Eight years ago, the author/illustrator team of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá set aside Milton Hatoum’s Dois irmãos, but not because the Brazilian author’s story of twin brothers Yaqub and Omar was not good. Quite the opposite. Moon and Bá found themselves immersed in the settings–the Amazon rain forest and the cities of São Paulo and Manaus–despite being native Brazilians who still live and work in the country now. The layers of narrative, the back and forth flow through time, the narrator’s stream of consciousness, and the tragedy of a family unraveling around the twins’ struggles was all so seductive, but to even consider adapting all of this into a graphic novel was too much for the author/illustrator team.
And so, they set the idea aside, until years later when the twins ran into Hatoum himself at a literary festival. They shared a publisher who saw the three chatting and could not pass up the idea of the two brothers adapting Two Brothers for a whole new audience. Still, Bá and Moon wanted to run away from such a difficult challenge, but that seductive prose and imagery would not let them go.
Taking a break from their autograph signings at the San Diego Comic-Con Dark Horse booth, this is the story Moon and Bá told to me. Two days later, Two Brothers had earned the Eisner Award for Best Adaptation from Another Medium. I came to know their work through Daytripper (Vertigo, 2011), a story about love and about living life to its fullest. The ten-part series left me in tears, that still threaten now as I write this, and also earned them an Eisner Award for Best Limited Series. While Two Brothers did not take me through as personal of a journey as Daytripper did, it remains a powerful example of how creators can truly engage the reader and push this medium well beyond the panels on each page.
In Two Brothers, Lebonese immigrants Halim and Zana begin a passionate life together in Brazil. Against Halim’s wishes, they start a family and slowly, we watch that family disintegrate before our eyes, as told by the son of the family’s maid–a son who may or may not be the grandson of Halim and Zana as well. This connected disconnect serves as an allegory for both the reader and for everyone else in the family who circles around the lives of Halim and Zana’s twins, Yaqub and Omar, watching and waiting for our expectations to be fulfilled. There is an assumption some people hold that twins are almost interchangeable, Moon explains, that telling something to one means that it is automatically communicated to the other. Research has shown that there is indeed an unusual connection that twins share, but Two Brothers reveals just how different twins can be. Despite being twins, Moon and Bá do not relate to Yaqub and Omar (though the characters’ depiction in the book bears similarity to the artists), but they “understand how everyone expects twins to act” and the expectation that twins should get along. The conflict between Yaqub and Omar, fueled by love and jealousy and loss thanks to forces within and without, is the tragedy around which the family spirals in unexpected ways.
Both Moon and Bá share artistic, authorial, and lettering duties on their collaborative work, but in this case, it is Bá who felt the greater connection to the source material’s imagery and, therefore, set the tone of the graphic novel. “Black and white art is strong and more intense,” he explained. “It requires a commitment from the artist and the reader to engage with the story.” The illustrative style was chosen with the intent to ensure that the many characters, even the identical twins, have their own iconic look that is recognizable as they age. The seemingly simplistic style ironically allows for the expression of the complex emotions the characters feel as they interact.
It took four years for Moon and Bá to finally bring this project to fruition. They did so with the encouragement and support of Hatoum himself, who provided input and suggestions of places to visit and people to see for their research. But mostly, the author entrusted them with this adaptation, and the result proves that his trust was not unfounded. They both expressed their relief and pride in having completed something they initially thought was impossible to adapt. but Two Brothers, they said, was a story worth telling. This is how they choose any of the projects they work on, whether it be ones they tell themselves, or collaborations with other creators).
Bá continues his work with Gerard Way on Dark Horse’s Umbrella Academy, and they both work with Matt Fraction on the Image’s Casanova. At SDCC, Moon and Bá were also promoting their latest work, a collaboration with Neil Gaiman called How To Talk To Girls At Parties, based on Gaiman’s Locust Award-winning short story.
Following the hectic buzz of SDCC, the brothers return to Brazil to continue their work, far away from the comic industry and its politics. On their blog, they write:
“The upside is that we don’t get influence by trends, imediata statistics or business gossip. We do our work isolated in the safety of our studio. The downside is that we don’t have direct contact with the readers and retailers. We throw our books into the ocean hoping they’ll find the reader.”
I highly recommend that you visit that ocean to read the gifts that Moon and Bá have given to the comic book industry. I’m confident that you will be moved by what you find.