All posts by Greg

Shooting 35mm cityscapes in New York City

Back in 1986 when I was a high school senior in Dallas, Texas, I had a vague thought of driving around town at night and photographing the funky neon signs that towered over so many of the city’s corner shopping malls. Even then I had the sense that they weren’t long for the world and that as a 35mm photographer, I actually had the means of preserving their memory.

But high school was a pretty busy time and I never got around to it.

Decades later, I’ve fallen back in love with 35mm photography. Now I live in New York City, which isn’t particularly known for suburban shopping malls with funky neon signs.  But I’m more conscious than ever of the fleeting nature of our surroundings, and I’ve developed a habit of carrying a camera whenever I’m running errands in the city and shooting images of any bit of the landscape that catches my eye.

I’ve shot plenty of photos of some of the city’s biggest landmarks, with a special emphasis on the Empire State Building, probably my favorite building in the city. But other shots feel like my modern day version of the Dallas neon sign project I never started — such as photos of graffiti or old painted company signs on the sides of buildings that might be gone in another decade or two.

Here are some my favorite shots of the year with a few thoughts. I hope you’ll enjoy them, and I’ll be thrilled if they inspire you to take a little time to document your own surroundings.

In my first month of shooting film again, I shot this image with a Canon FTb, a Canon FD 50mm f1.8, and a yellow filter on Ilford HP5 400. This remains one of my favorite images I’ve shot all year. I never used filters in high school and college, so it was a revelation that I could pull so much more detail out of the sky with a yellow filter. But mostly I just love the way the framing and light work here. In film school at NYU in the 1990s, our cinematography teachers taught us to use light to direct the eye within the frame. I think this photo achieves that. For a fleeting moment, the sun glanced off of the Empire State Building in a lovely way, making it pop in the middle of these dark canyons of tall buildings. I also remember being dazzled by that famous shot in Rosemary’s Baby in which the camera ramps up the subliminal tension by not quite showing all of Mia Farrow through the doorway. Similarly, I love the way the framing here leaves the Empire State Building partly hidden by buildings in the foreground. It’s not a horror movie tension like Rosemary’s Baby, but it’s a bit of drama that pulls me in.

Canal Street scene shot with a Canon FTb on 35mm film

I shot this photo with a Canon FTb and a Canon nFD 50mm f1.4 lens on a 20 year old roll of Kodak High Definition 400 ASA film. It’s just a shot of Canal Street. But I freaking love it. The frame feels just right to me. I spent so many years shooting thousands of images with a 50mm lens; my eye just knows how to frame things with that focal length, and it feels so good. I also love the way this expired film renders the light, especially on the side of the building in the middle of the frame. It’s so crisp and cool and fresh. And the film holds the colors together in a special way, as if the entire scene were art directed. There’s a coolness to the sky and buildings that lets the red details of the signs and the Chinese medallion pop in a subtle, lovely way. Again, a simple image, but it makes me happy every time I look at it.

Boris Frumin, one of my brilliant NYU directing professors, used to list things that were cinematic, including flags and water and smoke. I’d absolutely add steam to the list, and was thrilled to find this great cloud rising from a grate in the Village this March. I shot this on Ilford HP5 with my old high school Canon New F-1 (newly repaired!) and, if I remember correctly, my mom’s old Canon FD 28mm f2.8.

New York City just screams for vertical shots. I was pretty thrilled with this angle on one of the entrances to Grand Central Terminal. The symmetry of the buildings is offset in a pleasing way by the car on the bottom left and the light reflections on the upper right. Just feels right to my eye. Shot on a Nikon FG with a Nikon Series E 50mm f1.8 on Kodak Tri-X 400.

Another vertical shot that feels very similar to the Grand Central image. This is that fantastic United States Post Office building on Canal Street, but it felt like it wanted to be framed to emphasize the buildings overhead and that lovely shaft of angled light. Shot with a Canon A-1 and a 50mm Canon lens on Kentmere 100. This image really works because of the light. It’s creating the angle on the building on the right that makes the frame work in an interesting way, and it’s making the flag pop out from the foreground.

One of my ongoing themes has been the sky between buildings in New York City. I just can’t get enough of the shape the buildings make of the sky, and this image kind of epitomizes that interest. Shot on a Nikon FG with a Nikon Series E 50mm f1.8 on Kodak Tri-X 400.

