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. In celebration of Two Brothers’ release last week, Comics Bulletin is proud to present the third and final piece of an extensive three part interview series with the Moon Twins.
In this installment, we take an in-depth, spoiler heavy look at Two Brothers. More than just an argument against the commonly held idea that twins think alike, the book dramatizes familial relationships of all different natures. Fábio and Gabriel look at the effects family, that inexorable force that pushes people to great goods and terrible evils, has on the characters in the story and has had on them as artists.
Alex Lu: To go back to the Two Brothers, you mentioned earlier that it took two years to script. Did you work closely from the novel? Did you deviate for it in ways?
Gabriel Bá: It is very close to the novel. We had freedom to do it as we wished. If we wanted to set it in space, we could have, but we liked the setting of the story in Manaus and in this time period. When we started, we didn’t know how much we would keep from the story, how much we would take off, or what we would change. It took us a while to get the way we would tell the story and how would be the rhythm of the story. In the end though, it is very faithful. There are just some characters that are a little less developed on the comic because we didn’t have space and we thought it would deviate from the main story a little bit too much, so we decided not to go deep on them. Still, it is really faithful to the story, I think.
Lu: Did you ever think about deviating from it a little bit further?
Bá: We thought about it, but we didn’t think it was necessary.
Fábio Moon: Yeah, everything that we thought we would do differently in the end wouldn’t tell a better story, so we ended up choosing to tell the story the way we did because every choice made for a better storytelling experience.
Bá: I think the bigger changes were visual.
Bá: [We focused on] the silent moments and what we could add telling it as a comic book, because the story itself was good enough for us. We just wanted to try to put as much in it visually. As you said, we didn’t want to be all about captions all the time narrating the story.
Moon: Yeah, the book is very much narrated.
Moon: There is very little dialogue in the book because it all about the narrator telling the story that happened in the past. And a lot of the times it is Halim, the father, telling the story to the narrator. So it is a bunch of narrating stuff. We wanted to make it more dynamic so we tried to think of many scenes that would work with dialogues. We transformed the narrations into the dialogues to give it a more dynamic feel, which fits best for comic books.
Lu: Some writers will tell you everything about a character, from his or her hair style to his r her eye color. Others, like Palahniuk, don’t even given characters names. Is Milton a writer who gives you a textual image of his characters?
Bá: He doesn’t describe his characters as much. He describes the emotions, what they are feeling, and their thoughts, but not as much visually. That was one of the challenges. It gave us a little freedom, but also fear that we could go in the complete wrong direction. I think we made the right decisions, though. When we created the characters for the first time, we went to talk to Milton to show him to see what he thought. He told us that he knew this would be a challenge.
It was important for us to find the look for Zana, the mother, because through our research we came up with this type of woman [who was styled like she was] from the twenties until the sixties. Initially, we had a different image in our heads from that. We were shooting for a more sensual, exotic kind of gypsy woman. However, When we showed Milton, he said, “I love all the characters, but Zana is wrong. She is not this kind of woman. She should be more elegantly beautiful. She should enchant the reader, Halim, and everyone else from an early age until she is an older woman.” He showed us some family pictures to help us get a feel of the women in his life. Then we changed Zana. Just by talking with Milton once, we got a better understanding of the character. That was very important. We understood how important Zana is in the story, so if we got this character wrong, the whole book wouldn’t work.
Other than that, we just had to create everything out of pictures and research. We’ve been to Manaus. We went to the city to visit and to do research for a week. However, it is a lot different now than it was back in the time Two Brothers is set, so you can’t really take the look of the people from the people today. We wanted stronger features for Lebanese Arab immigrants. Nowadays, it is a big mixture everywhere.
Ultimately, it was fun to work with characters different from the ones we are used to.
Lu: Zana is one of the more interesting characters to me. I think the way that I felt about her changed a lot over the course of the story. At the beginning, I see what you were doing with the gypsy model, because she really is a sort of temptress. She holds Omar back throughout most of the novel. Over time, though, her actions become less nefarious and less sexually charged. Was their relationship one you were focused on while developing the book?
Moon: A little bit, yeah. I think we focused more on Zana and Halim, the father, because they are the romantic relationship that goes through the entire story. The rest of the relationships are more like friendship or family or short flings, so we wanted to focus more on Zana and Halim because we had more connection with that relationship. The fact that their relationship worked as long as it did makes the falling apart more powerful. Everything else, in our version of the story, kind of stems from the main relationship between Zana and Halim.
Lu: Yaqub having a child with Domingas was very much a surprise to me. I didn’t get the feeling that they were going to hook up until I saw their kid.
