Smash Pages Q&A: Greg Pak on ‘Cooking Will Break Your Heart’

The prolific writer of ‘Planet Hulk’ and ‘Mech Cadet Yu’ cooks up a different kind of project for his latest Kickstarter.

Greg Pak is an acclaimed comics writer best known for a long series of projects at Marvel Comics, including writing the “Planet Hulk” storyline, co-creating Amadeus Cho, and writing Weapon X and Incredible Hercules. That’s in addition to writing the ongoing Firefly series, Darth Vader, Stranger Things and John Wick. Pak’s incredible creator-owned projects include Ronin Island and Mech Cadet Yu (currently being developed as an animated series for Netflix). There’s also his picture books (Princess Who Saved Herself) and his films (Robot Dreams). Greg Pak is, simply, a very busy person.

Those of us who follow Pak on social media, though, know another side to him: he loves to cook. More than just being a good writer about food and a good recipe writer, he often writes about his connections to food. As he describes the Kickstarter for his new project, Cooking Will Break Your Heart – “A Korean American Midwestern Texan cookbook and memoir about food, family, memory, love, joy and grief.”

The campaign runs through Nov. 22 and Park was kind enough to answer a few questions about family and food.

So what is “Cooking Will Break Your Heart?” Especially for the people who don’t think the title makes sense at first glance.

Cooking Will Break Your Heart is a Korean American Midwestern Texan cookbook memoir written by yours truly that’s going to be packed with incredibly practical and tasty recipes along with prose, poetry, comics, and photos exploring food, family, memory, love, joy, and grief. It’s going to be one of the most personal pieces of writing I’ll have put out in the world, and I can’t wait to share with with y’all.

When did you start thinking about making a book about cooking?

For a number of years now, I’ve been posting process photos of my cooking on Twitter. I kind of stepped it up during the pandemic, since I was cooking so much more, and from time to time people would ask me when I was gonna write a cookbook. So here I am!

From the beginning was the idea not just to make a recipe book, but to incorporate stories, poems, comics and whatever else into it?

You know, at first I thought I’d just do a very fun, practical cookbook – a how-to book showing how a busy freelancer cooks simple, delicious meals when he’s always on a deadline. But the more I thought about it, the more I came up against the inescapable truth that food is history and memory and family and love and death and everything else. I’m old enough that I’ve lost most of the people who cooked the most for me in my life. So every time I cook, I’m kind of receiving and sending love letters to them. So the book will be grappling with all that and more.

There is so much within food and within relatively simple recipes and what they mean to us. There’s that oft-quoted saying by Lin Yutang – “What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?

Wow, I’ve never heard that quote, but that’s amazing. And yes, the simplest details about what we cook and eat can reveal so much. I realized I love eating napa cabbage with Korean barbecue. But in restaurants, you’re usually served romaine or red leaf lettuce. After talking with my dad, I realized I inherited that love of napa cabbage from him – because he always loved it when he was a kid in Korea in the 1930s and 1940s. He can’t remember if they even had romaine then. So here I am a Gen X kid inheriting this very specific taste from my Silent Generation father because of very specific patterns that help tell the story of immigration for my family. It’s all kind of stunning.

It also includes your artwork. People know you as a writer, but tell me about what you draw and like to draw.

I’ve drawn all my life – my mom was the kind of awesome mom who bought her kids crayons and paper instead of coloring books. So the book will include some comic strips I’ve drawn over the years that are food related in some way, and I’ll probably draw some brand new stuff for the book. Like a guide to cutting up a whole chicken! I realized that even people who love to cook can sometimes have issues with looking at photos of glistening meat, so showing that process in comics form might be smart – and fun!

What was your thinking behind making it an all digital book

In 2016, I launched a Kickstarter campaign for a similarly formatted how-to book called Kickstarter Secrets. I wanted to keep it simple, so I experimented with doing that as a digital-only book, and folks were totally supportive. So given all the supply chain issues and the difficulty of predicting print and shipping costs five months in advance right now, I figured this book made sense as a digital-only book, too. I’d love to eventually figure out a way to release a print version. But I’m thinking we’ll cross that bridge when all the production and fulfillment issues are a little clearer.

As you said, you’ve used Kickstarter in the past for different projects. What made you decide to go this route for the book?

When I was musing about the book publicly on Twitter before I launched, a publishing professional I really like and respect reached out and said this could be a project that could do well with a mainstream press. And it could be an amazing thing if that’s where we’ll end up with a print version. But this just felt like a deeply personal, small project that I needed to just dive into and make real right now. Kickstarter provides this amazing way to strike while the iron’s hot with the right kinds of projects, and this just felt like the right way to go here.

For people who haven’t read Proust, in Swann’s Way the narrator dips a madeleine into a cup of tea and the taste conjures up this involuntary memory from childhood. What’s your personal madeleine? Or is this the kind of question we need to read the book to find out?

Yes, this is so real. The biggest example of this in my own life is guava juice, which I used to only have when we were visiting my grandparents in Hawaii when I was a kid. So I have this vivid memory of standing on a freezing cold bridge overlooking a canal in the rain in Oxford, England, when I was a graduate student, taking a sip from a little box of guava juice, and being instantly transported back two decades to my grandma’s kitchen in Hawaii. Hits me like that every time I have it to this day.

So what are you cooking tonight?

I just did a big thread about an aggressively HEALTHY meal I cooked last night, with delicious, baked, variously seasoned chicken thighs and asparagus. You can check out the Twitter thread here!

In the past, I’ve really done a lot of frying and sautéing of meat. But recently I’ve been doing a lot more baking and broiling. So I’m testing out some new ways and new seasonings for that kind of cooking, and it’s a blast. One of the big benefits of writing a book like this is that in addition to writing up the recipes I’ve been cooking for years, I’m refining and experimenting and coming up with some new stuff. It’s a ton of fun, and I hope y’all will come along for the ride!

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