This is my NYC equivalent of my never-begun Dallas neon sign project — shooting old painted signs on the sides of buildings. I love everything about these old signs — the textures, the way the paint has weathered, the glorious old fonts, the brand names and products advertised. An added bonus is the old school water tower on the building. I love it when I shoot a photo that at first glance you think might be decades old. Shot with a Canon AT-1 with a Canon FD 135mm f3.5 on Arista Ultra EDU 400.

I shot very little color film back in the day. I just loved black and white and had the most control over its look since we had a small darkroom and I could make prints on my own. So I’m still figuring out what I’m looking for when I shoot color film these days. This image felt like it worked — with lovely detail and color in the sky while maintaining detail in the buildings. Shot with a Canon AT-1 and a Canon nFD 24mm f2.8 on Fujifilm Fujicolor 200.

Another color shot that felt good. If the previous shot was all blues, this one’s all reds, and I dig it. Shot with a Bell & Howell FD35 and a B&H/Canon FD 50mm f1.4 on Fujifilm Fujicolor 200. Back in the day, the widest lens I had was a Canon FD 28mm, so this 24mm feels considerably more funky and dramatic to me, but I think the Ghostbusters building earns the treatment.

IFC

Just an absolutely everyday image of the IFC Theater in the West Village. But in five, ten, or twenty years, this might become a treasured record of the way things were. I’m trying to shoot lots of photos like these, and I feel good every time I get a keeper. Shot with a Canon A-1 with a Canon nFD 50mm f1.8 on Kentmere 100.

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Hulk with letter, drawn by Marie Severin

Some big news – I’m going to reopen my online store for a couple of weeks so you can buy signed books for the holidays!

And if you sign up for my email newsletter today, I’ll send you a 20 percent discount code that you can use for your first purchase at the store when it reopens!

We’re living in a strange time that’s exposing the fragility of the social networks we use to connect. But even if ever social network falls apart, I’ll still be running my own email newsletter and website as long as I’m working. So sign up today and you’ll always have a way to find out what I’m up to!

And the store’s gonna be filled with awesome signed stuff that you’re gonna want, so that 20 percent discount will be pretty nice!

Thanks so much and stay safe out there, as always!

Jimmy Aquino interviews Greg Pak for Comic News Insider

In the wake of the New York Comic Con, my friend Jimmy Aquino interviewed me for the Comic News Insider podcast! We talked about a new comics project I’m working on for the NYC Department of Education, Planet Hulk Worldbreaker, Skaar, Darth Vader, Duo, and analog photography, accompanied by the glorious ambient sounds of Bryant Park in New York City. Check it out!

Great post from Andy Daly about turning from tweeting to blogging (or “twarting”)

Andy Daly's website graphic

Andy Daly, a brilliant comic and an old acquaintance from my New York City improv days, has written a very funny and thought-provoking post about his decision to step the hell away from daily posting on Twitter in favor of blogging — or “twarting,” as he puts it.

I very highly recommend you click away from this page and go read his post right now. Then come back for more of my brilliant thoughts!

Andy does a great job of describing the social and political pitfalls of Twitter. But this passage hit me particularly hard:

It seems that after 12 years of tweeting, I have quietly trained my brain to compose tweets all the time.  In the early days of my Twitter self-banning, I kept coming up with dumb, trivial, concise notions that were designed to be shared with the world.  I kept thinking “well, maybe I’ll tweet just this one thing”, but instead, summoning really very impressive will power wouldn’t you say, I opened the Notes app on my phone and tapped my tweet in there.

I strongly suspect that as as a fellow person in comedy, Andy, like me, spent years of his youth coming up with jokes and one-liners all the time and scribbling them down in a little notebook. So Twitter was perfectly designed for us, and we were/are pretty great at it! But posting jokes on Twitter serves masters other than ourselves and can create a less than healthy dynamic of approval-seeking that Andy wryly refers to when he “praises” the site for allowing him to “most meaningfully, [attract] attention to myself whenever I needed some.”

I missed Andy’s post when he published it back in September, but strangely, right around the same time, I was undertaking a similar project, revamping this website and amping up my blogging — mostly by going into excruciating detail about my renewed obsession with analog photography.

So I love Andy’s new (old) blog, and I particularly dig the fact that he’s letting himself write both longer posts and short bon mots he’s dubbed “twarts.” I’m not going to use his terminology, because he strangely insists “twarts” is a combination of “tweets” and “darts” instead of “tweets” and “farts,” and that’s a little too classy for me. But I am going to take inspiration from him and let myself write more very short posts on this blog about whatever, because that seems like fun.

