Greg Pak may seem mild-mannered, but you wouldn't want to make him angry. He's one of only a few people who know what it's like to be inside the mind of a hulk, that is, the Incredible Hulk. As an award-winning writer of Marvel's "Incredible Hulk" series and an independent filmmaker, Pak conjures epic, world-saving battles while exploring what makes his characters tick. His latest series, "Vision Machine," is a story set in a not-so-distant dystopian future in which everyone must wear glasses that record his or her every sight. Pak sits down with Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg to explain his creative, collaborative process with artists for graphic works, and why adults should (and do) love comic books.
Then, we test the capabilities of Pak's super-strength brain with an Ask Me Another Challenge about the Marvel universe's animal kingdom. From super-powered pets to giant monsters, there are a lot of quirky critters to cover. Pak's worthy competitor in this showdown, Dean Haspiel, is a comic book artist in his own right, and one lucky winner takes home enough signed comic books to start an enviable collection.
About Greg Pak
Greg Pak is a filmmaker and comic book writer best known for directing the award-winning feature film Robot Stories, which played in 75 festivals and won numerous awards. He wrote the Planet Hulk and World War Hulk comic book storylines, and co-wrote the fan favorite, Incredible Hercules, for Marvel Comics. Pak was named one of 25 Filmmakers to Watch by Filmmaker Magazine, described as "a talent with a future" by the New York Times, and named "Breakout Talent" of the year by Wizard Magazine.
He studied political science at Yale University, history at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and film production at the NYU graduate film program.
Watch the trailer for Robot Stories below.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Welcome back to NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. An hour of trivia, riddles and mayhem.
EISENBERG: I'm your host, Ophira Eisenberg and joining me is this week's mystery guest. Marvel Comic's writer and independent filmmaker, Greg Pak.
EISENBERG: Welcome. So Greg, the first thing I have to ask you is, you've been writing for Marvel since 2004.
GREG PAK: Yeah.
EISENBERG: And you wrote a lot of different...
EISENBERG: ...characters and titles. But your favorite is "The Incredible Hulk"?
PAK: Well, my current favorite is "Dr Strange," how about that.
EISENBERG: "Dr Strange." Yeah OK.
EISENBERG: And for our listening audience that may not know who "Dr Strange" is, give us a couple...
PAK: "Dr Strange" once an arrogant surgeon, would only cut for money.
PAK: Was in a terrible...
EISENBERG: So just like a doctor.
PAK: Yeah exactly. Yes.
EISENBERG: Like a doctor.
PAK: In a terrible wreck, his - And deeply, ironically in the great Marvel tradition, his hands were shattered, he could no longer perform surgery.
PAK: So he travels the world looking for a cure. There is no cure. He finally goes to a healer in Tibet and Strange changes his career and...
PAK: ...and he becomes the ancient one's apprentice and eventually becomes the sorcerer supreme.
EISENBERG: Wow. That is strange.
PAK: Yeah. Yeah.
EISENBERG: So what is it about that character that speaks to you, that you love writing?
PAK: Well - I mean I'm, I'm writing a book called "Dr Strange Season One" which is looking at a very early point in his career and it's at that point where he's just met the ancient one. So he's become his apprentice. But he's still basically the same jerk he was when he was a surgeon.
PAK: And that's a very fun place to write a character. You know, when a character is a jerk in, you know, becoming a hero but still a jerk, that's a - that's a - that's a sweet spot.
EISENBERG: Right, because there, there's all the conflict of the arrogance and the...
PAK: Yes. Exactly.
EISENBERG: ...potential embarrassment and what have. And what was it about "The Incredible Hulk"? I mean there we're talking a angry...
PAK: Oh yes. I - Yeah, the Hulk guy - I mean I just - I, I've loved "The Hulk" since I was a kid. And in Dallas, Texas, planning my schedule around seven pm on Thursday nights when I could watch Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in "The Incredible Hulk" TV series. Just loved, loved, loved that show. It was my introduction to the literary concept of tragedy. And I, I'm not even kidding when I say that.
You know, it was like the first time where I saw a hero who struggled every - you know all the time to do the right thing. Every single time and still, at the end of the show was on the - on the road thumbing a ride, you know.
PAK: "The Hulk" is all about anger right? And it's about this notion of - that anger, no matter how justified, when it is - You know, when you express it, you pay the price. I think that's sort of one of those great mystical/religious/ethical truths that many great Marvel writers before me kind of understood. And, so when I got to write "The Hulk," that was - You know, I got to play with those huge themes and it was a blast.
EISENBERG: That's interesting, the sort of moral edge to it. That's what spoke to you. You're just like, oh this is how someone deals with the conflict of bad and good basically.
PAK: Yeah. I mean I think Marvel comics are great. I mean, you know, the classic reason Marvel became what it became was because, all of those, you know, forefathers in the - in - who, who made Marvel comics what it is. They introduced this notion of heroes who were struggling to become heroes. You know what I mean?
You're not a hero because of who you are, you're a hero because you're struggling to overcome the things that keep you from being heroic, if that makes sense. You know, you're, you're struggling to do the right thing and that struggle is what makes you a hero.
