The new graphic novel, "Two Brothers," is an adaptation of Brazilian writer Milton Hatoum's novel "The Brothers." It tells the story of twin brothers Omar and Yaqub, and tensions based on mutual jealousy and family secrets.
We spoke with the award-winning creative team (and twin brothers themselves) Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá at New York Comic Con about the process of bringing Hatoum's book to life as a graphic novel.
How did this project come about?
Fábio Moon: We were invited by the Brazilian publisher who had the rights. The editor of their comics branch saw us talking to the author at a literary festival, and they had the idea. Initially we were hesitant, because the book is very dense and complex, and there’s stuff that you do in prose that’s easy to do when you have this stream-of-consciousness type of narrative. But to translate that visually is very hard to do.
We knew it was going to be a long, hard job. But at the same time, it had everything that we like to do in comics, and it had stuff that we hadn’t seen before [in comics]. That was the challenge that drew us to the project.
The original novel is all told in flashback. You don’t even know who the narrator is for a good portion of the book. In adapting it for a graphic novel, which pieces of that did you keep, and how is your story different because of the change in format?
Gabriel Bá: I think the graphic novel ended up a lot more faithful to the book than we first expected. We did change some things in the structure to make it a little bit more fluid and a little more dynamic. Even though it’s not an action story or anything. The changes we made in the structure of the story were to keep the dynamism on a certain level. Because it’s a very intense and very personal story, so we didn’t want [the pacing] to be too uneven. But I think it’s very faithful to the book.
Fábio Moon: We love how the book is written. And we love how Milton’s style seduces the reader with words. So we tried to keep that, and think of how we could expand on that when we brought in the visual layer of the story.
Has Milton seen your book? What was his response?
Gabriel Bá: Yeah, yeah. He was very humble, and let us do whatever we wanted, respected our work, and we only talked with him two times. One in the beginning, we went to Manaus for research, to visit the city, and he gave us tips where to go and what to look for.
Fábio Moon: Two years later, when we were starting to create the visuals of the characters, we came to him and showed him the sketches we had. He had a completely different vision for [the twins' mother], and that helped us a lot to understand the character. But after that, we only showed him parts of the book that were already done. And when he saw the whole thing afterwards, he was very surprised and very happy with it. He liked it a lot.
Gabriel Bá: He was surprised at how powerfully the visuals add to the story, and how people can really have a sense of this city that doesn’t exist anymore. You can really see that part of the story flourish.
Fábio Moon: That has a much more emotional impact on the reader, as well as the silent moments. They really play well in relationship stories, to add to the drama and the tension. So he was thrilled when he saw what comics could bring to the story he told.
Tell me a little bit about your collaborative process. Obviously, it’s different, being brothers - is it easier, or does that make it more challenging? How do you two work together?
Fábio Moon:I think for us it’s easier, because we grew up together. We spent most of our time together. We have a lot of the same references. So our communication is really easy, and I think we have a brutal honesty with each other because we share the same goal: to tell a good story.So it doesn’t matter who has the idea, it doesn’t matter who writes it, or who draws it. We just want to tell a good story.
I think that brutal honesty is essential to how we work. We write together, we talk out loud so we can figure out how to break up the story. We figure out which style works best – we have to choose one or the other to draw the whole thing, to have one unique look. And if somebody’s tired or unsure what we’re doing, we have the other to push us to do our best work
Sign up for Comics Delivers, a weekly email featuring the best in comics each week - from weekly booklists to deals and exclusive content from creators.