This is also inspiring me to do a bit more research into finding a good old-school blog reader. If I can get a few more cool blogs like Andy’s into a nice app, I’ll have a great place to go other than Twitter when I want to read some funny/insightful stuff, and that’ll be a good thing.

So thanks, Andy! Also please join my web ring?

Skaar, Son of Hulk, to appear in PLANET HULK WORLDBREAKER #1!

Planet Hulk Worldbreaker #1 cover - Skaar variant - Camuncoli

Interested in Skaar, Son of Hulk? Dontcha dare miss PLANET HULK WORLDBREAKER #1, which hits comic book stores on November 30! The variant cover above is by the great Giuseppe Camuncoli.

The main story of PLANET HULK WORLDBREAKER, drawn by Manuel Garcia, takes place a thousand years in the future on Planet Sakaar. But in a very special bonus story drawn by the great Ramon Bachs, we’re also revealing exactly what’s going on with Skaar in the here and now on Planet Earth.

Whether you’re a long time Skaar fan or intrigued by the character after the developments in REDACTED, you do not want to miss this book!

Ask your local comic shop to order a copy of PLANET HULK WORLDBREAKER #1 for you today!

2022-10-19 – STRANGER THINGS – AFTERSCHOOL ADVENTURES OMNIBUS

Stranger Things Afterschool Adventures cover by Ron Chan

Over the past few years, I’ve written or co-written three middle grade Stranger Things comic book stories that have now been compiled in one big volume called the Stranger Things Afterschool Adventures Omnibus — which hits comic book shops on October 19!

The stories include “Zombie Boys,” “The Bully,” and “Erica the Great,” the last of which was co-written by Danny Lore. Dan Chan drew the cover, Valeria Favoccia provided line art, Dan Jackson colored, and Nate Piekos lettered.

All of these stories were a blast to write and all have a ton of heart, telling stories in between pivotal moments and seasons of the show. Please do feel free to check out the preview pages and ask your local comic shop to hold a copy for you today!

STRANGER THINGS: TOMB OF YBWEN makes Top Twenty bestsellers list for September!

Stranger Things Tomb of Ybwen cover by Kyle Lambert

I was thrilled to discover that STRANGER THINGS: TOMB OF YBWEN was the 13th best selling trade on the NPD BookScan Top 20 “Superheroes” Graphic Novel list for September!

The book was written by yours truly with interior art by Diego Galindo, colors by Francesco Segala, letters by Nate Piekos, and a lovely cover by Kyle Lambert (which you can read about more on Kyle’s site).

Writing this book meant a lot to me — on the surface, it’s a hugely fun ’80s treasure hunt, but under the surface it’s about grappling with bereavement, and it’s all heart, all the time. I loved working with editors Spencer Cushing and Konner Knudsen and the entire creative team and am so gratified the book’s resonated with readers.

Here’s the official solicit:

It’s January 1985, and the Hawkins crew survived their battle with the mind flayer, but Will and Joyce are still reeling from the recent death of Bob Newby. Will’s friends have been too busy with their girlfriends to notice how much he is struggling. After he and Mr. Clarke discover a mysterious map Bob left in a box of old nerdy memorabilia, Will rallies the crew to investigate. Collects the four-issue miniseries.

Please do feel free to ask your local comic shop to hold a copy of the book for you today or pick it up via Bookshop.org!

Cameras I Wanna Try

Look, I don’t NEED any more cameras. I got my beloved high school Canon FTb and Canon New F-1 repaired and I’ve fixed up a couple of cheap Canon T60s and a Canon AT-1 as wonderful take-everywhere cameras. I’m totally comfortable with Canons of this era and I love the images they let me take. But I’ve had a ton of fun over the past year trying out cheap vintage 35mm cameras from other manufacturers from the 1960s through the 1980s, and when I have a little idle time, I get the hankering to try out a few more. So here are a few of the cameras still on my mind.

Pentax MX

The Pentax MX is famously the lightest fully mechanical and manual 35mm SLR ever made. I’ve read multiple glowing reviews of how fantastic and huge its viewfinder is and how wonderful it is to handle. And it’s relatively cheap, with nice looking copies regularly selling for $70 or so on ShopGoodwill.com. But that puts it just a touch out of my typical comfort range for buying used cameras. As nice as a camera looks in online auction photos, you never quite know if it’s going to work properly until you get it in your hands. So I usually balk at spending more than $50 for a camera in these auctions. I’ve seen Pentax MX bodies go for that amount or less, but somehow I keep missing the deadline to bid. Some day!

