The Mignolaverse is simultaneously self-contained and ever-expanding. One of the more exciting elements to come out this year is the realization that Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon are going to be the driving forces behind the character Simon Anders, taking him in whatever direction they see fit. Their first voyage was on “B.P.R.D.: 1947,” but their real journey with him begins today, as they co-write (with Mike Mignola) and illustrate “B.P.R.D.: Vampire” #1. We had the pleasure of chatting with Moon and Bá earlier this month, and they were generous with their time and insights (although it was also an interview fraught with guilt – they mentioned that it was a particularly beautiful in Brazil, and we could even hear the idyllic birds chirping in the background!).
Make sure to check out Fábio’s awesome Abe Sapien sketch, and check back in an hour for our review of “Vampire.”
Can you tell us exactly how you first came to work with Mike in the Mignolaverse? How did the two of you come to work on BPRD 1947?
Gabriel: Well, we love his work, and every year when we went to San Diego Comic Con we would stop by his booth. His table. We’d buy everything and eventually show what we were doing because he was always a big influence on our work.
At first, he couldn’t see it, but neither could we because we sucked.[Laughs]
Gabriel: It’s very terrible when someone comes to you with a terrible drawing and says (in a funny, fanboy voice), “oh I love your work so much you’re such a good influence on us!” And you can’t see that.[Laughs]
Gabriel: That’s how it started 12, 13 years ago.
But every year we kept showing him what we were doing, and at some point, he started liking it, and one day he said that he wished we could do something together one day. That was really, really amazing for us. Even if nothing happened, that was already life changing.
Then I started working with Umbrella Academy, and my editor Scott (Allie) is the same as Mignola’s, so we got closer and then we started talking about this chance to work together. They invited us to B.P.R.D. 1947. That’s how it happened.
You said you were big fans of Mike’s work before you started working there. How does the B.P.R.D. world align with what you like to draw, and what in particular about that world do you like to draw?
Gabriel: In fact, we were always big Hellboy fans, and we didn’t know a lot of the B.P.R.D. universe, but when I started working with “Umbrella Academy,” we started getting comp copies of the B.P.R.D. books. The ones that were already done, we were late on that, and we discovered a whole new universe that Mike and John (Arcudi) wrote and Guy Davis drew, and for the first time we had this impression, this relief, that someone else could write and especially draw those characters and that universe. Because we had this strong feeling that no one could ever touch those characters and that universe except Mike.
When we started reading B.P.R.D., which is very different from Hellboy, it’s more like…I don’t know…thrillers…it’s a thriller story. And mystery. Hellboy is a lot of mystery, but much more adventure and horror. That changed our opinion and broadened up what we thought could be done with these characters and this universe. That was very exciting to see how something that started with one character chasing strange characters and monsters, suddenly is a big universe full of other characters and big organizations and going all over the world. That was very interesting for us.
That’s when we saw that we could one day do something in this universe. We thought, “maybe we can do something like this.” Because we couldn’t see that. We saw ourselves as readers, and as much as we liked Mike and Hellboy and his universe, we could not see ourselves working on those characters. But once we started reading B.P.R.D. we thought that maybe we could do something like that.Continued below
Fábio: I think it was also good that the first B.P.R.D. mini-series that we worked on takes place in the past, because that also helped us to work on something that didn’t have a lot of history behind. Not a lot of established characters, established backgrounds. So we wouldn’t be compared to the other books. It would give us a chance to work with Mike in that universe, and at the same time to create from scratch.
I think that also helped the first time when we did “’47.”
One thing that came up when we talked to Mike, John and Scott a while back was that they see Simon Anders as your guys character. They want to let you guide him as you see fit. Then 1948 came out. Did you play any role in the transitional stuff between “1948” and “Vampire,” and how did John do in moving Anders to the place you needed him to be in?
