AF.net: Fred, Greg, I'd like to thank you both for joining me for this AlphaFlight.net interview.
Fred Van Lente: Thanks for having us.
Greg Pak: Our pleasure! Thanks so much for all the excitement you've been drumming up on the site.
AF.net: That's what we're there for Leading up to this series, you have both shown yourselves to be true Alpha Flight fans. I'd love to hear a bit about your early Alpha Flight experiences, and what got you so interested in the title.
Fred Van Lente: I got hooked with #5 of the original series, with Puck leaping off the cover. As a kid I bought comics right off the spinner rank at my local drug store in the small town of Chagrin Falls Ohio (not a joke name, I swear).
Greg Pak: I bought that first Byrne number one back in the day and loved the original team.
Fred Van Lente: I had grown up on reprints of the original Lee, Kirby and Ditko Marvels, so I was kind of spoiled and didn't read a lot of the "legacy books" -- your Amazing Spider-Mans and so forth, at least not consistently. I liked trying new things. On the DC side, I tried "Firestorm" and "Batman and the Outsiders." But "Alpha Flight" was a unique obsession. Partly it was Byrne's art -- whoever inked that solo Puck story really made him sing -- now I want to look it up on line and see who that is.
AF.net: I think Byrne himself inked that one
Greg Pak: Yeah, Byrne really hit a home run with the character designs. I'm so thick that only this year did I notice that starburst motif that he worked into many of the costumes. A great, dynamic yet subtle way to hold together this diverse group of characters.
Fred Van Lente: I literally read that comic until it fell apart. So I read Alpha obsessively from that point on. I got a subscription which, of course, started with Mantlo & Mignola's first issue -- as soon as Byrne left. My typical luck! Not that Mantlo and Mignola aren't great, but they weren't Byrne, particularly to me pre-high school eyes. And for some reason the Pestilence storyline really turned me off, the one where they killed Snowbird. Greg often kids me about my love for Snowbird. It never really occurred to me before, but now that I think of it I think I really started losing interest in the series when she got killed off.
Greg Pak: Heh. That's like my shock when I picked up "Micronauts" #13 and Michael Golden was gone. Reread it recently and the Chaykin art is actually phenomenal. But yeah, kid-me was expecting Golden.
Yes, Fred and Snowbird are sitting in a tree... Although I think Fred's throwing her over for Marrina these days.
AF.net: Maybe we can get Dale do draw a nice pic of Fred and Birdy in that tree.
Fred Van Lente: Other highlights from that period were Claremont and Smith's amazing "X-Men/Alpha Flight" 2-parter ... and Lousie Simonson wrote a great Marvel Team-Up Annual with them. Did June Brigman draw that? Am I remembering that wrong? [EDITORS NOTE: Marvel Team-Up Annual #7 with art by Paul Neary & a cover by Byrne] Psyched June is drawing the HERC Spider-Island arc (#7-8 ) BTW... Anyway, I tracked everything down. Including their Marvel Two-in-One appearance! We may be revisiting that appearance in fact... (cryptic hint)
AF.net: Has working on an Alpha Flight title been something you've wanted to do for a while?
Greg Pak: Hee! (Take it away, Fred.)
Fred Van Lente: You know what's funny is, Alpha Flight is such a beloved property within Marvel, and the kind of thing writers pitch for on a weekly basis ("Cloak & Dagger" is probably the only thing it competes with) I never really thought I would get a chance to pitch for because I just assumed some other guy would get it way before me.
Although a lot of the elements in this current relaunch came from ideas my longtime collaborator Steve Ellis and I kicked around back in the 1990s -- before I "went pro" we were going to pitch an Alpha-on-the-lam series called ... wait for it ... "Omega Flight". But that never happened, obviously.
Greg Pak: I was fascinated by the idea of a team of superheroes that represent their country -- a whole team of Captain Americas. But in Alpha Flight you have this tremendous diversity, so you have a chance to explore these questions of service and patriotism from many different angles. And in our storyline, we turn everything upside down with their government walking down a road towards fascism. So you have these patriots faced with huge decisions. That's what made me unable to stop thinking about these characters and this story.
AF.net: If you didn't think you'd get your chance at it, how did it come about that you became involved in this new Alpha Flight series? Was this something you pushed for, or were you invited to take part?
