Greg Pak on writing beyond stereotypes
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The Los Angeles Times puts a premium on bringing in journalists with varied backgrounds and life experiences, which is one of the reasons it is such a fascinating place to work. One of the newest writers here is Corina Knoll, who was born in Korea, raised in Iowa and schooled in Minnesota. She sent over this Q&A with Greg Pak for Hero Complex.
Amadeus Cho is a trash-talking teen who rides a scooter while cradling his coyote pup. He also happens to be the seventh smartest person in the world, a quality that comes in handy when he’s backing up his friend, the Marvel Comics man-god Hercules. (Being good with numbers means you can do things like send an alien electromagnetic pulse to a government computer and force its chasing heli-carriers to plummet to the ground ...)
But the most unusual thing about boy genius Cho? He’s Korean American.
In the mainstream comics universe, Asian American characters are relatively rare, and when they do show up, they usually aren’t a fully formed central character, which is why filmmaker and writer Greg Pak (‘World War Hulk’) jumped at the chance to create one. Encouraged by Marvel to reimagine its old characters, Pak envisioned Cho as an updated version of Master Mind Excello -- the pre-cog hero who was all but forgotten (and with good reason -- his only appearances were in two issues of ‘Mystic Comics’ back in 1940) and was then revived by J. Michael Straczynski as a member of ‘The Twelve’ in 2007.
After Pak, whose father is Korean, developed the back story and artist Takeshi Miyazawa brought the teen to life, Cho debuted in the modern “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15 in January 2006. The backpack-sporting kid went on to appear in “The Incredible Hulk” and is now starring in “The Incredible Hercules,” co-written by Pak and Fred Van Lente. (As anyone following the Hulk’s book knows, the hero of Greek myth has taken over for the M.I.A. green guy for the foreseeable future.)
CK: Let’s talk about why you wanted to create a Korean American character.
GP: I’ve always thought it was particularly fun when you take a genre or story that doesn’t have anything to do with Asian American issues and then you cast that story with Asian American characters. Sometimes it allows for almost a more subtle kind of commentary that can come out of almost surprising or unexpected ways. We didn’t throw Amadeus out there like, “Here is the latest and greatest Asian American character: It’s Asian Man!” The hook was, this is a great conflicted character with a fun attitude, a good sort of Marvel-esque tragic back story, a big learning curve ahead of him and some dramatic potential.
CK: So why the name “Amadeus”?
GP: I thought of Asian American families giving their kids crazy names like Stanford and Harvard, and I just thought it was a fun idea that this family would name their kid Amadeus because they want or know he’s going to be a genius.
CK: Amadeus could be seen as the model minority stereotype.
GP: A lot of the negativity of the Asian American stereotype involves a feeling of passivity -- that Asian Americans are inscrutable machines that will turn out data and success like computers. Amadeus wears his emotions on his sleeve most of the time and so his whole manner of being is different from that stereotype of the Asian American genius who goes to Harvard and studies math and science.
CK: Did you find that in creating a character of color, you had to justify his ethnicity?
GP: No, I just wrote the character as a normal Asian American kid. Questions of identity and race are critical because race remains a reality and dealing with that is part of how we make our way through the world, but at the same time I think there’s a huge amount of value in just telling stories about people who are human beings first and foremost.
CK: Asian American characters are not as common in pop culture as characters from Asia. Do you carry a burden when you’re behind one of the few out there?
GP: There’s still a dearth of Asian American characters out there who are allowed to live and breathe as three-dimensional people. There’s absolutely room for more. I think it would be a terrible thing if Amadeus Cho was the only Asian American character. I don’t think any character should try to sustain the hopes and dreams of an entire people.
CK: What can we expect from Amadeus? Any superpower that will be revealed?
GP: We’re building a giant story arc for him that will pay off in a big way. He works well as part of a buddy book, but he’s not just there for dressing or to throw out a quip or two. We’ve never defined exactly where he gets his smarts -- maybe he’s just better at using the natural brain power we all have. Who knows? Keep on reading.
-- Corina Knoll
Does that striking image on the Hercules by Art Adams cover look familiar? Yes, of course, it’s a tribute to the great Jim Steranko cover to ‘The Incredible Hulk Special’ No. 1 from 40 years ago.
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All images courtesy of Marvel Comics