Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon on Their B.P.R.D. Revenge Epic ‘Vampire’ [Interview]
Twin Brazilian brothers Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon joined the ranks of our favorite comic book creators when they grabbed the English-speaking audience's attention with highly stylized and frequently innovative artwork on the first two books of multiversal super-spy comic Casanova, written by Matt Fraction. Since then, the brothers have collaborated with other writers -- Moon with Zack Whedon on Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64; Bá with Gerard Way on The Umbrella Academy books; and both with Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart on B.P.R.D.: 1947 -- but the several comics they've created together, most notably the heartbreaking mortality tale Daytripper, stand out as particularly pretty and emotionally intense.
As such, it came as no surprise to me that B.P.R.D.: Vampire #1 -- scripted and illustrated by Bá and Moon themselves under the auspices of B.P.R.D. and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola -- was an especially haunting and beautifully creepy comic book, even by B.P.R.D.'s already high standards. On sale March 27, the first issue begins the five-part quest of Simon Anders -- an agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense -- to take revenge on a clan of vampires for cursing him with a psychic burden that he fears will be his undoing.
ComicsAlliance spoke with Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon about their close collaboration on B.P.R.D.: Vampire, working with other writers, and what they have coming up next.
Illustrated by Bá and Moon, B.P.R.D.: 1947 followed a team of agents assembled to investigate and clean up any remnants of Project Vampir Sturm, a Nazi plan to employ vampires during World War II. In the course of that story, which is available in paperback and digitally, agent Simon Anders became possessed by the vampiric Brezina sisters Katharina and Annaliese. An exorcism was performed that saved Anders' life but left him forever changed and constantly at risk of a psychic relapse. At the start of the sequel, B.P.R.D.: Vampire, Anders feels his control beginning to slip and knows his time is short. He speaks with B.P.R.D. leader Dr. Trevor Bruttenholm about his singular compulsion: revenge.
Issue #1 finds brothers Bá and Moon collaborating so closely on story and art that despite their distinct styles (and thanks in no small part to colorist Dave Stewart), the reader never finds themselves distracted -- assuming they even detect the seams between each man's work, which I did not on my first reading of an advance copy. More impressively, the book expands the aesthetic scope of Mignola's B.P.R.D. adventures to include the delicate, contemplative mood that permeates much of the brothers' own work. In turn, Mignola's endlessly entertaining haunted house of a world full monsters, ghouls, and stoic tough guys seems to have inspired Bá and Moon to create their most visually impressive work yet, exemplified by a wordless five-page sequence that opens the issue in a fashion that's as dark as it is lovely.
Here is that sequence uninterrupted, followed by our interview with Bá and Moon.
ComicsAlliance: The first thing I'd like you guys to talk about is the startlingly creepy and very beautiful wordless, multi-page sequence that opens Vampire #1. It's not the sort of thing you see much in American comics, even Mike Mignola comics.
Fábio Moon: I'm fascinated by the challenge that wordless sequences present, when all depends on the art. Maybe it's the sort of thing you can only do when you work on both the script and the art, because it's very hard to explain in a script. I read in an interview that Mike wanted to come back to drawing Hellboy because he wouldn't know how to describe everything he wanted Hell to have. For the first sequence in Vampire #1, I just wanted to extend the mystery and the mood of this world we're entering. At every new page, a new detail gives a new piece to the initial puzzle, but because of the silence the reader isn't sure of what is happening, and that's unsettling. That's the best thing about working with horror, leaving this unsettling feeling, not explaining things, making the reader feel that he shouldn't be there, among all those dead bodies, that it's not safe.
CA: It's been a year since Anders was cursed by the vampire sisters. What can you tell us about his state of mind when Vampire begins? What kind of man has he become?
Gabriel Bá: We knew that the vampires trapped inside Simon would haunt him, begin to disturb his sleep, change him. But we didn't want to show these changes happening gradually -- we try never to explain feelings too much. We wanted to tell a story that would take place a little after all this has started, when there's no turning back and something smells bad in the air, but we don't really know what in the beginning. Something is just off. And that's when John Arcudi saved our lives and wrote B.P.R.D.: 1948, and everything we needed to link B.P.R.D: 1947 and our story was there. And that's the amazing thing about working with Mike on the Hellboy universe. Arcudi, Fábio and I just needed to know that something was wrong with Simon and that he would become a problem, a troubled man. Everything worked its way after that, without Arcudi and us having to discuss anything.
