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Pak & Miyazawa Reunite for Giant Robot Underdog Story, Mech Cadet Yu

by  in Comic News Comment
Pak & Miyazawa Reunite for Giant Robot Underdog Story, Mech Cadet Yu

Writer Greg Pak and artist Takeshi Miyazawa have collaborated on multiple comic book projects — including the Kickstarter-funded Code Monkey Save World and a few issues of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter at Dynamite Entertainment — but they’re best known collectively as the creators of Marvel’s fan-favorite supporting character Amadeus Cho, the seventh most intelligent person on that Earth who has recently moved into a gamma-powered starring role as the Totally Awesome Hulk.

Pak and Miyazawa latest work together is Mech Cadet Yu, a four-issue creator-owned miniseries set to debut in August from BOOM! Studios, and another series starring a young Asian-American protagonist. Mech Cadet Yu is set in a world where giant robots arrive on Earth from outer space to bond with cadets from the Sky Corps Academy in order to defend the world from evil aliens dubbed “the Sharg” — except the main character, Stanford Yu, is not a cadet, but a janitor’s son who works at the school as support staff. As Pak puts it, things go “gloriously wrong,” and the story begins.

CBR has the first interview with both Pak and Miyazawa to learn more about Mech Cadet Yu, which started life as the “Los Robos, Arizona” short story from 2012’s Shattered anthology. Pak and Miyazawa discussed their partnership, the world of Mech Cadet Yu and the importance of giant robots to both creators in their formative years.

CBR: Greg and Takeshi, This sounds like a longer version of your “Los Robos, Arizona” short story from the Shattered anthology a few years back. How does this series relate to that story?

Greg Pak: It is indeed the long-awaited series based on that initial “Los Robos” story! The series retains the same characters and same basic setup as that short story, but we’re going much deeper with everything and have made a few key, fun changes based on how the story plays out on a bigger canvas. So, if you got the Shattered anthology or one of those very limited edition one-shots I printed of “Los Robos” a few years back, hang on to ’em! If all goes well, they might be worth a couple of bucks one day! [Laughs]

I should also take the chance to give huge high fives and thanks to the organizers of that Shattered anthology, which was a book of comic book stories by and about Asian-American heroes. Mech Cadet Yu probably wouldn’t exist in this form if Tak and I hadn’t gotten the kick in the pants to do that short story back when.

Takeshi Miyazawa: Like Greg says, same story and characters but much deeper. I’ve changed some of the robot designs and tweaked the outfits but tried to keep it within the universe we’ve established in the short story. Essentially, everything is new to me as well and I’m excited to see where this story goes!

Mech Cadet Yu #1 cover by Takeshi Miyazawa.

Let’s talk about the title character, Stanford Yu. What do you like about this main character? And what makes him “the wrong kid” for a giant robot to bond with? (Unless that’s a spoiler, natch.)

Pak: Stanford’s a janitor’s kid who works with his mom as support staff at the Sky Corps Academy, a military school for young pilots. In this world, every few years, giant robots from outer space descend on a mountain near the Sky Corps Academy to bond with young cadets. As a janitor, Stanford’s not even in the running to bond with a robot. But something goes gloriously wrong, and that’s how our story starts.

I love Stanford because he’s a scrappy underdog who’s been told by the world that he’s only supposed to go so far in life. But he’s got the heart of a hero, and when the time comes, he’s gonna have his chance. This is a story for anyone who’s ever been kicked to the curb — and who’s ended up facing a challenge bigger than anything they ever imagined.

Miyazawa: We’ve all felt underappreciated and been in crappy situations. It’s how you rise above it that counts and shows character. The thing I love about Stanford is that, yes, he gets his giant robot, but remembers where he came from and appreciates everything. He’s a real hero with not just guts, but integrity.

What can you share about the world of Mech Cadet Yu? Obviously if there are giant robots and scary aliens, things are heightened, but how closely do things represent the real world beyond the robots and aliens?

Pak: Like a lot of my favorite sci-fi stories, it’s very much like our world… but with one big difference. I did improv comedy for years and we talked all the time about that same principle — you can get a tremendous story by changing one thing and fully exploring the ramifications of that change. So, imagine what our world would be like if friendly giant robots from outer space had started visiting us 50 years ago to fight against alien monsters. The goal is for the world to feel totally real, contemporary, and emotionally honest, which helps make that big change have a huge impact.

In Mech Cadet Yu, you’ve got a world that feels very much like our own, with kids in a private academy having kid conflicts in fun ways. But there’s this heightened sense of danger in this world that’s been under periodic attack from aliens for decades. And there’s this subtle but huge raising of the stakes for these kids because the giant robots only bond with kids, and those kids end up taking huge responsibility for defending the planet.

Giant robots obviously have a very special place in the halls of pop culture — what are some of your favorite giant robot stories?

