Greg Pak Talks About Researching Magneto Testament

Posted by (kiplingkat) on Oct 23 2008
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Writing a strong comic book tale requires attention to detail and a wealth of research materials. But writing a strong comic book tale that also utilizes real events, especially tragic ones, requires that plus sensitivity to balancing the need to tell an interesting yarn with being respectful and accurate.

Writer Greg Pak contended with this while researching and writing
X-MEN: MAGNETO TESTAMENT, issue #3 of which hits stands on November 12. The four-issue limited series with art provided by Carmine Di Giandomenico and covers by Marko Djurdjevic delves into the childhood of the X-Men's greatest villain as he struggles to understand and survive the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust in 1930's Germany.

Pak first learned about the Holocaust in elementary school when a survivor spoke to his class, a day he scribe still remembers today.

"He made a big impression on me," recalls the writer. "I remember his strength, his absolute commitment to telling the story of what had happened, and, maybe surprisingly, his wry sense of humor. He had been through horrors we couldn't imagine, and yet here he was, finding all these warm, everyday, human ways to relate to a bunch of Dallas school kids. That's something that's stuck with me over the years, and it's probably one of the reasons I'm always trying to bring out the small, everyday moments between Max [aka the young Magneto] and his family in MAGNETO TESTAMENT."

As he grew older, Pak's knowledge base expanded through studying, watching movies and taking German in high school and college which he says, "exposed me to more of the history and literature from the era."

However, given the importance of accuracy to the writer, he immediately cracked the books after winning his current assignment.

"I started with some overviews," Pak explains. "Then I read every memoir I could find from survivors. This was critical, because our story isn't about the generals or leaders; it's told from the perspective of everyday people. And I tracked down books about specific topics, such as the Warsaw Ghetto, the Einsatzgruppen, and life for Jews in Germany."

In the area of film, Pak found that, "Claude Lanzmann's 'Shoah' probably hit me the hardest."

With his research completed, the writer discovered several items he had previously been unaware of. He acknowledges, "I knew a pretty good amount about the concentration camps. But I didn't realize that up to two million people were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile death squads of SS soldiers that followed the German army in its invasion of Eastern Europe and Russia. I also wasn't fully aware of the depths of the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto."

From there, Pak moved on to making choices about what should be included in the series and what should not.

"The key decision was to make our hero and his family German Jews living in Nuremberg in 1935," he says. "That made it possible for us to include things like the Nuremberg Laws, the Berlin Olympics, and Kristallnacht while staying completely within Max's point of view. These events were important to depict because they help show the gradual but inexorable ways the Nazis' persecution of the Jews developed. In pure story terms, that works for building compelling character arcs and drama. In historical and even moral terms, it's critical because it makes it harder to dismiss the Nazis' atrocities as some kind of unstoppable cataclysm—the Nazi state and the Final Solution arose through horrifically evil but utterly human means."

Working with editor Warren Simons, Pak spent a great deal of time deciding what would and would not be appropriate and honorable ways to utilize the real life events. In the end, Pak established a standard that he describes in the afterward to X-MEN: MAGNETO TESTAMENT #1 as, "our goal is to tell our story in a way that's 'honest, unflinching, human, and humane.'"

Researching and honoring those affected by the horrors of Nazi Germany left the scribe unnerved, but thankful for the opportunity.

"It's the most difficult research I've ever had to do," Pak admits. "It gave me nightmares, particularly in the early stages. But the minute Warren told me about the project three years ago, I knew I had to be involved. And I've never felt more responsible for getting a story right."

X-MEN: MAGNETO TESTAMENT #3 is available in stores on November 12.

Webmistress Commentary: I have been waiting for this story to be told for over 20 years, and it is statements like these that give me utmost faith in Mr. Pak's ability to tell this story doing honor to both the real people and events, and doing justice to the fictional character.

So far I have been thrilled with the results and while it is a harrowing tale, I look forward to the next installments.

I also have to say that while I expressed reservations when I first heard about it, I am completely satisfied with Mr. Pak's creative decision to make Magnus' family German-Jewish in order to put them in them middle of a society turning against them, rather than Polish-Jewish victims in the wake of the sudden German invasion. We get to see much more of the process by which a society becomes murderously intolerant than we would otherwise.

Good call.

And thank you.


Last changed: Oct 23 2008 at 4:23 PM