Fred Van Lente: It grew directly out of Chaos War. One of the plot elements of that event was Chaos King wiping out all the afterlives and dumping the deceased into our realm. That was just something that was going to happen in the main series, but I joked that we could have our Avengers tie-in be "Dead Avengers." And then I was like, "Hey, I really want to write that..." And then someone, I want to say it was assistant editor Jordan White, said, "We could get an Alpha Flight one-shot out of that," and that developed, of course, into our buds Jim McCann and Reilly Brown's great book. (Since we had the opportunity to bring Guardian, Vindicator, Shaman and Marrina back to life like "the Dead Avengers," that is.) Then, Marvel decided this could be the time to launch the series, since we had the whole team back together again -- and that was really the deal-breaker for Marvel, the feeling that the other relaunches failed because they weren't "The REAL" Alpha Flight -- and they asked us to launch and I was like, "Somebody pinch me!"
Greg Pak: We weren't sure if we would have the chance to actually write an Alpha Flight book later on down the line. But we totally set up the possibility in "Chaos War" for their return. 'Cause we're tricksy like that.
Fred Van Lente: And Greg just heard there was another gamma irradiated guy on the team and it's in his contract he has to write those.
Greg Pak: Yeah. We're turning him green in issue #5. (kidding)
Fred Van Lente: Awesome! He'll be like a giant Oscar the Grouch!
AF.net: Nice If Hulk can be red...why not eh?. Tell me a bit about the creative process between you two with planning and writing the stories?
Fred Van Lente: It's pretty straightforward.
Greg Pak: We get together and hash through storylines.
Fred Van Lente: Greg and I meet either on the phone or for lunch.
Greg Pak: Usually over burgers somewhere.
Fred Van Lente: One of us goes off and writes an outline. The other rewrites it completely.
We fight and scream.
Greg Pak: It's really very cute. Fred snores, though.
Fred Van Lente: One writes the first half, then turns it over to the other to write the second half.
AF.net: Is that something else we should talk to Dale about sketching for us?
Fred Van Lente: If Greg is in Snowbird costume, let's talk. He has to shave first, though. And wear a blonde wig. And be a woman.
Greg Pak: Might be easier for me to go Sasquatch. Sure you don't want to change your obsession?
Fred Van Lente: Then (to continue the serious part of my answer), we pass drafts between the two of us, each rewriting the other until it's a fully 50/50 collaboration.
Greg Pak: It's been pretty much the same process we used since day one of our collaboration on "Incredible Hercules." We hit a good vibe almost immediately and were cheerfully editing each other -- and paying off each other's set ups, etc. It's kind of an awesome thing. An idea that aaalmost works can suddenly come to life when the other guy makes a tiny tweak.
Fred Van Lente: Ben, you were right, Byrne inked himself on v1 #5. http://www.comics.org/issue/38045/
AF.net: Sounds like a good partnership. And I guess regarding vol.1 #5, that explains why the art popped so much to you.
With a sorted history, several re-launches, and dozens of characters, what has it been like to balance history and continuity with accessibility for new readers?
Greg Pak: We've simplified the challenge by resurrecting the classic team.
Fred Van Lente: By refusing to utter the following words ever again:
Greg Pak: And we never mention the where and how of their resurrection in the actual book -- it's a done deal, and they're Canada's heroes. So new readers never have to worry about it.
Wait, what? Elves? Centaurs, too, maybe?
Fred Van Lente: Ben, if you would? I can't bear to type it.
Greg Pak: Okay, just googled it. And forgive me, but that sounds AWESOME.
AF.net: Greg, you didn't know Northstar thought he was an elf for a while? He even hung out in Asgard with a bunch of Fairies.
Fred Van Lente: I will never spoon with you again.
Greg Pak: I'm a sucker for all things D&Dish.
Fred Van Lente: Again to answer the question seriously... ]
Greg Pak: "Winged cats"?
Fred Van Lente: I think as Greg said, the important thing is to introduce Alpha to a new generation of fans. That means giving people the basics for people without them requiring to have a PhD in Flightology to understand the book. This is an "in-continuity re-boot." We're even going back to #1! Thought of making a DC joke in there somewhere, but...nah.
