Acclaimed writers and frequent collaborators Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente sat down with Steve Sunu in the world famous CBR Tiki Room during New York Comic Con 2014 to discuss their collaboration on a new how-to book, “Make Comics Like the Pros,” which will allow aspiring creators to learn the ins and outs of making comics from two veterans in the field. Pak and Van Lente also discussed their creator-owned projects, plans for the future and, of course, putting a beard on Superman.
On writing their how-to book “Make Comics Like the Pros”:
Van Lente: Well, a great charity, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, had seminars here in New York at its offices and I had been invited to do one. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and I thought I’d pull in Greg and focus on collaborating in comics. Because you don’t just have writers working together sometimes — writers have to work with artists, artists have to work with colorists, everybody has to work with the editor, letterer, it’s one big team. And an editor named Patrick Barb from Watson-Guptill happened to attend the seminar and afterward he came up to us and asked us if we would like to turn this into a book pitch. We did.
Pak: And two years later…
On their other collaborators who contributed to the book:
Pak: Our big idea was we wanted to write as practical a book as possible. Showing step-by-step, every stage in the process. Just how we’ve done it, and we would include interviews with out friends and smart people we know who make comics, and showing how to do it as well. So we go from initial idea, to pitch, to outline, to character designs, to actually making the comic, working with pencilers, artists, inkers, and letterers and we go all the way through to self publishing it as an option.
Van Lente: Career management.
Pak: Social media strategies.
Van Lente: And what’s fun is we got the great Colleen Coover to do illustrations for us, and the high concept was we created a comic within the book. So we begin with an idea, we show you how to script. We show you some of Colleen’s amazing roughs for the eight-page story. Colleen is a quintuple threat. So she penciled, inked, colored and lettered the whole thing. So we showed every stage of her process, and she did the cover for us. So you see the entire process from soup to nuts. We made fake Twitter accounts for the main characters and all that fun stuff.
On Pak’s work on DC’s “Action Comics” and “Batman/Superman”:
Pak: I love it. I loved, loved, loved working on these characters. Just hugely grateful to Jim Lee and Dan DiDio, Bob Harris, Eddie Berganza and Bobbi Chase for bringing me over and letting me cut loose with these characters. Batman and Superman — for a long time I was scared of working on these characters, before I even had prospects of working on them. Just thinking about it was intimidating.
Van Lente: Batman’s a bat. He’s scary.
Pak: He is. But once you sit down and actually start to work on the characters, it’s just a blast. Particularly when I got to put them together in “Batman/Superman.” These characters have been around for three quarters of a century because they work. They’ve got these great defining origin stories that give them incredible motivation, and the two of them together are fantastic, because they basically are going for the same thing but from very different angles. And so there is great ways in which they are destined to be best friends, but they are also destined to drive each other crazy, and bring out the best and the worst in each other at times. Just like me and Fred.
It’s just been huge fun. The New 52 has been a great place to step in on because a few years back DC basically started over and began these characters stories from scratch. That gave us a younger Superman, still kind of figuring things out. He’s not your uncle Superman, he is more like your big brother Superman. His heart is always in the right place. He is always doing his best to stick up for the underdog and do the right thing, but he may make mistakes. He is still figuring it out, and that’s just a great place to be with a character, so we have been able to do a lot of crazy things. My editor, Eddie Berganza, I think we share similar sensibilities of what can work, and fun ways to push these characters. The whole amnesia thing has been a blast. That’s in “Batman/Superman” right now. The whole idea is they’ve had their memories stripped away through supernatural means, by interesting supernatural characters, but the guts of the story is about the fact that now Batman is secure. He discovers, “Holy cow, I’m a billionaire, and I’ve got a Batsuit and this awesome car.” Without the baggage of the memories of his parent’s death he can actually enjoy it all. And so we can do some really fun things with Batman having fun. And he ends up kind of having a thing with Lois Lane, which is also fun because that’s a fun pairing. Meanwhile Superman without his memories has been found by Catwoman and ends up doing dangerous things because Catwoman is guiding him in this new world without his memories. But that kind of crazy stuff they have been totally open to, and it’s a blast to play with these characters in different ways and hopefully amuse and entertain.
