As the final hours tick down on the Swords of the Swashbucklers kickstarter project, we've got one more interview. This time we talk to Planet Hulk writer Greg Pak about the influences Bill Mantlo had on him as a comic fan and then as a writer. The writer explains exactly how Mantlo's time on the Hulk shaped what we saw years later from Pak.
If you haven't checked out the Swords of the Swashbuckler project, it's coming down to the wire and the last stretch goal if reached would fund a new comic project with royalties going to creators Mantlo and Jackson 'Butch' Guice. Mantlo has been able to move out from a nursing facility to his own home thanks to an agreement with Marvel, but he still needs 24 hour care and every bit helps.
DAN WICKLIE: Rom, Micronauts, Swords of the Swashbucklers, Cloak & Dagger, Rocket Raccoon, Invasion… Bill Mantlo was responsible for some of the most beloved characters and storylines in comics from 1975 through the late 1980s. What was your first experience with his work?
GREG PAK: I was a huge Micronauts fan back in the day and the run he did with Michael Golden was my favorite comic of all time for many years. If I remember correctly, MICRONAUTS #3 was my first exposure to his work. Check out the image below — that's a scan of my actual copy of the book, which I read and reread a million times as a kid.
DW: As a creator, did Bill's work have any influence on you? Which series or storyline had the biggest impact on you and your work?
GP: Mantlo's MICRONAUTS series made a huge impression on me as a kid. It was so big and loopy and epic and yet so emotionally intimate. I just loved it.
Years later, Mantlo's INCREDIBLE HULK run was a big influence on my depiction of Bruce Banner when I was writing the Hulk myself. In particular, I loved Mantlo's CROSSROADS storyline, especially issue #312, in which he explored Bruce's horrific childhood and the history of abuse that had such an effect on him. That history and emotion played a huge role in how I wrote Banner's relationship with his alien barbarian son Skaar, and I ended my run on the Hulk in issue #635 by dedicating the entire run to Mantlo.
DW: What is it about Bill's work that made it different and unique among the books being produced at the time? What do you think was his greatest strength as a writer?
GP: I love how unabashedly emotional Mantlo's stories were and how fearless he was at embracing a big, gonzo idea and making it incredible. I think it's easy in superhero comics for writers to work out of fear, to try to avoid making mistakes or being goofy or whatever. I get the sense that Mantlo didn't give a damn; he was just going to tell the biggest, most fun, and most emotional stories he could, and I absolutely love that.
DW: Since his tragic accident was over twenty-five years ago, a good number of today's comic readers may have never read his work or only know him through his creations like Rocket Raccoon or Cloak & Dagger. What series or story would you suggest would best showcase Bill's talent and why?
GP: I'd recommend the first big epic MICRONAUTS storyline and the Hulk CROSSROADS issues. The Micronauts books are probably only available in back issues, alas. But Marvel put out a collection of the CROSSROADS storyline a while back that should be pretty easy to find.
DW: Bill was a comic creator for over fifteen years and was also practicing law at the time of the hit and run. In an instant, his entire life changed. How does his personal story affect you or influence your decisions for your own life as a creator?
GP: I think all freelancers feel a bit of that "There but for the grace of God" feeling every time we read about any other freelancer who's fallen on hard times. And these days, with health care so up in the air, all of us are going to be vulnerable. So I try to pay attention to the business as much as I do to the art of my work. And I try to help groups like the Hero Initiative and Dynamite's work here that will help fellow creators who are down on their luck.
DW: Being a comic creator is living life without a safety net. There are groups like the Hero Initiative, or the folks behind the Swords of the Swashbucklers kickstarter, that are trying to help creators like Bill. But is there more that can be done to help the people who created so many of the characters we still enjoy today?
GP: Give wherever you can and wherever you're comfortable. We're going to see a ton more GoFundMe campaigns in the next months and years, and I know it can be easy to zone out. But particularly if a creator has given you joy, please do consider kicking in and spreading the word. And when you learn about policies that will affect our ability to provide for our health and future, call the politicians who represent you and tell them where you stand and what you expect them to do. Calling your reps is one of the most powerful things you can do to make a change — reps don't typically get that many calls and they pay close attention when they start to hear from a lot of constituents. And of course, register to vote and vote. Every call and every vote absolutely matter.