Pacific Rim, the anticipated summer action movie, is still more than a month away from its debut, with a release date of July 12.
Yet Pacific Rim, the graphic novel, is here this week, and on sale this Wednesday. Titled Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero, it is, as the title implies, a prequel aiming to build the world of the film, which depicts human-piloted giant robots called Jaegers fighting monsters known as Kaiju.
Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero is a 112-page hardcover published by Legendary's comic book division and distributed by Marvel. It's written by the movie's screenwriter, Travis Beacham, and "presented by" its celebrated director, Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth's Guillermo del Toro. Several artists contributed to the graphic novel, which has interiors by Yvel Guichet, Pericles Junior, Chris Batista and Sean Chen; and a cover by Alex Ross. We talked to Beacham, who also contributed to 2010's Clash of the Titans remake, about the book.
Newsarama: Travis, Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero is your comic book debut. It's sort of an obvious question, but what was the transition like from you moving to screenwriting to the comic book format?
Travis Beacham: It's my first graphic novel, and to be honest, it was kind of a challenging transition. I was used to writing screenplays, and even though they're both visual mediums, and they're often compared to each other, I think at the end of the day when you're scripting out a story, the experience of reading each or viewing each are extremely different. You have to think about space differently, you have to think about time differently, and transitions, and the format of the screenplay itself versus the format of the graphic novel script. There are a lot of differences.
It felt sort of like trying to direct a movie blindfolded with a typewriter. [Laughs.] Usually in screenplays I tend to explain a lot, and my prose tends to be sort of detailed. The compromise I made with myself in doing graphic novel work was, "I'm going to try to be a lot sparser, here." I didn't want the artist to feel like this new kid was dictating to them exactly how to lay a page out, or how big a panel should be, or that kind of thing. I wanted to really give them as much flexibility as possible, so that they would have fun doing it. It's best when creative people have fun creating stuff, because that's when the audience has fun experiencing it. It was an adjustment, but I like to think I got the hang out of it, and I'm really proud of the final product.
Nrama: One would imagine one of the biggest transitions is collaborating with the interior artists — did you work pretty closely with the book's different artists?
Beacham: Not as closely as I would have liked. That was a function of the sheer volume of artists that we had working on it simultaneously. There wasn't a lot of time for any two of us to get to know each other very well.
But that said, because there were so many working on it, we were getting pages every single day from one artist or another, and that was actually really fun; seeing it come together that quickly. It was really exciting, seeing what they were doing with it.
Nrama: As far as the story itself of the book, rather than being the old-school type of movie tie-in that's a straight adaptation, it's more of a direct prequel to where the movie picks up, right?
Beacham: Yeah, definitely. The movie kind of drops you into history already in progress. It takes place, for the most part, over 10 years after the first Kaiju attack. So Kaijus have been attacking for a while, Jaegers have been around for a little while, and that's sort of the reality of the world that you come into in the movie.
The graphic novel takes place at the other end of the timeline, basically. You see the first Kaiju attack, you see the creation of the first Jaeger, you see the pilots in the academy. That's what I think was really fun about it. In creating the world around the story of the movie, it was very important to us that it be a complete world. That we weren't just creating only what we needed for the story, but we were fleshing out a world that we could drop references in, and have that texture of unexplained things here and there that the real world has. It's all narrative dark matter, in a sense. It's not necessarily all in the movie, but the fact that we thought about it, and the fact that we created it, it affects the confidence with which we tell the story in the movie, and it affects the motion of the universe itself.
So we had all of that, and when we were talking about what to do with the graphic novel, it was immediately apparent to us that rather than do a straight-up adaptation, since we had the luxury of having the same people work on the graphic novel who did the movie, why not just use a lot of the supplemental material and story matter that we already thought of, that we weren't using in the movie? What if we dramatized that in a graphic novel prequel that complemented the movie, and that added to the experience of it?
Nrama: The cover of the graphic novel says the book is "presented by" Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro, and the initial solicitation said he provided "hands-on supervision." Obviously, you worked with him on the movie, but to what extent was he involved with the creation of this book?
Beacham: He was very involved. Early on, he was still pretty heavily at-work with the movie, but he was very invested in how the graphic novel turned out. He's definitely a fan of this stuff, so he was invested not only as a director, but as a fan. As he had the time, especially when we were getting pages back every day, he was giving very specific notes — broad notes, and even down to, "Oh, this isn't the right shade of blue for this Jaeger." He had a lot of interest in how it turned out, and a lot of artistic interest in the product.
Nrama: There's definite anticipation around the film, but this is a book that's coming out more than a month before the movie comes out. People aren't going to have a full sense of what Pacific Rim is all about by the time this is on sale, and it can be kind of a daunting thing to buy a $25 book based in the world of a movie you haven't seen yet. What would you say to a potential audience member of what they should check the book out before the movie?
Beacham: It takes place before the movie. Whereas the movie drops you into this world, this book sort of explains how our world became the world in the movie. So you're starting from a point of familiarity, because it's sort of the world you know, and you're seeing the things that happened that lead up to the movie. It's imagined as a very organic introduction to the movie. If we could put it on camera and film it, that would be great, but it would also make the movie, I don't know, an hour longer or something. [Laughs.]
It introduces you to concepts like how The Drift works; the Jaeger being piloted by two pilots, how that revelation came about, what it practically means to be connected to another pilot. You see the first Kaiju attack, you see the development of the Jaeger program in a Right Stuff-esque way, you see the academy. You're being introduced to concepts and characters that will be important in the movie in a very introductory way.
Nrama: When viewing the finished product of the book, what was it like seeing these stories brought to like by comic pros in a very different form than a film can?
Beacham: It was incredible. I was a huge fan of most of them, and even the ones that I wasn't as aware of won me over very quickly. I'm really extraordinarily proud of the artistic team on this. I think they bring their own voices to the sections of the story that they illustrate, and their own personality. The art is gorgeous, I love it so much.
The Jaeger and the Kaiju stuff, I think is predictably gorgeous — that's the stuff everyone's looking forward to, and it looks really fantastic in the book. But what I think is less expected, and what I'm really gratified by, is the scenes when it's just two people talking. The nuances that they catch with the characters, I love how they've interpreted it.
Nrama: Now that you've had the experience of writing the Pacific Rim graphic novel, did it leave you with a taste for doing more work in the comic book industry, if that comes to pass?
Beacham: Unequivocally. I had a lot of fun doing it. I would love working in the medium again.
Even though we did have five pencilers on it, that's still quite a few fewer people than work on a big tentpole summer movie, and there's an intimacy to that creativity and that interaction that I found really, really appealing. I would love to do more graphic novels, be it more original stuff, or other things in the Pacific Rim universe, I'm game for as much as people want to read. I had a real blast doing it.