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Comic Book Day: “Pacific Rim” Writer Travis Beacham Talks “Tales from Year Zero”

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by on June 5, 2013

Yesterday, we caught up with Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro to talk about Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero, the original graphic novel that serves as a prequel to the events of Pacific Rim proper. Set nearly a decade prior to the event’s of the film, Tales from Year Zero details the emergence of the kaiju threat and gives readers a deeper insight into how the world went from the place we know to a post-apocalyptic nightmare scenario where our only defense against massive eldritch monsters is an elite group of pilots in giant robotic suits called Jaegers.

To take you deeper into the world of Legendary Comics’ Tales from Year Zero, which hits store shelves today, we sat down with Pacific Rim and Tales from Year Zero writer Travis Beacham about his design influences, working with Guillermo del Toro, and the unique challenges of writing a graphic novel. Plus we have a sneak peek at the cover art and an advance page of a Kaiju attacking San Francisco. Where’s your green smoke now, Nicolas Cage?

N: The film looks pretty terrific.  It seems to draw heavily from traditional kaiju films and anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion. What design influences did you incorporate into the story?

Travis Beacham: Probably I just wanted to see a modern take on that sort of sub-genre. I was really wondering when someone was going to get around to do that, and I realized that, in this equation, I was the screenwriter. If I wanted to see this kind of movie, maybe I should just write it. The design aspect of it — I’ve got to be honest, in the script there are a lot of general descriptions, that sort of thing, but Guillermo has a really, really intensive influence on that sort of thing. He does a lot of the design stuff, and he, I think, just wanted – we all wanted – since we’re all dropped into this world after the kaiju started coming and the war had already started, we wanted the mechs to invoke a sense of nostalgia when you see them for the first time. They have a kind of aura about them, which was one of the broad design notes. It’s something we were all thinking about.

N: Talk to us about working with Guillermo to construct the world of Pacific Rim. How closely did the two of you collaborate? Was it mostly working on story and structure, or did he give you the freedom to tell the story you wanted to?

TB: It was a very very close collaboration. We went back and forth on it. I came up with the idea in 2007 and wound up sitting on it for a while. When I was at Legendary, I had a pretty detailed outline of what the movie would be, and that’s around when Guillermo came on board, and we just started going back and forth on it. Tweaking this and that – as we went to script, we came up with a different draft. It was all very organic and collaborative. I even got to go to his house where he keeps his cool stuff – his man-cave house – and the design and art team were like a room away. It was cool to be in there working on the script, then walk into the room next door and see what the design guys were coming up with.

N: I spoke with Guillermo previously about the tie-in graphic novel, Tales from Year Zero, and he mentioned that it arose initially as part of the world-building process.

TB: Yeah, yeah. To help the movie with such a big drop-in – you have movies like Blade Runner where there’s a lot to take in and you can get some of it from context clues, but you take certain details for granted. Everything you need to know is explained to you to the extent you need to know it. Everything else is texture, and in order to give the world the appropriate depth, you end up creating a lot of stuff that’s not going to be in the movie. I call it “narrative dark matter” because it’s an analog to actual dark matter in that you can’t see it, but you see the finished product and you know it’s there. It’s the same way with this; even though the stuff isn’t necessarily in the movie, it informs the movie, and you can tell by watching the movie that the details are somewhere, that somebody knows the history. In creating all that, we had a lot of supplemental material and a lot of interesting stories, so when the time came around for creating a graphic novel that was a true additive experience that complemented the viewing experience, we had a wealth of material to draw from. The movie is at the end of a decade-or-so time frame, and you see how the war against the Kaijus is shaping up. The graphic novel is at the opposite end of that timeline, at the beginning, where we see how our world becomes the world of the movie.

N: How does the comic inform the film? Do you recommend reading before viewing or vice versa?

TB: I’d say it works either way, but I’d recommend reading the comic before the film. There are certain characters – like Idris Elba’s character – you get certain details that make the movie resonate a little bit more. It’s not like you have to read it to enjoy the film, but the comic is a very intimate extension of the movie from the people who had everything to do with the movie. Even some of the monsters you see in the graphic novel are back in the movie, generated by the same design process.

N: Guillermo mentioned that you used the graphic novel as an opportunity to slip in favorite scenes that didn’t make it into the theatrical script. Was that part of the plan or just the added benefit of having this platform for extending the film’s world?

TB: Oh, yeah, I think there’s a lot of things – we didn’t necessarily set out to make a graphic novel to give these scenes a home, but once we got started, we realized we had a golden opportunity to use certain things from the movie that we couldn’t use.

N: You come from a screenwriting background. Did writing for a graphic novel format versus a screenplay pose any challenges for you?

TB: Absolutely. I think if you came from a world where you were versed in the conventions of writing a graphic novel, it would be fine. You can’t think about them in the same way. You have to think about time differently, structure differently. I think the graphic novel form works, in practice, a lot differently from watching a movie. You can put it down and pick it back up whenever you want – something you can’t do in a theater. Your time is held prisoner by a film. In a graphic novel, you have to allow for a certain amount of freedom on the reader’s part to experience it how they choose.

N: One more question – what would be inside your ideal burrito?

TB: Oh, wow. I actually have kind of plain taste, so I’d just say chicken and cheese.

N: That’s fair – sometimes, simple is better.

TB: Yeah! That’s what I’m saying.

Here’s the cover image:

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And here’s San Francisco feeling the wrath of a particularly pernicious kaiju.

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Legendary Comics’ Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero is available today at your local comic book store. Read part one of our interview with Guillermo del Toro, then start getting pumped for Pacific Rim to crash land into theaters on July 12th. Will you be picking it up? Let us know in the comments below.

(Note: Legendary Pictures owns Legendary Comics and Nerdist Industries. Nerdist.com remains editorially independent)