Greg Pak has spent the last decade as one of the real workhorses of mainstream comics. Having come to prominence with a short-lived Warlock series at Marvel, he became closely associated with the publisher with his lengthy run on comics featuring The Hulk as well as his co-writing The Incredible Hercules with frequent Outhouse interview victim Fred Van Lente. Pak recently launched a new Eternal Warrior series at Valiant, and recently spoke to The Outhouse at his table in Artist's Alley at New York Comic-Con about that and his new crowd-funded digital comic with musical comedian Jonathan Coulton.
Outhouse (OH): How did working on Eternal Warrior for Valiant come about?
Greg Pak (GP): I got a call from [executive editor] Warren Simons. I had worked with Warren at Marvel on a book called Magneto: Testament, which was the origin story of Magneto. I had a great time working on that book. I loved working with him on that book. So when he called, I was all ears, and I was going to do pretty much whatever he wanted. He said "Eternal Warrior," and all the gears started turning in my brain. It's an amazing character to play with. It's an immortal warrior who has been fighting for a mysterious entity known as The Earth. When you're talking to an immortal, and when you're talking about this kind of mysterious entity, you're opening up this world-building and mythological explorations that are a lot of fun to play with. We're basically getting the chance to establish a new mythology and explore the human ramifications of being an immortal and fighting time and time again for so many aeons. It's also a family story, as we've introduced his daughter Xaran, who pulls him back into the fight, and maybe gets more than she expected in a very dangerous way. I'm thrilled to be working on the book and I'm grateful to Warren for giving me the call.
OH: Were you a reader of the original incarnation of Valiant?
GP: That was actually during one of the times in my life when I wasn't reading a lot of new comics, so I missed the window right there. I knew enough about them, and I heard about the properties. I knew the central ideas of the characters, and they're all amazing. Even the name Eternal Warrior, it evokes so much. With that name, you're starting to imagine a whole story. I've subsequently been trying to catch up here and there with stories from the past, but we've been building up a new mythology here, and it's been a blast.
OH: We're going to be seeing the year 4001 AD in Eternal Warrior, but as Gilad is immortal, as you've mentioned, will we be seeing a lot of his past as well?
GP: That's one of the huge attractions of the book as well. You have an immortal character, which gives us a chance to show different time periods, which is just fun, and how those moments from the past illuminate the moments from [the present], not just in terms of plot, but especially in terms of character. This is a character that has had so many experiences, that you can explore things emotionally on multiple levels in different timeframes. So we've been doing that in flashbacks, but now we're going to jump forward. Why not use time in a big crazy way like that?
OH: Is it a difficult exercise to manipulate time like that?
GP: I guess I got some practice with it by writing The Incredible Hercules saga for Marvel for so many years, co-writing that with Fred Van Lente. The star of that book was Hercules, another immortal, and we used a lot of what we called "mythbacks," which were basically flashbacks to different mythical stories. It was fun. I guess I got some practice with the technique.
OH: Between Hercules, the Hulk, and now Eternal Warrior, you've written a lot of stories with some real hard-hitting, badass characters.
GP: [laughs] Which is funny, because I'm a lover not a fighter. Well, that's comics. Certainly that's a big trope in comics, The Dangerous Hero. I've written a lot of those. There's something that...I'll tell ya, I've never been in a fistfight in my life, you know what I'm saying? It's kind of ridiculous that I'm doing it. Also I talk a mile a minute, and I talk too much, so it's also ridiculous that I write these taciturn characters. But there is something about that kind of character, who says less than he thinks, and who says a lot in a few words, and who is a little dangerous. For whatever reason, I get that kind of character. I wrote Adama in a Battlestar Galactica series for Dynamite years ago, and as soon as I started writing him, I just got him, in a weird way. There are kinds of speech patterns that are comfortable. That person who says less than everybody else, but what he says takes on that extra bit of resonance. I guess I've known people like that at different times in my life, and I've puzzles over trying to understand them, and maybe that's a part of it.
OH: You mentioned working for Dynamite before, and now you will be again, on their new Turok series. How did that come about?
GP: It was kind of similar. Warren called me about working at Valiant, and another editor I loved working with at Marvel, Nate Cosby, who I worked with on Incredible Hercules and the Hulk books, he now has this gig working on these Dynamite books. He called me up, and I loved working with Nate in a similar kind of way, and I was pretty sure I was going to end up working with him. As a writer, if you have a chance to work with a good editor, you jump on it because good editors make good projects. They will help you as you work through things that will make you a better writer and they will watch out for you. I remember good editors and I will jump at a chance to work with them again.
So Nate called and he had this project, Turok, which was just this crazy, amazing project. A Native American who fights dinosaurs. I was all over it. It was another fun project that I thought I could sink my teeth into.
OH: What are the qualities that an editor has that serve you best as a writer?
GP: A great editor is able to see what you're trying to do and help you do it. That's a great creative collaborator in general. I think it's important to have a shared vision with your editor, that you and your editor share the passion for telling the story you're trying to tell. A great editor will help you do that. As writers, we're the closest people there are to our stories, and when you're very close, there are some things you're not seeing, and a good editor will see those things and mention them to you and push you.
Editors also are responsible for getting the book done. They're making sure that people keep to their deadlines, they're managing the crazy logistics of the whole thing. A great editor knows how to push you to get what he or she needs, but also knows how to protect you from the craziness that goes into making a comic book. They include you when you can help with it, but also to create that space so you can focus on what you need to do.
OH: You also have Code Monkey Save World coming out...
GP: Yes! Code Monkey Save World, a comic book based on the songs of Jonathan Coulton. This is one of those passion projects. Jonathan and I did a Kickstarter for it earlier in the year, and we are now cranking out the issues. Takeshi Miyazawa is drawing, Jesse Kholinne's on colors, and Simon Bowland is the letterer. The first issue becomes available to the general public for purchase this Wednesday, October 16 on ComiXology. It's digital only, for the time being. It's a crazy story about a monkey teaming up with a supervillain. You're going to love it, so please do check it out.
OH: How did you and Jonathan actually get hooked up?
GP: We went to college together way back when. Over the years, I kept following his work, and we started bumping into each other here in New York, because we both live in New York. At a certain point I was thinking about his songs, and realized he's written all these great songs that have these amazing supervillains in them. He's written songs with a dangerous giant squid, and an office-worker zombie, and a creepy doll...Skullcrusher! The greatest supervillain on the planet! Denizen of Skullcrusher Mountain! The beautiful thing about Jonathan's songs is that they use these crazy sci-fi tropes, but they're all about people struggling with loneliness, and they have this great emotional heart to them. That's what makes them so funny, and so moving at the same time. That's also what makes them great for stories. I thought "wow, you could really make a great comic book out of this!" And we did it.