Gabriel: Well that was a lucky strike, I think. We knew that the whole changing process with Simon would be the starting point of our series. We didn’t know what John would write, or if he would use that too much. In the end he didn’t, and it helped us because it already took…we would work all this changing in Simon on flashbacks or inside his head, and with 1948 we see that happening on real events. Playing with Jacob – which is the other character – and the other guys that are at the Bureau.
It helped, and we didn’t really say anything to John.
Fábio: We talked with Mike and Scott when we thought about what our ideas for Simon were, and how we imagined that he would stray out from the Bureau and have solo adventures. They talked to John and what he took, and he incorporated that to make sure it wouldn’t be out of the blue for our story.
“Vampire” #1 starts off with this incredibly haunting and intense wordless sequence that the two of us talked about as soon as we read it, and said it was one of our favorite sequences in a B.P.R.D. book in a long time. How did that come together? Did you know you wanted to start it in silent, and what are the challenges of a scene like that?
Gabriel: Well, we had this idea to start with something related…not directly related to Simon. Something that the readers don’t know yet where it takes place or how it connects to the story. So they don’t really know which story they’re getting into. We knew we wanted to do that kind of start, and we just came up with the sequence that I would have the most fun drawing (laughs).
I wanted it to be creepy, I wanted it to have girls, and death, and snow, and monsters (laughter). We came up with everything that would be fun to draw, and it would give it a moody beginning. Thinking about this moody beginning, making it silent was better for the start of the story. I think that’s what…we had the chance to write and draw the story, so we had to take advantage of this chance to do what probably wouldn’t happen if there were writers involved. Because they want characters to talk and explain, and they use words much more than they use the images. We took advantage of writing the series ourselves to start very visually.
It was an incredible sequence. One thing Brian and I both talked about in our review was how it feels like nothing we’ve ever read in the Mignolaverse, yet somehow still really grounded it. It was amazing storytelling. That floored us.
When working on “Vampire,” what roles did Mike and Scott play in piecing together the series with you?
Gabriel: We talked a lot before we started the series to come up with which story we could tell that would be interesting for us to do and the readers to read, and would be a good piece to add to the Hellboy universe. So we talked a lot about what we could do. We discussed every chapter, about where we could take these characters, about what could happen. The first script they had a lot more input to make them feel like…more like Hellboy/B.P.R.D. stories, but then we got the hang of it and they are liking it more and more.Continued below
That’s pretty much it. Some tweaks on the text here and there to make it sound more like the characters that already exist. Professor Bruttenholm…he’s very specific. He’s very British. And we can’t really…we can’t really write it perfectly. That’s a good thing to have Mike and Scott with us on when he appears. These kinds of things. We had mostly total freedom to do whatever we wanted on every issue.
Talk about working with Mike. I know you guys are scripting and drawing the series. What was the relationship with Mike as far as generating ideas? Is it difficult working with him because he’s such a great artist, or more intimidating?
Fábio: We thought we’d have visual conversations, but we didn’t really. We sent a bunch of sketches. We didn’t get a lot of sketches from him, which was something we were kind of hoping for.
Gabriel: He’s always very happy with what we draw and what we send. That’s kind of too nice of him. We were expecting him to be more displeased with our art (laughter). So he’d send his versions of everything that he had to create, and we’d have all of this original insight into the Mignola way of creating. But he’s very happy with everything we send. Most of our discussions are about how certain things work on the Hellboy universe. Especially about the vampires. About the monsters. They have this very specific back history. Some of the back history is not on the books that were published, but he knows very well how the vampires came to exist in the Hellboy universe, and what was the origin.
So we had long exchanges of emails to get that right until we could proceed. Until we decided how we could create a story that would make sense in that universe.
One thing I was really floored by when reading this book, and you guys touched on it on Twitter, is that we actually struggled on who was working on what page. Then I saw that you said you are working together more on the same page than ever on Vampire. How did you split up artistic duties?
