Ba and Moon on the Making of ‘Two Brothers’, Part III: Drawing Manaus
Set in the vibrant port city of Manaus, Brazil, Two Brothers by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá is an intense tale of blood ties, love, loss, and estrangement, adapted from the novel Dois irmãos by Milton Hatoum. In anticipation of the book’s release this week, the brothers have shared with us an exclusive three-part look at the making of Two Brothers. In part one, they explained what drew them to the book. In part two, they talked about adapting the novel into a comics script. In part three, they discuss bringing the city of Manaus to life on the page.
Zana had to leave everything: the Manaus Harbor area, with its sloping street shaded by ancient mango trees, a place almost as vibrant as Byblos, the small town in Lebanon where she had spent her childhood; she recalled it out loud as she wandered through the dusty rooms, losing herself finally in the garden. There the crown of the old rubber tree shaded the palms and the orchard, which had been cultivated for more than half a century.
There’s no way to imagine Two Brothers without the city of Manaus. Throughout the book, Hatoum transports us to a magical place full of voices, sounds, and scents, a place that changes with the characters as the story unfolds. Manaus is certainly a key piece of the puzzle, and if Fábio and I had any aspirations to do this work justice, we most definitely needed to get to know the city.
By April 2011, we had read and reread the book many times and written a summary of the story and a list of places and things to look for in Manaus. Hatoum sent us a list of places that appear in the novel and details we should pay attention to. He also put us in contact with a friend, Joaquim Melo (“Quim”), who has a book kiosk and a food stall right in the Largo São Sebastião. As an enthusiast of the history and culture of Amazonas, he was a big help to us and guided us on this part of the journey into the book, letting us know which places had had their names changed, which ones were renovated, and which ones didn’t exist any longer.
We spent a week in Manaus walking the streets downtown, taking the routes from the Praça Nossa Senhora dos Remédios to the Praça Heliodoro Balbi, going through the Rua dos Barés by the docks and past the Praça da Matriz. We crossed the metal bridge near the jailhouse and visited the Educandos neighborhood. Every once in a while we had to hide from the rain, which fell thick and fast. We tasted the tacacá, the fried jaraqui. We took a boat ride on the Río Negro, visited floating communities, and lost ourselves in the creeks.
We took hundreds, if not thousands, of photos, taking notes on the architecture of the houses in the city center, the flow of commerce on the streets, the trees on the wide avenues and squares. You must go there to truly understand the people’s relationship with the river, the boats of all shapes and sizes, the short rides and long journeys. The river is like a road there: it’s the route taken by people from all over the country and the world who are just passing by as well as those who have remained there, who decided to stay, who have found it to be their safe port.
Hatoum had already warned us that the Manaus he knew, the city that lives in his memories and in his novels, doesn’t exist anymore. When he talks about it, there’s a mix of passion, dazzle, delusion, and sorrow. You may find all these elements in the book, and we didn’t fully understand what he meant until we went there. This trip was crucial to help us understand the city, demystify it, and comprehend the geographic universe of the plot.
But the story in the book is a period piece, a visit to the past, and we also wanted to capture that. We brought several history books back from Manaus, full of maps, photos, and postcards of landmarks, squares, buildings, monuments, and places erased by time. It helped us understand his fascination with the city.
Back in São Paulo, we did a huge amount of research on the Internet. In one of the many searches through the gates of the big oracle (Google), we found a Facebook page called Manaus de Antigamente, kept by people who are passionate about the city’s history. It is full of old photos and stories about the past, the daily life of many different periods, and the changes that took place over the years. Since the story of the novel unfolds over fifty years, this fan page was of great help to us in our attempts to truly understand what had changed in the city and when.
When we were already far into the production of the comic book, with tens of pages already drawn, we would find ourselves looking for a certain angle or some other new information that could help us set a scene. So we returned to Manaus — only virtually this time, with Google Maps, to help us remember the streets we’d walked on and imagine the routes the characters would take.
From 2011 to 2014, technology advanced a great deal, and Google added Street View to the map of Manaus. With that, we could put ourselves in those streets again and look for the angles we needed. The city’s transformation continued, and the Mercado Adolpho Lisboa, which was under renovation when we were there, reopened. The house we had chosen as reference for the family’s house was for sale at the time of our visit, and a high wall now blocked the view of the veranda from the street. The city’s constant transformation and the violent advance of progress described in the book continue today.
In the end, we’re telling a fictional story, and the goal is not to portray faithfully every brick of the buildings in the city center or to make a documentary on Manaus and the changes the city has been through over the years. The goal is to transport the reader into the story, to make him believe those lines of ink are the streets, squares, and trees, the shade of the oitizeiro trees, and the swaying boats in the harbor.
Two Brothers is available in stores now.