Moon: Well, one of the mysteries of the book is that it is not clear who Nael’s father is. It is good to see who people think it is, because although you instantly think it is Yaqub, it is not clear. In the novel, it is more developed because Milton says both twins had relationships with Domingas at certain points in their teens. Still, even in our adaptation, it is really hard to say who is Nael’s father.
Lu: Interesting. So do you have a theory or an answer that you believe in?
Moon: Not anymore.
Bá: Not anymore, yeah. When we first read the book, we thought it was Omar, actually. However, after rereading it so many times, and we got to the scene were Domingas is talking to Yaqub in the port and we realized it is not clear. She tells him about this one time Omar forced her into going to bed, but that doesn’t really say anything.
We like this doubt, this uncertainty. It is this anguish that Nael, the narrator, has. It is good to give that to the reader as well so they can choose. They can make their guesses as to who they think is his father. Milton didn’t want to clear this mystery up when we talked to him, either.
Lu: The family relationships in this story are incredibly complex. The scene that really got me was when Nael and Rania slept together.
Bá: Yeah, it is a big love fest.
Moon: One of the things we liked about the story is how we could show how some relationships are more about desire than about love. They come in the most unusual moments and they never come again. We keep expecting the relationships to develop, but they were not made to be developed. Some are left as one moment that the characters have to carry. That moment with Rania and Nael was one. Nael is the result of another moment of passion and lust.
One of the themes of the story is developing this different types of relationships between people. Not all of them are long, strong bonds like with Halim and Zana. There are relationships that are born out of desire that are not very well thought through or developed. Others don’t have the space to be developed because of time. In the case of Omar, Zana doesn’t let him develop any other relationship with any other woman.
Lu: Initially, I thought she was being sexually possessive of him in some way, but that was never ultimately confirmed.
We should talk a little bit about the central relationship of the novel between Yaqub and Omar. Was their relationship what inspired you to do the novel in black and white, that opposing two-tone dichotomy?
Bá: Well, not particularly. Black and white art is more poetic and stronger we think. It takes a deeper commitment from the reader to understand that art and translate it. It also demands more from the artist, how they choose how to portray everything in black and white and what to show, what not to show. It creates a stronger, deeper reading experience.
Moon: Yeah, it is a more dramatic approach to how you translate the world into an image, so it lends to a more dramatic storytelling device. It makes the reader pay more attention because a lot of stuff is white and a lot of stuff is black, so you have to read carefully to know what is going on.
Bá: Yeah, I think that, because this story is a dark tragedy story, we have these key tense moments that I think work best in black and white.
Lu: In the beginning, I definitely sympathized more with Yaqub. I think he was definitely made out to be the better of the children, as he was the victim after getting beaten up by his brother. However, ultimately he is the one who is probably most responsible for their family falling apart. He is given a chance to save the relationship between him and Omar, but instead he totally screws his brother.
Moon: Yeah, there is not really a good twin in the story.
Lu: Everyone ultimately comes out worse in this story. It is a true tragedy.
Moon: Yeah, I think one of the key points of the story is sometimes it is just downhill. You can hope for it to get better. You can try to make it work for everyone. That is Zana’s whole mission in the book, trying to get her family together and happy. It just doesn’t work. We introduce that hope early in the book. The reader expects it to work throughout the whole story, but it doesn’t work.
I think having the two brothers being twins is key because everyone expects twins to get along, to think the same way, and to agree on everything. The fact that they don’t doesn’t make any sense to the characters or to the reader. It plays against reader expectation.
Lu: Did your relationship play into how you developed these characters?
Moon: Yeah, we hate each other. It is autobiographic. [laughs]
Bá: No, but we know how most people think about twins and how they relate to the twin brothers. Obviously, we also know what being twins is actually like.
Moon: And we know that twins are different people.
Moon: They have different personalities, and the story presents an extreme version of how different twins can be.
Lu: Given that you are both artists, how does your collaborative process work?
Bá: We usually write the story together. We talk about the story, make the decisions on the characters and what they are saying, what is happening, and how we can tell this or that. And then we have to choose one of us to draw because we have two different art styles. We usually choose one for the whole story. I did this one because Fábio did Daytripper. We knew from the beginning that I would draw our next big story.
Lu: So what was Fábio up to when you were drawing?
Moon: Well, after we finished the scripts, I started working on new novels.
Bá: He did those short stories for Vertigo, that CMYK quarterly anthologies.
Moon: Yeah, last year. While he was doing those, I just kept looking at the pages he was drawing. That is one of the things we do. We keep on each other’s shoulder to see if the other one is doing a good job. It is not pressuring, but we make sure everything either of us draws comes out the best way that it can.