Gabriel: On “1947,” we had two different narratives that…one followed Simon with two vampire sisters and it went to this more magical, supernatural world with the vampires and the Hecate ceremony in the woods. That was Fabio drawing.
The other followed Jacob and other agents into the castle and fighting the vampire zombies…whatever…so that more into the real world part, I would draw.
We tried to keep this logic to separate the art in Vampire. We tried to think of ways to use it better or balance it a little more so we could blend the two styles more often, because in 1947 it was very separated. When one was drawing and the other was drawing, except for the exorcism on the last issue. There was not too much interaction between one action and the other. We’re trying to do it more often on our series, and it’s fun.
It’s different from what we’ve done together before. It’s getting into an interesting phase, I think.
Your other artistic collaborator on this is Dave Stewart, who you’ve both worked with before. What does Dave bring to the table, and what makes him such an ideal collaborator?
Fábio: Well, first of all, he pays attention to the drawings, in a very meticulous way. He looks very closely to every panel, to every detail, so he knows very well what’s drawn there. He doesn’t rush into any page when he’s coloring. He pays very close attention to what is going on and what is there. And he isn’t afraid to use color, so he sometimes chooses colors that we would never choose to create a very different visual for the story. We always try to draw, thinking that the story needs to work in black and white; so we put a lot of effort in to make it work in black and white, and he comes in and makes it work in color.
So, after he’s done, we don’t remember that page anymore in black and white; we remember the page in color. And he basically changes the way he colors for each project; so its very different on the “Vampire” pages, or for “Umbrella [Academy],” and he colored for us on “Daytripper,” everything was very different.Continued below
On “Vampire,” he colored Bá’s pages very differently than he colored my pages. For him it is not just a job; he is helping us tell our story. That is what a good collaborator should do, and he’s the best we’ve worked with so far.
Do you two give him notes at all? Or do you just unleash him and trust his judgement in making the best choices for your stories?
Fábio: On “Daytripper” we sent tons of notes, but on “Vampire,” I think he knows how to color the Hellboy universe better than anyone else, so he knows what’s best for the story.
Fábio: Only if we have very specific little details on the colors, we send [them to] him, but other than that, he does it all, and it always surprises us. Dave is the best.
He is one of the few colorists, I think, that the average comic fans know by name, and I think that speaks to his skills that he’s become almost a household name to comics fans; it’s very impressive.
So you guys mentioned being big fans of Hellboy, and getting into all the B.P.R.D. stuff as well – would you guys like to work elsewhere in the Mignolaverse, or do you see yourself as being focused on the Simon Anders story for now?
Fábio: Right now, we are the guys taking care of Simon; we don’t feel like we’re intruders at the party, but it’s not our party.[Laughs]
Fábio: I want to see Mike drawing Hellboy, and I wish Guy Davis was still drawing “B.P.R.D.,” but the follow-ups have been great. But I like to read those stories, and it’s nice when we can see the stories just as the readers [do], and be surprised, and not know what’s coming next. It is one of the few comic books we still read, so it would ruin it for us to give up the pleasures of being a reader and start working on Hellboy and B.P.R.D. in the present. It is better to keep the distance and still be amazed by the stuff that is coming out.
I think it is pretty incredible that the two of you started off as huge fans of Mike’s work, how thrilling is it for you to be working on a B.P.R.D. book with Mike as one of your collaborators?
Fábio: It is hard to believe; this is our second series with him and it is still hard to believe. It only feels more real, and more surreal, when, for example – for “1947,” the first cover he did, and he drew Simon [Anders], who is a character that we created visually, and we said “Woah! We are working with Mike Mignola, and he drew a character that we created.” When that really sinks in; when we see his art on the story that we’re doing, it is really amazing; all of it, the whole process. And to be playing with his tools, his toys, on his playground, in his sandbox, all these metaphors work here, it is really unbelievable. We try to do the best work we can.
