Greg Pak, the award-winning, Korean-American filmmaker, comic book writer, and children’s book author, has launched a new Kickstarter campaign for his latest project. His marvelously messy new children's book, "ABC Disgusting," stars two Asian-American protagonists, and follows in the tradition of "The Princess Who Saved Herself," based on the songs of Jonathan Coulton.
Pak is also the force behind the award-winning feature film, “Robot Stories,” short films such as “Fighting Grandpa” and “Asian Pride Porn“ with David Henry Hwang, and comic book storylines “Planet Hulk,” “World War Hulk,” “Magneto Testament,” “Batman/Superman, and “The Totally Awesome Hulk."
NBC News talked with Pak about his dedication to multiracial characters, his multifaceted work, and what he has coming up next.
How important is it to you to include multiracial, and multiethnic characters and viewpoints in your work?
Casting my films and comics diversely has always been hugely important to me. That's probably largely due to the fact that I'm a biracial Asian American. It's also just because I live in a diverse world and the stories I write tend to reflect that world. Diversity's just honest storytelling, part of what makes the worlds I'm creating ring true.
And then let's be honest -- I love seeing stereotypes overturned and difference recognized. When I was a kid, I remember being blown away by Peter Wang's movie, “A Great Wall,” which was the first time I'd ever seen an Asian American family depicted as protagonists on the big screen. I just loved it -- it told me I belonged. And it was telling the world that all of us Asian Americans belong. So it's a huge thrill when I see kids of all different backgrounds picking up something I wrote like “The Princess Who Saved Herself” and identifying with its non-stereotypical leads.
Who have been some of your favorite characters or stories to write, and why?
That can be a hard question for a writer to answer -- we're not always the best people to analyze our own work. :-) But looking back, I think it's pretty fair to say I've been drawn to characters who don't entirely fit in -- characters who are the “Other,” in one way or another, and yet still strive to fulfill their responsibilities and do the right thing. You can definitely see that in the Hulk stories I wrote for years and years. That also comes through in my current work on the “Superman Truth” storyline in “Action Comics” and “Batman/Superman,” where we're exploring the consequences of Superman's secret identity being revealed to the world. And on the other side of the spectrum, you have Gloria Cheng Epstein Takahara de la Garza Champion, the main character of “The Princess Who Saved Herself,” who's a kickass princess who embraces her own difference and does her own thing, fearlessly.
All of those characters are hugely fun to write. No doubt there's something about their difference that resonates with me, and each of them gives me another way to explore that question of how to do the right thing in a complex world.
How did you move from filmmaking to writing comic books, to graphic novels and then to children's books?
I grew up writing and drawing and doing theater and black-and-white darkroom photography. Basically, I embraced every form of storytelling I stumbled across. Eventually I went to NYU's Grad Film program, which was a tremendous experience, and I made an independent feature film called “Robot Stories.”
While I was taking that movie around the country, my agent hooked me up with a meeting with Marvel Comics, and things worked out. Of course, I had a huge amount to learn, and I'm hugely grateful to the editors and artists who helped me along. But I'd read comics all my life and moving from film to comics made sense to me -- it was all another way of telling compelling emotional stories with fun genre twists.
So I'd been writing comics for almost ten years when I had the chance to write “The Princess Who Saved Herself” children's book, based on the beloved Jonathan Coulton song. And again, the transition just made sense. Again, I had a lot to learn, but children's picture books and comics are both all about telling stories with pictures in a pretty compact space. It's been a blast so far!
What is your new project, “ABC Disgusting,” all about?
“ABC Disgusting” is a kids’ alphabet book about disgusting things, natch. So it’s a ton of fun for parents and kids with a slightly naughty sense of humor — and a great book for reluctant readers who might need a little incentive to pick up a book. But the book also tells an actual story about a boy trying to gross out his sister — until she comes back at him with what might be the greatest gross out of all. So yes, totally disgusting! And maybe a little heartwarming!
We’ve just launched a Kickstarter to fund the book.
The book's going to be drawn by the great Takeshi Miyazawa, colored by Jessica Kholinne, and lettered by Simon Bowland -- the same art team behind “The Princess Who Saved Herself.” I love this team -- they get into my head and make all the little emotional details and humor sing.
What are you able to accomplish in children's books that you can't in film and comics?
I have a bunch of different stories in my head and some of them just work better in different formats. A kids' picture book lets me explore a single fun idea or theme in one compact, beautiful package that's very distinct from a comic book series or feature film. It's also a blast writing for kids. I think back on the books I absolutely adored as a kid, how they captured my imagination and how I pored over them again and again. When people tell me about their kids reading “The Princess Who Saved Herself,” I get a little verklempt.
What is next?
Yes! I’ll have a huge creator-owned comic book announcement soon that I hope anyone interested in Asian American protagonists will check out. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter and visit my website for more!