Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are two of the most prolific cartoonists working in comics today. The Brazilian collaborators, lovingly referred to as the Moon Twins, made waves on American shores with their work on the Vertigo limited series Daytripper. This book focused on moments throughout the life of a struggling novelist, cursed to “die” at the end of each chapter only to be alive and well in the next. A stunning tale that elevated daily life to magic, both Fábio and Gabriel have continued to make reality fantastic through series like Umbrella Academy with Gerard Way and Casanova with Matt Fraction.
Now the two brothers are back with a brand new collaboration, fittingly titled Two Brothers. An adaptation of Brazilian novelist Milton Hatoum’s novel The Brothers, this graphic novel tells the story of twins Yaqub and Omar, separated for years by conflicts outside their control only to be brought back together and begin a war of their own. The title will be published by Dark Horse Comics on October 14th, and in celebration of Two Brothers‘ release, Comics Bulletin is proud to present the first of an extensive three part interview series with the Moon Twins.
In this first part, CB writers Jason Sacks and Alex Lu sit down with Fábio and Gabriel to discuss the origins of this comic adaptation and how it fits into the extensive and growing canon of Moon Twins works.
Alex Lu: So Gabriel, Fábio, is this your first collaboration since Daytripper?
Gabriel Bá: Well, we did B.P.R.D Vampire, but even the two of us forget that we did that after Daytripper because it is in Mike’s world.
Fábio Moon: It feels like it fits in a different part of our work. We have to get into a different mindset, like “Ah, this is our horror persona.” We forget about our horror persona most of the time because the stories we like to tell are so different than those.
Lu: Well, Casanova has a little bit of horror in it too, doesn’t it?
Bá: Yeah, yeah. It is more, I think, psychological horror.
Lu: It must have been amazing to get to work with Mike. I am going through Hellboy for the first time because I am young and I am inexperienced. But he’s a legend.
Moon: Yes, he is.
Bá: I think it is the only reason why we do it because we are such huge fans of his work. He had a huge influence on our careers and our everything. So I think that’s why we accept it working with him on characters that are not our own. It is basically work for hire, but we have a lot of fun playing with those characters and creating new stuff. I think we do it because we can create new stuff. We don’t work with Hellboy, although we have done short stories with Hellboy that Mike wrote. That’s why, because he wrote it.
Lu: Did you work closely with him?
Moon: As close as we can, we did.
Bá: He is just one email away. He is very easy to reach. He answers emails very easily when he is not drawing. When he is drawing, he takes a little more time. But when we worked on Vampire, we talked a lot about the story, the whole vampire mythology in Hellboy’s world, how it works, what we could do, what we couldn’t do, and then he let us create the whole thing.
Lu: Right. I guess thinking about it now I am struck by how similar in some ways that his style is to yours.
Moon: He’s a big influence in how we see the dramatic power of black and white in comics, in narrative comics. So he is a master of using black and white to add to the story- add moods, add dynamic.
Bá: There are other influences as well. But is the most recognizable.
Moon: Yeah, recognizable, mainstream, American artist. So it is easier to spot. “Oh, you are influenced by Mike Mignola?” Yes.
Jason Sacks: So, to dive into Two Brothers– It is a very ambitious book for you to be adapting. First of all, how did you find the book that you are adapting?
Moon: Well, we were invited by the Brazilian publisher to do the book because it is a contemporary classic in Brazil and the story is about two twin brothers. So the Brazilian editor looked at us. We met the author at a literary festival, which has been going on more and more in Brazil. We met the author there. The three of us were talking. The comics editor saw us and he said, “What do you think about adapting his book, which deals with two twin brothers? You too being two twin brothers.” So that’s the initial spark.
We did another adaptation a few years ago of a classic from Brazilian literature called The Alienist from Machado de Assis. He’s the biggest Brazilian writer from literature. It’s a story about this doctor/scientist that wants to research the human mind and the insanity. He creates this asylum to put crazy people in to study them. And then he begins to put everyone from the city in the asylum. And then he just thinks all the other way, either everyone is crazy or no one is crazy. Then he lets everyone out. Then he starts thinking he is the one who is crazy. It is a story of the late 19th century before the whole psychology thing. It is very interesting. We did in that in 2006 or 7. It got a lot of attention here in Brazil. It got a literary award. Literary adaptations are a big trend here in Brazil because you get a classic story that everyone knows and tell that in a different language. So you introduce that to a new audience. It is kind of an easier read also. It is more appealing for young people. You get big government buys for public libraries and public stories. All of those reasons made this a big trend here in Brazil. We kind of started that with this book, The Alienist, in 2006. We thought we would not do another adaptation because we want to tell our own stories. But once we read Two Brothers and we got invited to adapt it, we were almost finishing with Daytripper. We were one year from finishing it. We thought it would be a nice challenge, a nice next big project to engage on because of all we have talked about about the story. So we said yes.
