Mech Cadet Yu: Atypical Asian-Americans In Action
Jun 16, 2017
by Vince Brusio
As more Asian Americans immigrated to the United States in the late 20th century, new generations of Asian Americans wanted to change their stereotype on television. For Greg Pak, it would become a desire that he would make reality. Some day he would be crafting his own stories like those he watched on TV, and his writing would be layered with people like him, which did not fit into the cookie-cutter characters so typically found in the cartoons he watched in his living room. With the release of Mech Cadt Yu from BOOM! Studios (JUN171288), Greg has taken his love for giant robots to show a new landscape and battlefield that he feels is long overdue in comics.
Vince Brusio: Greg, in a short essay that appears in the June PREVIEWS catalog, you’ve said that you have this fond love of giant robots. What types of movies, TV, or cartoons did you enjoy growing up that brought about this affection? What was it about this genre of storytelling that appealed to you, and made you want to try your hand at it?
Greg Pak: I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s playing with Micronauts, watching Star Wars movies, and reading stories like Ray Bradbury’s “I Sing the Body Electric.” Fictional robots were always around me—and I just loved ‘em. I think one of the big appeals is that stories about robots and artificial intelligence often end up exploring the discovery of sentience and emotion and the big questions of why we exist, which of course are the essential human questions, right? So, telling robot stories often become a way to explore essential human questions while cutting loose with really fun genre hijinks.
So, this robot obsession came to a head in the early 2000s when I wrote and directed a feature film called Robot Stories that featured four stories about families and couples struggling with the things families and couples struggle with—but with a robot twist. And Mech Cadet Yu came about because I had some other robot stories in my head that were a bit too huge in scale to manage in a small indie movie.
Vince Brusio: What do you mean when you say that you’re happy to be “writing multi-dimensional Asian American lead characters”? What do the cosmetics looks like for such characters? How will they be different from, say, stereotypical lead characters?
Greg Pak: I grew up as an Asian-American kid who constantly rolled his eyes at a long, long series of stereotypical depictions of Asians that I saw on television and film. And then I remember my mind exploding when I was in high school and saw Peter Wang’s independent feature film A Great Wall, which told the story of a Chinese-American family that visits China. It’s just a fun, family comedy, but it was the first time I’d ever seen an everyday Asian-American family front and center with all the flaws and foibles of everyone else in the movies.
An ongoing mission for me has been to tell stories where Asian-American characters have a chance to live and breathe and have an emotional arc and be awesome and flawed and not just be jokes in the background for someone else’s story. Mech Cadet Yu gives me a fantastic chance to do that, with multiple Asian-American characters in very different roles doing very different things in interesting ways.
Vince Brusio: You’ve worked with Takeshi Miyazawa on several projects, but this is your first “giant robot” story together, correct? So did this project raise the bar for you two? Does Mech Cadet Yu take your work relationship as a creative team to a different level? Or is it because you two are so in sync with one another because of past collaborations that you were ready to produce such a story?
Greg Pak: A few years back, Tak and I worked together on a 10-page story called “Los Robos” that was part of Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology. So we’ve already had a great chance to dig deep into this world and these characters. But yes, I think every project Tak and I work on together raises the bar a little. I LOOOOVE working with Tak—he’s one of those artists who just sees things the way I see ’em. He gets all the emotional nuance of the scenes I write, totally understands the understated humor as well as the big action. But I’ve got a feeling that this project in particular hits a bunch of Tak’s buttons. He loves giant robot stories and is doing an absolutely tremendous job with the design and action work.
Vince Brusio: Tell us about Stanford Yu. There must be something special about him if he went from the guy who takes out the garbage to the guy who gets picked to bond with a giant robot. Is he likable? Is he frustrating? Does he have a long road ahead of him? Does he have any support?
Greg Pak: I love this kid. He’s a classic underdog—the janitor’s kid who no one thinks about much at all, particularly at this elite academy full of privileged kids who have been tracked to become giant robot pilots. But he’s a fixer, someone who loves to tinker and make things work — which we’ll see pay off in more ways than one over the course of our story. He’s got a scrappy spirit that won’t quit, and when he gets his big chance, he’s ready for it. He’s a fun character for me to write right now in part because he’s a bit of an innocent — he’s a young kid who’s up against tremendous odds and who’s struggling to figure things out, but whose heart is always in the right place.
Stanford is different in interesting ways from the jaded badasses I’m writing in Weapon X or the cocky hero I’m writing in Totally Awesome Hulk. I love writing all these characters, of course. But it’s awesome to have that kind of variety on my plate when I dive into work each day.
Vince Brusio: Mech Cadet Yu is being tagged as a great fit for fans of Pacific Rim and Amadeus Cho. Could you elaborate on these comparisons? What are the qualities or the mechanics of Mech Cadet Yu that will appeal to such fans?
Greg Pak: Tak and I were the original creators of Amadeus Cho, and Stanford’s another young Asian-American comic book hero, so there’s a bit of a hook for Amadeus fans right there. And both characters have a ton of energy and both storylines mix sheer fun with genuine emotional drama, so I’m guessing that Amadeus fans will get a big kick out of this storyline.
And Pacific Rim is another recent project that dealt with giant robots fighting monsters, so if you dig that kind of action, you might want to pay close attention. I’d go a step further with the goofy Hollywood pitch and say if you dig Pacific Rim and Harry Potter, you’re gonna love this story. We’ve got kids in a giant robot pilot’s academy who take on alien monsters. What Is Not To Love, I Ask You?
Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.