Pacific Rim: Joshua Hale Fialkov Tells Tales from the Drift

While you wait for Pacific Rim 2 to arrive, there's another way to return to the world of the films with Tales from the Drift.

Pacific Rim was one of the most entertaining movies from the last few years. It was a classic tale as old as human storytelling: an interdimensional hole opens in the Pacific Ocean, spewing forth giant monsters and forcing the humans to build enormous robots with which to defend themselves.

The movie has inspired a passionate fanbase and countless examinations of the world Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beacham created, through games, art books, and comic book prequels, the second of which, Pacific Rim: Tales from The Drift, launches on November 4th, 2015. We had a chance to talk with Joshua Hale Fialkov, the writer on Pacific Rim: Tales from the Drift about the new book.

Den of Geek: How did you come to the Pacific Rim project?

Joshua Hale Fialkov: You know, I’m just a huge huge fan of the franchise. The second I saw the movie, I felt like, a kinship with it because it was just so incredible.

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So I got called in for a meeting at Legendary – I live in Los Angeles like, literally 5 minutes from what is known as “the Sandcrawler” because it’s a giant building that looks like the sandcrawler from Star Wars, which is where Legendary is. And I went in, and the first words out of my mouth were “Before we start, if you guys would ever want to do more Pacific Rim comics, I would write them for free.”

And the guys sort of chuckled to themselves, push an NDA across the table for me to sign. I signed it, and then they said “SOOOOOOOO you’re willing to work for free I hear…”

But no, I’m a huge huge fan of the franchise, and Robert Napton, who is the editor of the book, he knows that I was a big fan of it, and he and I have been friends for a long time and trying to work together. So I think it was just I was in the right place at the right time.

Tell me a little about the story that you’re telling in the book.

It’s set before the movie takes place, but after the first, there was another comic miniseries called Tales from Year Zero. So it takes place after that, but before the movie. It’s a completely stand alone story, So you don’t have to have seen the movie or the other comics to enjoy it. It’s a complete story in and of itself across four issues.

It’s about two pilots called Duc and Kaori who are piloting the Tacit Ronin; he’s their Jaeger, which we only see a glimpse of in the movie, but it’s by far the coolest design of all the Jaegers. I love it so much. And what happens is as we see them, we meet them at the top of the story, they are a married couple, they’re in love with each other, they’re inseparable. They’re a single unit.

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What we find out through the drift, however, is that when they first met, they couldn’t have hated each other more. They’re just completely opposite each other, they have no…they literally do not speak the same language. So as we go through this fight with this Jaeger, they get more or less trapped in the drift, we get to see the entirety of their relationship sort of splayed out backwards.

So we get to see exactly how they went from hating each other to falling in love finally to becoming this inseparable force. And as they go through their own pasts, that’s actually the thing that’s helping them fight the battle. It’s sort of a nice..I’m real proud of it because I feel that what I try to do in all my books, whether it’s my creator owned books like The Life After or The Bunker or the work I did at Marvel and DC, I always try and find the humanity in the character. So getting to tell this story that is a huge huge genre story – it’s literally monsters and robots punching each other – but getting to tell it through this prism of humanity and love is really what got me excited and again, I think that’s why I got hired in the first place.

Tell me a little about your writing process. How much do you have to work when you’re telling a story that jumps between the present day and flashbacks like that to make sure that you’re not giving anything away too soon, to pace…the flow of information appropriately?

That’s my favorite part. I actually love – when I think about writing, I work in television as my day job.

When you work in TV, everything is kind of meticulously planned out and you learn about how you build a board and how you build a story. One of those things about building a story is really mathematics. A lot of it is math – we have three things of this which means we have to have three things of that. If we do this plus this, we can do that. If we cross cut this, we can do that. So getting to do that part of it is actually honest to god my favorite part of writing. It’s finding ways to tell the story so that it is close to as perfect a balance between the two and it’s really clear and concise.

And on top of that I’m working from this amazing story from Travis Beacham and Guillermo Del Toro, who wrote the overall story for the book, what the book was going to be. Then they gave me a lot of freedom to come in and make the story my own. It’s weird to say, but it was a joyful process. It was really a ton of fun.

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How much access have you had? How much have you worked with Guillermo and Travis on building it out?

Travis wrote the original master documents for what we’re doing, and I met with Guillermo once or twice. Guillermo chimes in on every script, chimes in on every page, but in the very best way. It’s really terrific to have that kind of involvement from them because the two of them are the bible for Pacific Rim. They know the world, they know the franchise better than anybody.

And their passion for it, and that’s true for everyone at Legendary, everyone’s passion for Pacific Rim at Legendary is huge. It’s their baby, so they’re super protective of it. But that also means they know that part of being protective is letting people have their creative say.

Marcos and you, how much do you guys work together to flesh out the designs for the kaiju? Or is there a pretty firm bible for every monster that came through the rift?

