Alex Moreland chats with writer Cavan Scott about Pacific Rim: Aftermath, his interest in ordinary people in extraordinary worlds, and more…
So, how did you first come to be involved with the Pacific Rim: Aftermath comics?
Basically, I was put in touch with Robert Napton at Legendary by a mutual friend, Paul Cornell, and I started a bit of a campaign, because I’m a massive fan of the first film, and I knew there was a sequel coming, so I threw my hat into the ring quite forcefully! After a while they came back and asked if I was still interested, and I was asked to put forward some ideas. It went from there really.
Did you have much latitude in terms of where to take the comics, or was what they had to be quite clear from the start, set by the movies?
Because of things that happen in the film, either, there’s only certain things that we could do, and certain things we couldn’t. What Legendary did was come to me with this sort of general idea for the mini-series, and then left it to me to spin-out those ideas, really, which I then went back to them and there were conversations back and forth. I had a chance to read the script for Uprising, so I could tie into that. But yeah, it was quite a lot of freedom in the early days of how we were going to take the story; it was sort of a joint effort, the story of the mini-series, between Robert, myself and Barnaby at Legendary, who works on a lot of the mythology behind the scenes.
Could you walk me through their development – from your initial idea, to the finished product? Were there any big changes you made along the way?
Um, not so many big changes. I think one of the things that we developed was Hannibal Chau’s part of the story, I don’t think about the beginning he was such an integral part of it. But as time went on, we realised there were things we could do with him, so his role in the entire story grew. I can’t give away too much, because it would unfortunately spoil the future issues, but with Hannibal a bigger part in the story, that meant we could do things that weren’t possible before. So, it was one of those moments where actually it helped in the end, and it opened up new possibilities for Aftermath. Definitely he was involved, but he wasn’t as involved, I think in the early conversations.
You’ve got a lot of experience writing comics, prose stories, audio plays, so on. How do you adapt your approach for each, or do you find you tackle them in a fairly similar way each time?
I started out writing radio and audio dramas, and so the crossover into comics – I’ve loved comics since I was a kid, so it’s a media I know really well, but both are dialogue based, and the two disciplines are quite easy to move from one to another. Just as in an audio play you’re writing for the actors and giving them a world that they can act within and interpret what you’ve given them, in the same way when you’re working with comics, you’re working with an artist, and the script is meant for them, not meant for the final reader. So, the script lays out what you’re thinking about for the story and again, the artist then takes those ideas and interprets them into what we finally get. Just like with a script, you then sort of work it back and forth together, so like in an audio script it’s quite a team effort working with a director and similarly with a comic. Obviously, when you’re writing a novel, when you’re writing prose, it’s pretty much you and the computer screen, or a notepad. I think even when I write prose, I’m very dialogue led at first anyway, so I always start with the dialogue and sketch it out.
So actually, across the three medium, I pretty much always start with dialogue first. When I’m writing a comic strip, I will write the dialogue for the page and then break it up into panels, most of the time. Sometimes it doesn’t work like that, sometimes I do block it out first, but most of the time it’s dialogue first. So yeah, I think in all three, I think I am pretty much dialogue led.
Would you say you have a preference between them?
It’s difficult, comics are you know my one love, my first love really. I grew up in Britain reading superhero comics from an early age, and then so progressed through to what at the time was quite a thriving comic industry. So I, you know, I always feel like I’m coming home with it, when I’m writing comics, but the one thing I like about writing all three forms is that there are moments when you devote to comics for a while, and you’re sort of bogged down with working on comics, and it’s really nice then to have a change of pace, and go to prose. Prose is always more intensive, so again, when it comes to the end of a story or a book, there is sort of a release in coming back to a comic strip. I think that’s probably why I find comic strips the most natural thing I can write, so I suppose there’s a preference there. But I think I’m always going to try and writing at least comics and prose because I like the fact that you can go off and do something else with one thing, and then it’s always a bit fresh when you come back to it.
Just picking up on that – do you think there are some stories that can only be told in certain mediums? An idea that can only be conveyed through a comic, or only through a novel?
