When Greg Pak isn’t telling Superman and the Hulk what to do — as the writer of DC Comics’ “Action Comics” and Marvel’s recently announced, excellently titled “Totally Awesome Hulk” — he’s expanding his range into children’s books, a move exemplified earlier this year by the Kickstarter-funded “The Princess Who Saved Herself,” which is based on a Jonathan Coulton song and raised $111,759 off of a $15,000 goal.
With that kind of success, it’s not surprising to see Pak return to the format so soon, and with the same team of artist Takeshi Miyazawa, colorist Jessica Kholinne and letterer Simon Bowland in tow. But this time around, the crew is working on a wholly original idea. Titled “ABC Disgusting” (ABCDisgusting.com), the book’s story is about a young boy trying to gross out his older sister, who ends up turning the tables on him by the end. As Pak puts it, it’s “gross-out humor with heart.”
CBR News spoke with both Pak and Miyazawa — who previously collaborated on the Coulton-based graphic novel “Code Monkey Save World” and co-created popular Marvel character Amadeus Cho — about “ABC Disgusting,” returning to Kickstarter for their latest creative endeavor, Pak’s proclivity towards gross-out humor and the differences for Miyazawa in drawing children’s books rather than sequential comic stories.
Greg, you’ve already delved into children’s books with “The Princess Who Saved Herself” — what inspired working again in the format with “ABC Disgusting”?
Greg Pak: I absolutely loved working on “The Princess Who Saved Herself” and was immediately hungry to make another kid’s book. Children’s picture books are similar enough to comics that it feels like a natural segue for me, but they exercise new muscles in great ways. A picture book is a compact, special thing that requires a real economy of images and words. I’ve loved the challenge and have found that my head’s full of more ideas for these kinds of stories.
Alphabet books also fascinate me — they provide a really great, fixed structure that then challenges you as a writer to subtly thread in a theme or story. So I had this notion of doing an alphabet book about disgusting things, because I have very fond memories of trying to gross people out with stuff I thought I was disgusting as a kid. It was huge fun coming up with disgusting things for every letter of the alphabet, and then came the bigger challenge of figuring out what kind of character, conflict and emotional story could be threaded through that list.
In the end, the script became the story of a boy trying to gross out his older sister with a series of disgusting things. But then she turns the tables on him with the biggest gross-out of all. It’s all very disgusting and just a bit heartwarming.
I sent the script of “ABC Disgusting” to Tak. He immediately said he was in, and we were off to the races!
For someone known mainly to comic book fans for writing superheroes, you’re also building up quite a reputation in all-ages/children’s stories. How much of a passion do you have for writing this type of material?Â
Pak: Huge passion. There’s just about no better feeling as a writer than seeing a little kid get excited over your story. I remember how much I loved the books I loved as a little kid and how much I lost myself in them. If I think too much about little kids feeling that way about the books we’re making, I can get a little choked up.
Takeshi, “ABC Disgusting” certainly sounds like a book that provides a lot of opportunities for drawing fun visuals. What are some of the disgusting things you’ve most enjoyed drawing so far?Â
Takeshi Miyazawa: My favorite has been a certain “special” sandwich. I don’t want to give it away, but it was really fun to draw. I can’t wait to see what Jessica does with it. I’d have to say a visualized sneeze was a close second. Oh, and I get to draw zombies again!
The book is centered on self-described gross-out humor — Greg, obviously you’ve written some lighthearted books, but you’re not a writer I would have specifically associated with gross-out humor. Had you been looking for the right creative outlet for this side of your sensibilities?Â
Pak: “Incredible Hercules,” which I co-wrote for years with the great Fred Van Lente, was filled with innuendo and a lot of getting-kicked-in-the-junk jokes, which I guess is the next step past gross-out humor. I definitely have a pretty big goofball funny bone, but yes, I guess this is the first truly perfect place for me to work in multiple fart jokes.
What’s not surprising is that this is another example of you writing diverse protagonists — in this book, Asian-American siblings. How important was that aspect to you in “ABC Disgusting”? I feel like, as underrepresented as Asian-Americans can be in mainstream comic books, it’s likely the same or worse in American children’s books.Â
Pak: Every couple of months, another study comes out showing the enormous underrepresentation of non-white characters in children’s literature, so I’m very happy to contribute towards greater diversity. I remember as a little kid noticing there were no Asian kids in “Peanuts.” That absence didn’t make me love “Peanuts” any less, but the existence of a non-stereotypical Asian kid in “Peanuts” sure would have opened huge doors in my mind and in the minds of people around me.Â
I’m also a big believer in diversity as part of just being honest in storytelling. I live in a hugely diverse world. The stories I write reflect that.
