Writer Greg Pak is best known to comics fans for his work on Marvel Comics titles such as “The Incredible Hulk,” “Skaar: Son of Hulk,” “The Incredible Hercules” and “War Machine.” However, he’s also an independent filmmaker whose feature “Robot Stories” was a minor hit and whose newest short film “Mister Green” is available online while also appearing at film festivals across the country and internationally.
His latest project is “Vision Machine,” a new, creator-owned comic set fifty years in the future. The book will debut at this weekend’s New York Comic-Con during his Sunday afternoon panel and is being released under a Creative Commons License with help from the Ford Foundation.
CBR News: Greg, what is “Vision Machine” and where did it come from?
Greg Pak: “Vision Machine” is a three issue comic book miniseries that explores the insane impact of the greatest piece of personal technology ever through the eyes of three filmmaker friends.Â
The project started with a conversation I had with Orlando Bagwell of the Ford Foundation, who had a vision of a comic book that could help independent mediamakers imagine the technological, social and political changes coming over the next fifty years. That was the kind of logline that set all my wheels spinning. I come out of independent film, I’m a sci fi nut,and I’ve been obsessed with digital technology since I got my hands on a digital camcorder in my last year of film school. I worked up an outline that Orlando dug, and two years later, here we are!
Why release the book with a Creative Commons license and what do you hope to achieve by releasing it in this way?
The support of the Ford Foundation meant that the book was designed from the beginning to be distributed for free. Â The Creative Commons license allows anyone to redistribute the book, as long as it’s done non-commercially and people are properly credited. That seemed like the best possible way to ensure that as many people as possible get a chance to read the book.
Since the book deals with questions of copyright, trademark and free culture, it only seemed right to pick a Creative Commons license that allows people to remix, tweak and build up on the work non-commercially. I’m actually really excited about the possibility that folks might go that route – if anyone reading this does any remixing, please be sure to let me know viaÂ Twitter!
What are your own thoughts on copyright and its necessity and uses?
I wouldn’t be able to make a living without copyright – my whole career depends upon the legal protection of intellectual property. So I pay for my comics and music and movies. But I’m a huge supporter of the copyright exemptions for fair use and satire, without which culture would stagnate and die. Like most independent filmmakers, I wish it were easier for people to license images and music and excerpts of pre-existing work for derivative use in new work. One of the big thought experiments of “Vision Machine” was to imagine how copyright management could be different.
When is the book coming out and where will people be able to find the book?
The first issue is debuting at the New York Comic-Con, where we’re giving out free copies on sweet Sprout Computers USB drives. The book will simultaneously be released for free atÂ Comixology.com. We’ll release issues two and three digitally over the next months. Eventually, we’ll give out physical copies of the collected book at special events. For the latest on all of this, please check outÂ gregpak.comÂ andÂ twitter.com/gregpak.
How did you connect with R.B. Silva and the rest of the art team?
I worked with R.B. on a few issues of my “War Machine” series and was blown away by his dynamic, fluid lines. Shon Bury of Space Goat Productions pulled together the rest of the team, which includes inkers Alexandre Palomaro, DYM and Jonas Trinidade, colorist Java Tartaglia and letterer Charles Pritchett. The whole team’s done a tremendous job – particularly in these last few weeks as we prep for the debut – and I can’t praise them enough.
This is your first full-length creator owned comic, if i’m not mistaken. What made this the project that needed to be told as a comic and why now?
I’ve actually done a few creator owned pieces – including the “Citizen” story in the “Secret Identities” anthology and a “Rio Chino” story about a Chinese gunslinger in the “Outlaw Territory” anthology. But yes, this is my first full-length, creator-owned comics piece, and it’s a blast to finally get it out in the world. I’m particularly happy we’re getting it done before the technology we’re imagining actually exists in the real world. Things are moving insanely fast – the iPad didn’t exist when I wrote the first two issues – so I’m thrilled to be at least a heartbeat ahead of reality.
How plausible is this scenario? I mean really, wouldn’t people be running into each other constantly if they wore these glasses all the time?
Heh. It’s coming, baby, and we’ll all just adjust, the same way we learned how to walk with earphones on.
Seriously though, anyone paying attention has seen the implications for abuse with technology, from warrantless wiretapping, to the widespread use of CCTV, to school systems turning on the cameras in laptops to spy on students. How much of the book originated from this “What if…?” kind of extrapolation and is that how you usually work?
The original challenge I had was to imagine the world fifty years from now, so the whole project is a massive exercise in “what if?” thinking, and it’s been a blast. And yes, we’re going to see both the positive and negative world-changing aspects of this kind of revolutionary technology.
Asking that big “What if…?” question is a big part of every story I tell. The trick is always to take that crazy “What if…?” hook and figure out how it supports a character-based, emotional story. In the case of “Vision Machine,” we’ll see three friends struggle with their new opportunities and challenges in very different ways, Â which may throw everything they know about the world, themselves and each other into question.
You have a short film, “Mister Green,” which has been making the rounds at festivals along with being available online. One thing about it I found discouraging, which I say both light heartedly and seriously, is that in 2061, independent filmmakers still struggle with distribution. As a filmmaker, do you have any thoughts or predictions on this front, or does the book as a whole sum up your own thoughts on how some things won’t change much?
Distribution will forever be a challenge, and it’s only going to get more complicated. The digital revolution means anyone can create and upload, but that means there are literally billions of individual pieces of media out there vying for attention. That being said, there are millions of people out there who will jump at the opportunity to consume media that compels them. The prize will always go to those media-makers who have figured out how to actually reach their specific niche audiences.
My biggest experience with all of this was the theatrical release of my independent movie “Robot Stories.” It was a tiny release, but it was pretty darn successful by the standards of genuinely independent film, and it only worked because we identified our three niche audiences of arthouse movie lovers, sci fi fans and Asian American filmgoers. Then, we partnered with dozens of amazing real world organizations and individuals to get the word out – and I spent two years of my life traveling with the film, sending out email blasts and doing personal appearances with any group that was willing to have me. Which was exhilarating – but exhausting.
So I suppose there’s an element of wish-fulfillment in “Vision Machine,” imagining a world in which there just might be a brilliant and fair solution to some of the distribution and financial issues for independent media-makers. But you’ll have to keep on reading to see how real it all is.
What can readers expect to see in issue #2 of “Vision Machine?”
Utopia and its discontents! Heartbreak and conflict! More insane sci fi extrapolation from the brilliant RB Silva.
Are we going to see more creator owned comics projects from you in the future?Â
Absolutely. Next up is another “Rio Chino” story in the second volume of “Outlaw Territory,” from the awesome art team of Sean Chen, Sandu Florea and Chris Sotomayor. Â And if all goes as planned, I’ll have another project or two to announce in the next few months.
Pak will be discussing the comic with fans at his Sunday afternoon NYCC panel at 2:30 in Room 1A14 where all attendees will receive a free copy of the book. For more information about the panel, visit the NYCC site.