B.P.R.D. Agent Simon Anders has a problem. Two problems, rather… Two vampire sisters trapped inside his chest trying to claw their way out. And now this vampire-haunted man is turning vigilante in an effort to claim some sort of vengeance for this immortal curse, and he’s hoping to find that by taking down the gorgon-eyed queen Hecate.
That’s the story behind the five-issue series B.P.R.D.: Vampire by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, It’s a story that’s been unraveling in the Mignola-verse for several years, starting with B.P.R.D. 1946 and going through two subsequent series – 1947 and 1948 – which is culminating here in Vampire. With the penultimate B.P.R.D.: Vampire #4 hitting shelves this week, we talked to the Brazilian brothers about their jaunt into post-war horror and their attuned appreciation for the artistry of B.P.R.D. from Mignola on down.
Newsarama: Gentlemen, working on something inside the Mignola-verse, you have the needs of continuity like doing a book for Marvel or DC but you also have a visual legacy – the big stamp of Mignola’s artwork, Fegredo’s, etc. – to work under without it weighing you down. You’ve done it mightily in previous series, so in general how did you draw in a way that is still true to your own styles while still be deferential to what Mignola has done before you?
Fábio Moon: None of these matters were real problems on this series. One of the easy parts of B.P.R.D.: 1947 and now B.P.R.D.: Vampire is that since the story takes place in the past, we don't really have to follow a whole lot of continuity and be true to the regular characters. We're creating characters from scratch, but within this universe, and the only concern is to respect the mood of what has been done before. Artistically, we've been inspired and influenced by Mike's work for so long that it feels like we've been preparing ourselves to work on this book for 20 years.
Gabriel Bá: Exactly. Of course we are working with deeper blacks, darker scenes, not only to honor Mike's artwork, but because of the horror genre we're playing with here. And Duncan Fegredo was truly the one who showed us someone besides Mike could work with these characters and still do a great job. That helped us accept this challenge.
Moon: Actually it was before Duncan. It was Guy Davis' work on B.P.R.D. that opened our eyes to the possibility of working inside the Mignola-verse. His work is so different from Mignola's and yet the storytelling and atmosphere is so great, the pacing and character work all his own, that we were inspired afterwards to try to also do our own thing inside this wonderful world. On B.P.R.D.: Vampire, being able to write as well as draw, it was even better for us to really push ourselves to do our best work.
Nrama: For people who haven’t been reading this series or the previous 1946-1948 books, can you tell us about Simon Anders and this curse that’s befallen him?
Bá: Simon was bit and tortured by two vampire sisters that ended up locked inside of him after an exorcism attempt to save his soul. He is safe for the time being, but he feels something strange and unsettling inside of him, and he is starting to loose control. He believes that finding the vampires may be the solution for his condition.
Nrama: Does the curse have any benefits to Simon at all with these two sister vampires inside him?
Bá: He has definitely a link with the sisters that guides his choices and movements. It's a thin line to decide if they are helping or manipulating him.
Moon: Well, it isn't everyone who can do what Simon did at the end of issue three, so the curse is clearly changing him.
Nrama: Hecate’s become one of my favorite big bads in the Mignola-verse – Maybe it’s the eyes. What made her something you wanted to center Simon’s whole quest on, and build her up as this big threat?
Bá: It's almost the other way around. Hecate has a big role on the mythology Mike created, so once we decided we would work with Simon going after the vampires, we needed to understand a little bit more about their origins, their history, and that led us to her. And yes, she is a great character to work with.
Nrama: The last issue, #3, showed a big showdown between Anders and Wilhelm. What can we look forward to with #4 and then the finale, #5?
Bá: Blood. Lots of it. Just because we love how it pops out with Dave Stewart's colors.
Moon: Seriously now, I think everybody wants to know what will happen to Simon and the sisters, and in the story we'll see the readers aren't the only ones who have this particular interest in mind.
Nrama:You guys threw in a big swerve when you revealed that Hana wasn’t necessarily working in the best interests of Simon like he thought. What are your thoughts on Hana and how she factors into this thread of the Mignola-verse?
Bá: It's great to work with complex characters, where not everything is black and white, not everyone is just good or bad. And we're dealing with post-World War II times, with an American agent being on a strange mission in the heart of Czechoslovakia, in a town filled with women. How could there not be deceit?
Nrama: This series has been a real revenge story, with Simon Anders seeking out Hecate and her clan of vampires. Simon is a character you two created visually, and fleshed out with Mike, John Arcudi and others. Was this the long-term plan, even back then?
Bá: When we started working on B.P.R.D.: 1947, we didn't even know if Simon would survive until the end of the series, we haven't talked it through with Mike or Josh. Luckily, we became fond of him, not only visually, but he turned into this charismatic, troubled character, and he survived in the end of that story.