AF.net: Some fans have felt in the past that Alpha Flight has been given the short end of the stick. From poor promotion, to perceived preferential treatment to other titles. Now it seems that Marvel has really been getting behind this title. How have you found the general attitude by Marvel - towards Alpha Flight as a viable entity in the Marvel Universe?
Greg Pak: The inner halls of Marvel are stalked by a number of HUGE "Alpha Flight" fans. A lot of folks are working very hard to make sure word about the book gets out there. We're very lucky and very appreciative.
Fred Van Lente: The challenge has always been to get people off this idea they're "The Canadian Avengers," which just sounds bizarre when you say it like that. It's not like the Avengers are "The American Avengers". They're the world's Avengers.
AF.net: Do you find it a challenge to write a Canadian based book aimed at a mostly U.S. Market?
Fred Van Lente: Sort of. But I think focusing on the Canadianness of it all is the wrong thing. People don't love The New Pornographers because they're Canadian. They love them because they're awesome.
Greg Pak: For me, the trick was to turn the Canada connection into a massive asset by making the Marvel Universe's Canada one of the most dangerous places on the planet.
Fred Van Lente: It's me and Greg's job to put Alpha Flight in positions where they can be awesome. To give them a storyline worthy of the incredible characters they are. We're not running from the Canadian aspect of it. We're embracing it and making Canada and exotic, foreign, exciting land (which it is to us). The setting is as important to our heroes as New York City is to Spider-Man. But if anyone asked you to describe Spider-Man the first thing you'd say wouldn't be, "He's this guy from New York..."
Greg Pak: Yeah. Northstar has long been one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel Universe to me. His identity as a Canadian is just one part of all of the awesomeness that is he. Ditto for Wolverine. And the Guess Who.
AF.net: Have either of you had opportunities to visit us up north in Canada?
Fred Van Lente: I have. I've spent some time in Quebec City and Montreal. At the latter I signed at the 4th Wall, a great store over there -- shout out to Jeff, the manager!
Greg Pak: Been to Toronto a few times. Always in bone-achingly cold November, alas. Much love to the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival and the Toronto Fan Expo, by the way.
AF.net: Tell me a bit about how Dale Eaglesham fit into your creative process? What has he been like to work with?
Greg Pak: Dale and I worked together on "Incredible Hulks" #623 to #625... and we really hit it off. He's a great collaborator... wildly enthusiastic and genuinely excited about the characters and their struggles.
Fred Van Lente: He's über excited to be working on this book, and every page shows his love of the material.
Greg Pak: He did some initial character sketches with brief thoughts about the characters penciled in on the side that I thought were just beautiful.
Fred Van Lente: He and his wonderful wife Louise -- a Quebecer who's handling all our French translations -- are also our ministers of Canadian culture, making sure Greg and I don't embarrass ourselves as ugly 'Mericans. You'll get to see those sketches as a bonus in the back of AF #1, too!
Greg Pak: And we're thoroughly capable of embarrassing ourselves massively, so they've been an amazing and much appreciated resource.
AF.net: So far we have seen covers by both Phil Jimenez and Dale Eaglesham. Can we expect to see variant covers by both artists on several issues?
Fred Van Lente: Yes, on the first four.
Greg Pak: Some very exciting designs in there. Long time "Alpha Flight" fans should be particularly happy to see Dale's cover for issue #2.
AF.net: Ben Oliver's pencils are featured in the 0.1 issue. Was there a reason for his art on this issue instead of Dale's?
Greg Pak: The time crunch required two different artists. But we were thrilled when Ben came on board. I worked with him on the "Hulk: The List" one shot back when and loved his style. And he did a spectacular job with the Point One.
Fred Van Lente: Simple scheduling. Once the decision was made to do a #0 there wasn't enough time left in the schedule for Dale to do it without screwing up the deadlines on the main series.
AF.net: I'd like to discuss characters a bit.
Working on Alpha Flight, what character has been your favourite to write?
Greg Pak: I knew Northstar would be a blast, and he has been. He doesn't care what other people think, which can make for a very fun character to write.
Fred Van Lente: Is "all of them" a cop-out? I like our new, punk rock Marrina. Guardian is the quintessential reluctant hero. Vindicator is a born leader, with more field experience than her husband.