EISENBERG: So, I'm a hero is what you're saying.
PAK: Yes you are.
PAK: Yes you are.
EISENBERG: But, with all due respect, what is important about this narrative form that adults should pay attention to and pay respect to?
PAK: Well, yeah. I - I mean there - it's, it's a heck of a lot of fun. You know, if you like pop culture, if you like movies, you like comics. I mean comics is just - it's a medium like any other medium and there are great stories that can be told in comics. There are amazing sci-fi epics that are told in comics. There are amazing mysteries that are told in comics. You know, just - I mean any, any kind of...
I mean comics are not just limited to superhero comics, although superhero comics, in and of themselves are fantastic, the same way great superhero movies are fantastic. I mean there's, you know, great narratives of adventure and heroism that are just a kick in the pants. They're fun. Hulk smash.
PAK: And - So, you know, so there's that. But there's also the fact that comics can do anything. I mean, my - I, I've been really lucky in my Marvel career to have a chance to work on big crazy "Hulk" smash-tastic adventures. As well as - I mean and then I wrote a book called "Magneto Testament" which is Magneto's origin story. And it is - It's a holocaust story and there's no super heroics - there's no superpowers in the story.
It's - And, and we told a historically accurate story of a kid coming of age, in Germany and Poland, during the rise of the Nazis. Struggling to keep his family alive. And, you know, the fact that there was room for that kind of story in, in the Marvel universe and in comic is just - You know, I mean that's a great thing. There's such a variety of stuff.
EISENBERG: Yeah. Now, I mean, that does sound amazing. And the added bonus, I guess, is that you work with an artist.
PAK: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean artists are amazing. I mean there, there's nothing like turning in a comic script and, and the next couple of days starting to get these pencils back where an artist has sort of breathed life into everything. I mean that's, that's a huge part of the fun of working in comics. It's just that collaborative creative energy.
EISENBERG: And what is "Vision Machine"?
EISENBERG: This is the current project.
EISENBERG: A series for you.
PAK: Yeah "Vision Machine." It's a sci-fi story that is actually available for free. You can download it for free at visionmachine.net. It's a graphic novel that imagines the world 50 years from now, with all of the social, political and all of the changes that will come about because of advances in personal technology.
The high concept is that Sprout Computers has introduced its latest and greatest piece of world changing technology called the iEye. That's I and then E Y E.
EISENBERG: I can't believe that wasn't taken yet.
PAK: And it's, it's yeah - It's a pair of glasses. You put it on. Anything that you can see, you can record just by looking at it and thinking about it. You can edit it instantly, just by thinking about it. You can add special effects. You can upload it. Share it with the world at YouTube, Digital Video, Twitter, all these things at the speed of thought. And it's this incredible boon for media makers because, suddenly you can make the movie that's in your head.
There are people who can actually imagine - Like you're dream - You can actually literally put your dreams into this thing and make them come to life. And so it's fantastic. And then of course the other shoe drops, because there's this whole panoply of copyright, trademark enforcement/infringement issues as well as massive surveillance and privacy issues. So it turns into a kind of a crazy sci-fi thriller. But - And it's all going to happen, probably in five years.
EISENBERG: Sure. No I mean, I'm looking...
PAK: So, so read it now to see where you're going.
EISENBERG: I'm looking forward to just being a head in a jar of formaldehyde. Like wouldn't that be better? That'll be so much easier. All right. So I have to ask you this question. It's - I know it's very standard but it's very important to ask. Which is, as a writer of comic books, if you had a superhero power, what would it be?
And just so you know what mine would be, I'm modeling myself after a character I read in "Archie Double Digests" called Cricket and what Cricket could do was she could smell you and tell you how much money you had on you.
PAK: I, I actually - You know, if I had any superpower, it would be to understand any language.
EISENBERG: Oh yeah.
PAK: Any language at all. And to, to be able to communicate in any language, including the language of animals.
EISENBERG: Oh ho.
PAK: And machines. That would be my superpower.
EISENBERG: I have a great respect for your intelligence, because that is a beautiful answer. That was like you responding with poetry.
PAK: Well I also like smelling money too, so.
EISENBERG: There you go. Now you enjoy a game and you like challenges.
PAK: Yes I do.
EISENBERG: All right. So then I will ask you Greg, are you ready to take an ASK ME ANOTHER trivia challenge?
PAK: I am.
EISENBERG: Fantastic. Let's give him a hand. Greg Pak everybody.
EISENBERG: Welcome back Art Chung, thanks for joining us.
ART CHUNG: Thank you Ophira.
EISENBERG: Now, Art Chung you are one big comic book nerd right?
CHUNG: I resemble that remark yes.
EISENBERG: Good. So I'm glad that you - we have you on stage. Now Greg, we have a lot of comic book fans in our audience. And we really searched to find someone that would be a worthy contestant for you in this game. And I think we did quite well. Let's welcome Dean Haspiel everybody.
EISENBERG: Dean, you know something about comic books I believe, right? Something like - Because you are what? A Emmy award winner?
DEAN HASPIEL: Yeah. I've won an Emmy which is odd because that has nothing to do with comics.
