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Comics, Diversity and Representation: Greg Pak on Media That Matters

Greg PakAs we count down the days until Media That Matters 2014, check the CMSI blog to learn more about our #MTMDC panelists and why they engage with media that matters. 

Filmmaker and comic book writer Greg Pak will be speaking at Media That Matters 2014 on the panel Image Matters: Graphic ways to visualize policy, history, news and more. Here is his story. 

1. What do you do? How is your work breaking new ground?

I'm a comic book writer and filmmaker best known for Marvel books like PLANET HULK and MAGNETO TESTAMENT, DC books like ACTION COMICS and BATMAN/SUPERMAN, and my creator-owned books like CODE MONKEY SAVE WORLD and VISION MACHINE. I also directed the feature film ROBOT STORIES and a ton of shorts, including "Asian Pride Porn" and "Mister Green."

I'm just trying to tell good, fun, emotionally compelling stories as well as I can. I have a special interest in diversity and representation and have made a special effort to cast all my comics and films with a wide range of people.

2. How did you get where you are? What have you done in the past?

I've written short stories and drawn since I was a little kid. But I studied politics and worked for Ann Richards while she was running for Governor of Texas when I graduated from college. Then I went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, ostensibly to study history so I could become a better politician. But I got involved with a student filmmaking group and all the lights went on. After Oxford, I entered the NYU graduate film program, made a ton of shorts, then shot my feature film ROBOT STORIES and moved sideways into writing comic books, which I've been very happily doing for ten years.

3. What current or future projects do you want to tell us about?

I've just finished the CODE MONKEY SAVE WORLD graphic novel, a supervillain/monkey team-up based on the songs of Internet superstar musician Jonathan Coulton. You can buy the individual issues digitally at Comixology.com.

This Wednesday, February 5, the first issue of my new TUROK series hits comic shops. This is a revival by Dynamite Comics of an old Gold Key character from the 1950s -- a Native American who fights dinosaurs. That's right. HE FIGHTS DINOSAURS. I'm thrilled about this book, because it's a blast to write about someone who fights dinosaurs, but also because we're doing some crazy world-building and delving into fun alternate-history hijinks and because the lead of the book is a Native American hero. That's a ridiculously rare thing in comics (or any other media) these days, and I'm thrilled to have the chance to jump on it.

I'd also love to plug the VISION MACHINE comic book and iPad app. The graphic novel was funded by the Ford Foundation to serve as a tool to help independent media makers imagine the social, political, and technological changes that will affect our work over the next fifty years. The iPad app was funded by ITVS and includes a full voice and music soundtrack, animation, and supplemental info and interviews with smart people like Andy Ihnatko, Jonathan Coulton, and Jennifer Jenkins of Duke University's Center for the Study of the Public Domain. The comic book can be downloaded for free from VisionMachine.net and the app can be downloaded for free at iTunes.

4. What do you think makes media a powerful tool for change?

Most people don't change because of reason. They change because of emotional experience. Movies and films and comics and stories in general provide emotional experiences and thus have a real chance of moving people's hearts.

5. Have you personally experienced a situation in which media made a positive difference? Tell us about it.

Every day. On a private, personal level, I'm always taking comfort or gaining insight or resolve from some form of storytelling in some form of media.

As a media maker, the best moments I have are when people tell me that something I've written or directed moved them in some way. A few weeks ago, a teacher used a short adventure comic I wrote about a kid and his giant robot called "Los Robos" in her classroom and got her kids to design their own robots. She told me one of her kids said it was the greatest thing ever, which pretty much made my week. That sounds pretty small, and maybe it is, but I love the idea that something I've done made a kid excited in school. I've been similarly thrilled when teachers have used VISION MACHINE and MAGNETO TESTAMENT in their classes.

6. Why do you want to speak at Media That Matters? 

We're living in a time when independent storytellers have a huge number of options about exactly what kind of media to use to do their work. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences working in film, comics, the Internet, and apps, and I'm thrilled to learn from the other panelists and attendees about the kinds of things they're doing.

Meet Greg and other innovative media makers at the Media That Matters conference this February. If you haven't signed up yet, visit the registration page.