At first we were a little worried because it is a long, complex novel. The things that novels do very well is this stream type of narrative which goes back and forth in a memory type of way when you are talking about the story which spans out between fifty years of one family’s life. That is one of the cool things you can do in literature, but it is very hard to put that fluid narrative in comics when you have to mix the words and images together. So at first we didn’t know if we could do it because we knew it would take a lot of work and it would be very hard.
At the same time, we always try to do something different, which is a challenge. We always look for challenges in terms of what comics can be. And that was the challenge that we wanted. We wanted to do this comic because the narrative is so hard to pull off. But at the same time, if we could, we thought it would be an incredibly strong story to translate to comics.
Sacks: So you are implying that the fact that it was hard made it interesting to you as a project. Is that right?
Moon: It was a challenge, but the story itself has everything that we want to tell in stories. It is about relationship. It is about people, family, and how the place they live has a big influence in the life they lead and how they relate with each other, friends, family. Since it is a story that takes place through sixty years of Brazilian history, we see all these characters developing. We see all the stories unfolding. So we could have a big story instead of little, short excerpts of ordinary life. So it was a big dramatic story. And it was a very dramatic story. It is not like Daytripper, which even though the character dies a lot, you have this feeling that it is an upbeat, positive story. And Two Brothers-
Bá: It’s not.
Moon: It is a tragedy. So we also like the idea that we can have a story about family and relationships and people, and it can be as dark and tragic as they come.
Bá: The challenge is what drives us to do comics. We have to do something that we feel can expand the medium, expand the market, expand what people think comics are. That’s what inspires us to work on a book like this for four years and keep it interesting. We were breaking new ground and we were discovering stuff. We were surprising ourselves while we were working on the book.
Sacks: I think that’s why a lot of your previous work resonates. It seems very heart-felt, but also very intentional. Maybe that’s a word I would use; I am not sure if you would agree. With Daytripper, even the quiet moments are composed in a way that really tells a lot about the story. One of the moments that stays with me the most is just a scene that takes place around a dinner table in the issue where the husband is missing and presumed dead. But the way that it is just at a distance enough where you are separated from the events just shows this kind of an intentionality about the work that you created that really sets the scene in a beautiful way.
So when you are adapting a book like Two Brothers or working on a book like Daytripper, what is your approach to playing out these scenes? Do you do many drafts of the pages? How does that work out?
Bá: Well, these were two very different projects because with Daytripper we had the full outline of the storyline. We had to come up with that to present it to Vertigo. We knew which chapter would be about a certain age and a certain moment of his life. And then we worked on each chapter as the comic. We wrote the full script and did the full artwork. We did that for every chapter. But for Two Brothers, we had the whole book so we already had the whole story. We spent the first two years working on the script, rereading it, cracking it out, making timelines, listing all of the settings and backgrounds we wanted to put in the story, and all of the characters. We were trying to understand the story to see what we were going to put in and what we were going to leave out. It was a long book and a complex book.
We wanted to use the writing style of the author as well because that is one of the beauties of writing; it is how you write it and how you tell the story. We tried to keep that as much as possible whenever there was a narration or something like that. So for Two Brothers when we did the script, instead of being a full, reading script, we already did it as a layout of the pages. We were already figuring out the panels and the text that was going in there. Because it didn’t make sense to get the book, write full scripts, break into panels on the scripts, and then draw it. It took us almost the whole time, like three and a half years, to finish this part of the script. But we started drawing after two years because we needed something visual to give us more incentive and more inspiration. Only working on the script was too abstract, even though we had the thumbnails. We needed something visual. Because it is a visual medium and we love to draw. That’s when story really takes body.
Sacks: Also seeing the story, the setting really is important. The place it seems is a particularly Brazilian book. Did that enter into your decision to take it on as well?
Moon: Yeah, it is a very Brazilian setting and it is a very different Brazilian setting. It is different even for us because Manaus is middle of the Amazon forest. It is far away from everything else in Brazil. So it is almost another universe. It is one of the things that we were fascinated with while we were reading the book. So it was one of the things that we wanted to maintain, like create this fascination about this world that the reader is discovering, which is familiar but at the same time very exotic and very different. So the background, the city is an important character of the story as well. When you do a story that takes place throughout sixty years, the city changes a lot and every character changes a lot. So there are many parallels to what happens to the city and the characters throughout the story. So one of the things that took a long time was doing the research. We went to the city and spent a week there. Then we took a lot of pictures. And we researched on the Internet. It was a long process to understand everything visually so we could tell the story and make it feel like a world that we were building and presenting and seducing the reader into.
Sacks: Seducing the reader, I like the phrase “seducing the reader” because again, not to bring in Daytripper, but that certain seems like a parallel. You took events that were probably very familiar to you, but there is a lot of magic to them as well. That is one of the things that I think we both resonated with was the magic of everyday life. Is that also an element of Two Brothers?
