casey’s Iron Man 2: Public Identity #1, the first half of a prequel to next week’s Iron Man 2; that way, you’ll be gearing up for your Friday midnight nerdgasm and helping support local business.

Image Comics and kid-friendly Image label Silverline have prepared a small FCBD sampler of their July 14th hardcover GN release, Fractured Fables… and, well, on release day, we’ll have a special surprise here at the Department for any fans of the fractured fairy-tale genre. For now, though, we’ll just hint that it involves Peter David of X-Factor and Hulk fame, and his involvement in the project.

Speaking of PAD, we got to sit and talk with him over at Golden Apple Comics last month (thanks, Ryan!), and I’ve just now gotten the time to condense the over 70 minutes of transcribed audio (!) into a few tidbits for you guys. With no further ado, here’s an assemblage of the wit and wisdom of Peter David:

On working with Claudio Sanchez of prog-rock band Coheed and Cambria on the new Coheed and Cambria novel, Year Of the Black Rainbow:

“The band’s worldbuilding is unbelievably complicated. Fallen Angel is a cakewalk to follow compared to the plethora of ideas that Claudio has for his masterpiece. It’s an amazing concept that he’s come up with…

“The novel was written over a period of six months, if I’m recalling correctly. Claudio and I worked together on it, developing the entire structure of the book, and what I was really pleased to see was that Claudio had absolutely no ego when it came to this stuff. All he was concerned about were the ideas. If there where things where I said this doesn’t work, then he accepted it. If it was something that had to work because it was already in the song, then it was my job to make it work. But anything that could be changed that I felt needed to be changed, Claudio was completely on board with it. All he cared about was making the work itself as good as it possibly could be.”

On Jim Cameron’s Avatar:

“Well, I thought the story for Avatar was good… when it was called Dances With Wolves. And I thought it was kind of okay, but not great, when I saw it as Pocahontas. I thought it was wonderful when I read it as a kid and it was called John Carter of Mars. In fact, if he’d been doing a John Carter of Mars film, I wouldn’t have taken issue with it.

“The problem with Avatar is not only that the story is overly familiar, but Cameron’s presentation of it was fatally flawed. You’ve got your protagonist essentially in someone else’s body, which means there’s no jeopardy to your actual protagonist. If his avatar winds up being killed, nothing happens to him. It means his mission is a failure, granted, but he’s going to be OK. He himself doesn’t face any real jeopardy until the very end of the film.

“For me, that’s problematic, and I don’t understand why he did it that way and why it couldn’t have been something as simple as, ‘What happens if my avatar dies?” “Yeah, well there’s a problem with that. If your avatar dies there will be a psychic feedback that will essentially turn you into a vegetable.’ So now he’s got an interesting conundrum, because you’ve got a guy who can’t walk and he has the opportunity to be in a being who can walk, but he’s taking a risk because he could wind up being even worse off than he is because he could wind up a vegetable. Then you’ve got an interesting decision and you’ve got sufficient jeopardy to make the character’s fate of interest to me.

“But what you had essentially was spending two and three quarter hours watching a guy playing a video game. I’m not that interested. It’s like watching TRON, except he doesn’t get pulled into the computer. Who wants to watch that? Who gives a crap?”

On the iPad:

“I think it does present incredible potential for comic books. The colors, from what I understand, are unbelievably vibrant. The disadvantage to it is, if I take this and [violently slams a TPB down on the counter several times] …looks OK to me! Do that with an iPad, and you’ve got a bit of a problem. I think that it would be really nifty if they came up with a way to be unbreakable.”

On digital comics and electronic publishing:

“I haven’t tried any of the digital comics platforms. I like physical comic books; I’m old fashioned. I mean, go sign your frickin’ iPad, why don’t you. I was actually at a convention and somebody was in the audience and we were doing a panel and they were talking about, ‘Ohh, books are dead, books are dead, the Kindle is everything. I have a Kindle, it’s terrific.’ And I said, ‘Are you planning to get autographs later?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’

“And I said, ‘What are you getting them signed on?’ And he went, ‘Books.’ And I said ‘Uh-huh…’ And he went ‘…ohhhh.’ He hadn’t thought about it.

