Special Edition NYC was a two day celebration of all things comic book for the comic book fan. It was a convention for comics the way a convention should be: no shoulder to shoulder traffic, no two day long lines and no HIMYM panels. Just row after row of some of the most talented creators in the business signing books and meeting fans. It was in one of those rows that I met the friendly, intelligent, and needlessly humble Greg Pak, writer of such amazing stories as Planet Hulk and the new Batman/Superman. He took a break from signing copies of his most recent offering from Pak Man Productions to talk to us about writing a new Storm series for Marvel as well as engaging in a discussion about how Asian-Americans are portrayed in pop culture and in comics specifically.
Comic Attack: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. I see you’ve got a new book out. Can you tell us about it?
Greg Pak: Sure, I did a book called Code Monkey Save World and it’s a graphic novel in which a monkey and a supervillain team up and it’s based on the songs of Johnathan Coulton. We did a big Kickstarter for it last year and now we have the actual hard copies of the book and we’re here selling them. I’m also here [at the convention] doing different panels and signing a lot. The big thing about cons is the chance to meet fans who are actually keeping me in business so folks are coming by with Action Comics and Batman/Superman and all the Marvel Comics I’ve done over the year and I’ll sign whatever people bring because I’m very grateful to them for the support.
CA: You’ve done a lot of amazing work over the years. Which would you say was the most fulfilling to you as an author?
GP: Well, every time I write something I have to fall in love with it, otherwise I’m not gonna do a good job. So I really do try and fall in love with everything I work on but definitely a few things stood out. Planet Hulk was the most fun I had in comics up until that point. I just loved working on it. Magneto: Testament was the origin story of Magneto and it’s basically a Holocaust story about a kid trying to keep his family alive. It had a big impact on me as I researched it and I’m really proud of it and grateful for the chance to do it.
CA: Since you’ve already written for some huge characters, what would be some other titles that you would like to work on at this point in your career?
GP: Well, I have to pick out a new character because I used to say Storm but now they’re actually letting me do it and it’s coming out in July.
CA: That’s awesome. Can we talk about Amadeus Cho for a second? You created him and he’s one of my favorite character PLUS one of the few Asian-American characters featured prominently in comics, anywhere.
GP: See, that was actually a really conscious choice. I was asked along with some other writers by Marvel to take an old Golden Age name that they owned and make some new characters with them and I picked the name “Mastermind Excello” and that became Amadeus Cho, a kid who can’t help but get in trouble wherever he goes and I very consciously wanted to do an Asian-American character because there are a fair number of Asian heroes from Asia but almost no Asian-American heroes.
CA: I appreciate how it did Amadeus didn’t fall into the old “great Asian fighter” trope.
GP: Yeah, that was another conscious choice when creating the character.
CA: …but he is very smart and that is kind of a cliché in itself.
GP: That’s true. See, that’s part of the “Model Minority” myth that all Asians are good at math or what have you and my thought process when creating the character went like this: The “model minority” myth comes with a lot of baggage. It’s often used to create a sense of Asian people being “weirdly unemotional” and so my take Amadeus was to counter that. If he’s thinking something, he’s saying it. He’s the opposite of inscrutable and part of the fun of it was to overturn the model minority myth. The other thing I realized is that just because there is a stereotype out there about all Asians being smart doesn’t mean we should write all Asian characters as stupid.
CA: So portraying Asian-Americans fairly is about being aware of and managing stereotypes?
GP: Yes, and I’m hyper-aware of all kinds of stereotypes at the same time I don’t want to be boxed into things because I’m just avoiding stereotypes. I’d rather write the character that wants to be written the way they are while overturning the stereotype in another way at the same time and it’s an ongoing challenge to figure out the way these things work and do them right. In fact at the time I was writing Amadeus I was writing this SHEILD agent who was named Jake Oh that was another Asian American character who was not a super genius. He was a military guy, kind of a hotty, a bit of a lunkhead with a very big heart. My feeling is the more you get [to know about the character], the less you have to worry about stereotypes. I’m always interested in variety because no one character can represent the entirety of one community. You need a bunch of us and hopefully I’m serving a world that can tell a bunch of different stories.
CA: Where is Amadeus Cho now?
GP: Well I know he recently has shown up in a Frank Cho Wolverine run in a very funny way and who knows, maybe I’ll have a chance to bring him back, we’ll see.
Thanks to Greg Pak for an amazing interview. “Code Monkey Save World” is out now so go see what you’ve been missing.