Olympus RC and/or the Canon QL17 GIII

I grew up shooting single lens reflex cameras like the Canon FTb and Canon New F-1 and was barely aware of rangefinder cameras until very recently. But over the last year, I’ve been conducting a slow motion search for a cheap, super-light, take-everywhere camera to toss in my satchel while running errands in New York City. The Canon T60 has become that camera for me, but the Olympus RC and Canon QL17 GIII seem like serious contenders. Both cameras are compact and light with manual exposure controls and famously excellent lenses. But the Olympus RC tends to sell for $70 or so and the Canon QL17 GIII tends to sell for a bit over $100, which, again, is a bit out of my comfort range. However, there’s a Canon GL17 model without the GIII designation that’s pretty much the same camera as the GIII and tends to go for a lot less, so hope springs eternal!

Minolta ER

When I was in high school, I somehow got ahold of an old Minolta SLR with a fixed lens that I can remember fiddling with and keeping on my bookshelf but never actually shooting. I have no memory of where it actually came from. It might have been a camera my mom owned and used before she got her Canon FTb. Or maybe we picked it up at a yard sale or something. I noticed the camera in the background of a photo I took of my bedroom in high school and immediately felt the muscle memory of handling it. It was a heavy, solid, metal camera that made very satisfying clicks. It took a while to figure out what the make and model was, and now I’m a little obsessed with tracking one down. It’s a bit of a goofy desire — the camera’s too big and bulky for everyday use, and the chances that I can find an actual working model are pretty slim anyway. But I want to hold it in my hands again, feel that weight, and let that muscle memory take over. Nostalgia and sentiment are strong, y’all. Of course, the only samples I can find are over $100, so I’m not sure I’m going to pull the trigger on this any time soon.

Contaflex II

This was my maternal grandfather’s camera. He took hundreds of gorgeous, vibrant slide photos with it on Kodachrome during family roadtrips when my mom was a teenager. I dug up the camera after my mom died, and I love its weight and feel. But sadly the shutter’s gummed up and these cameras are notoriously over-engineered and difficult to service and repair. They’re not that expensive on auction sites, but according to various experts on the internet, the chances of finding a working model are extremely slim. I’d still love to shoot with this camera to get into my grandfather’s head for a bit. He was a quiet, meticulous man, and I have this strange feeling that learning to work his camera would help me understand the way his mind worked just a bit more.

Canon Dial 35

I became a bit obsessed with half frame cameras this year, and the Canon Dial 35 is a funky model that I’d just love to fiddle with. Half frame 35mm cameras take two 18×24 mm pictures in the space a normal camera takes one 36x24mm picture, which means you can get 72 frames out of a typical 36 exposure role of film. Each image is lower resolution, of course, since it takes up half the amount of film, but that’s part of the charm. The Canon Dial 35 stands out because of its strange form and clockwork mechanisms. Its unusual vertical orientation and funky crank knob make it look like something out of a 1960s science fiction or spy movie, and it was actually featured in The Prisoner television show. It’s a bit silly for me to want this camera — it’s an autoexposure only machine, and I only really enjoy shooting with full manual exposure controls. And I already have multiple great half frame cameras, including a phenomenal Konica Auto-Reflex that uses standard Konica SLR lenses and thus provides incredibly good image quality. But I look at the pictures of the Canon Dial 35 and I just want to fiddle with it. These are sometimes pretty cheap, so who knows!

Konica FT-1 Pro Half

Speaking of half frame cameras, the Holy Grail of the format appears to be the Konica FT-1 Pro Half, a full featured SLR that’s a variant of the full-frame Konica FT-1 Motor. Apparently Konica manufactured a small number of half frame versions of this camera that were given to special customers and executives around 1982. I don’t know if any other half frame cameras were being manufactured at the time, and I’ve never heard of a half frame SLR as modern as this one. I’ve only seen an active auction for one of these, and the asking price was $1399. So no, I’m not buying this camera. But boy, it’d be fun to try one out!