On the challenge of working with less familiar characters like Valiant’s “Archer & Armstrong” as opposed to Marvel and DC heroes:
Van Lente: It’s really fun as a writer. I think some of the more iconic characters it’s very difficult to put your own stamp on it, but Greg and I are both lucky we have been able to do that, but it is very difficult. It’s fun to sort of take these core concepts and break them down and figure out what makes them work, and then build them back up again. I mean, Barry Windsor-Smith did a great job creating “Archer & Armstrong” and “Timewalker” and all these characters for his era. It’s fun to sort of go back and reinvent them for our time period. I mean, Archer in the original version was a Hare Krishna. Supposedly a guy you’d see at the airport, but I don’t know anything about Hare Krishnas so I can’t make fun of them. I was a Christian for a long time so I can make fun of them, so we made him a fundamentalist Christian. That was sort of mismatching him with Armstrong, who is this drunk amoral, atheist amoral, was a lot of fun. And “Delinquents” is awesome. There is another great buddy pairing, me and James Asmus, who does a great job writing “Quantum and Woody,” we Skype. He lives in LA, I live here in New York. We were laughing at one point so hard, my wife had to come up and go “What are you guys laughing about?” and all we keep saying is “ass map” over and over and over again. When the words “ass map” and “lost hobo treasure” are paired together I’m just — I love it. It’s beautiful. I’m was so happy and it’s great it’s getting such a great response and we are already chatting about a possible sequel.
On launching “Resurrectionists” with Dark Horse
Van Lente: It’s super exciting just the fact that people are resonating so much with the creator-owned stuff. At my table here in Artists’ Alley it’s so exciting to always outsell — the creator-owned stuff tends to outsell the licensed stuff. The licensed stuff is wonderful. I think if people want a personal connection with you, particularly in Artists’ Alley, that’s what they are sort of gravitating towards. “Resurrectionists” is a fun, sad, adventure series about people who can summon and become their own past lives. It’s a crime series that starts out in Ancient Egypt about a group of tomb robbers who die pulling off a heist, and then keep getting re-incarnated all over the world, over and over again for three thousand years, until finally in 2015 it looks like they are going to be able to pull off their heist. So it’s a crime series. There is a lot of identity issues and politics going on because people are one race in a lifetime, and then a different race in another timeline, and then a different gender in one time, and people who are straight in one life, but gay when they are re-incarnated. So it’s super fun, and a great playground to talk about history identity and all that.
On Pak’s creator-owned projects on the horizon:
Pak: Last year I did a big Kickstarter project, “Code Monkey Save World,” which is a classic monkey/super villain team-up. You know, one of those. It’s based on characters from songs of Internet superstar musician Jonathan Coulton, who you may know as the singer of the theme song from “Portal.” As well as the slow rock version of “Baby Got Back.”
Van Lente: Also bearded.
Pak: Also bearded. And so we made this crazy comic book from characters based on his stories. We did a big Kickstarter, and were incredibly grateful to the people who contributed. It was very successful, and I’m hocking that thing right now is Artist Alley.
Van Lente: And, just to bring it back, you talk a lot about your Kickstarter experience in “Make Comics Like the Pros” and sort of help others.
Pak: Yes, we learned a lot, and there are some key things that will help you not loose money, hopefully. So buy the book. Fred actually contributed to the “Code Monkey” project. He wrote two short things based on two of Jonathan’s historically-oriented songs.
Van Lente: “Kenesaw Mountain Landis” and–
Pak: “Mandelbrot Set.” But yeah check it out. But that’s one book I’ve been doing, that got recently done. The exciting thing is part of that Kickstarter, one of the stretch goals was to do a children’s book based on Jonathan’s song “The Princess Who Saved Herself,” so I’m working on that now. The brilliant Takeshi Miyazawa is drawing it. Jessica Kholinne is coloring it — it’s the same team that did the “Code Monkey” book. Those pages are coming in and I’m hopping up and down, just so excited. So that will actually be my first kids book, which is something I am very interested in, and excited to be doing. I got some other creator-owned stuff that I can’t really talk about just yet.
Van Lente: It’s bubbling in the pot.
Pak: About to boil over my friends. But it’s an exciting time as Fred says, very exciting time for that.
On future collaborations as co-writers on the horizon:
Van Lente: It’s possible. I mean there were a couple of things that seemed like were gonna happen that didn’t happen. But yes.
Pak: It will. We shamelessly included a pitch for an ongoing series based on the short comic we made. There is a pitch inside the book of the comic we made for the book.
Van Lente: We did trick Random House into paying us to do a comic, which I’m rather proud of.
Pak: We even brag about the fact that we tricked them in the pages of the book.
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