Bá: Yeah, we know each other very well and we know when there is one scene that could be better. We point that out all the time. We know when one is being lazy. Usually artists work alone, so they have to have this self-critical instinct. You usually have that. You know when something is wrong. You know when something can be better. Sometimes you are just lazy or you just don’t want to erase and redo it, but we push ourselves to erase and then redo it to get the better results.
I think that is a good dynamic we have between the two of us. Even though I was drawing the whole story, he was always looking at it and helping me make decisions and reaching for the best results all of the time. That’s how we do every project.
Lu: What do you think it is that keeps bringing you back to the concept of family relationships as a focal point for your stories?
Moon: I think it is our way of life. I think family plays a big part of our lives. We are interested in relationships between people. For us, family is a part of it.
Bá: Family is a type of relationship that is very complex because it involves many people– it is not just one-on-one. It is a big cell of people. Sometimes, family relationships don’t make sense. They don’t follow rules or anything.
Moon: Yeah, there is no logic to them.
Bá: Yeah. At any point, you could use that argument that “it is family” to justify something good or something bad.
Moon: It works because it is family. It doesn’t work because it is family. You have to live with it because it is family. It is kind of this unavoidable relationship. It is like a force of nature. The human part force of nature is how we have to relate with each other. There is no way that we can live alone. We come out of other people, so family is something that we have to deal with from the moment we are born. And I think it is a fascinating topic. We can tell any type of story based on human relationship and families.
Bá: I think it is the Latin heritage I think. I think we have stronger family ties here in Brazil and most Latin countries, so it is kind of unavoidable for us.
Lu: In many ways, I agree– family is a great well of stories and can often be a great thing. On the other hand, I keep going back to that line in the first chapter in Daytripper, “You don’t choose family.” Family can be a chain. At one point in Two Brothers, Halim literally chains up Omar. Do you ever get frustrated with close family ties?
Bá: Sometimes. Sometimes you want to do something else with your life, but you are stuck doing something with your family. However, this is only a frustration if you let yourself get stuck with your family. Some people just look the other way and go their own way and don’t look back. This is one way of dealing with it. The other way is staying and enduring these relationships that will take you some places you don’t want to go sometimes
We usually stay and deal with it. That’s the kind of things we want to talk about, because it is easier to just run from your problems. Families are problems, always. Staying is harder, but I think it brings better results.
Moon: They are challenges. They are like the books we create. We like challenges. The result of a big challenge is a big payoff, so you just have to be willing to face the challenges.
Lu: So, even though family is the ultimate challenge, it has ultimately enriched your lives.
Bá: Yeah, of course!
Moon: Of course! You are a result of your first encounter with the world, your family. It will be one of the most influential things throughout your life, even if you are miles away, even if you choose to ignore it and move as far away as you want.
Bá: Yeah, family is always a point of reference, even if the point of reference is going to be completely different from what my family wants.
Lu: Throughout my childhood, my parents always cautioned me against pursuing art and writing as a career. They kept telling me, “You are going to be poor. You are going to be living on the streets. You are never going to make any money. We are just going to throw all this money into art school and you are not going to get anything out of it.” I would just keep looking at the successes, the counterpoints to their argument, in order to keep moving forward.
What was your relationship with your family like in terms of art?
Moon: They support our choices. I think we discovered really young that we wanted to do comics, around fourteen or fifteen. We always took it very seriously, so we were always drawing. We started trying to make up stories from the moment we decided to do comics. We started to do little stories to try to develop and show people what we wanted to do. I think taking it very seriously from the beginning showed our parents that it wasn’t just a hobby and that it wasn’t just because we liked to draw or because we liked comics. It was something that we were compelled to do and were committed to making work. It was never a problem that we wouldn’t be making money out of comics.
Moon: We worked with comics for ten years without getting any money, but we were always working on something else to pay the bills. Not getting money out of comics was not a problem for us to keep working on comics because we found other jobs as illustrators or took odd jobs.
Thus, we could focus on the stories, on telling good stories and trying to do our best work. That paid off after ten years. This is the kind of commitment and seriousness that we always had with comics. Both of us went to art school because there were no comics colleges. It was good.
Our parents never thought, “What is your life going to be? You are going to art school” or anything, because we didn’t want to become artists, painters, teachers, or anything. We wanted to work in comics. But going to college was a serious commitment. It was good for us. We discovered new people and studied different things that helped us in our comics as well. We can’t complain that we didn’t get support because we did.
Our parents both met in psychology college. They both studied psychology, but afterwards my dad went to sell cars. My mom is still a psychologist. My dad is a more business-driven guy and my mom loves to read comics. She used to read comics with us when we were young.