Olympus Pen F with an Olympus OM adapter

Okay, we’re getting into fanciful realms here. The only other half frame SLRs I know of besides the Konica Auto-Reflex and FT-1 Pro Half are the Olympus Pen F and FT. These are highly coveted, all manual, all mechanical compact SLRs with interchangeable lenses. I’d probably have managed to scrounge one up by now, but the big drawback is that the two most standard lenses for these cameras were manufactured with thorium glass elements, which means they’re slightly radioactive. Different people have different ideas about the actual danger levels of thorium in camera lenses, but I try to avoid it, so I’ve pretty much given up on chasing down these cameras. But there are lens adapters that allow you to attach Olympus OM lenses to Pen F series bodies. The trick is that the adapter itself sells for about $150. Add the camera itself and an Olympus OM lens or two, and the price starts to get pretty high up there. Again, not something I’m going to spring for any time soon, but fun to think about!

Canon EF

This is a strange, rare, but currently pretty cheap camera that was part of the Canon F line that included my beloved FTb and New F-1. The EF was built on the same basic chassis, so it’s a solid, heavy, classic-feeling Canon camera that takes FD lenses. But it’s got an electronic shutter and a shutter priority mode. Like the AE-1 and A-1, it also doesn’t show you your actual aperture in the viewfinder when you’re exposing manually — it just shows you the suggested aperture, and you have to lower the camera from your eye to make sure your lens is set properly before shooting. That should be a dealbreaker for me, but I got my hands on a non-working Canon EF and just like the feel of it. I’d love to try out a working version. But I haven’t yet committed to plunking down $60 or $70 for the privilege.

As I said at the outset, I don’t need any of these cameras. But it’s fun to learn and think about them, and it’s fun to have a little list of things to look out for when I pass a stoop sale or flea market. Simple pleasures, right?

Fixed a sticky aperture on a Canon FD 135mm f3.5 breech mount lens!

I spent an hour tackling one of the most challenging camera repairs I’ve dared so far, and it worked! Check out the clean, smooth action on this previously oily, gummed up aperture assembly from a Canon FD 135mm f3.5 breech mount lens!

Since I’ve gotten back into 35mm photography this year, I’ve been itchy to get my hands on a Canon FD 135mm f2.5 breech mount lens like the one my mom gave me in high school. As it turns out, that f2.5 lens is considered to be one of Canon’s best vintage primes, but the aperture on mine became unreliable in high school and I eventually gave it away in the early 2000s. I’ve kept my eye open for a replacement, and I thought I found one in a cheap Canon FTb lot from an auction site. But when I got the package, I discovered the lens was a f3.5, not a f2.5, and it was full of fungus and the aperture wasn’t working. Aaaah!

The first day I got the lens, I opened it up and cleaned the glass. I was able to get rid of the fungus, but it’s still pretty dusty — there are just a lot of flecks in there I can’t quite get out. I strongly suspect they won’t affect image quality, but I wasn’t ready to test the lens yet because the aperture was stuck wide open.

This morning I had a spare hour, so I finally opened up the lens again, removed and opened up the aperture assembly, and carefully used isopropyl alcohol to clean the housing and blades, which were indeed oily and sticky. Huge thanks to mikeno2, whose video about cleaning this model of lens was incredibly helpful.

The toughest part of the job was reassembling the aperture assembly.  Tiny pegs on the bases of the blades fit into tiny holes in two different parts of the housing, and the blades overlap in a circular pattern, and the very last blade has to tuck under the very first blade, which is a tricky maneuver. But it all worked out, and now I have what looks like a working Canon FD 135mm f3.5 breech mount lens!

This is a lot of effort for a lens that can be bought in good condition for under $40. But it’s enormously gratifying to fix up something that came to me in such bad condition.

Yes, I’ve still got my eye open for the f2.5 version of this lens, but for now, I’m going to have a lot of fun testing out my repaired f3.5 in the field.

2022-10-18 – DUO #6 hits comic shops! Check out the preview!

Duo #6 Dike Ruan cover

The final issue of the DUO series hits stores on October 18! Written by yours truly with pencils by Khoi Pham, inks by Scott Hanna, colors by Chris Sotomayor, and letters by Janice Chiang, the series has followed a pair of lovers who share a single body and grapple with eerie immortals and a possibly evil genius. This issue’s main cover is by Dike Ruan and the variant is by Cathy Kwan.

You can check out a lettered preview of the final issue here and please feel free to ask your local comic shop to hold a copy for you!

From the official solicit:

In this climactic final issue, Kelly and David fight a war on three fronts! On one side there are malevolent immortals hungry for vengeance. On the other, Dr. Tinker, who will let those immortals rip the city apart to get his hands on Kelly and David’s nanotech. But the real war is Kelly and David’s fight with each other for control of the body they share…and their fate will, in turn, decide humanity’s!

Duo #6 Cathy Kwan cover