There Is Quite A Lot Of Farting: Greg Pak On His New Children’s Book, ‘ABC Disgusting’
Comics readers are probably most familiar with Greg Pak as the writer of DC's Action Comics and Batman/Superman, but over the past year, he's been making an interesting move into an entirely new field: Children's books. After launching a Kickstarter for a picture book version of The Princess Who Saved Herself, based on the Jonathan Coulton song of the same name, Pak and artist Takeshi Miyazawa are teaming up once again for a new project: ABC Disgusting, an alphabetical chronicle of a young boy trying his best to gross out his sister.
This week, Pak and Miyazawa launched a new Kickstarter to fund ABC Disgusting, and I talked to him about why he wanted to take on a different medium, his thoughts on the grossest elements of the book, and how many farts readers can expect. And in case you can't wait for the answer to that last one, I can assure you: So many farts.
ComicsAlliance: For starters, what exactly is ABC Disgusting?
Greg Pak: ABC Disgusting is an alphabet book that follows a kid who's trying to drive his sister crazy with a series of disgusting things, but she turns the tables on him with the most disgusting thing of all.
It's a kind of follow up to The Princess Who Saved Herself, a children's book I wrote based on the beloved song by Jonathan Coulton. I had so much fun working on that thing I wanted to immediately do another picture book, and I hooked in Tak Miyazawa to draw, Jessica Kholinne to color, and Simon Bowland to letter. That's the art team from Princess Who Saved Herself and Code Monkey. I just love that team and I knew they'd nail ABC Disgusting. When I sent Tak the script, he immediately emailed back and said he was in. He just got it. So now we're doing a Kickstarter!
CA: I take it that doing The Princess Who Saved Herself was a pretty good experience for you, then?
GP: It was awesome. First, I just loved the challenge of doing a kids' picture book. It's all about taking a small idea and exploring it in a pretty compact space. Poetry more than a novel, right? So that was a blast and very satisfying, and then writing for kids and seeing their reactions is just amazing. Just about nothing better.
CA: As opposed to superhero comics, which are usually meant to be these really long-form stories that never quite end?
GP: Well, I've actually been very lucky in superhero comics to work on massive epics that actually had real endings. With both my Hulk books and then the Hercules books I co-wrote with Fred Van Lente, I was able to build to a real, satisfying conclusion for the characters and themes I'd built over year, so that's insanely fun work as well. But my brain works in different ways for different stories. So it's been great delving into kids' books. Exercising different muscles.
CA: Right, and you've worked in film, too, which I imagine makes for a whole other approach.
GP: Exactly. Different sizes and kinds of stories in all those different media.
CA: Was there any new challenge to doing a picture book that you didn't anticipate? The campaign for The Princess Who Saved Herself was obviously very successful, but in terms of actually writing the book, did it all come together the way you expected?
GP: Yeah, the experience was pretty fantastic. It helped that Jonathan's original song set up the character beautifully. It established her critical dramatic modus operandi. In the song, the Princess encounters a problem, kicks its butt if she has to. But then she listens and learns and figures out how to reach out. She typically ends up solving the problem by opening the circle, so to speak. Listening, finding out what's really going on, and working with her "opponent" to fix things.
So right there from the song, I had the character beats of the story. My job was to figure out what the bone of contention was going to be, flesh out the plot, and bring it all home, but that's much easier to do when you know who your main character is and what the story's all about.
CA: Was it harder this time around?
GP: So far it's going pretty well, knock on wood! When I was thinking about what kind of kids' book I wanted to do next, I found myself thinking about stuff that made me laugh as a kid. And that led me to chuckling all over again about disgusting stuff. And it occurred to me that you could do a pretty funny alphabet book of disgusting things. So here we are!
But I still needed an emotional story to thread through there, because that's just the way my mind wants to work, so it becomes this story of this brother and sister vying with each other. And there's a kind of almost heartwarming moment that it builds to. So it'll gross you out and warm your heart.
One thing that Tak and I did discover, though, was that we couldn't just do it in the same style of art as The Princess Who Saved Herself. This project wanted a slightly different look, a touch more cartoony. Tak had done these amazing, lively, cartoony layouts, which he'd generally refine and make more realistic at the pencilling stage, but that cartoonier look just worked so well for the characters and theme, we stuck with it for the finished art. I love it.
CA: I'm tempted to ask what the "most disgusting thing of all" that you mentioned is, but I imagine that would be a spoiler.
GP: I imagine each individual person will find a different page of the book to be the most disgusting. We've got something for everybody! Farts, lampreys, mayonnaise milkshakes, rats at a roller derby, zombies and zorillas... Poo on your shoe. Did I mention poo on your shoe?
GP: Skunk-like animals whose name conveniently starts with a "Z." Very handy under these circumstances.
CA: That's a real thing?
GP: Dang straight. We're educational, here!
CA: For certain values of "educational."
GP: I know it sounds ridiculous, but gross-out books actually can have high educational value. There are kids who just won't read. But they might pick up a book with farts in it. And then they're reading. And everything good in education begins with reading.
CA: Did you learn anything while writing? Aside from the fact that zorillas are real animals, I mean.
GP: Yes. I learned about Oregon Giant Earthworms. Which are, shockingly enough, giant earthworms from Oregon.
CA: How giant are we talking here?
GP: Allow me to quote Wikipedia: "Like its cousin, the giant Palouse earthworm (Driloleirus americanus) of Washington, this species can grow to lengths in excess of three feet and up to an inch in width."
CA: I have often maintained that the West Coast is a horrifying nightmare hellscape, so thank you for confirming that.
GP: You clearly need to buy this book so you can learn about all the other disgusting things you need to avoid.
CA: So this is the second children's book that you've done in, what, a year?
GP: This and The Princess Who Saved Herself. But if this Kickstarter goes well, I'm hoping I can keep going with it. Making these books is a blast.
CA: Does this represent a shift in your career away from comics and towards another medium, or is this something that you feel like you can keep doing simultaneously?
GP: Oh, I'm all about doing things simultaneously. Like I said, I have a bunch of different stories in my head. Different stories want to play out in different media. So now I've got another venue for certain kinds of stories. But a huge part of my brain is totally invested in and committed to telling the stories I'm telling in comics. I love all these different kinds of stories and genres.
CA: So it's not a difficult balance? You don't find yourself accidentally writing stories where Superman finds poo on his shoe?
GP: Ha! I'm furiously scribbling a note-to-self: "Action #50 supersized POO SHOE crossover storyline." No, it's all cool. Back in the day, I was writing Magneto: Testament at the same time as Incredible Hercules. It's great to have different kinds of stories going at the same time. My brain likes that kind of variety.
CA: Can you share any other details of the storyline in ABC Disgusting?
GP: Well, I don't want to spoil too much. I will say there are zombies.
CA: You've mentioned.
GP: Wait. Farting. Did I mention the farting? There's quite a lot of it. For the kids.