NYCC '15: Gabriel Ba And Fabio Moon Want Us To Make 'Different' Cool In Comics
Clearly the best panel of the day ran on Saturday morning at New York Comic Con, a Spotlight on Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, focusing on the value of being "different". We all know these two are cool. Their recent full graphic novel release Two Brothers from Dark Horse is an adaptation with very personal choices made from a major work of post-modern fiction in Brazil, and the graphic novel first appeared in Portuguese, but has now been translated by the brothers into English for the English-speaking world.
The twins presented their own slideshow kicking off with the theme "different is cool". The last time they attended was in 2010, shortly after completing Day Tripper, and a lot has changed for them since then, they said. They introduced images and iconic ideas from their native Brazil to the audience. Then they flipped it around to see what people from Brazil think of the USA, showing Disney and Hollywood images, as well as images of New York. "These are the ideas that have crossed the ocean", they said, of what each country is to each other. That's only a small portion of the reality, of course, and those features and facts may never "cross the ocean". "The same thing goes for comics", they said, where people may associate comics with the X-Men or Avengers, but throughout the world, people would have different ideas about comics if you asked them. Superhero mainstream "is not everything", nor is any mainstream in any culture. The "most popular thing isn't necessarily the main thing, and it isn't necessarily the best way to do things", they said.
Some people feel that to "really work with Comics", you must work with superheroes and you've only "made it", if you work for Marvel or DC. They admitted that they used to think that "many years ago". Without intentionally devaluing the hard work of creators working in superhero comics, they only really came to understand the need for work outside of this field when they came to San Diego Comic Con in 1997. They were "aspiring comics artists" and "fans", who did what "all fans do", get in lines, watch panels and the like. Two years later, they had a booth for the first time. They finished off with a picture in front of their own Two Brothers banner to show their progress over time and the role of comic cons in their lives.
Everyone in Brazil learns how to read from cute kids comics, they said, and they weren't attracted to pursuing that type of comics professionally. Otherwise they found Walt Disney-based comics and superheroes, in the days before the spread of manga. Brazilian artists started to come over and get some attention in the US market, and that gave them a sense that they could do it, too. Around the same time, though, the Brazilian artists seemed to go over to the newly founded Image Comics. Some artists were showing "incredible storytelling" in Black and White, like Frank Miller, and even Mike Mignola. Generally speaking, people follow "in the footsteps of creators they love" and may even end up working on the same titles. Just going to comic cons gave them a sense of being part of the community. Famous creators were "accessible" and had their own panels and tables, hung out at the Eisner Awards, and such. They felt like they were at the "right place" back then, even though they weren't sure what they wanted to do creatively. One thing that made a big impression on them was seeing so many comics and creators they had never heard of before and realizing that they didn't "cross the ocean". They weren't known in Brazil. For the first time, they realized they didn't need to make superhero comics, but could do "ANYTHING" they wanted.
They encouraged the audience to walk the show floor and find the comics that are not in comic shops and not in the Diamond catalogue. They don't "cross the ocean", but "every once in a while" one of them will "stand out" from the "white noise" of all the superheroes and films. "Because they are different", they said.
Bone, Strangers in Paradise, and reality-based works caught their attention at their first SDCC. They may not seem "new and different" now, but everything then was different. One main story they liked was about a teenage girl on Mars. It was Paul Pope's THB. Pope was the product of "mixed" European and manga influence, which they feel gave Pope a chance to be very "different". Currently, Battling Boy, still reflects that. They recommended Brazilian artist David Rubin, on The Hero, currently published by Dark Horse.
Moebius was a "force of nature" and an influence "all over the world". Geof Darrow's art shows this influence, too. Scott C., however, with a less sophisticated style is "just as great". "Sometimes the best thing to do is to do your own thing", they said, but it's hard to discover what your thing "is". They recommended looking at the Eisner Award winners if you're looking for "different" books.
"We're living in a great time in comics…everywhere", they said, with markets opening up between countries and topics. They believe "comics can be a lot more than what you're used to seeing" and this keeps "driving them" onward.