Bá: Yeah. Ordinary life is fascinating. It is complex and it is extraordinary. It is something that you can relate and at the same time it is unbelievable how twists and turns happen in ordinary life. They are much more powerful than having super powers. So we are always fascinated by that aspect of ordinary life and how that can have a strong impact on readers because they relate so much with stuff they feel can happen to them. Even if it is in a completely different reality, they feel it could happen to them. They could see themselves in that world in that situation. This increases the height and the intensity of the drama so much that we felt this is exactly what we like to do in comics. It was almost like working with another writer, even though the Brazilian novelist gave us the freedom to do whatever we wanted. So if we wanted to set the story in space on another planet, we could.
Moon: But part of the beauty is setting it in Manaus and doing it throughout that period of the story. So it is pretty faithful to the novel. We just tried to enhance whatever the comics medium can do- the emotions throughout the images, the silent moments.
Sacks: What you are talking about sounds not like an adaptation but an interpretation. A bit of the world that the novelist has created filter through your own sensibility and that way you have something more like a great filmmaker adapting a classic novel.
Moon: Yeah, it is almost like a translation. You have to swallow the original and then you translate it to your own taste.
Bá: Yeah, because it is a different language- comics language. So we have another set of tools to the story. We didn’t want to reach for the writer all the time, like asking, “What did you mean when you said that? What did you want to say here?” We wanted to trust in our opinion of the story, what we thought was important to keep, what was important to leave behind. We got full support from him. He loves what the results were. It was just the perfect story to tell on comics medium to a wider audience I think.
Sacks: This is a bit of an obvious question to ask, but as a story of two brothers, how has it affected your relationship with each other to work on this book?
Bá: It made us reflect on how being twins affects the making of the book. So it made us think about our relationship, even if the twins in the story hate each other and we don’t. But working on the book and talking about the book made us realize how we had a very clear understanding of how everyone around twins thinks twins are the same person. They think we think alike. The thing that if you tell something to one twin, the other twin automatically knows about it. They have this idea about twins that they are connected somehow and they are always in agreement. So it is hard to accept when they have differences and when they struggle or when they fight. That is one of the main tensions of the story. It is a tension that affects the characters and affects the reader because it is a strong impression that everybody has about twins.
Sacks: It is actually very beautifully done because you obviously are very different just in terms of how you dress and you have your beard and everything. But you are also finishing each other’s sentences, which is kind of showing similar and different at the same time. It is kind of an elegant way.
Bá: Yeah, having worked together for so long… On projects like this we need to have a strong, similar take on it just to be able to stand doing it. It took us four years to finish this book. Just getting two projects like this because both of us feel very strongly about it. We know what is important. We both agree on that. So when we are talking about it, I don’t need to say what I think because what Fábio thinks is enough. So we trust each other to know what is important to be said.
Sacks: Four years is a long time to work on a graphic novel, too. I can think just a handful of books that have had that amount of time devoted to them. Craig Thompson’s Habibi is one. Joe Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza is another. Both of those were long novels that ended up being very resonate and complex and interesting. I suppose there is something about taking on a long novel like that that as part of the exercise delivers something that is meaningful. It seems to be important to you. What do you hope the readers take from the story? Probably many things I’d imagine.
Bá: Yeah, well it is a very tragic story. It is really about consequences and how relations can get broken and unredeemable and how you must take care of that. It talks about the family and it also talks about the city. I think the city part of the story is more resonate everywhere else because it is a way of preserving your history or erasing that. You are respecting your history or just going over it. That is what happened in Manaus and it is very usual in Brazil. We are terrible at respecting the history and conserving the cities.
Moon: Yeah, and this family is a family of Lebanese immigrants that moved to Manaus. So there is this aspect of the story that I think is very universal- people away from the place where they grew up and they have to find a way to build a new home. So there is a lot of that, like finding your identity in the place that you live and how you relate to that when the place is changing. Do you feel you are changing as well and how you try to maintain your identity?
Bá: And the two brothers represent two aspects of that. Yaqub is very much into the future and the modernization of modern times and progress. Omar is just this bum who just likes to party and to relax. He lives in a very provincial way where he knows everybody in town and he is known. That is it. Even though he had left and return, that’s the little life that he wants. Yaqub has left and he wants something big. This contrast is one of the themes of the story I think that is really current.
Lu: Two Brothers is already out in Brazil, correct?
Lu: How has the response been?
Bá: The response has been very nice.
Moon: Yeah, it has been very nice. It is good to see that there are still new readers for this story even though it is a modern classic. There are a lot of people who haven’t read it yet. It is good because they read the comic and they get interested in the book.
