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. Published in America by Dark Horse Comics, the work is an adaptation of Brazilian novelist Milton Hatoum’s novel The Brothers. The story focuses on twins Yaqub and Omar, who are separated for years by conflicts outside their control only to be brought back together and begin a war of their own. The title comes out today, October 14th, and in celebration of Two Brothers‘ release, Comics Bulletin is proud to present the second of an extensive three part interview series with the Moon Twins. If you missed part one, you can check it out here.
In this installment, we look to the past. Fábio and Gabriel dive into their origins as they discuss the works that first inspired them to become cartoonists and how their work on their last original collaboration, Daytripper, has informed the production of Two Brothers. Gabriel also discusses his return to The Umbrella Academy, his collaboration with Gerard Way, after a nearly seven year hiatus.
Alex Lu: You mention not having “restraints” on your adaptation of Two Brothers, about utilizing the power of “silence” in comics. The process for creating this book sounds very liberating, and a lot of that comes from the fact that it is a graphic novel. When you were working on Daytripper, being a monthly book with a relatively set number of pages per issue, do you feel like you were constrained by the format?
Fábio Moon: It was one of the challenges of Daytripper. We spent a lot of time thinking about how to make the story work in that format. We think a lot about how the reader will discover the work, so we thought about Daytripper being discovered in two ways: it had to work monthly and it had to work afterwards when the graphic novel was done.
We had to make every chapter work in twenty-two pages. That was sometimes a bigger challenge. There were chapters where we had to make a big effort to make everything fit. But luckily not a lot of chapters we had to make this effort. Most chapters fit well in twenty-two pages.
However, keeping the reader interested, not revealing the structure of the story right away, and choosing to which age would we jump to the next chapter– all of that was thought through for the readers who were discovering it every month. It would keep a little bit of the mystery of the story every month until they were engaged enough with Bras de Oliva Domingos by the middle of the series. Then, the second half of the story is more about the relationships between and less about the structure about how he dies.
Lu: How did you choose the ages and the order of those ages in Daytripper? The structure allowed you to tease out certain mysteries such as Jorge’s fate.
Gabriel Bá: There’s always a reason to go to the next chapter. We thought that, in your early thirties, you are still struggling with your profession. That would be a good beginning. Then he talks with Jorge about the time when they left college– the trip that they made. That’s the hook for chapter two, when we show this trip. It is ten years earlier and Bras is younger and full of energy and Jorge is more even so. They are in this exotic different place. And then he meets Olinda. That’s the hook for the third issue, where they had their relationship and it is over now. A few years have passed. He meets Ana at the end of the issue. And then on the fourth issue, he is already married. He is having a son.
Then we show more about the family, his mother, his half-sister. That’s a good hook to go back and show more of his childhood. After that, like Fábio said, Daytripper is more about deepening the familial relationships. The sixth issue is all about what made Bras’ career ignite– that was the plane accident. And it is also where Jorge gets a little out of his mind and leaves. Then, in the next issue we show what happened to Jorge a few years later. On the eighth issue, we thought about an issue that wouldn’t show Bras, that Bras wouldn’t appear, so we couldn’t focus on the influence one has on the people next to him, on his family without showing him. The ninth issue is the dream issue. We could play will all of the different chapters. The last one he is old.
Lu: The dream issue was interesting. My friends and I did a book club on Daytripper. That was one of the more divisive issue in terms of whether or not people liked it. It brought a lot of things together in terms of theme, but it is also the one that probably breaks from the format the most.
Bá: A little bit, yeah I think.
Lu: Was it something that you had always planned to put into the story?
Bá: Not from the very beginning, but almost. We had another chapter that we tossed away because it wouldn’t work. It was too much cliché of Brazilian life. It had futbol, police, violence, everything. We discarded that and then we introduced the dream sequence. However, it made sense. We all have a lot of these dreams that keep falling into new dreams until we realize, “Oh, this is weird. I must be dreaming.” And then we think we wake up, but we are still dreaming. We thought it would be a good way to tell a story a little more introspective.
Moon: Yeah, each chapter is about choices the characters make and choices Bras makes. We thought it would be interesting to explore how do you choose when you are dreaming? How do you choose how your life will go on or end when you are dreaming? We thought it was a good way to explore that you still choose stuff when you are dreaming. Or if you are doing to die, you still have to choose that if you are dreaming. You choose to die or you choose to wake up. So we thought it was a good chapter to put in. It was a good theme to explore in the story. And when we got to that chapter, we also saw that it had a connection with every other chapter. So it was a good chapter to go at almost the end of the story because it had this connection with everything else.
Lu: Right. And the other one that was the seventh chapter where he goes to look for Jorge. That’s the only chapter I think that ends with more than just him dying. In a lot of ways, it was the most morbid chapter of the book.
Moon: I think that chapter deviates from the story more than the dream chapter because it shows this darker side of humankind and how people can go off away from sanity and reason– how sometimes they can’t be rescued even if we want to help them. That was a different kind of story because it involves another character much more than Bras. I think that’s the chapter I feel goes a little off the main storyline.