Bá: Yeah, she also read comics when she was young.
Moon: Yeah, she read stuff like Mandrake the Musician and The Phantom. Then, when we started reading comics, she fell in love with X-Men. She has a closer relationship with that than we do. Our father read more comics once we became successful.
Lu: So now that Two Brothers is complete, what’s next for the both of you?
Bá: We are working on a Casanova, Acedia. It is the fourth volume. It is going to take a while. We have been working on that. I am working on Umbrella Academy. Those two projects already will take all of our time.
Moon: Yeah, now we are choosing to keep working as artists on projects, like Casanova and Umbrella, so we can have time to think about the next story without the pressure of any monthly schedule. And so we can also focus the rest of our free time to help with the promotion of the book.
Lu: So do you consider the book tour to be a burden or a vacation?
Bá: Not vacation!
Moon: Never a vacation.
Bá: It is work.
Moon: Yeah, it can be an enjoyable trip or an enjoyable experience, but it is never a vacation. It can be a burden sometimes once it starts to affect the productivity of the next stories.
Bá: Yeah. It is only a burden because we have several projects at the same time. If we didn’t have to deliver pages for Casanova for example, we would be happily traveling more and doing more because we love to talk about the work, connect with the readers, and go to places.
Moon: Yeah, in Brazil, having been there and releasing the book yourself in many different places helps a lot to call attention to the new book and to get new readers. The relationship between the reader and the author is a very big tool here in Brazil to help increase the readership and help readers discover different types of comics.
If we didn’t have so much to draw, we would be traveling more. We have to balance how much time we spend here drawing and how much time we can travel to promote the book.
Lu: In America, you seem to play the role of Brazilian comics ambassadors. Do you feel like your work is representative of the scene in your country?
Moon: I think we have a big role in Brazilian comic as the guys who started self-publishing and trying to do something different, this type of comics for adults that focuses on real life relationships. When we started, comics in Brazil were either for kids or humorous books. We didn’t want to do any of that. We wanted to prove that you can make serious stories for adults.
Bá: I think we inspired.
Moon: Yeah, we inspired a lot of the new generation of artists and writers. I think the only difficult part is that very few works of other Brazilian creators get published elsewhere. Comics is a personal effort.
Bá: Yeah, it demands a personal effort.
Moon: From the creators. I think we had that from very early on, so we have inspired the new generation to create work. We see our influence in the stories, but not so much in the efforts to see the work go elsewhere. There are some books being published in France. Some books are being published in Portugal, which it is the same language but a totally different market. However, not so many get published in the U.S.. Maybe it is a slow process that will take off, but publishers in the U.S. are not looking to Brazil. They don’t look at us and say, “Hmm, Brazil might have good creators. Let’s go look.” They don’t do that.
Bá: After we came along, they started looking more. Maybe they don’t actively look, but at least they know there are Brazilian comics, so they are more open to them. I think in the last ten years, the American market has opened up to foreign creators much more. The internet helped everybody at least research what is out there throughout the world. That type of curiosity in worldwide comics helps people like us make the effort to take our type of comics, our interests in storytelling, and make it work in the American market, for example.
Lu: Maybe that could be your next big project– to take some Brazilian or Portuguese comics and bring them over to America in an anthology.
Moon: No, we like our friends who create comics here, but it is very hard to carry people on our backs.
Bá: Making comics already takes a lot of time.
Moon: We helped some friends by pushing them to go, for example, to San Diego. For several years, we told friends, “You have to go to San Diego and show your work and meet people and everything else.” That is how Rafael Grampá made his first comic– we pushed him into making comics. He was an amazing artist, but he didn’t make comics until we pushed him to make one, go to San Diego, and sell it. Gustavo Duarte is another friend of ours who we told, “You should make comics. Come with us to San Diego. Sit at our table. Sell your comics.” That’s as much of a help as we can be.
Bá: Yeah, we show people that if you believe in your comic, you make your comic, you go out there and you show your comic– that’s how things start. That’s how you develop your career. You have to go out there and show your work.
Moon: That is something that we have done for ourselves. We tell people we believe in that, “If you go out there and you show your work, your work will be seen and that will generate a response. That will call for other opportunities. But, you have to go there. You have to venture yourself and go there.”
I think the increase of conventions here in Brazil and around the world, in the U.S. and in Europe, everywhere, is helping creators from around the world find their audiences and discover possibilities in the comics market. You see other creators. You connect with the readers. And the readers can discover new things when they go to conventions. A lot of conventions are getting more and more popular everywhere. So I think they are a good way to show diversity in comics.
Two Brothers is out now. What does the future hold for The Moon Twins? The world waits with bated breath…