TWO BROTHERS adapts a lifetime of family secrets and festering jealousy

After a decade and a half in the business, Brazilian-born twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá have created a solid career in comics. They”ve collaborated with some of the best, from Matt Fraction with CASANOVA to Joss Whedon with SUGARSHOCK. After their last graphic novel DAYTRIPPER was released to critical acclaim in 2010, the brothers fell off the map to work on their latest project. TWO BROTHERS took four years to adapt, but the end product was the worth the wait.

From Dark Horse Comics:

TWO BROTHERS is a stunning adaptation of the novel The Brothers by Milton Hatoum, one of Brazil”s most renowned contemporary writers. The books tell the tragic story of a fractured family divided by two identical brothers, Omar and Yaqub, who have nothing in common except for their bloodline and the fierce, possessive love of their mother. After a violent exchange between the young boys, Yaqub, “the good son,” is sent from his home in Brazil to live with relatives in Lebanon. When he returns to his hometown five years later, he”s a virtual stranger to his family. Despite their mother”s desperate pleas, a reconciliation between the brothers appears elusive.

HitFix Harpy spoke to Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá via Skype about how this ambitious project came to life.

Image Credit: Dark Horse Comics

HITFIX HARPY: How did you guys get involved in adapting “The Brothers” by Milton Hatoum into a graphic novel? 
Fábio Moon: We were invited to do the book by the Brazilian publisher. The editor saw us talking to the Milton Hatoum at a literary festival. He came up to the three of us and asked what did we think about us being twins adapting a story Hatoum wrote about twin brothers? So it was a silly thing like that that started the conversation. 

Did you realize at the time how much of work it was going to be? Did you take that into consideration when deciding to take on the project?
Fábio: It was a lot of work; four years of work. It wasn't an easy decision. But in the end, the novel was such a complex story. In literature you can have these narratives where there's a lot of memory from the characters and the narrator and everything is fluid. But it's a complex thing when you're thinking about translating that to visual medium. So I think we accepted the invitation because it was too hard. [laughs]

Gabriel Bá: It was a challenge.

Fábio: It felt like something that wasn't often done in comic books. And it's the type of story we like to tell. It's a relationship story. Comics do superheroes and action and they focus on the dynamic aspect of the visual. But we believe relationship stories are one of the best things that comics can offer, because it is a visual medium is great to portray this sense of intimacy. You can show drawings of scenes in silence and the silence makes you feel like you're being let into a secret, like you're eavesdropping and you're not supposed to be there. It creates a bigger connection with the reader. 

You did the whole graphic novel – all 200+ pages – in black and white. Was that a logistic or a stylistic choice? Or both?
Gabriel: It was more a stylistic choice. We wouldn't do it in full color, we never had that idea. But doing it in black and white? It's both a bigger challenge for us to interpret that world, to make artistic decisions on how to express this or how to portray that. It's also a bigger challenge for the reader to understand. To look at something in black and white and translate that, to not see lines and shapes but people and places and events happening. It demands a bigger effort from the reader to engage in a black and white story. Also since this story has this structure of memory and remembering and we thought it would fit better.

While “Two Brothers” takes place over a long period of time, it begins around WWII. How much of the history of the town and the area did you know ahead of time?
Gabriel: We did a lot of research. The author is from the town so he has a deep knowledge into the world and all the changes the town went through. But for us, we had to do a lot of research to understand what he was talking about. We spent a week there to get to know the city. That's one of the few moments we talked with the Hatoum about the project. Very early on we asked for advice on places to visit and what to pay attention to when we were there. He pointed us to friends who still lived there who could help us visit the city. We also did deep research online to get the history of the city because the story is about these changes it went through. The city that's portrayed in the book doesn't exist anymore. 

When adapting a novel, obviously not everything is going to translate. How did you go about deciding what to use and what to discard?
Fábio: We tried to make a book that would feel like it's an original story and complete story. Every choice we made about what to keep from the style of the novelist – the style of narrative is seductive so we tried to keep that aspect of his writing. We tried to see in the novel what was visual and what would work better if told visually. So we tried to transform visual aspect of the story into images instead of words. If we succeeded, people will read our book and they won't miss the novel. 

Gabriel: There's a lot of side stories to deepen characters and those things we either chose to put in the story visually or we had to take it out because they kind of walked sideways. It helped to make the story more complex but it didn't help it move forward. This was the hardest part and the biggest difference between creating an original story and adapting from a book, choosing what to take out. We ended up using a lot more than we expected. It's very faithful to the book. But one of our favorite moments from the book we didn't book in.

Fábio: Yeah, it didn't tell anything from the main story but it was a nice scene. 

Gabriel: It was a seen with Halim the father and he's one of the characters we liked the most so we liked the scene with him but it didn't help the story.

Were there any space restrictions on how long you could make the graphic novel? Did that play into what parts of the story you choose to use?
Fábio: It was supposed to be as long as we needed it. That was our only concerned when we started. “This is a big book, it's going to be a big graphic novel. We can't have space limitations.” We had to tell the story and figure out when it's done how long it's going to be. Otherwise the reader will see it. We didn't want that. 

Did you guys relate to the titular brothers at all, being twins yourselves?
Gabriel: Not really. The relationship between the twins and their personalities don't really fit with us. We get along, we work together, we've always gotten along. But we understand very well how people around twin brothers act and what they expect of twin brothers. They expect them to be the same person, to have the same mind, and so we could use that to build this tension throughout the book that no one can understand and accept that the twins don't get along. That lasts throughout the whole book. The family can't understand that. Everyone expects everything to work out in the end.

If you're in New York, NY this week, you can meet Fábio: and Gabriel on Wednesday at the Barnes & Noble at Tribeca. Or if you're at NYCC this weekend, you can pick up an advanced copy at their table! For everyone else, TWO BROTHERS will be available on October 27th.