Greg Pak's Afterword tribute to Bill Mantlo in the final issue of his Hulk run (The Incredible Hulks 635) genuinely gave me pause (and as I said as much in that week's WAYR). Then last week when Kevin Melrose made us aware of LifeHealthPro/Bill Coffin's devastating profile of Bill Mantlo's life since 1992, which clearly struck a chord with many Robot 6 readers. Once I saw Pak's comment in the thread, I realized I wanted to talk to Pak about Mantlo. While I have long respected Pak as a writer, his decision to set up a donations page for Bill Mantlo's care is the reason why I admire him. My thanks to Pak for the interview and for scanning the cover to the actual copy of his first Bill Mantlo comic (Micronauts 3), which we get to discuss also.
Tim O'Shea: At what point in your run on the Hulk did you realize that you wanted to write the Afterword, partially about Bill Mantlo?
Greg Pak: I'd cited Bill Mantlo as a big influence many times over the years in press and publicity for my various Hulk storylines. So it was a natural for me to focus on him in the afterward to Incredible Hulks #635. And it was a huge pleasure to be able to formally dedicate the run to Mantlo on that final page.
O'Shea: Was an issue of the Micronauts the first Bill Mantlo-written comic you ever read?
Pak: Yep. Micronauts #3. I read and reread that thing approximately six trillion times. Man, you've got me pulling it out again now... check out that tattered cover!
It's just a fantastic issue -- with the Micronauts' crazy dogfight in the streets and skate parks of Daytona contrasted with Steve Coffin's suburban angst, that creepy old lady requesting Prince Argon's body back in Homeworld Body Banks, exiled prince Acroyear hacking that traitor's spaceship IN HALF, nonstop quippage and banter and romantic tension, and the eerie image of the battlecruiser and dead baddies in the shoebox on the final page. LOVE.
O'Shea: You wrote an entire column for Newsarama detailing your respect for Mantlo's writing and its influence on your Hulk run. But can you elaborate further on what it is about Mantlo's storytelling that has always appealed to you?
Pak: I love Mantlo's dedication to emotional story and his total embrace of completely loopy, big ideas. See the "Micronauts" #3 description above. So much crazy fun, and yet Mantlo always has his thumb on his characters' emotional pulse. We're thrilled 'cause it's so insane -- and because he's made us care about the characters.
O'Shea: Did your Marvel editors ever push back when you wanted to work Mantlo homages into your own Hulk run? Speaking of all the homages, which one were you most pleased to have worked into your Hulk run?
Pak: Marvel editor Mark Paniccia, my big partner in crime on my Hulk run, is also a big Micronauts fan. So I think he got a kick out of all the little homages I tossed in. I gave my insectivorid Miek a recurring "kik" in his dialogue -- a tip of the hat to the Micronauts' Bug and his "tik." I had several characters in "Planet Hulk" check out with big screams of "GLEEEARGH!" -- one of Mantlo's favorite exclamations. But I'm probably most happy with the way we worked flashbacks to Mantlo's Incredible Hulk #312 into the Skaar/Hulk confrontation in Incredible Hulk #611. It made the whole issue resonate on about three more levels. Thanks again, Mr. Mantlo.
O'Shea: In acknowledging Mantlo's influence did you initially hope to be able to bring his current plight back into current day discussion, or was that just a happy coincidence?
Pak: Every time I talk about Mantlo I try to mention his condition and give people an indication of how they can help out with his daily care. When someone gives you so much joy, it's important to give back if you can. Amazing folks like David Yurkovich and Jason Leivian set the stage for this with their hard work on their Mantlo benefits; I'm just happy to have the chance to follow their lead.
O'Shea: For folks who have never read Mantlo's Hulk issues, where would you recommend that people start?
Pak: If you want to plunge into the action, I'd recommend Incredible Hulk #297-300, which tell the story of a mindless Hulk going on an insane rampage that leads to a massive showdown with a huge number of Marvel heroes in New York City. And then the Crossroads saga, which spans from Incredible Hulk #301-313, during which Doctor Strange exiles the Hulk from Earth in hopes of finding him a dimension in which he can be happy. That run includes the amazing Incredible Hulk #312, which had such a huge influence on my own exploration of Banner's relationship with his father and mother.
O'Shea: Were you surprised when Mike Mantlo reached out to you with a note, after you wrote of Mantlo's influence?
Pak: I actually tracked down Mike through Jason and asked if he'd like to send me a note to include with that Newsarama column. Mike has done so much for so many years for his brother that I thought it would make a big difference if folks could hear from him directly how their notes and support have helped.
O'Shea: Are you proud that you have been able to indirectly use your run on the Hulk to partially bring Bill Mantlo's life into present day focus, and encourage fans to donate to his care?
Pak: You bet. It's so easy to feel helpless when you read about something as tragic as what happened to Bill Mantlo. But there are always things we can do to help, and I'm very happy to have the chance to help point people in the right direction.
And thank you, Tim, for doing the same by writing this article! Much appreciated.