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!


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.