“‘Superstardom’? You flatter me. But I like it.”
I always try to avoid interviews where I help a writer mercilessly hype their upcoming major crossover event for several reasons. The first is that they are the often the most boring interviews to read ever because the publisher rarely lets the writer say anything memorable and therefore the interview, whatever the length, is utterly repetitive and mysterious and therefore mind-numbing for the interviewer and the reader. Secondly, the crossover is, more often than not, going to sell 100,000 issues or more anyway, so why help hype it?
But I’m making an exception for Greg Pak.
Why, you ask? Well, dear reader, anyone smart enough to spend three bucks per month on “Hulk” should know that it is one of the most consistently entertaining and best-written comics on the stands right now. Pak has been setting up Marvel’s summer crossover “World War Hulk,” drawn by John Romita Jr., for more than a year in those pages. And by setting up I mean giving lucky readers one of the most adventurous, exciting rides with a mainstream comic icon in years. I better stop before I begin to gush. Too late, I know.
Anyway, Pak has all the dominoes set up for “World War Hulk” and is about to start the chain reaction, and the results are going to be smashing. I can’t wait.
And if I ever make a pun that bad again, smash me, damn it.
Robert Taylor: Hiya Greg, how’s life going?
Greg Pak: Pretty darn well, thank you very much! How ’bout your own bad self?
RT: Couldn’t be better. I had a sucky year last year and karma has helpfully responded by making this one great. By the way, Mr. “Battlestar: Galactica” comic-writer-man, what did you think of the show’s season finale?
GP: Loved it. That show can do no wrong. Actually, it’s done one wrong – making us wait until 2008 for the next episode!
RT: Yeah, I kind of hate SciFi Channel right now, but not really since they renewed the show.
GP: Fortunately, you can get your BSG fix in the meantime from the Dynamite “Battlestar: Galactica” comic book, thrice dubbed one of Wizard’s top five indies, written by yours truly, and hitting your comic book store monthly. How’s that for a shameless plug?
RT: And it’s actually a good comic tie-in, don’t forget to mention that! So now that you’ve rocketed to comic superstardom…
GP: “Superstardom?” You flatter me. But I like it.
RT: I try, I really do. Anyhow, how do you think your writing style has evolved since your first break in the business?
GP: One of the big things I learned from writing “Warlock,” my first mainstream comics project back in 2004, was the importance of continuity. “Warlock” was totally tied into the classic Warlock stories, but that reveal didn’t come until issue four, by which point most fans of the classic Warlock had already given up on the new series. So I’ve learned to weave continuity through my books from the beginning to let the long-time fans know I’m with them. The beautiful thing is that when you use continuity well, it can seamlessly add a whole new dimension to the story, bringing out subtle emotional nuances that make the whole book resonate more deeply. At the same time, I’m always trying to write stories that anyone can pick up and enjoy – even if they’ve never read a Marvel comic book before. That’s not always possible, given the intricacies of some stories, but I think we’ve pulled it off with comics like “Planet Hulk” – and now “World War Hulk.”
RT: Are you surprised your star grew this quickly? Feel free to sound as full of yourself as you like!
GP: Aw, shucks.
RT: I said “full of yourself,” darn it!
GP: I’m just happy to be working regularly on stories and characters I love. I’ve gotten lucky a few times with big circulation numbers – with “X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong” in 2005 and now with “World War Hulk” – and of course I’m hoping I can keep hitting those levels. But it all comes down to doing my darnedest every day to turn out the best stories and books I can.
RT: Tell us about fan reaction to your work and how it’s changed over time.
GP: I think I went from being the indie film guy who did that crazy “Warlock” thing to the “Phoenix” guy to the Hulk guy. As I keep working on more projects, I’m hoping more folks will just see me as that dude who writes crazy, fun, and sometimes surprisingly moving stories.
RT: Let’s talk about “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk” since everyone else is, and we want to be like the cool kids. Way back when the green guy was first launched into space, did you know there would be a major crossover to bring him back? And were you set to write it?
GP: From the first day we started talking about “Planet Hulk,” we knew our hero would eventually return to Earth. So the germ of “World War Hulk” was there from the beginning. It was always my nefarious plan to lay claim to the title of writer of “World War Hulk,” but the decision was up to my bosses at Marvel.
RT: Hold on, you said “nefarious,” and I love that word. How nefarious was this “nefarious plan?” Were there hired guns and world-ending buttons involved?
GP: Heh. No, sadly, my “nefarious” is considerably more mild-mannered, involving far more head-scratching than cabal-forming or master-plan-developing or world-over-taking.