Greg Pak: Walter has been a blast for me, too. He gets to smash things, a la the Hulk. But he gets more jokes. But strangely enough, Guardian may be the character I'm enjoying the most at this instant in time. He's kind of the straight man of the group -- on the surface, the blandest, the most vanilla. But partly inspired by Dale's sketches of a slightly older guy with old battlescars on his face, I've been having fun discovering Guardian's depths. Guardian has a huge amount at stake in this story emotionally. One to watch, folks! Think about it -- he's the guy who's worn the flag the longest.
Fred Van Lente: Shaman is both grounded and world-weary but has this other foot in the ethereal world of animism, it's a great combo. Dale's interpretation of Heather Hudson is pretty awesome, too. It's hard not to love a super hero with freckles.
Greg Pak: And now all of this?
Fred Van Lente: IIIIIIII think Vindicator may actual have worn the flag the longest, in terms of number of sheer comics she's appeared in. Stop dissin' my girl, Pak!
Greg Pak: Ha! But who wore it FIRST, sir?
AF.net: Guardian my have worn the flag the longest, but Heather has worn it the most. Many fans consider Heather to be the most experienced and skilled leader, since Mac spent most of his time being dead. Will we see any power struggle there?
Fred Van Lente: You're seeing one right now, in the writing team! We gotta get this magic on the page!!!
Greg Pak: You're so cute when you make those little fists and pound the table.
Fred Van Lente: IF ONLY I COULD TURN INTO A POLAR BEAR AND SMASH YOU
AF.net: One thing some fans are struggling with is Marrina's new attitude. What's behind this character alteration?
Fred Van Lente: Two things. One, and, hey, maybe this is just me, but I find Marrina either bland and boring, or a raging crazy sea monster manipulated by the Master or Norman Osborn. She's been defined by the men in her life -- first by the Master, then as Namor's love interest. In order to stand on her own two feet as her own character, I felt strongly she needed a complete personality overhaul.
Secondly, and somewhat more importantly, the team initially lacked the spark of youth. The rebelliousness you had with someone like Amadeus Cho in "Incredible Hercules." (Not that everything Greg and I do has to echo "iHerc," but its absence rang really loudly when we were first developing "Alpha Flight.") So it seemed a great way to kill two birds with one stone.
AF.net: So far we have seen many classic Alpha Flight characters showing up in previews and 0.1, with a re-vamped Purple Woman as an antagonist. Can fans expect to see some other characters from Alpha Flight's past return?
Fred Van Lente: Yes. In pretty much every issue, come to think of it.
Greg Pak: Easter eggs! We're definitely focussing on the core, classic team. And new readers shouldn't get worried. But we'll have nice moments with other characters that longtime fans should get kick out of.
Fred Van Lente: Gets to rewriting those Alphanex entries, bud!!!
rAF.net: I can't wait to hunt them all out. So, we've seen Puck on the alternate cover for #2. How the "Hell" is he coming back? Will he re-join the team?
Fred Van Lente: Reading #2 would be a good idea.
Greg Pak: Someone's gonna betray the team, though. WONDER WHO IT WILL BE?
Fred Van Lente: WHO?!?!
Greg Pak: OH LORD I CAN'T BEAR THIS SUSPENSE! I WILL HAVE TO BUY MULTIPLE COPIES OF EACH AND EVERY ISSUE OF THIS WONDERFUL SERIES TO ASSUAGE MY RAGING CURIOSITY!
AF.net: Me too!
Greg Pak: Kidding aside, it's gonna be good, y'all. And please do preorder with your local shop. Preordering is what causes numbers to go up -- and enables books to keep on going.
AF.net: We've been pushing the whole Preorder thing on the site, reminding people constantly.
Greg Pak: You guys are aces. Seriously.
Fred Van Lente: We've seen, and appreciate it greatly.
AF.net: Did you have any trouble stealing Northstar away from the X-Men?
Fred Van Lente: You'll still see him in X-Men from time to time, is my understanding, but Alpha is his main home, I believe.
AF.net: Though times have changed since Northstar first "came out" in vol.1 #106, did you struggle at all in dealing with his sexuality, bringing in his romance with Kyle?
Greg Pak: Nope. It's part of who he is. So it's part of the story.