Bá: They read the book and also are interested in seeing the adaptation. So we attract these two types of readers. It is nice to have something out after Daytripper here in Brazil because Daytripper was a huge success here as well. People have been waiting for our next book since it came out here.
Lu: I have definitely been waiting for your next book here, too. After Daytripper, I was waiting and waiting for your next collaboration. At a certain point I thought it wouldn’t come. But then I heard this announcement and I knew that I knew that I had to read it right away and talk to you both. But it is going to be interesting seeing it released here because being in the American market, we don’t have as much experience with Milton’s work.
Bá: Yeah. That’s one of the good points I think because it is a new discovery. The novel has been published in English, but not many people know it. So it will be a discovery for a lot of people. It is the kind of story that we like to tell. It was there. We just had to make the good effort not to screw it up. I think we did because the story is amazing. We thought it would be a good, new story to show the readers.
Moon: Yeah, in the end it doesn’t matter that it is an adaptation. It shouldn’t feel like it is an adaptation; it should feel like it is one story. People don’t have to know it is based on a novel. They have to read it and enjoy the reading experience of the comic book, of the graphic novel. It shouldn’t feel like it is a simpler version of something else. That’s not a good way to try to do an adaptation.
Lu: Right. I feel like one of the traps that a lot novel adaptations fall into with comics is narrating too much.
Lu: Just putting caption box after caption box and not letting the art breathe by itself. But I really like how in Two Brothers there were so many of those quiet moments, those pages where nothing was happening and you are just seeing the boats go by or something like that.
Bá: Yeah, I think that is one of the most powerful tools in comics- silence. You can tell a lot with that in all of the art. But we need space to do that. Luckily we had all the space we wanted on this book, so we could choose to do long silence scenes.
Moon: Yeah, that’s one of the things that we asked for when we started doing the book. We couldn’t do a good job if we had any restraints, if we had like a certain number of pages that we had to work with or if we had a certain size. If we had limits for our adaptation, we thought it wouldn’t work. So our only request was no limitations. If we want to have three hundred pages, it could be three hundred pages. If we wanted to be in black and white, it could be in black and white. So everything that we wanted, that we felt was necessary to make a good graphic novel out it, we had the liberty to do.
Lu: Milton Hatoum. Is he one of your major influences?
Moon: He’s not a major influence because he is a contemporary writer.
Moon: The novel, Two Brothers, was published in 2000. So it is a relatively new novel. But I think he is the most acclaimed Brazilian novelist now-a-days.
Moon: Since we started working on the book, we’ve read most of his books. He approaches literature and the way he tells a story is much similar to what we want with comics. So we saw the chance to adapt his book as a big chance to expand the way stories are narrated in comics to add more depth in this way of telling stories in flirts of memory. It is a complex narrative structure, which is possible and it is fluid in literature that presented a challenge when it was transported to comic books because you have to create a visual parallel when you are narrating stuff in this type of narrative. It is present in all of his works. We saw that there is not enough of that in comics. And we saw this is a great narrative devise to tell a story and to engage the reader and to hide mysteries and reveal secrets and talk about relationships all at the same time. We thought that would be very hard to do and make it work in a comic book and that was one of the main reasons we should do it. It was very hard and very difficult. There is not enough comics that deal with narrative that way.
Sacks: I have to ask you one more question before Aub chases us out. You brought up the forgetfulness memory. That brings up both of our favorite books by Casanova. Acedia is part way through. Are we going to get to see the end of that story? And how has it been working on that project? It has been a long time series.
Moon: Yeah, we just finished issue three. It is coming out the end of July. We just sent it to the printer. And then we are doing issue four, which is coming out in August. We’ve been doing traveling too much.
Bá: We are trying to get back into schedule. We never planned for comics to work so well in our career. Being from Brazil and then publishing here and then suddenly publishing everywhere, I think the size of Daytripper and Casanova and Umbrella made our lives so much more complex. It means traveling to more festivals in Brazil and around the world, promoting the books and talking to readers and expanding audiences. That has been taking so much time so we got a little behind on Casanova to focus on Two Brothers and finish that book and promote the book. Now we are trying to get back into schedule. Because the story is expanding and it is getting to a really interesting point.
Moon: I think the most important think about Casanova is that now Matt is only writing his own comics. So he is more devoted to making it work now. We just want to help with that. So we have a long plan with Casanova to just do the seven arcs. It is going to take a while, but we are confident we will get there. It is going to take a long time, but we want to do that.
Next week, Fabio and Gabriel continue their talk with Alex Lu, where they shed further light on the artists who influence them and discuss some of their earlier work on Daytripper. In the meantime, if you’ll be in New York City for New York Comic Con, please stop by the Barnes and Noble Tribeca (97 Warren Street, New York, New York 10007) at 7PM on Wednesday, October 7th, for a special pre-sale and signing of Two Brothers!