EISENBERG: But it was for your...
HASPIEL: But, but it was for the HBO Show, "Bored To Death" which I provided all the artwork for and the opening credit sequence.
EISENBERG: That opening credit sequence is amazing.
HASPIEL: Thank you.
EISENBERG: Amazing. Have you drawn superheroes?
HASPIEL: I've drawn for Marvel and D.C. I've run the gamete between book publishers and com book publishers, memoir and superhero.
EISENBERG: So you've done it all, is what you're saying.
HASPIEL: I've done it all.
PAK: I'm in trouble.
EISENBERG: Good. I'm glad you feel that way. You're a little nervous?
PAK: I am. I'm sweating.
EISENBERG: Dean, do you feel nervous?
HASPIEL: Not at all.
EISENBERG: OK. So obviously, the Marvel universe is full of amazing heroes, evil villains. But we don't want to forget about the little creatures and by that I mean the animals.
EISENBERG: That's right. From super powered pets to giant monsters, there's so many fun quirky Marvel critters that deserve our love and recognition. And in this game, we're going to ask you questions about the Marvel animal kingdom.
HASPIEL: Oh boy.
EISENBERG: Are you guys ready?
PAK: All right.
EISENBERG: OK. Perfect. The Scrolls are a race of alien shape shifters with a bad habit of invading Earth. Bad. Way back in "Fantastic Four" issue two, who doesn't have that framed? "The Fantastic Four" capture a group of Scroll spies and thwart their invasion plans. Because it's clear, no prison can hold shape shifters. Der. How does Mr Fantastic neutralize these aliens? Dean.
HASPIEL: He turns them into cows.
EISENBERG: Of course, he turns them into cows.
HASPIEL: Thank you.
PAK: Hamburger meat.
EISENBERG: The human mutant known as Squirrel Girl - Sounds pretty harmless. But she's defeated both Dr Doom and Wolverine in battle. Which is not one of her squirrel based powers? Buck teeth that can chew through wood? The ability to understand and speak squirrel language? Or extra large cheeks where she stores her weapons?
CHUNG: Oh I think Greg.
PAK: Extra large cheeks where she stores her weapons.
EISENBERG: Correct. That is right.
HASPIEL: I was going to say all three, but, so much I know.
EISENBERG: Yeah. As it turns out, she has a utility belt full of nuts for her squirrel friends and calls it her nut sacks.
CHUNG: Sadly that's true. That's absolutely true.
EISENBERG: Nothing I can do about that. In an alternate universe, a spider was bitten by a radioactive pig and became a superhero known as Spiderham.
EISENBERG: What is Spiderham's secret identity? Dean.
HASPIEL: Peter Porker.
EISENBERG: Peter Porker is correct.
EISENBERG: A Marvel fan favorite is the pet of the Inhumans and is the leader of the Pet Avengers. A giant bulldog named Lockjaw. Besides having super jaw strength befitting a dog his size, what is Lockjaw's main superpower.
CHUNG: I'm going to go Greg.
PAK: Shall we say it together?
HASPIEL: Yeah teleportation.
PAK: Teleportation yeah.
EISENBERG: Teleportation, that's right.
EISENBERG: This monster's name supposedly means, he whose limbs shatter mountains and whose back scrapes the Sun. He's actually an alien from the planet Kakaranathara, but was discovered in China many centuries ago. What is the name of this fearsome dragon, created by Stan Lee, whose name was inspired by the 1920s musical, "Chu Chin Chow?"
CHUNG: I think Greg again. You're a little high on the bell.
PAK: Fin Fang Foom.
HASPIEL: Fin Fang Foom.
EISENBERG: Fin Fang Foom.
CHUNG: That is correct.
EISENBERG: Finally. What tiny purple dragon shares his name with a former American aerospace company? Dean.
EISENBERG: Lockheed is right.
PAK: Well done.
HASPIEL: From the X-Men.
EISENBERG: From the X-Men. We are tied.
EISENBERG: Greg and Dean, we have to give you a tiebreaker. Art, go ahead.
CHUNG: Here's your tiebreaker. Ka-Zar, the master of the savage land is often accompanied by his companion, Zabu, the last known living Smilodon. What is a Smilodon? Dean.
CHUNG: Saber-tooth blank?
HASPIEL: There's more to that?
CHUNG: We'll give it to you, saber-tooth cat or tiger, yes.
HASPIEL: The saber-tooth. Oh, OK. Cat or tiger. OK.
EISENBERG: Saber-tooth cat.
HASPIEL: I didn't know that. I didn't know that.
EISENBERG: All right. Looks like Dean Haspiel, you are the winner.
It was a tight match and I would like to award you both with a prize for being our mystery guest and our winner of this hilarious comic book creature quiz. It is a ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube, limited edition.
HASPIEL: Oh, thank you so much.
EISENBERG: All the way from Hungary.
EISENBERG: Thank you guys.
HASPIEL: Thank you.
EISENBERG: How about another hand for our amazing competitor, Dean Haspiel.
EISENBERG: And our incredible mystery guest, Greg Pak.
PAK: Thank you very much.
EISENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.