We don’t want to be just another story in the Hellboy universe; we want our story to be different from anything else. We would hate the Hellboy universe to become like Marvel or DC, where it doesn’t matter anymore who is doing what [creatively], it just matters that Spider-Man is back, and whatever.
Gabriel: I think it is nice that we have a close relationship with Mike, and it feels like if we ever want to do a creepy, moody horror story, like the ones we like in “Hellboy,” we don’t have to fear that it will be compared to something in the Hellboy universe, because it is in the Hellboy universe.
Gabriel: And, at the same time, we aren’t working with Hellboy directly, so we aren’t ruining it![Laughs]
We are just ruin unknown characters that we create and then doom and try different things. And at the same time we have instant feedback on what he [Mike] likes, and what he feels can be better. It is not a very usual situation, and we work very hard to keep it working so we don’t lose this window of opportunity.Continued below
Now, tell us, what is the next project you guys are working on after this miniseries wraps?
Gabriel: Well, we are working on an adaptation of a novel for the Brazilian market, it is going to be a very long graphic novel, and we really don’t know what we are going to do after. I know I am eventually coming back to “Umbrella Academy, so I know I’ll be back to that eventually, maybe at the end of the year. When the time comes, I think desperation will help us come up with a new idea. We are just trying to wrap the “Vampire” story really well, and so far, we have been getting one new book every year, so we will be ok; we won’t be out of the eyes of the public for too long.
And it’s good to be two guys working, because Fábio can go and do something by himself, and I can go and do something by myself, so we can get a lot of books out there in a short amount of time. Coming up with an idea is the hard part!
What are some of the books that you guys are reading right now, that maybe our readers aren’t as familiar with?
Gabriel: Ah, the terrible question![Laughs]
Gabriel: We draw too much to read a lot. We are trying to finish the scripts to “Vampire,” so we have very little time to read. But I’m reading the obvious things; I’m reading “Saga,” which is nice, I’m reading “Rachel Rising” by Terry Moore, which is a fantastic horror story.
Fábio: You would never expect Terry Moore, that nice guy, to write horror like this.
Gabriel: Our horror is nothing like his horror!
It is amazing to read “Rachel Rising” and then think about something like “Echo,” or “Strangers in Paradise,” and thinking about how different they are – he’s just an incredible story teller.
Gabriel: He changes even more than we did! “Daytripper” is very different than “Vampire,” but we can recognize “oh, here are things that we do;” visually, it has similarities, there are some structural storytelling similarities. But with “Rachel Rising,” it is so different than anything he’s done before, and from issue to issue it changes so much. It is a nice book to read monthly.
Fábio: We are trying to catch up with comics from other parts of the world; we just got back from France, and got a lot of books there from authors we don’t get to read too often; we’re trying to discover new things.
We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us, and we just wanted to say how much we really enjoyed the first issue of “Vampire.”
Gabriel: It only gets better. I think “Vampire” is our big homage to Mike and to the Hellboy universe. We can see the influences that we’ve got from reading his stories in the past, and the structure of the showing the villain, and getting back to the main character, and putting some different chapter in there, and the pacing of the story, and the silence and the mood.
Fábio: It is like becoming a fan of comics; we usually try and come up with stories that we don’t normally see in comics, but with “Vampire,” it is almost like the opposite; we are trying to do the kind of stories that we were passionate about that we read years ago, and “Vampire” is that kind of story. We are trying to put all our passion into the issues.
There is a scene in the opening sequence, with the raven who says “Hecate,” and that was such a Mike moment that it actually really threw me off. I’ve never seen someone so casually throw such a Mignola moment into a book so perfectly.
Fábio: Well, it is a Mignola book. I feel like I’m going to college to get a PhD in Mignolaverse, and my thesis is “Vampire:” how to make a Mignola book work, and how to make a Mignola universe shine, and how to create sequences and draw scenes – it is our thesis; this universe works like no other in comics.