The new series is about more than robots punching monsters.
There’s seemingly no shortage of properties featuring big robots fighting even bigger monsters – no doubt Voltron, Evangelion, or Power Rangers just sprang to your mind – but Mech Cadet Yu from comic publisher BOOM! Studios aims to focus the story not on the titans trading blows strong enough to make buildings shake but on the squishy little human pilots inside. More specifically, Stanford Yu, a young boy working as a janitor at an elite military academy who inexplicably bonds with a robot. Despite his meager beginnings, he’s enlisted into pilot training and struggles to get by thanks to his elitist classmate doing everything in her power to make him feel like he doesn’t belong.
With today’s release of Mech Cadet Yu, Vol. 1, which collects Issues #1-4, we conducted an email interview with series writer Greg Pak (Planet Hulk, Superman) about how he built this larger-than-life world while still maintaining a personal core with Standford. His artistic collaborator and Mech Cadet Yu co-creator is Takeshi Miyazawa (Runaways, Ms. Marvel), whom he also co-created Marvel character Amadeus Cho with.
Mech Cadet Yu #5 is also out today, for those that are already caught up and want to continue the story. Check out a look inside the issue below.
IGN: While the big monstrous Sharg are the villains everyone is worried about, the real conflict is between Stanford and those around him, like Park and her father who constantly go out of their way to remind him he’s a janitor who isn’t worthy of his robo. Could you talk about creating that dynamic?
Pak: I’ve always loved writing underdogs and I’ve always been a little suspicious of stories that buy into the notion of inherited nobility or worthiness. So pretty early in the process, I realized Stanford should be a janitor’s kid at this elite military academy. As the story begins, he’s just a worker, not a cadet, and that’s where this society wants to keep him. But he bonds with a wayward robo and ends up earning a spot in the academy as a cadet. That set up great dynamics within the school as Stanford seems to achieve his greatest dream — but still has to deal with the resentments of the snobby rich kids. I amped up the conflict by making Stanford’s chief rival the daughter of the general who runs the school, natch. And the robo he bonded with was the robo she thought she was going to bond with.
Another big relationship that’s been very important to me revolves around Stanford and his mom, Dolly. Dolly’s an immigrant and a single mom who’s very protective of her only child — but she’s got a spine of steel and we’re going to learn a lot more about her character in issue #5 and beyond. We’ve seen a million stories about heroes and their dads over the years. We’re having a ton of fun here telling a story about a hero and his mom.
IGN: The art team includes Takeshi Miyazawa, Triona Farrell, and Simon Bowland. Can you talk about how you all work together create this comic about giant mechs? I’m curious to hear what kind of unique challenges come with trying to make massive, lumbering robos fight across the pages of a comic book and also make them expressive beings that aren’t just machines to be piloted?
Pak: Tak is one of my oldest and dearest comics collaborators — back in the day we co-created Amadeus Cho, and from the minute I got that very first character design of Amadeus in my inbox, I knew Tak was something very, very special. Tak’s the best when it comes to character and storytelling — he’s just a tremendous “actor” on the page, finding just the right subtle body language and expressions for every moment. His work is sooooo human and humane — the characters live and breathe moment to moment in every single panel. I just love it.
And Tak may be one of the few people I know who loves giant robots even more than I do. He grew up with all of this stuff; giant robots are under his skin in the best of ways, and it shows on every page. Tak’s put an enormous amount of thought and heart into every single robot design in the book, making design choices to reflect their character and origins. There’s even a little meta history lesson about fictional giant robots in the different robot designs — you can see the style change subtly from the earliest robo, Skip Tanaka’s mech, to the most recent, Park’s man-made Hero Force One.
The robos are sentient creatures, so it was really important that they be expressive emotionally. I think Tak did a particularly great job with his design for Stanford’s robo’s face — the simple design somehow lets you impart a wide range of emotions to it, which Tak augments with subtle head tilts and body language.
And then Triona and Simon are absolute dreams to work with. Triona’s not scared of color — she makes bold choices I would never have come up with myself that totally work and give the book a special, lovely feel. Just look at those glorious pinks and oranges in the desert scenes in issue #1. They really pump up the everyday gorgeousness of daily life, making every mundane moment feel special. And somehow that visual glory makes Stanford’s loneliness in that first issue come through even more strongly.
Simon’s a brick. I’ve worked with him on dozens if not hundreds of books, and he always knows how to place those balloons to create the right rhythms. That’s soooo important, particularly with a book that relies so much on the sometimes hesitant speech patterns of kids.
IGN: With the first trade of Mech Cadet Yu coming out, could you look back on the whole first arc and explain what your main goals were? What did you want to accomplish with these characters and this story?
Pak: I wanted to tell a fun story about an underdog kid with a heart of gold fighting like hell to do the right thing in a world that doesn’t respect him. I wanted to explore how he builds relationships with the people around him, how he navigates friendships and rivalries with other kids, and how a bunch of squabbling kids might actually become heroes. I also just wanted to have fun, making comics with some of my best friends in comics. And I think it’s worth emphasizing that this book is an absolute blast to work on. Sometimes folks get the impression that great creative work requires massive conflict and fighting during the creative process. My experience has honestly been that the best work I do usually has the best collaborative process, during which everyone involved just catches the same bug and is working together to tell a great story. I cackle out loud when I get emails full of art from Tak and colors from Triona and letters from Simon. I’m actually EAGER to get script notes from my editor Cameron Chittock. I’m not saying the book isn’t hard work — it absolutely is. Every comic is hard as hell to make. But everyone on the creative team is working together, having fun, digging into the characters and story, and trying to make this book the best it can be, and it’s a blast.
IGN: What can you tease about what to expect next?
Pak: Look for big moments for a number of supporting characters, including Stanford’s mom Dolly and Chief Maxton, the Academy’s head of engineering and robot repair.
Look for more exploration of Skip Tanaka’s possible dark side — and some increasingly high-stakes decisions for Stanford and his fellow cadets.
Look for a whole different kind of fight with the Sharg in issue #6.
And look to get your heart broken a little at some point. And maybe fixed? I’ll say no more, but please do keep on reading!