Recently Fearless Leader (known to some of you as Keith Chow), informed the N.O.C. collective that legendary comic book writer Greg Pak had a new Kickstarter campaign and wanted to see if anyone would be interested in interviewing him.
My response to Fearless Leader:
I’ve been a fan of Pak’s work for many years. From Amadeus Cho, Action Comics, Extreme X-Men, Storm (the most epic epic of an epic epic), to his new Dark Horse series Kingsway West, Pak’s bibliography reads like the fantasy pull list of any self respecting comic book nerd.
In addition to being one of the most talented writers in the game, Pak is also an award winning film director and has previously set two all-time Kickstarter campaign records with his books Code Monkey Save World and The Princess Who Saved Herself.
Recently I had the privilege to chat with Pak and discuss everything from the comic book landscape and his current Kickstarter campaign for his new book, Kickstarter Secrets: Crowdfunding Tips.
Upkins: Greg, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit down with us. It’s only May, and you have certainly made an impact on 2016. In the past few months alone, your name has been featured heavily in articles and industry trades just by virtue of the titles you’ve been working on and the mainstream coverage they’ve been garnering. Amadeus Cho becoming the new Hulk, your run on Storm and Action Comics (we’ll be getting to those momentarily), and now this Kickstarter campaign. Does this seem surreal for you or just another day at the office?
Pak: I’m just working every day, trying to tell fun stories and make good comics and books. It’s impossible not to get really excited when projects are received well. But so much of how folks react to a project is out of the creator’s control. So I try to keep an even keel regardless and just do my best to keep doing good work.
Upkins: Did you know prior to going into 2016 that (to quote Jim Ross) business was about to pick up, in terms of current assignments and upcoming projects? Or is this just the nature of life as a comic book creator?
Pak: There’s a great Charles Schulz quote in which he talks about his early days and says he always tried to have a multiple submissions in the mail working for him. I love that. There’s always a certain amount of insecurity for a freelancer or independent artist. But we help ourselves by getting out there and constantly chasing the projects we want with pitches and submissions. So for example, from my earliest days coming out of film school, I tried to do things the Schulz way, submitting all my short films to every film festival I could. I might get into one out of five festivals, which doesn’t sound like a great percentage. But if you’ve submitted to fifty festivals, suddenly you’ve got a film that’s been to ten festivals, and you start building your career. So to this day, I always have multiple pitches or proposals out to different folks. And then some days a lot of stuff comes together at once. Sometimes it comes at you pretty fast, but that’s just the nature of the game, and I love it.
Upkins: In February you left Action Comics. Your two-year run was a hit with fans and critics alike. Did issue 50 seem like the right time to make your exit?
Pak: I loved working on that book — particularly working with my artist and co-writer Aaron Kuder, who’s one of my favorite people in comics. So of course it was bittersweet saying goodbye. But issue #50 was the right place to step away. It represented the climax of the big TRUTH storyline we’d been working on for ten issues. I’ll always have some more Superman stories in me, I’m sure, but it felt like a good time to make the transition.
Upkins: Switching over to the House of Ideas, you’re currently writing The Totally Awesome Hulk which has garnered press from IGN to Entertainment Weekly. Amadeus Cho is an excellent character with a very loyal following. As the man who created Cho, why do you think he resonates with readers?
Pak: Thanks for the kind words! I’m biased, of course, but maybe Amadeus came around at the right time when there seemed to be a good niche in the Marvel Universe for a cocky, wisecracking teen genius with a coyote pup and a tragic past. He was different in a lot of ways — one of the few Asian American superheroes around, for one. And he was cocky while also being very vulnerable and having tons to learn. I think all that combined set him up for some pretty interesting journeys. He’s a character whose story isn’t done; he’s got lots of growing to do, and his life could take any kind of turn, so I think that also increases the stakes and drama for him in good ways. I’m just thrilled folks have responded to him and we’ve been able to do so much with his stories. So if you’ve ever bought an Amadeus Cho book, thank you so much!
Upkins: Storm’s ongoing solo series concluded last year. Kudos to you. It was without question the greatest comic book series ever, in my objective unbiased opinion about anything concerning my favorite superhero. In many respects the series was groundbreaking, in terms of a black super heroine as the lead. The fact that it took Marvel this long to finally give one of their flagship characters a solo series is criminal and another rant for another day. Looking back, any thoughts on the series?
Pak: It was a great experience. The fans were SO INCREDIBLY supportive of that book. Folks like MizCarmelVixen of Vixen Varsity and BlackGirlNerds.com and this very website gave it so much love, so thanks for that! And I loved what our main artist, Victor Ibañez, brought to the book. And those covers by Stephanie Hans! Folks put a lot of love into that series.