Fred Van Lente: Did you read the bit about spooning above? Kyle is a huge part of our story. In many ways, Northstar's arc is the most important part of the story. As many readers no doubt noted, he is not actually a member of Alpha when the series opens.
AF.net: I did indeed note that, but figure he'll come "Home" soon enough. What about his sister, has Aurora really been in therapy? Is she a messed up "chick" or what?
Fred Van Lente: She had been. That was implied in the great "Dark X-Men" Aurora story not so long ago, penned by ... former Alpha scribe Simon Furman, am I remembering that right? [EDITORS NOTE: DARK X-MEN: THE BEGINNING #3 BY SI SPURRIER] If you've seen Phil's cover to #3, though, you've seen that ... maaaaaay not be going so well. (Wait. Have they released those covers yet?)
Greg Pak: Hee! Teaser!
Fred Van Lente: Short answer: Yes, her struggles with mental illness continue. And may play a huge part in this story, particularly the way they're backed against the wall.
AF.net: The political undertone has been made fairly clear. This is similar (though certainly quite different) to the angle taken by Stephen Seagle in Alpha Flight volume 2, and it's drawn out nature is largely considered to be what lead to that series' cancellation. How are do you plan to handle this topic more successfully?
Fred Van Lente: I can't comment on the Seagle run as I haven't read it, but I do like Seagle very much as a writer.
Greg Pak: Ditto. I can say that we have eight issues to tell our tale. And we have a definite beginning, middle and end planned for this particular story.
AF.net: Some mention has been made to the possibility of a continuance of the series. Understandably sales and advanced orders play a large role in this happening. From your communication with Marvel, can fans realistically get their hopes up?
Greg Pak: As various Marvel editors have said in the past, when you buy a lot of a kind of book, Marvel tends to make more of 'em.
Fred Van Lente: It's a rough market. So I don't want to get anyone's hopes unnecessarily elevated. But there's a tremendous amount of excitement and love for this book within Marvel, and the amount of press and retailer support we've received so far has been as high as anything I've seen within the company. I have a good feeling, I'll just leave it at that.
AF.net: Would you both want to sign on for an extended run?
Fred Van Lente: In the proverbial heartbeat. But we have a whole maxi-series to finish first. ]
Greg Pak: You bet. It'd give me a chance to work up that Elves story I've been thinking about...
Fred Van Lente: GGGAAAHHHH NOOOOOOOOOO
AF.net: We've already brought up the importance of preordering the book. In your opinions, what can fans do to help improve the odds of seeing an ongoing title?
Fred Van Lente: Keep thinking positive! There's too much damn negativity in comics. Let's go out there and have some fun. I know Greg & I are.
Greg Pak: Yep! Preordering is probably the number one thing that can have a concrete effect. But I love the idea of just sharing the book with friends who might not have read comics for a while. Buy two copies, give one to a newbie!
AF.net: That's what I do, I gave a copy of 0.1 to a friend, now he's a fan writing his first review!
Fred Van Lente: Preach it, brother!
AF.net: Gentlemen, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. Is there anything else you'd like to say to fans at this time?
Greg Pak: Just thank you thank you and thank you again. When the book got announced, Fred, Dale and I got absolutely swamped on the Twitter. The good vibes have been amazing. We're doing our darnedest to deliver a story that's worthy of all that fervour!
Fred Van Lente: Yes. This would be too "Inside Baseball" for most sites, but since this is an AF fan site: Let me clear up the two most commonly questions I get from hardcore fans:
1) Yes, we know Gary Cody got his brain wiped Bedlam. Yes, it's weird he's back. Yes, it will be addressed.
2) Walter Langowski's body is an exact, and I do mean EXACT, duplicate of what it was before Snowbird ripped his heart out in v1 #23, as changed by her goddess-y mojo in v1 #68.
Those are two things that fall into the category of "Too Continuity Heavy To Get Into Without Newbies' Brains Exploding" but never fear folks, this is an IN-continuity relaunch, and Greg & I are trained professionals. We know what we're doing.
And ditto to everything Greg said about you guys being awesome.
AF.net: Thanks again guys, and keep up the great work! We are all marking each issue on our calendars.
Greg Pak: Thanks so much!
Fred Van Lente: Indeed, and thanks for your great work on the site, Ben. Hope it provides a resource for a whole new generation of AF fans.
Greg Pak: Hear, hear.