By Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, and based on the work of Milton Hatoum
Somewhere around chapter 3, when the narrator is finally revealed, you will realize that Two Brothers has thoroughly and seductively entangled you. Or perhaps it was in chapter 2, when the annals of time are flittered backwards, and you become enchanted with the scope of love and history. Or better still, it was right there on page one and the elegance by which the atmosphere was established had you immediately enraptured. Whenever it was or will be that this work entwines itself into the most voracious curiosities of your mind, there’s little doubt that by the time the final page is turned and the epoch thoroughly ingrained on your imagination, you will fall victim to the charm and mastery of Two Brothers.
Based on the work of one of Brazil’s most prolific writers, Milton Hatoum’s The Brothers (or Dois Irmãos in Portugeuse), Brazilian twin brothers and comics’ indelibly talented creators, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, have crafted an absolute joy. Two Brothers is, of course, ostensibly about the lives of two Brazilian brothers born from parents of Lebanese descent. But it’s about far more than that. It’s about family and history. It’s about ghosts and scars both literal and figurative. It’s about history and the way our lives shape it, and in turn how we are shaped by it. More than anything, it’s about passion itself; the passion that manifests itself in love, in narcissism, in fear, in hope, and in hatred. Moon and Bá examine the ties that bond family as well as the ties that bond people to a place and to a time. Atop a rich, living backdrop of vibrant Manaus is woven a story that transcends time even as it uses it as a structural plaything by which to instill a sense of dire and tragic whimsy.
Any enthusiast of the works of Gabriel García Márquez or Italo Cavino will find plenty to relish in here, even if Two Brothers never strays into the realm of magical realism. That being said, just because there’s no actual magic at play doesn’t mean it isn’t positively spellbinding. The generational history of this family is examined from multiple perspectives and from a multitude of moments in time. The stark contrasts are but one element to the multifaceted narrative on display and employed with a swagger and confidence that allows the tragedy to sing and the question of predetermination linger.
Yaqub and Omar are twins, born only minutes apart with Omar being the younger and thus entitled the Caçula. Born at once, they were two parts to a nonexistent whole. Radically different and forever at odds over everything: their parents affection, love interests, success, philosophies, everything. While Yacub would go on to be a calculating and successful engineer, he would carry with him forever resentment for being sent off to Lebanon as a child while Omar remained at home. Omar in turn, was a being driven only by his desires no matter how destructive they were to him or to those around him so long as he could end his days drunk and in a hammock. With their conflict at the heart of all that transpires, Moon and Bá tell the story of their family and of mid 20th century Manaus itself. Every member of the family, even adopted Domingas, has their perspective of this indefatigable clash. There’s Halim, the patriarch, who never wanted children in the first place and has a penchant for the past and an insatiable lust for the love of his wife. There’s Zana, the boys’ mother, who after her beloved father’s death pours every ounce of her love for life itself into the boys, especially the Caçula. There’s their younger sister, Râina, who in the shadow of the twins comes into her own and embraces the future. Finally, and most importantly, there’s Nael who as the son of one of the two brothers represents the potential whole of their best qualities. You will care about each and every one of these characters. You will be angered and confused by their actions and secrets just as you will be enamored with them when they’re at their best. In short, you live their lives with them and this is perhaps Moon and Bá’s greatest achievement: how irresistible it is to empathize with this family set aflame.
Artistically, Two Brothers is as deceivingly loose as it’s narrative structure. Rounded lines give way to sharp silhouettes with open lines and evaporating backgrounds. Much like the subject matter, it is a study in contrast portrayed in powerful black and white. The freedom of line married with the heavy shadow and negative space is a wondrous marriage of Mike Mignola and Al Hirschfield. Neither Moon nor Bá have looked quite this experimental before, and that’s truly saying something. Every chapter throws you about time with reckless abandon, but the control on display in regards to pacing would be considering oppressive if it wasn’t so expertly utilized. With a clear stress on aspect-to-aspect transitions, the art establishes setting both thematically and pragmatically. The establishing shots of Rio Negro, the town center, the wharf, and of the family’s occasional oppressive and occasional warm home, are all as important to the thematic undercurrent as any of the dramatic moments of action. Black and white are inverted at a whim, letting one dictate form and shape only to let the other do the same mere panels later. As night and day cycle, so too do the images like negative reversals of undeveloped film. Managing to take the methodology of simplicity to its apex, Moon and Bá capture the essence of change and tragedy with as little as possible even as it speaks volumes louder than would be assumed. Like two sides of a line, black and white, there are two brothers, each defined and made visible by the other.
Two Brothers meanders through “the dreams, the ghosts, the memories” of two brothers who “were born lost.” Awash in the exotic substance of a changing country, the gradual and tragic conflagration of a family enrapt in passion and secrets is a wonder to experience. Adapting the enigmatic masterpiece that is Hatoum’s original novel, Moon and Bá have made Two Brothers their own. This is the realization of graphic novel storytelling at its peak; a work that breathlessly flutters through memories with amazing ease and captivating control. It would be easier to list what Two Brothers is not about as opposed to the myriad of heartfelt wonderings it incorporates into its whole, but if nothing else, it’s about potential and the passions that steer us to and from it. For Moon and Bá, with their skill on full unfettered display, that potential is limitless.
TWO BROTHERS will be released on October 14th from Dark Horse Comics.