2021 Gratitude

My mom died in August, which pretty much makes 2021 the worst year of my life. But here on the first day of 2022, I’m going to focus on some of the things from this last year that I’m deeply grateful for, because, hey, today I’m gonna laugh instead of cry.


Jane Pak, my beloved mother, knew how much I loved her and I knew how much she loved me. This grief will never disappear, but it’s a tribute to her love. You can read more about her here.


I got a fucking tumor cut out of my jaw. On my birthday this year I shaved for the first time since 2018, and I discovered a bulge at the edge of my right jaw. After several months, a series of ever more specialized specialists determined it was an inch-long, benign adenoma in my parotid gland, and on December 3, a surgeon finally cut it out. I’m deeply grateful that the tumor was indeed benign. I’m deeply grateful that the procedure went beautifully and the worst possible side effect of facial paralysis did not occur. And I’m deeply grateful we were able to get it done between the Delta and Omicron surges of this unending pandemic.


My mom’s greatest joy during the pandemic was a book club she ran for the young people in our extended family. I joined early last year to run a writing workshop and a Dungeons & Dragons campaign after their book club sessions. My mom eventually joined the writing workshop herself, which was an incredible experience and delight, and we’ve continued the workshop and D&D sessions after her death. These sessions are very often the very best part of my week.


In the wake of the surge of anti-Asian violence in March and April, I went to therapy for the first time this year, and it helped a lot.


So many friends and family members reached out in big and small ways over the course of the year. Every kind word meant the world. If you’re one of those people, thank you so much.


My everyday work of writing comic book scripts was agonizingly hard in the immediate aftermath of my mother’s death. But at a certain point, writing became a kind of balm. Never easy. But it stopped feeling like I was damaging myself by working, and eventually began to feel like I was helping myself by writing. Writing has always been my way of figuring out what the hell is going on in the world and in my own brain and heart. Returning to deeply personal writing, not all of which is for publication, has been a succor.


Speaking of writing, I’m grateful for poetry. When it was hard to write anything else, I wrote poems this year. And I’ve kept going, writing things in poetry that I couldn’t imagine writing any other way. Rediscovering and re-exploring a medium that I loved when I was younger has been gloriously liberating and reinvigorating.


Cooking breaks my heart and puts it back together again. When I’m cooking, I’m not asking myself what I’m doing with my life. I know exactly what I’m doing: preparing food for people I love, which always feels like exactly the right thing to do in the moment.


I’m grateful for my Dark Horse editors and collaborators for their tremendous support of the STRANGER THINGS: TOMB OF YBWEN book we put out this year. I wrote those scripts before my mother died, but they’re all about grief and loss and they mean so much to me. I’m grateful for my Marvel editors and collaborators for their tremendous support of the DARTH VADER books I wrote this year. Ochi of Bestoon in particular has been a joy to write. His ridiculous, brash cockiness has provided the tonal shift I’ve needed time and time again. I’m grateful for my BOOM editors and collaborators for their tremendous support of the FIREFLY books I wrote this year. I wrapped up my 36 issue run on the book with two issues with no fights, a single explosion, and all heart, and my editors and collaborators pulled out all the stops to make every page sing.


Cooking Will Break Your Heart

I’m grateful for the readers who bought my comics during this pandemic and for the 1,098 backers of my COOKING WILL BREAK YOUR HEART cookbook memoir Kickstarter campaign. A number of people said impossibly nice things about the importance of my writing to them, and that meant a lot this year in particular. The success of COOKING WILL BREAK YOUR HEART campaign also meant a huge amount because it’s the most personal writing I’ve put out into the world in years, and affirmation for that kind of work is just tremendous. And since we live in a world in which we need money to eat and live, I enormously appreciate the fact that so many people paid real dollars for my books and supported the CWBYH campaign. Thank you so much.


Speaking of money, I’m so grateful to the folks who supported the various fundraisers I pushed this last year. I gave half of my Greg Pak Shop income to comic book shops in an initiative that ended in October, so if you bought books there, you helped channel hundreds of dollars to the small business people who are the backbone of our industry. I made some pretty nifty VACCINATED pins and mailed them to people who donated to food banks or mutual aid groups, and folks ponied up $3400. I helped organize an online happy hour for the AAAJ Chicago to support their bystander intervention trainings that raised a few thousand bucks. And throughout the year, when I posted about various GoFundMes or charitable groups on Twitter, people stepped up and helped spread the word and donated. I literally teared up multiple times when I saw how fast people jumped on board to help each other. Thank you so much.


I’m so grateful for the vaccines. It’s easy to fall into despair as we face this latest pandemic surge. But the vaccines are vastly decreasing the severity of the virus and the death rate. Please get vaccinated and boosted if you haven’t already. I want us all to thrive.


I’m grateful for sheepshead minnows and the aquariums I’ve been keeping throughout the pandemic. They make me happy every time I see ’em swimming around in there.


I’m grateful for books like THE MAGIC FISH, THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO, LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE CARTOONIST, and the upcoming EVERYDAY HERO MACHINE BOY, all of which gave me comfort and joy this year.


I’m grateful for Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott-Heron, and Aretha Franklin. Grateful for the SUMMER OF SOUL and GET BACK documentaries. Grateful for the movie AMADEUS, which I rewatched for the first time in decades the other night. Grateful for the Frank Sinatra song “I’m Gonna Live ‘Til I Die,” which seriously makes me feel better every time I listen to it.

I’m gonna live till I die,
I’m gonna laugh ‘stead of cry.
I’m gonna take the town and turn it upside down
I’m gonna live, live, live till I die.