However, it shows how sometimes we are not the main characters of our story. Sometimes we are supporting characters of somebody else’s story. That was our chapter to talk about that a little bit and do something a little tragic. That’s a tragedy. The rest of the deaths, they make you think about how good life is and that’s a more bad, evil side of how ordinary life can go.
Lu: But it’s a pretty punishing fate for the character because he’s the one who has lived free for most of his life. Bras is the one who has to learn.
Moon: Well, everything has its price.
Lu: The other big male figure in Bras’ life is his father. Is the relationship between Bras and his father autobiographical in some way?
Moon: Not really, no. We have nothing of our relationship with our father on Daytripper.
Bá: Yeah. We did not ever need to prove anything.
Moon: Yeah, we didn’t feel any pressure. There were no standards to follow and no big successful story before us to surpass. That was one of the few things in Daytripper that we didn’t have to look to our lives to reflect on how we would create that character’s life. That was something that we created to add to the drama.
Lu: It is a pretty common theme, though, in stories and in comics, this sort of sins of the father.
Moon: Yes. That’s life. That’s one of the reason we choose that. We wanted something that would reflect on classic storytelling.
Moon: That is a ritual of becoming what your father was. It is a classic topic.
Lu: What was the comic that made you want to write comics?
Moon: Well, there was one from a Brazilian guy who we read. It was a very short story that took place in Sao Paulo in the neighbor that we live, Vila Madalena. There was a guy who found himself in a party with only women. The women were all drawn in white or all drawn in black. The women in white had wings and they were fairies. The women in black were witches. They were all naked (the women, not the guy). The guy was a regular guy. He had to go to the bathroom and he can’t be alone in the bathroom so he ended up not going to the bathroom throughout the entire story because he is taken to other rooms by these women. It is not really a story about naked girls. It is not really a story about fairies and witches. It is how this guy is surrounded by women-
Bá: And he can’t understand women.
Moon: He doesn’t really understand women and the power they have over him. Yeah, but they have this strange power. He feels awkward making contact and connecting with women. We felt that we could relate. We were young and we could relate to this awkwardness, which was how we first entered into contact with trying to establish a relationship and trying to pick up girls. How do you start a conversation? How do you know people? How do you get to know people? What do you do? What do you say? What do you pay attention to? And how are you affected by other people?
It was like a short story with eight pages with drawings. But the background of the story we could recognize- the streets and the houses in the way that it looked like our neighborhood. So we had this strange impression that that kind of weird story maybe could happen to us. We realized that was something that a story could do to a reader. They can have this affect on the reader to make him recognize himself in the story, even if it is a weird fantastical story that has fairies and witches.
At the same time, we were reading Brazilian literature with a story with these kids that lived in the streets in Báhia in Salvador. They were street kids that were kids. But it was written in such a seductive way that you wanted to be a part of that gang of little kids. So we also saw in literature and we saw in movies and we saw in comics that you can tell stories and you seduce the reader into wanting to be a part of that, wanting to relate and dive into those stories. We saw that we could do that in comics. We could create a story visually that would grab readers and shake readers and make them want to be a part of something else, wanting to relate to characters that we were creating. We saw this power that stories and comics had. That’s when we thought, “Ah, that’s what we want to do!”
Lu: What’s the name of the novel?
Bá: I think it is called Captains of the Sand.
Bá: It is by Jorge Amado. Jorge Amado I think is the most renowned Brazilian writer outside of Brazil. He wrote Tieta and other Brazilian novels that were translated and made into movies. So I think he is the most renowned sort of Brazilian classic writer, a good writer.
Lu: How does it feel to go back to Umbrella Academy after almost seven years, Gabriel?
Bá: Every once in a while I reread the comics. I take a look at the pages. I like the story. I am really excited. I can’t wait to get back to the story. It was really good while I working on it. It was really easy to work on the scripts and really fun. I hope it still is. Seven years later, I am older, slower, crankier, and everything. So it is a different me. I hope I still have the energy, but I guess I do since we have the energy to work on Casanova, which is very hard and difficult to draw. Every issue is a struggle.
Moon: That was the most complex comic to make. It is more complex to make than the Alan Moore comic books.
Bá: So if we still have the energy to work on Casanova, I am sure I’ll have the energy to do more Umbrella Academy.
Lu: You are also more experienced, though.
Bá: Yeah, but that doesn’t always help.
Lu: Do you think that your style has changed a lot in the interim?
Bá: Not a lot, but a little. I look at the pages. I really pushed myself a lot on those pages of Umbrella Academy, especially Dallas I think. Because I was so excited at the moment working on that story. Things were starting to work. I have a different kind of excitement now towards comics. It reflects in the art the things that I cherish and things that I think are important. But it really always depends on the story. So every story pushes my style or our styles in some direction. So I am pretty sure Umbrella Academy will push me in that direction again. But I have to read the scripts to know. I only know when I start doing it.
Next week, we return to the present as Fábio and Gabriel discuss the themes that drive Two Brothers. We explore a number of spoiler-heavy topics in this, the last of our three part interview series with the Moon Twins, so you better start reading Two Brothers, as you don’t want to miss out on this exclusive in depth conversation!