CA: Being a sequel to B.P.R.D.: 1947, Vampire is obviously not your first excursion into the Mignola universe. Many comic book artists say there's a special pleasure drawing the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. characters, as opposed to the classic superheroes and other adventure characters. Why do you think that is?
GB: I think what's fascinating about the "Hellboy universe" is that we play with mythology, folklore, magic and mystic elements that have been present for a long time, but creating new creatures and events all the time. These creatures and events and places feel familiar to the reader, they're not completely unknown, but weird enough to grab their curiosity. The reader feels he knows these characters already, he's been through these forests. After all, a lot of stories take place on real places -- and that's one of the most interesting parts of this job, choosing what place would be cool to have as stage for our story.
FB: I think this "Hellboy universe" is just more interesting to draw, to write, to create characters and see their stories through. I think this is still a young "universe," and most artists take as a starting point what Mike did, and that's a very inspiring starting point. He's an artist interested in creating a world, not only drawing comics. He has fun with his world, and he loves what he does, and that's something that makes other artists want to play in that same joyful creative sandbox. We said it the first time we did a B.P.R.D. story that we didn't feel we could draw this world and make it justice to what Mike was doing, but when we saw what Guy Davis was doing [in B.P.R.D.], and later what Duncan [Fegredo] did [in Hellboy], then we realized that the challenge would still be there but that we might have something to add to this world.
CA: You're both known as artists, working on books like Casanova, Umbrella Academy, Serenity and others, but you've written a lot of your own work in anthologies like Pixu and your full-length book Daytripper was a big hit. Do you plan on doing more long-form writing like Daytripper and Vampire? Do you want to transition to writing your own work exclusively, or do you want to keep collaborating with writers?
GB: We love to write, to draw, to do the whole thing, but we made a choice years ago to take the challenge of drawing stories other people wrote, to try to work on different kinds of stories, other genres. And these projects are usually more commercial than the "day by day" kind of stories we like to explore. I think that choice paid off and we've learned a lot working with other writers. We've become better artists and better writers, better storytellers in the whole sense.
FB: And it's not easy to create new stories all the time, to have something fresh, new, different to say all the time. We're not the kind of creators that work on the same characters for years, we try to create new stuff every new project, from scratch, and that's our curse!
GB: So for us is a good thing to have these comics we make with other people, to "relax" our brains and just exercise our artistic muscle while we don't have our next idea. This way, we also manage not to disappear from the readers' eyes for too long.
CA: Mignola is also a writer and artist. He's been working with co-writers for many years but lately also some cartoonists like Michel Avon Oeming and Cameron Stewart and now you both. Does that kind of partnership make for a unique collaboration, since you're all artists? What is the working method like with Mignola?
GB: I think Mike knows very well what he likes and what he wants when it comes to the Hellboy universe, so he chooses very carefully other creators to work with him, ones that he believes will understand this world and have something to chip in. He has been a huge influence for both of us for years and it's like we're having the chance to show everything we've learned with all the Mignola's books we've read for all these years.
FB: We talked about the possible stories to be told with these characters, directions to take and what were the "rules" of the Hellboy universe, what we could or could not do. After that, Mike gave us almost complete freedom to tell the story we wanted.
GB: Mike and [editor] Scott [Allie] know how to tell these stories very well, how to pace your story into five, six chapters, how to balance the action scenes with the calm, quiet, long dialogues. They helped a lot on the "shaping" of the story in order to tell it the best way we could. It's a really rewarding experience working with these two guys.
CA: How do you two work together on a story like Vampire? Do you split the layout, penciling and inking, or is there so much cooperation that it's impossible to know where one brother's work ends and the other's begins?
FB: Much like the way we did in Daytripper, we could create and write most of the story together, but we have distinct art styles and we don't really separate the work into penciling and inking. We came up with a story that would work with two different artistic styles to make sure we both could draw it. There's a reason for these two looks, and I think this time we had the opportunity to stretch this idea a little further, so there are many pages drawn by the both of us. What I love about working with [colorist] Dave [Stewart] is that he understands this very well and worked with us to create two looks for the story, and at the same time these two looks blend together very well because of the coloring.
CA: What other work do you have coming up that you can tell us about?
GB: We're currently adapting a Brazilian novel into comic book format for the Brazilian market, a long graphic novel to be published next year. We're not sure how or when it'll be published outside Brazil, but we're certain that it's gonna happen in the US and all over the place soon enough.