Takeshi , having collaborated with Greg on multiple comics projects, this is now the second children’s book you’re embarking on together. What do you like about the different types of challenges inherent in children’s book art, as opposed to comics?Â
Miyazawa: With comics, I can take my time and story tell with multiple panels. The kid’s books demand more of a cover drawing sensibility, so, emphasis on clear visuals and tight but varied compositions. Also, I’ve been trying to force myself to draw more interpretively over realistically and to leave details to a minimum. It’s been tough but a fun challenge.
Greg, you’ve had some major success using Kickstarter, but what made it right for this project? Was it a no-brainer given past efforts like “Princess Who Saved Herself” and “Code Monkey Save World,” which cruised way past their goals?
Pak: I could have taken “ABC Disgusting” to a traditional publisher, but I knew the exact creative team I wanted to use and we’d just gotten a book in the same format out to the world pretty darn successfully via Kickstarter. So yeah, this just felt like the right step. Eventually, I’d love to publish this or my future children’s books through a traditional publisher who could facilitate getting them into brick and mortar stores around the country much more efficiently than I can. But for this particular project, with this particular team, at this particular instant in time, Kickstarter absolutely felt like the right choice. Please do feel free to hop over to ABCDisgusting.comÂ and help prove us right!
This is now your third Kickstarter campaign, but the first one without a Jonathan Coulton connection. Are you approaching this one differently?
Pak: Jonathan and I were absolutely blown away by and hugely grateful for the incredible response to both the CMSW and PWSH Kickstarters. We had no idea they’d get as big as they did. That being said, I did have a strong sense they’d at least hit their goals, given Jonathan’s huge grassroots fan base. So yes, tackling a new Kickstarter without Jonathan is uncharted territory, but I’m hoping that folks who enjoyed CMSW and PWSH will see what we’re doing with ABC Disgusting and give it a whirl. We’ve got the entire art team back on board — Tak with the art, Jessica Kholinne with colors, and Simon Bowland on letters. Tak, Jessica, and Simon are tremendous artists and play so well together. If folks loved what they did before, I think they’ll keep on loving it with “ABC Disgusting.”
Beyond that, we’ll just work hard as we always do to get word out and say, “Please,” and, “Thank you,” and do our darnedest to fulfill all our promises and see how far we can go. Which reminds me, you can go back the book right now on Kickstarter by visiting ABCDisgusting.com. Have I mentioned that already? Just checking.
This is your latest collaboration with Takeshi Miyazawa, but it looks like this is bringing out some different qualities in his art. What’s been exciting for you to see him explore with this book?
Pak: Good eye! Yes, Tak is changing things up just a little bit with this project — going just a bit cartoonier than usual, and I absolutely love it. We started out with the idea of going with more naturalistic proportions, like the characters in CMSW and PWSH. But then Tak sent me layouts that he’d done in a quick, cartoony style, and they had so much energy and character I just fell in love. So Tak’s been cleaning up and finishing the pages in the same slightly cartoonier style of the layouts. I think it really works in this particular case because we’re dealing with gross stuff, which can become disturbing if rendered in a hyper-realistic way. Make it cartoonier and the fun, goofy aspect of it comes through — while still retaining that special gross-out quality.
Greg, right now you’re at an interesting point in your career where you’re working on some very high-profile mainstream comic book superheroes — it=s hard to get much bigger than Superman and the Hulk — but also doing these quirkier, less expected projects. How satisfying is it for you to work in such different worlds?
Pak: I’m thrilled to be working in both worlds. As a freelance creator, diversifying my product (to use gross marketing terms) feels absolutely critical. As just one small example, when I table at a con, I have something for anyone who might walk up — big, mainstream superhero action with Hulk and Superman, historical fiction with “Magneto Testament,” books with female leads with “Storm” and “X-Treme X-Men,” and kid-friendly material with “The Princess Who Saved Herself.” Different cons have different vibes, and you never quite know what’s going to sell well until you get there, so having variety means you have a better chance of finding whatever audience happens to show. Expand that out over years on the macro sale, and having a big range of stories under my belt helps expand my audience and demonstrates my ability to handle a wide range of work-for-hire projects.
And then, on the personal, creative level, working on a variety of different projects in a variety of different genres and media is just the way my brain wants to work. I have stories of all shapes and sizes in my head, so it’s great being able to find the right way to tell them, whatever that medium might be. Probably the next medium I want to dive into is prose. I used to write tons and tons of short stories when I was younger, and I have a few ideas that I’ve started plotting out as possible novels. That’s a huge undertaking, of course. But in the fulness of time, I’m hoping I get there.
The “ABC Disgusting” Kickstarter will be active until July 29, 2015.
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