If you enjoy comics and haven’t heard the name Greg Pak, you’ve been hiding under a rock. The prolific writer has worked with virtually every major comic book company, working with company-owned characters and his own. With the massive success of his latest creator-owned series, Mech Cadet Yu, we got an opportunity to sit down with Greg and chat about the series!
Greg, thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Congratulations of the success of Mech Cadet Yu so far!
GREG PAK: Thanks so much! We’re pretty darn excited!
As we were prepping this interview, the news broke that the series had made the jump from limited series to ongoing. How do you feel about the response to the series so far?
GP: I was thrilled. I’m not supposed to say I have favorites among my projects, but if you come close I’ll tell you a secret: this is my favorite. I just love these characters and this story and this entire creative team and I’d love to write this book forever. So it was a total thrill to see the incredible reviews for the first issue and to get the word that we’d been upgraded to an ongoing. Dream come true!
For any of our readers who may not have heard about the series, can you tell us a little bit about Mech Cadet Yu?
GP: It’s the story of a janitor’s kid who bonds with a giant robot and joins the Sky Corps Academy to train to defend the world from the alien monsters known as the Sharg. So, it’s about an underdog trying to find his place at an elite military school—and about a group of kids growing up fast in order to take on world-shattering threats.
Can you tell us a little more about Stanford Yu? What makes him an interesting protagonist?
GP: He’s an underdog, the son of the janitor at the Sky Corps Academy. So the other kids either ignore him or look down on him and he really hasn’t even been allowed to dream of joining them. I think we can all relate to outsiders and underdogs, so he’s got that going for him. He’s also really got a heart of gold, and there’s a kind of innocence about him I just love. I’ve written a ton of anti-heroes in my day, and I adore those characters—it can be a blast to write heroes who act pretty badly from time to time. But Stanford’s hugely refreshing, especially in this day and age, because he really is a kind of big-hearted innocent who’s struggling like hell to do the right thing all the time. I love the kid.
Who are some of the other characters we’ll meet in the series?
GP: Stanford’s main antagonist is an older cadet named Park. She’s the privileged daughter of the general who runs the school, and she expected to bond with the robo that ended up bonding with Stanford. So there’s a great rivalry between the two of them. We’ve got a big twist at the end of the first issue that sets Park up in a very formidable way for the future. I won’t spoil it, but keep an eye on her!
I also love the fact that Stanford’s mom Dolly plays a big role in the story. She’s the janitor at the Sky Corps Academy and she’s very protective of her only boy—for reasons we’ll learn about more in issue #2. She’s a tough mom, but she’s got a huge heart, and I love every scene she’s in.
One thing I’ve enjoyed with your creator owned series is how much world building you’ve done. How does that world building help you tell your story?
GP: In order to tell a story with fantastical or speculative elements like this, you have to do enough world-building to give the story the foundation that allows it to make sense. In a funny way, audiences will accept almost anything. Giant robots? Monsters from outer space? Sure! But if it’s not consistent, if it doesn’t make sense in the world you’re creating, you’ll lose folks immediately. At the same time, you can’t let the world-building or exposition bog down your book and drown the emotional story. So it’s a balancing act.
How much of MCY’s world had you created before you put pen to paper?
GP: I worked out as much as I needed to to write up an outline for the first 12 issues of the story I had in mind. Then I fleshed out the smaller details as I worked on individual scripts and began collaborating with Tak.
What made Takeshi Miyazawa the right artist for this series?
GP: I never thought of anyone other than Tak as the artist of this project. We started working on it years ago as a 10-page story called “Los Robos” that was part of the Shattered Asian-American comics anthology. Tak was the first and only artist I ever approached. I just knew he’d nail the characters and emotional beats. And he’s got a huge love of giant robo stories —maybe even bigger than my own. He’s just perfect for a project like this.
Did the two of you develop the concept together, or did Takeshi come in later?
GP: I came up with the initial idea, pitched the big story and characters to Tak, and then we worked collaboratively from that point.
You’ve collaborated a decent handful of times in your careers. What’s the creative process like between the two of you?
GP: It’s the best. I don’t generally have to do a ton of explaining to Tak. He just gets the characters and scenarios I write on a fundamental level. I think we’ve got very similar sensibilities when it comes to drama and humor and how they combine moment to moment. And I just adore the way he draws everyday people. No one’s better at body language and expression than Tak. His characters are just so subtly alive in every moment in such lovely, naturalistic ways. I love it.
The mech versus kaiju genre is a much-loved sci-fi subgenre. What made you want to put your stamp on it?
GP: I grew up playing with robot toys, reading stories about robots, and watching movies with robots in ’em. So I’ve always had robot stories in my head. After I graduated from film school, I made an independent feature film called Robot Stories that went on to win a bunch of awards on the festival circuit. But even after that, I still had more robot stories to tell, and Mech Cadet Yu is one of them.
In the world of MCY, it seems like the mechs actually came first, then the kaiju. What made you switch the dynamic?
GP: I wasn’t really aware there was a dynamic I was switching up here. 😉
The reasoning is just that the robos started arriving on Earth many years ago, bonding with children they met in the desert. And eventually when the Sharg invaded, those robos, piloted by the kids they’d bonded with, became Earth’s primary protectors.
The mechs have a bit of a Power Rangers influence, in that they’re alien machines, rather than Earth built. Is the origin of the mechs something you’re going to spend time on in the future of the series?
GP: Eventually, we may learn more about exactly where the robos and the Sharg come from, but I can say no more for fear of spoilers. Keep on reading!
Can you tell us a little bit about the series antagonists, the Sharg?
GP: They’re huge, terrifying monsters from outer space who attacked the planet during the horrific Sharg War in the recent past. We’ll learn a lot more about them as the series progresses. A big surprise is coming at the end of issue #5—keep your eyes open!
What’s the difference in working on a book you own versus your work at Marvel?
GP: Working on any comic book is a thrill and a labor of love—you have to fall in love with the characters and story you write to make ’em work, so I’m deeply invested in everything I work on. At the same time, there’s a special thrill to working on an original character in original stories. You’ve got total freedom, but you’re also working without a net, so it’s exciting and scary and incredibly rewarding all at once.
What else are you working on outside of MCY?
GP: Totally Awesome Hulk, which ends with issue #23 and turns into Incredible Hulk again, which picks up with issue #709. Amadeus Cho is heading to Planet Sakaar in a story called Return to Planet Hulk, and it’s awesome!
I’m also writing Weapon X with Fred Van Lente right now. And I’m writing the new John Wick comic that should hit stores in the next few weeks.
What are you reading right now?
GP: I’ve been reading a little more prose than comics recently, partly because I just finished writing my first novel, the Planet Hulk prose book that’s coming out in October.
In the last month or so, I’ve read Sherman Alexie’s memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, which I absolutely loved. It wrecked me, but everyone should read it. I also finally read Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, which also wrecked me.
Thanks for sitting down with me Greg! Is there anything else you’d like to say to ComicBuzz readers?
GP: Thanks so much for reading and spreading the word about Mech Cadet Yu! A scrappy, underdog book like this only thrives when folks like yourselves spread the word, so we hugely appreciate your passion and support. Thank you!
Thank you Greg! Be sure to check out Mech Cadet Yu #2, out tomorrow from BOOM! Studios, and ongoing monthly! It’s available digitally and in comic shops everywhere!