Upkins: From blockbuster films on the big screen, to a number of hit television series on the small screen, record sales and mainstream coverage of DC and Marvel titles, the industry, the genre, continues to achieve unprecedented success. As someone who has played a significant part in shaping the landscape, what comes to mind for you?
Pak: It’s all great. Anything that gets more folks to buy and read the comics is aces with me. I’m particularly excited when independent comic book properties cross over into other media, both because of the idea that those creators are getting a nice payday and because it’s great when a wide variety of genres get out there in a big way. I love that there are so many different breakout comics hits of different genres — SMILE, WALKING DEAD, and BATMAN are so very different. Comics are for everyone, and I think this is all helping the world see that.
Upkins: Comics isn’t the only area where you’ve blazed a trail and set the bar of excellence. Your book Code Monkey Save World became Kickstarter’s highest grossing original comics project of all time in 2013. The Princess Who Saved Herself became Kickstarter’s fourth most funded children’s book of all time. That is mind blowing. I think it’s fair to say the right man authored this book and leading this campaign. Before we even get to that, let’s go back. What led to your decision to launch your first Kickstarter?
Pak: I’d had my eye on Kickstarter for a while and had been really impressed with what friends like Gail Simone and Jamal Igle had been able to do there with comics projects. So when Jonathan Coulton and I started talking about making a graphic novel based on characters from his songs, Kickstarter just made sense. Jonathan’s an internet success story — he built his musical career by giving away songs and building a fanbase via the internet. So Kickstarter felt like it made total sense in terms of that DIY ethos he represents. We could have taken the project to publishers, but it seemed to make the most sense to go directly to his fans and my fans via a Kickstarter.
Upkins: In addition to being a talented writer, you’re also an accomplished director who has produced a number of films and indie projects. Often one of the biggest challenges for any filmmaker is procuring funding. That often means marketing, pitches and convincing the right people to finance your endeavor. Did that background aid you running your campaign?
Pak: You bet. I’ve been writing pitches and grant applications for a couple of decades now. I think I got my first film grant in 1997, from the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund, which was HUGE for me at the time (thanks, y’all!). Again, I applied that Schulz maxim and tried to always have something in the mail working for me. And all those years of writing about my own work taught me a lot about how to succinctly sell your project and passion. All of that’s been helpful as I’ve done Kickstarters. Although a grant application has a different audience from a Kickstarter campaign, and learning how to speak to different audiences is critical.
Upkins: Obviously everyone hopes their campaign is successful, but most probably don’t expect to set a Kickstarter record. You’ve done this, twice. What was going through your mind when you got the news?
Pak: All mind-blowing. A huge part of that was due to the fact that Jonathan was involved and his fans were hungry for those particular projects at those particular times. So I can pat myself on the back for being prepared and presenting a project folks could have confidence in and working hard to make the most of that moment. But even as it was happening, I was reminding myself that this was lightning in a bottle, a possibly once-in-a-lifetime thing. You can’t exactly plan for that or bank on it. But the good practices we developed while working on that campaign apply to all campaigns and have been hugely helpful on my smaller but still successful projects like ABC DISGUSTING and KICKSTARTER SECRETS.
Upkins: Obviously being an established name with a wide fanbase doesn’t hurt any fundraising campaign. For those who might be skeptical or discouraged because they believe “fame” is a requirement, what would you say to them? How does the book address those concerns.
Pak: I’ve done big Kickstarters that had the benefit of Jonathan’s involvement and I’ve done much smaller Kickstarters — like the Kickstarter for KICKSTARTER SECRETS itself, which had an initial goal of just $2000. And no matter what the scale, you face the same practical challenges of coming up with smart rewards, figuring out how to use your network to get the word out, and managing all the challenges of fulfillment and shipping. So the book will be full of incredibly practical tips that apply to all projects, regardless of scale.
Also, our amazing backers have hit stretch goals that will allow me to interview some other Kickstarter creators — including the great Amy Chu, a comics writer now working on characters like Ant-Man and Poison Ivy who used very modest Kickstarters early in her career to print her first anthology books. Amy came into Kickstarter as an almost complete unknown in the comics industry. She’s got a tremendous perspective as a result and I can’t wait to interview her for KICKSTARTER SECRETS.
Upkins: So aside from probably setting yet another Kickstarter record, what else lies ahead for Mr. Pak?
Pak: Mirko Colak and I have a creator-owned series coming out from Dark Horse later this year — KINGSWAY WEST, about a Chinese gunslinger searching for his wife in an Old West overrun with magic. Check out KingswayWest.com for more!
Upkins: Any final words?
Pak: Just thanks so much for the time and support!