Well obviously with prose, it’s much easier to get into the characters’ heads, and see the stories from a POV of one of the characters. You can obviously [do that] through comics, through thought balloons, or through captions more likely these days, and have the internal dialogue of what’s going on inside the character’s head. But by its very nature, you’re an outsider looking in. When you’re in prose, you get pulled into the character’s head, you’re living the action through them. You’re not so much observing, you’re right there with them. I think the prose has that ability to really pull you into a point of view. So, comics can do it, but you’re naturally one step further from the character’s thoughts, you’re observing by the very nature of looking at the art. I think that’s when the difference is – prose can be a far more intimate relationship between the reader and the written word.
The original Pacific Rim film is very much a visual spectacle – do you think that’s why it lends itself to having comic books as well?
Absolutely, yes, and I think it has a very definite style, which then can be translated over to the comics very, very easily. And yeah, it’s about spectacle. You know, the original film is about giant robots beating up giant monsters, which is something that can very naturally follow through into art and comic work. So yeah, I think the two are very complimentary.
During the writing of this, did you have a close collaborative approach with Rich Elson, the artist on the book?
Yeah, Rich was someone I wanted to work with; I was asked to suggest a number of artists for the comic, and Rich was one of my top names on the list. Because of his work on 2000 AD over here in the UK, I knew he could do action, I knew that he’d also be very good for those smaller moments, which any story with this scale will need. So, I was really excited when he said that he could come on board with it, and that worked out.
I started writing it before Rich was involved, but then as the scripts went on in the series and he was already working on the art, we started flying covers back and forth so then what Rich is very good at is when he designs a Jaeger or a Kaiju or anything like, he puts in little nuggets of information that I can pick up in the story, so you know perhaps a special move that the Jaeger can do, something that he’s decided he thought would be really cool if the Jaeger could do this. It might not be something we checked off immediately, but then I could do that later on.
On another note, what would you say are your chief creative influences?
I’m massively influenced by comic books, no matter what I’m writing. As I said, when I was starting to read as a kid, they were pretty much what I first read, rather than books, rather than prose. Also, anyone who knows my past, knows that I’m quite heavily linked to Doctor Who, and Doctor Who has been a massive influence on my storytelling. From the classic series of the last century, that’s all episodic cliffhanger based storytelling – which again works very well for comics, yeah, and the kind of books that I write as well. [The books] are usually thriller based, both for adults and kids, and very much [shaped around] cliffhangers. At the end of every chapter there is a cliffhanger – it hopefully keeps you reading on! I have to thank Doctor Who for that, because at such an early age [it was] so influential.
And also I am influenced by filmmakers like del Toro, who is obviously linked through the first Pacific Rim movie and he’s producing the second one. I love the world building that goes into his films; I at the minute am pouring over the making of The Shape of Water, and just the amount of information he puts into his characters that you don’t necessarily even see on the page. And it’s something that works: for this comic I wrote bios for the main characters, which is information won’t necessarily eventually kick into the comic at all, but it meant that we were all coming from the same page when we were discussing the characters. We knew what they’d been through before. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we wouldn’t change something [later] but, I’ve been very much influenced by the way of what that way of world building in everything I do now, not just on this project, but on others as well.
Do you tend to make up that character back story for your work?
I usually do, yeah. I mean it depends on the level. I’ve got a bit carried away on Aftermath I think, but it was a good way of getting myself into the world. Most of the time, for every project I work on, there is usually at least a very basic background of who these characters are, where they come from, what got them to the point that we see them in the story. As I said, I don’t like to straight jacket myself, if something comes up later, we can go back and amend it and say, “Well, actually we can… if we had this part of their past”. But it gives you a really good starting point, and like any outline or sort of guide to characters, I think it’s a good way to start. As long as it doesn’t become a cabin inside your own head that you can’t move away from that, as long as it doesn’t become, as I say, a straight jacket. You have to have the fluidity, I think, still to be able to have the character surprise you, and you can move with them. But I think it helps them when you’re starting off fresh, it helps to at least know where they’ve been up to that point.