“But with that said, from an ecological point of view, trees are… the concept of being able to get material out there that doesn’t require us to knock down trees for paper or drill oil in order to print… There’s something to be said for the eco-friendly aspects of electronic books and electronic comics. To say nothing of the fact that most of the cost of comic books comes from the physical production, which means that digital comics can be acquired for a fraction of the money.

“On the other hand, it could be the death knell for places like [Golden Apple]. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. People always tend to look at the most extreme aspects of things and say it’s the death knell for something else. When movies first started up, people said that’s the end of theater. When recorded music first became available, people said that’s the end of concerts. So now we have electronic books, and people say that’s the end of paper books. I don’t agree.”

On letting Aquaman win in the infamous Namor vs. Aquaman battle in Marvel vs. DC #2, March 1996:

“If I’m writing Aquaman vs. Sub-Mariner, I’m having Aquaman win, because I’m writing Aquaman! A lot of fans bitched about it, but you know what? Suck it. I was writing Aquaman, he wins.”

A Conversation with Zack Whedon

Zack Whedon title board at Golden Apple Comics

Golden Apple sets up a spread for Zack Whedon.

It was a Dark Horse weekend at Golden Apple Comics in Hollywood– first Felicia Day and the cast of The Guild Friday night, celebrating the release of the first Guild comic, then Zack Whedon on Saturday, signing copies of Terminator 2029. Golden Apple is where we’ve been getting our fix since 2004, and owner Ryan Liebowitz was kind enough to permit me ten minutes to interview Zack about Terminator 2029, what he’s reading these days, and why he thinks we deserve a better Daredevil movie than we ultimately got.

Many thanks to Ryan for arranging this for us, and to Zack for being a polite and gracious guest for our first big interview!

CC: I suppose we should start with the difficulty of writing within the Terminator franchise, specifically the Dark Horse-licensed original film. Where do you find story niches that aren’t already occupied? I talked to Matt Wagner once about Batman, and he said “I can’t write anything after the introduction of the Joker, there’s no room in the timeline.” So if you’re stuck, where are you stuck at? Where do you find those spots?

ZW: Well, you know, it was difficult, but it was beneficial in a way because I had to focus on Kyle. I mean, it was an obvious choice to focus on Kyle because in the first movie that’s the character that’s sort of been explored the least and, you know, that was beneficial because I didn’t end up focusing on John Connor which is I think sort of what everyone else has done and there isn’t a lot of new territory to cover there.

CC: John’s the legend.

ZW: Yeah, there have been four movies and a television series about him, so, you know, there isn’t a lot to do there. So, I focused on Kyle and the time, for these first three issues, before he makes the jump to 1984. Which is something you got tiny glimpses of in the first movie, but you get more into that in the comic. You see the world that surrounds those flashbacks a little bit more.

CC: Actually, I wanted to talk about Ben in that context, because he is a character who obviously doesn’t believe in any crap about fate or destiny. But he’s in a Cameron-inspired universe, and Cameron’s work is so fraught with those concepts. Ben doesn’t seem to be buying in. Can you talk about that a little bit?

ZW: Yeah, well, you know Ben is- Ben and Paige are both much more sort of… grounded people than Kyle or John are. They’re more average, they’re more like you and me. They’re not big military heroes. But Ben’s philosophy- which has to do with the fact that his past is as terrible as it is, and that’ll sort of be touched on in future issues- is that he refuses to look at the past and think about what could be different about the past. Because his past is too horrifying to confront, he just wants to think about the future and how he can make tomorrow better. How he can forge new relationships, as he’s trying to do with Paige, constantly. That’s who he is. He’s about what could be tomorrow and not about what happened yesterday.

CC: And Paige?

ZW: And Paige is a little bit different. I sort of created them as two sides of that coin, where she is very much rooted in the past and focused on the tragedies of the past, and therefore incapable of moving forward and forming a bond with someone because she is terrified of that. Because she knows what can happen in that situation.

CC: I noticed in the first issue that it looks like Paige puts on the brave face a lot.

ZW: Yes.

CC: She seems terrified of losing situational control. She can’t let go with Ben, and both Ben and Kyle are prodding her in that direction. And that has to be uncomfortable, especially with Kyle in that situation, because he’s Kyle.