RT: OK, back to the crossover.
GP: Yeah. So I think the fact that fans and critics were so supportive of “Planet Hulk” – and that the circulation numbers of “Incredible Hulk” actually increased during the “Planet Hulk” run – helped me nab the gig.
RT: How does it feel to be following up the biggest critical and commercial crossover success in Marvel’s recent history (that would be “Civil War”) with the next major company crossover?
GP: I just found out that the second printings of “Incredible Hulk” #106 and the “World War Hulk Prologue” just sold out, so right now I’m feeling pretty good about it, thank you very much!
RT: Alright, give us the Cliffnotes version of what is going on in Hulk-land for those living on another planet talking to big grasshoppers.
And for those of you reading, now would be the time to put on those spoiler blinders.
GP: Last year, a group of so-called Marvel “heroes,” including Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Black Bolt, decided the Hulk was too dangerous to live on Earth, tricked him into a shuttle and shot him off into space.
RT: That’s really sad.
GP: Tell me about it. So the Hulk ended up on the savage alien planet of Sakaar, where he went from slave to gladiator to rebel to conquering emperor – the story of the “Planet Hulk” epic. He never forgot his rage towards the puny humans who exiled him, but on Sakaar, the Hulk finally found a place he belonged. With a group of his Warbound gladiator allies, he made a new world where monsters could be heroes and people of all different species might live in peace. He even married the woman warrior Caiera the Oldstrong and took the title of the Green King. But then – disaster. The shuttle in which the humans sent him to Sakaar exploded – destroying a million souls in Crown City, including the Hulk’s queen and unborn child.
RT: Really, really sad. Even sadder when you read the comics.
GP: Now the Hulk is returning to Earth, accompanied by his superpowered Warbound companions, angrier and stronger than he’s ever been and determined to exact his vengeance upon the puny humans he blames for the destruction of his world. Hence, “World War Hulk,” the first issue of which hits comic book stores everywhere on June 13 – the same, day, coincidentally, that the “Planet Hulk” hardcover comes out – dontcha dare miss it!
RT: As you said, for the past year Hulk has been off on his own world(s), literally. How has crafting those types of stories differed from calling the shots for such an event?
GP: One of the joys of “Planet Hulk” was the fact that it happened away from the rest of the Marvel Universe, which meant that if editor Mark Paniccia and I had a crazy idea, we could pretty much go for it. With “World War Hulk,” we’re smack dab in the middle of the Marvel Universe, which means that we’re coordinating with dozens of other stories, characters, and writers. It’s a new challenge, but the creative energy is through the roof – it’s a ton of fun working with so many big brains.
RT: Go into more detail about how exactly you approach writing a crossover.
GP: Many months ago, with the input of editor Mark Paniccia and advice from Senior Editor Tom Brevoort, I outlined the whole story. Then we plunged into meetings and summits with other editors and writers. Based on feedback, I reworked the outline multiple times. And one magic day, the whole thing got approved and I plunged into writing.
RT: Do you feel obligated, or are you obligated, to write in moments that tie-in to the other tie-ins?
GP: Everything happened in a great, organic way – first we nailed down the storyline for “World War Hulk.” Then the final outline was distributed to other editors and writers, who figured out how their tie in books could work within the storyline. Now and then I’ll tweak something small in the main book to help set up or clarify something for one of the tie-ins, but everything’s designed to support and build on the integrity of the main storyline, which is awesome.
RT: How stressed are you helping to coordinate things for the crossover, on a scale of one to ten?
GP: A couple of weeks ago I was probably a seven; now I’m more around four. It’s going well.
RT: With “World War Hulk, you are handling most of Marvel’s big guns. Who were you most excited about playing with?
GP: Doctor Strange. Love the character and I love what we’re doing with him.
RT: Least excited?
GP: No such animal. All of the classic Marvel characters are awesome.
RT: And now that you’ve written the story, who was the biggest surprise?
GP: Iron Fist. He kind of came out of the woodwork for a few key scenes that I’m really excited about.
RT: Pardon the pun, but give us an idea of just how much exactly the Hulk is going to smash?
GP: I’ll just say no one’s seen smashing like this smashing.
RT: Sounds smasharific.
GP: Smashtastic. Smashalicious.
GP: Smashabulous. I got more.
RT: I’m sure you do.
Tell us about creating the right balance between action and talking in the miniseries.