Pak: I think my first introduction to giant robots probably came through toys more than cartoons or comics or movies. I’m old enough to have been a kid just before Transformers hit big. I loved the Shogun Warrior toys back in the day. I remember being blown away when I realized that thing that sits inside of Mazinga’s head was a little spaceship. And I realized how really huge these things were supposed to be, with people riding around inside of them! And then there were the Biotron and Phobos Micronaut toys, with the chest compartments where you could stick a Time Traveler. That just uncorked so much in my imagination. I actually remember one of my only gripes with the amazing Marvel Micronauts comic book was that Biotron was human-sized rather than giant.

I think my obsession with giant robots also comes from loving any story with a kid who makes a friend with something wild and huge. I was a sucker for all those Disney shows about kids who make friends with deer or bears or wolves or whatever. I loved the whole idea of kids bonding with dragons in those [Anne] McCaffrey novels. That’s a strong fantasy for any little kid, and giant robots just takes it to the next, huge level.

Miyazawa: I grew up with Gobots, Transformers, Voltron and Power Rangers on TV and they will always have a special place in my heart, but watching a dubbed VHS tape of the Gundam movie for the first time was when it really blew my mind. The politics went way over my 5-6-year-old head but the robot design and the realistic world that was created around them was just so inspiring.

What’s the tone of the series? Just from what I’ve heard of it so far, it feels all-ages in that Pixar way, but invoking Pacific Rim in the synopsis certainly suggests plenty of action.

Pak: I’m really not writing it any differently than I write anything else, meaning it’s got all the emotional nuance and action and fun dialogue I can come up with. But it’s got kid heroes and almost everything is seen from their POV. It’s absolutely all ages, meaning it’s totally appropriate for kids but entirely enjoyable and emotionally compelling for adults as well.

And yes, it’s got plenty of action and a big, high-stakes threat that will ramp up as the series goes on.

Mech Cadet Yu promo image by Takeshi Miyazawa.

Greg, we’ve talked a lot about the importance of representation of Asian-American characters in pop culture. Specifically, how important do you find writing a young male Asian-American character in this series?

Pak: It’s hugely important to me. I’ve thought a lot about it in terms of this particular genre, as well. We’ve seen tons of robot stories from Asia and a bunch of robot stories from America. It’s a genre that’s hugely important to a lot of Asian Americans, but I’m hard-pressed to think of many stories like this that actually star Asian Americans. So, I started thinking about the interesting ways this could play out with specifically Asian-American characters and got very excited.

I’m also excited about writing a story that specifically features kids who are Asian-American heroes. Studies of children’s literature have shown a really astounding lack of diversity among lead characters. I’ve had Asian-American kids come up to me at cons with big stacks of Amadeus Cho comics for me to sign and it honestly makes me choke up. Kids need and deserve to see faces like theirs in the stories they read so they can be affirmed that they do indeed belong, that they have all the value of everyone else in this world. And just as importantly, kids need and deserve to see heroes with faces different from theirs in the stories they read so they can learn empathy and expand their view of who belongs and has value. I want as many kids as possible to read this book for both of those reasons.

And it’s just the way I always saw the story in my head. It’s how these characters looked to me when I first conceived it, and I’m thrilled they’ve resonated with folks and are coming to life that way.

How special is the creative partnership between the two of you? What kinds of stories are you able to create together you’re not with other creative partners?

Pak: Tak and I co-created Amadeus Cho back in the day for Marvel, and I remember seeing his very first character designs and thinking, “Oh, man, he gets it.” Somehow, Tak just lives in my head. He gets the kind of characters I write, the kinds of emotional scenes that resonate with me, the kinds of subtle humor and goofy slapstick and big action that I love. I can practically see how he’s gonna draw these characters and scenes as I’m writing. It’s just a tremendous thing to be able to work with an artist, and I just love it. Thank you, Tak!

Miyazawa: I feel the same way, Greg! Greg’s scripts are written in a very visual way, and, I dunno, things just immediately click for me when I read them. Also, his stories and characters are never too serious and there is always a sense of adventure and fun. I’m just glad he likes my drawings enough to keep working with me! Thank you, Greg!

Greg, you’ve written for BOOM! Studios before, including last year in the Big Trouble in Little China/Escape from New York crossover. What made BOOM! Studios the right publisher for this series?

Pak: I’d actually started talking with [Associate Editor] Cameron Chittock at BOOM! about Mech Cadet Yu before I got tapped for the BTiLC/EFNY book, so I already had a strong sense of the company’s creative vibe and loved it. But working on the BTiLC/EFNY book just confirmed all of that and paved the way for all the fun we’re having on Mech Cadet Yu. BOOM! really understands all-ages comics, I think, and totally got the vibe we’re going for with Mech Cadet Yu, with tons of sheer fun, genuine emotional resonance, and big thrills. It’s been a great experience. Can’t wait for y’all to see the final results!

Mech Cadet Yu is scheduled to debut in August from BOOM! Studios.

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