Moon: When we were discussing ideas for another story we could do after that, all of us thought about following Simon and his quest to find the vampires. Not exactly Hecate, but the vampires. Simon is a rough, simple man, a soldier, a sailor, he's not wise, educated like Professor Bruttenhoum. So his vision of all of this is more direct and focused on the vampires.
Bá: What was great was that John Arcudi talked with Mike about all this and started introducing this unsettling personality change on Simon on B.P.R.D.: 1948, which already helped us focusing on his quest, without having to show too much his behavior and how he was feeling like a treat to his colleagues.
Nrama: Mignola’s listed as a co-writer with you to on this, but from what I understand he gave you pretty free rein with this. Can you tell us how it works with you two, Mignola and Dark Horse?
Moon: It took us over a year to decide which story we would tell, what way we would go and that was done talking with Mike and Scott Allie, trying to find the best story that Bá and I could tell on that universe. One that would make sense for us to return to that world.
Bá: After we decided on this storyline, we had complete freedom to tell the story we wanted, the way we wanted. Of course we're showing every step of the way both to Scott and Mike, but they always like and encourage what we're doing. They really gave us the space to push the limits of this genre, work the mood, the silent scenes.
Nrama: In the primary B.P.R.D. books, we generally tend to know a lot about the characters based on past stories – but here we’re more in the dark, which leaves you two more room to maneuver and develop these characters. What’s that like for you two and this book with Simon?
Bá: Even though we've seen Simon on two stories before this one, we have all the information we need to tell our tale within these five issues. Of course the readers already know the Professor, and the ones who have read 1946, 1947 and 1948 have met Varvara, but those are really the only elements we borrow from the other series. Everything else could have happened on a completely independent story, without any relation with Hellboy. But, at the same time, being a story in the Mignola-verse gives it a whole new layer that is great to play with.
Moon: It is very liberating to work with a character that has little connection with the bigger picture of this complex universe. We can do whatever we want with him, but the biggest challenge is, in fact, to think what our story could add up to this bigger world, to this mythology. Otherwise, there's no point in telling it.
Nrama: From Ursula to Daytripper and even here, when you guys are writing and drawing I see a really knack for subtlety – not letting the words tell the story when the art can do it more succinctly and stronger. How conscious were you of pulling back on the amount of dialogue to go with the art? Did you wait to finalize the dialogue until you’d already drawn, or at least thumbnailed the series?
Moon: We're telling a horror story and silence feels really scary to us. Not saying something is more unsettling than saying it. These kind of choices are easier to plan and do if we're both writing and drawing the story.
Bá: We try to think of the whole script, specially the dialogues, before we make our layouts or thumbnails. Most of the rhythm of the story is in the dialogues. But we do use the art to help on the flow. We have the images in our minds and, even though we only draw them after we've written the words, we trust each other that we're on the same page when it comes to pacing the story with the artwork.
Moon: Besides, Mike is a great storyteller and has almost created this style of composing the page that is amazing and we're having a blast playing with it on this story.
Nrama: After wowing the comics world with Daytripper, at first glance B.P.R.D.: Vampire seemed like a surprising follow-up. Why’d you choose to come back and do this project?
Bá: We love challenges, we couldn't really work on the same thing for years. We love to try different stuff on every new project. On this particular case, Mike and Scott really wanted to do something else with us. So much that they let us write the story as well. So, the possibilities of working with this interesting character, Simon, and this universe of mystical, magical creatures, and telling a longer horror story than the one we've done before (on Pixu) were key factors to make us want to do it.
Moon: We love telling stories with emotions, feelings. That's what great about love stories, the way you can show a couple falling in love only with looks. It's the same thing with horror, the same power to stir the reader's emotions.
Nrama: On your blog I noticed you just said you finished drawing B.P.R.D.: Vampire. So before I let you go, can you give us an idea or hints about what you’re doing next?
Moon: Matt Fraction is almost ready to start feeding me new Casanova scripts. We've met him in Portland last month and talked about the fourth story arc, which will be amazing. Again. And while I'm drawing the main storyline on the new series, Bá will draw back-ups written by Michael Chabon.
Bá: Yeah, and we're adapting a Brazilian novel into a graphic novel. The book's called The Brothers, written by Milton Hatoum. It has been published in English by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2002. It's a big family saga that covers over 50 years of the history not only of these people, but of the city it takes place – Manaus, the capital of the Amazon state – and the country. It's a modern classic of Brazilian literature and Milton is considered the best living Brazilian writer. It's a chance to do something different from all the other book adaptations that are being done here in Brazil, working over older classics on public domain. We have been in contact with him to get a better understanding of the feel of the story, the emotions. Not to approve anything, since he trusts our work, but to get the details hidden under the hood of this story.
Moon: It's a very strong story about family and I think it fits perfectly with the type of stories we'd like to see more often in comics.