You tend to work on quite a few different projects at once – do you ever find that they start to influence one another, with ideas and themes bleeding across?
Yes, I mean the very nature of the job means I’m sort of tackling different properties and different projects at the same time. I suppose it’s natural that you’re going to bleed through sometimes, and you start to have… I think every writer has their own tropes that they bring through. What you have to do is recognise those when they’re coming up, so you can subvert them, so you don’t become known for the same things.
It can definitely happen, but you know, you have try and, as I say, really look at what you’re doing, and learn to spot where the similarities are coming from. That being said, there are times when I think you’re always learning, no matter what job you do, you don’t come to things as a fully formed writer, because I think every writer is always learning through every experience. Working with Legendary, I have learned things that I can then take to other projects, and vice versa. So, one of the reasons I like doing what I do is that I do get to work with so many different creators, and so many different people, that I think it helps you over time tell a story.
You work across these different universes, Pacific Rim, Doctor Who, various others, and so on. Do you think that across that there’s a recognisable, I suppose for lack of a better term, singular voice that you can sort of see across your work?
Yeah, I mean a lot of what I do you have to sort of, you have to adopt the voice of the universe. One thing I always try to do is make sure that someone feels like if they’re reading the Pacific Rim comic, they’re in the same world as the films, the same world as the novel. You know, things like that. But at the same time point, you do want to bring something of yourself, to it. So hopefully that comes in through the characterization I use.
I think I try and bring humour to a lot of the situations to counter balance situations that could be quite dark and dangerous at times. And, I think that’s how you get your voice when you’re working other properties, by your approach to them and it is difficult, because you do at times think, “Am I just fitting into a cookie cutter kind of mentality here?” But I always think about what I try to bring to a story – looking at everything from a character’s point of view, rather than just a plot point of view. I want to know why the character is doing that, rather than that they’re there as a plot mechanic. So, I think that’s what, as a writer working on individual properties, you have to do. And people learn to trust that as well; hopefully, someone’s read some of my work on, say, Star Wars, so they trust I will be dealing with the characters in a way that is true to what they’ve been before, but also thinking about them as logical characters rather than just things that are pushing the plot along. Then that will go into my work on Pacific Rim or Doctor Who or whatever. So yeah, it is a balancing act.
Well, yeah, I mean just kind of personally, I’m quite a Doctor Who fan as well, and I’m generally quite fond of your Doctor Who stuff as well.
Oh, thank you!
You’re welcome! Finally, then – what’s the main thing you’d like someone to take away from your Pacific Rim comics, and also your work in general?
Oh, a huge question. From Pacific Rim, I think what we’re looking at with Aftermath is – quite often what I like to look at in my work is how these big world shattering events can affect real people. Because that’s very much what Pacific Rim: Uprising is all about, it’s about the people who are left behind after the war of the first film. You know, people who were, like Griffin, put in a Jaeger who suddenly have no more monsters left to fight, so they have to go and find their own monsters. The people who are left living in the slums, who were left by the battles, and things like that. And actually, I think that’s something I do try and look at throughout any of my projects that I work on.
What is something that, for example working with Games Workshop on Warhammer, I’m actually more interested in not so much the Space Marines, but what it’s like for the people who live alongside the Space Marines. You know, having to cope with the aftermath – there’s that word again – of the battles. It’s something that I constantly look at through all my projects, and actually as time goes by, it is becoming more and more something I’m interested in: how these people, the real people in all the universes, cope with these incredible things that are happening around them, whether that’s giant, you know Jaegers fighting Kaiju, whether it’s a 2000-year-old Time Lord arriving and turning their world upside down, whether it’s being attacked, or your planet invaded by aliens. It’s those ordinary people, and how they cope with it, whether they live up to the challenge or whether they try and hide from it. And then afterwards how that’s going to leave them, what scars is that going to leave on them, and how they’re gonna move on afterwards. So, there’s something I’m definitely interested in all my projects.
Cavan Scott, thank you very much!
Pacific Rim: Aftermath is available now, as is Pacific Rim: Amara.
Image Credit: Peter Travers