GP: Sometimes a physical action can speak louder than any word and sometimes a single word can be more shattering than the hardest punch. So I’m using both words and action for maximum impact throughout the book. The trick is always to remember the enormous emotional story powering this epic and use every word and every image to further that monumental conflict – then the tension and the pace never let up and the story barrels through cranked to eleven every step of the way.
RT: How many of the tie-ins have you read the scripts for? And are you enjoying them?
GP: I’ve read most of them and they’re pretty much awesome. I loved Chris Gage’s “Iron Man” issues and Zeb Wells’ “Heroes for Hire” tie-ins are insane.
RT: Okay, how did John Romita Jr. climb onboard?
GP: As I understand it, Joey Q picked up the phone and asked him. And he said yes. And a beautiful, beautiful day that was.
RT: If only all of life could be that simple. Tell us about writing for him.
GP: John Romita, Jr. is simply one of the greatest visual storytellers in the business. So I’m probably throwing way too many words at him, over-describing panels and pages because I’m a filmmaker-turned-comics-writer who often has a very clear visual idea for a given scene. And then he’ll look at what I’ve suggested and improve it enormously and come out with layouts more spectacular and moving and clearly told than anything I could ever have come up with on my own. Getting his pencils every day is a revelation and absolute pleasure.
RT: Are you sticking with “Hulk” after the miniseries is over?
GP: Can’t spill the beans just yet, but I’m working on the super secret third part to my Hulk-related trilogy that began with “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk.”
RT: So is the dark “Empire Strikes Back” installment or the less-dark-but-still-better “Spider-Man 2” installment?
GP: All that and more.
RT: Alrighty, ready for the lightning round?
GP: Bring it on, mon frer.
RT: What was your first comic book?
GP: “Marvel Treasury Edition Spider Man.”
RT: What comics can you never miss?
GP: Too many to list. But right now I’m particularly loving O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” and Trondheim’s and Sfar’s “Dungeon.”
RT: Biggest strength as a writer?
GP: Combining genuine emotional storytelling with insane genre action.
RT: Biggest weakness?
GP: I’m semi-infamous for semi-regularly throwing six new dialogue tweaks at letterers at the very last minute.
RT: And saying “semi” a lot!
What moment are you most proud of writing thus far in your career?
GP: Creating Amadeus Cho for the “Mastermind Excello” story for “Amazing Fantasy” #15. And that story’s being reprinted in the “Planet Hulk” hardcover, which hits comic book stores June 13 (did I mention that?).
RT: Let’s say you are writing a yearlong weekly comic book series with three other writers. Who would you most want them to be?
GP: Brian K. Vaughan, Bryan Lee O’Malley and Joann Sfar.
RT: What is your favorite comic book of all time?
GP: “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.”
RT: What advice would you have for aspiring comic writers?
GP: Read everything. Not just comics. But everything that interests you – natural history, political biography, myths and religious studies, current events. And write all the time. And develop a community of fellow writers who will give you honest, rigorous feedback about your work. Most importantly, listen to the little voice inside who tells you when something’s not quite working – that little voice never lies. And yes, the dialogue always needs tweaking.
RT: If you could only write one book for the rest of your career, what would it be?
GP: A creator owned project that I can’t yet tell you about, alas.
RT: Not even a hint? Are there bunnies?
GP: And rainbows and unicorns (he said, agilely deflecting). But among existing, company owned properties? “The Hulk,” natch.
RT: Who would be your drawing partner?
GP: For the Hulk, I’d be thrilled to work with any of the Hulk artists I’ve worked with thus far – Carlo Pagulayan, Aaron Lopresti, Gary Frank, John Romita, Jr., Leonard Kirk, and Jose Ladronn are all insanely great pencillers and storytellers.
RT: What’s the best comic book movie ever made?
GP: The first Christopher Reeves “Superman” movie, with the second “Spider-Man” as a close runner-up.
RT: What is your weirdest convention experience?
GP: The weird’s not really coming to mind right now – but one of my pinnacles of supersweet geekosity was seeing Dekker’s gun from “Blade Runner” under glass at Wizard World Los Angeles last year.
RT: If you were remembered for only one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?
GP: Whoa. That’s a big question.
RT: That’s why I saved it for last.
GP: I’d just be thrilled if a few people out there read or saw my stuff at the right time for it to give them the kind of a window or mirror they need at that point in their lives. That’s what folks like Lloyd Alexander (may he rest in peace), Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain, Bill Mantlo, Billy Wilder, the Marx Brothers, Howard Hawks, Akira Kurosawa, Jane Austen, and so many others did for me, and I’ll forever be grateful to them for it.
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