The kaiju stuff, a lot of it was from I would describe how I’d want the fight to go and what I think the specialty of the kaiju is. Then Marcos did several designs for each one, and they would go through the design process with Legendary. So what’s cool is the monsters are very specific to our story, they’re very specific to Marcos’s style while at the same time they feel like they’re part of the universe. They feel different but the same, in that they feel like they could definitely be things that would be coming through the breach.

How tempting was it coming in as a fan and knowing what was fantastic about the movie, how tempting was it to just sit at your laptop and type in “Jaeger punches the shit out of a kaiju for 20 pages” and close your laptop safe in the knowledge of a job well done?

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I’ll put it to you this way: I have a shelf of Pacific Rim toys, and while I was working on the book, I would frequently have them out in front of me. I was positioning them and taking pictures and just trying to figure out how they would fight. It’s always fun when you have a job that is literally playing with toys.

That sounds amazing. It’s also kind of a serious question too, though. The Bunker and The Life After, your two creator owned books, are in comparison (and this is everything in comparison), they’re quiet and cerebral. How do you shift up your headspace going from a story like The Bunker to something huuuuge like Pacific Rim?

You know, again, I tackle everything I do from that same place about humanity. It really is…the thing that’s great about genre is that genre gives you pants. So a pair of jeans is a pair of jeans. They give you a form, you don’t have any of your naughty bits hanging out. But then what you do around those jeans is what lets you do whatever you want.

It’s sort of the same thing. The Bunker has a super high concept, right? The concept is “this group of friends find a military style bunker from the future that tells them that they’re going to cause the apocalypse.” That is super high concept, super science fictiony. But the execution of the book, that is the catalyst rather than the driving force of the book. We’re on issue, I just turned in, Joe’s drawing issue 14 or 15 right now, and I’m on issue 17 or 18 of the script, and that is the first time since that first issue that time travel has really been part of the story, because it’s not really about time travel. It’s about the consequences.

And then you have The Life After, and we have our new volume starting on Wednesday… with Exodus. It’s a huge story, it’s about the afterlife. It’s a giant journey through the afterlife. But, within that, it’s really a love story. It’s a story about how Jude feels about Maddie, and what happens when the abstract becomes real. Whether it’s his love for her or their understanding of the universe.

So with Pacific Rim, I tried to do the same thing. The idea of the drift is a super awesome idea. It’s so cool that you’re two people who share one consciousness. And the fact that there’s another person who knows you beyond intimately, who knows you in ways that you possibly don’t even know yourself because your minds are so melded into one, that person is going to be…that relationship with that person is so far beyond what the rest of us understand as anything, as love, as friendship, as partnership. So far beyond that. But at its core, that is actually what we’re all looking for.

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Every minute of our life is about trying to find our other half. There’s this song, “Original Love,” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I think it was actually a Greek creation myth. And the myth is that we started off as two headed, four legged creatures who got split in half. And I think why that story has existed for 4000 years is that it’s sort of how everybody feels; everyone’s always looking for where they fit. And when you play that story, when that becomes the story rather than us trying to fight the monsters, I think you get to something that’s very universal, that people really, that’s very human that people really understand.

Are we going to see any fun cameos?

You are going to see fun cameos. I don’t want to spoil it, but we’re going to see some of the characters from the movie, and we’re going to get to see them [in different situations than] we’ve seen them before, and I think it sheds a little more light on who they are. I don’t want to spoil it, because they’re coming up in the second and third issues.

And you also get to see a little bit more of what the Pan Pacific Defense Corps looks like, how it was working when it was still working, because that’s something we haven’t actually seen. By the time we’re getting to it in the movie, it’s already fallen into disarray. And in the first comic book series, it was before it was really a thing had been set up. So getting to see how this group of people makes these horrific decisions and what role the Jaeger pilots play in that is really fun, and I’m super proud of how how all that stuff turned out.

Is it a challenge coming in and writing a prequel like this where there’s a defined end point?

Well again, that’s the other reason to make it about the characters instead of making it about the war, right? Because war, whether it’s robots fighting monsters or Nazis fighting Europeans, the stories aren’t actually about the war, they’re about what the war does to people. So having it be the complete story of Duc and Kaori, you get around that stuff. We do know ultimately where it’s going, but what really matters is how it affects our characters.

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So last question, did they let you retcon in your own Jaeger with an amazing name?

There’s one, I think there’s a Jaeger that’s in 4 that was originally going to be a new Jaeger and then they figured out that it could be an existing Jaeger. So I almost did it. I got very close.


I’m not 100% sure if that jaeger’s been seen anywhere before. It might be a brand new jaeger. I know it’s a thing that exists, but I don’t know if turns up in one of the games or if it’s been around. But there’s all new kaiju, and the kaiju are awesome. And getting to see Tacit Ronin kick ass is a delight.