ZW: Yeah, she’s sort of, you know, she’s oblivious to the thing that’s happening all around, to the thing that’s happening right next to her, and that’s confronted head-on in the second issue.

CC: I thought we could talk the visual language of the comic as opposed to the screenplay. I was thinking about it in terms of Andy Diggle’s The Losers. He’s said before that “This is a love letter to Shane Black.” And you can really see it in those trailers, where everything works like a movie instead of trying to transpose the comics grammar onto the film. Do you feel the same way about your work? Are there screenwriters whose work you’d recommend to people who want to write comics? Who should people be reading if they want to write comics and they want to think in that same visual language?

ZW: I think the greatest example is The Matrix. I mean, when you watch that movie, there are so many parts of that movie where everything becomes still in the frame and everything really looks like a comic painting. They were great at that. I think that, I mean, they’ve obviously had some missteps since then, but they obviously have a great love for comics and I think that both mediums sort of fuel each other in their work. But, I don’t know, any director that’s concerned with shot composition and like that and visual storytelling is a good reference. But that isn’t every director, either.

Zack Whedon, seated.

Zack in repose after the interview.


CC: And your own approach to that? Moving from Dr. Horribleto writing comics?

ZW: It’s difficult because… you don’t want to rely on dialog in film, either. I think the best screenwriting happens when you’re telling stories visually, and the same thing is true with comic books. That really becomes a very conscious struggle in writing comics because you’re describing every panel. You don’t want it to be ‘Ben’s talking now’ and then ‘Paige is talking now’ and back and forth. It becomes a really conscious effort to make things visual and what you’re seeing and hearing certain dialog and everything. I think that Brian Vaughan does an amazing job with that in terms of what you’re looking at when you’re hearing certain things.

CC: I love Vaughan. I love how he handles group dynamics. His Ultimate X-Men was fantastic.

ZW: Yeah, he’s phenomenal. He’s a big inspiration to me in terms of comic writing. And he’s also made a very successful transition to television writing.

CC: Working on Lost.

ZW: Yeah. From everyone that I know who is associated with that show, he really put his stamp on those seasons that he was involved in.

CC: You see some of that meta-awareness of what’s going on in Terminator as well, that people are kind of aware that they’re operating in this universe that plays by different rules than we’re used to. Like when Ben says, “That’s a little creepy that you have a picture [of Sarah Connor].”

ZW: Yeah, because that was sort of a problem as a writer. I was like ‘what was his story behind giving him that picture and how can that not seem weird?’ And so I just sort of had somebody say it to put it out on the table.

CC: When I reviewed the comic last week I was like, ‘hmmmmm, that’s a little editorial. I’ll forgive that, Ben seems like a skeptic.’

ZW: Yeah. And, I mean I think it’s a legitimate reaction to some guy having a picture of some other guy’s mom. It’s just a weird thing to have.

CC: “Cameron, what? What’s your hangup?!”

ZW: Heh, yeah.

CC: Since we’ve got to wrap up, what are you reading these days?

ZW: I was telling someone earlier that I’m always sort of late to the party with comics. Like I let everybody else discover it and then tell me what to read. Like I only finished Y: The Last Manpretty recently and was blown away by that. I just started 100 Bullets;that’s what I’m reading now. I also read Blankets by Craig Thompson recently, which I thought was phenomenal. I’m looking forward to whatever he puts out next.

CC: Your brother Joss is on the shortlist to direct the eventual Avengers film. If you had one comic franchise to yourself, to remake as a film, which one would you take?

ZW: Wow, I don’t know. That would be a hard choice. It seems like something like Thor or Wonder Woman would be a very hard comic to adapt. I don’t know what [director] Kenneth Branagh has in mind for Thor, but I’m interested to see how it’s done. For myself, the big movie experiences have been Die Hard, The MatrixTerminator is actually as close as it comes for me, I think. [Brother] Jed took me to see Terminator 2 twice in the same day when it came out, maybe on two separate days, and that was huge for me.

But, as far as comics go, I think there should have been a better Daredevil film than the one we got. Daredevil seems like such a cinematic character, it seems like it would be a natural transition… and it seems like it could have been adapted into a really good film. Maybe someday.