They've been traveling in the world of comics for 18 years and seeing different aspects of comic production everywhere, so they look to see what's being done, and "especially what's not being done" as well as looking at themselves to learn what they can do. Even if there was no comics market, they'd "never stop telling stories" they said. Going to SDCC each year and discovering new creators and "new possibilities" had a profound impact on turning them on to the "different" and the "cool".
During Q and A, I asked about whether they started off creating longer or shorter works and whether seeing the indie books at comic cons made them work mor ein the short form. They said they started with longer, big sagas in the beginning, which they never finished. What they needed to realize at the time was that short story anthologies are easier to get done, but not easier to do well, since short stories can be harder in a way to have an "impact". But it gives you something to "show" your work. Their original fanzine was 4 pages once a week. Short work also helps reach people who are not in the "habit" of reading comics. It was a great way to get "instant feedback" and learn how to "connect" with readers. Having to sell the zines by hand and make "pitches" to people buying them was good training. They never gave the zines away for free, because that would mean people wouldn't appreciate it. They left it to others to make a "little effort". Until 1997, they did lots of short stories, then from their SDCC experience, they wanted to do a "bigger comic" and felt they couldn't "hold it in anymore". Then they continued the fanzine, but made the narrative part of "one big story" over time. The fanzine helped them reach people who had never read comics before, and also see and gage reactions to their work in an invaluable way.
Asked what other artists have inspired them over time, they said there is a huge variety of stories being told in other mediums, like film, whereas comics seem to follow only certain genres and trends. So they were very influenced by books and films as well. Reality-based comics were a little bit depressing to them and they weren't inclined to go that way. It just wasn't really what they were inclined to do, so they looked still further for other types of comics to create. As teenagers, they loved poetry and music, and the way those mediums were able to suggest and convey, and there's "so much work to do in comics just to tell the same story" as those mediums can tell. They hope to achieve some of those effects, but in comics. They read everything, widely, from Sergio Aragones to Garfield, and superheroes. They make "daily life look like it has superpowers", based on all the comics they read growing up. And also "everybody is sexy" because that's the only way comics portrayed people, whatever body type or ethnicity. They feel that "every type of story taught us something".
Asked about Two Brothers, since it was an adaptation, the audience wondered how they came to work on the book, and also how the translation came about. They did their own translation into English, they explained. But the novel itself, a story about two twin brothers, was something they were asked to adapt because of the subject matter. They didn't want to say "yes" at the time, but the author was standing right next to them and they felt they had to agree so as not to disappoint him, initially. Once they looked at the book again, they were even more aware of what a difficult project it would be, but the "challenge" of it was what they actually needed at the time. By the time they had finished Day Tripper, they accepted the project. It's a story about family, taking place over 60 years of a particular family's life, showing changes in the family and the country. Because it's set in a city in the "heart of the Amazon", it's actually a different Brazil than the one they know. It turned out to be the "right" project for them, not because it was about two brothers, but because of all of these elements.
When they did some BPRD stories, and also Casanova, they chose those projects because it gave them a sense there was an opportunity to do something different with the medium than had been done before, and that's why they were able to collaborate with others instead of just writing their own stories as well as draw them. Umbrella Academy even felt to them like a story that was really about family relationships. It has this "idea of how things are not going to end well" for several characters who are very different from one another, which causes conflict. Every time a new Umbrella Academy story comes up, there's a massive amount of character-designing, one of the most "challenging things we've ever done", they said. Which is why they did it and are doing it again.
Asked how the twins have influenced each other, the idea that there should be a "personal style" didn't occur to them for a long time, since they wanted to tell stories together. It's very "difficult to try something different", they said, including in your reading habits, but even as creators, it's hard to "try something new and risk it". It takes "courage". They wanted to tell stories that weren't "everywhere else" and when they "started", not everyone liked the comics because of that "difference". But they took a chance, and tried to reach new readers, partly through going with publishers who could help reach readers, too, like Vertigo for Day Tripper. People need a "push" sometimes to try something new, like a recognizable brand. Their new book, Two Brothers, is in black and white, which is quite different. People love colored books, but the twins feel that there is a "poetic force" in using black and white that was needed on the project, and it took courage to do it.