Out now is Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero, a comic book prequel to the upcoming feature film. I spoke to Travis Beacham, the writer of both the comic and the film, and the man who first created this world.
As well as talking about plans for the extended Pacific Rim universe, as it were, we also dug into the differences between comics and films, and how Tales From Year Zero uses its medium to do things the movie couldn’t.
Here’s some of what Beacham told me.
The movie Pacific Rim is so tightly structured and has such a focus on a specific set of characters that I wanted this opportunity to explore some of details of the world in a little more depth. In putting together the movie we really wanted to build a world, to have texture, and what that means is that you have to imagine a lot of stuff that you aren’t going to use, that may exist only as passing references. But having all of that there to start with informs the trajectory of the story and the context in which you tell it.
When it came time to talk about doing a graphic novel it was decided that, rather than simply do a straight up adaptation of the movie, it would be better to provide something that is additive, something that fleshes out the world in ways that the movie doesn’t necessarily get around to. The movie is a complete experience and you could watch it and be nothing but satisfied, you wouldn’t feel you’re missing much of anything, but the comic book still adds to this.
Starting off, I was finding the writing of the graphic novel a real challenge. I’ve become so used to writing for the screen and though the mediums are very often compared, just because they’re visual mediums, from the middle of it, as a storyteller, they’re extremely different. You have to think about space differently, you have to think about time differently, you have to think about transitions differently. In structuring the story for the graphic novel, especially with the episodic format that’s used, it allowed me to use a bigger ensemble of characters.
One of the things that was easier to do was visualise the abstraction of a character having their mind connected to another. We were able to get into the subjective mechanic of what that feels like and what that looks like in a fun way.
The link of character’s minds is vitally, vitally important. It’s the idea without which the movie would not exist. I really wanted a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters and that’s great and all, but that’s not a story, it’s themes and sequences. You know the monsters are going to be fun to write, and the robots are going to be fun to write but you don’t know that you have anything at all until you realise that the people in between are going to be fun to right.
I had the idea that with two pilots driving each Jaeger you are putting relationships literally at the core of the machine. What the concept does is to extend the movie’s idea into being about character. The trust between the two characters matters to how their battle goes, to the city being destroyed around them. The baggage that they bring matters, and who they are and how they relate matters. This allowed us to bridge the coolness of these huge battles into a story about human consequences and let us tell a story that, in the end, is about people.
Having this idea was when the entire movie started to come together for me. This was a real movie, this was a story that my heart wanted to tell. It could be about people coming together, deciding to care for one another and fighting for that, that’s critical to the soul of the movie.
The comic is both more sprawling and more intimate. I know those are two contradictory terms, but what I really had a lot of fun doing was visiting all these characters and seeing what makes them who they are. The central theme of the movie and the comic book, though each expresses it in a very different way, is the ties between people, how do you cope with loss and survivor’s guilt. I usually say that the message in both the film and comic is that there is a mightiness in the broken when they decide to come together.
In the comic you see characters broken and having to deal with certain things that are purposefully unresolved, that go dot dot dot into the movie. Being aware of this background and these hardships, in the character’s past and the world’s past, brings a more vital context to what you’re seeing in the movie in a lot of cases.
Film is necessarily a collaborative process and I think that Pacific Rim is he sum of a lot of different voices. As a screenwriter, how it usually goes is that you do a draft, you turn it in and years later, you see a trailer. This was a case in which the producers at Legendary and Guillermo had a lot of respect for me, a least enough to keep me in the loop to an extent that I’m not really accustomed to. It’s been a charmed production experience. Everybody brought their own interpretations and instincts but what this had going for it was that everybody involved was picturing, thematically, the same movie. Everyone was very conscious of what the themes are, picturing the same thematic landscape. When I see the final product I recognise it as the idea had back in 2007. It’s soul feels very much the same to me.
Guillermo supervised the graphic novel and gave notes on it, had a lot of input into the design of certain things, but I was given quite a bit of freedom to tell whatever story I want to tell.
What I’m most proud of is that the graphic novel and movie come from the same world. It’s not liked this was licensed out to somebody who had to find their footing in this universe, it’s created by the same people. Though they exist in very different mediums I feel like, weirdly, the comic book is part of the movie.
From the beginning we were interested in the context of Pacific Rim, the whole world. The movie was top priority, and we wanted to make the best version of that we possibly could but as a guy who likes maps at the front of fantasy books and obscure references to esoteric parts of any invented world, I approached the creation of the world of Pacific Rim so that it could exist in multiple stories and in multiple mediums. If you see the movie or read the graphic novel you’ll get complete stories but, in this world, there are still things that we’ve invented, that I know about and which Guillermo knows about, that we’re both itching to show to people when we get to explore this world in greater detail.
The future of Pacific Rim is taking shape. What we’re talking about with the sequel is that we don’t just want to rehash what we did in the first one. It’s not going to be the Home Alone formula where the same exact thing happens to the same exact people.
And we want to explore a story that grows organically out of where the first film ends. Maybe this means new Jaegers, maybe it will mean new people in them, but we’re talking a lot about relationships between characters and new circumstances in the world that I think are interesting. We’re going to make a sequel that’s every bit as cool in it’s own right.
And we’ve been talking about a sequel since before we had any idea before what the reception to Pacific Rim would be, so these have been all really earnest conversation, driven by an interest in the characters and what will happen to them next.
Thanks again to Beacham for taking the time. I’ll have just a little more from him tomorrow…
Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero is in comic book shops and book shops now, and can be pre-ordered for mailing online. Pacific Rim will be in cinemas on July 12th.