Free the PIXU Four: A chat with Bá, Cloonan, Lolos, and Moon
Dark Horse recently revealed it will publish a hardcover collection of PIXU, a unique four-way collaboration between award-winning creators Gabriel Bá, Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos and Fábio Moon. Previously released as two self-published issues, PIXU is a horror comic book that tells the story of an apartment building full of haunted individuals, and the PIXU itself, a supernatural mark that portends great evil.
The four PIXU creators are scattered across the globe — with Cloonan living in Brooklyn, twin brothers Moon and Bá in São Paulo, Brazil, and Lolos splitting his time between Brooklyn and Athens, Greece. The book is at once a story, an experiment and a reflection of their tight friendship — four disparate, distant and visionary mad scientists becoming one through the magical act of creating comics together. Best of all, the book is creepy as all hell.
The original issues of PIXU were printed at a limited run of 1,000 copies each — but you can still find these handcrafted soon-to-be-eBay-bait comics at Khepri.com.
To celebrate the July release of the hardcover edition, we reached out to the PIXU quartet to find out the secret history of the book, and their own origins in the world of horror.
Which of your PIXU collaborators did you meet first? What was your first impression of them?
Gabriel: Easy. Fábio. Twin brother. Handsome guy, very talented. Very obedient, too. Does as I tell him to do.
Becky: I met Fábio and Gabriel, I think at the same time, at San Diego a bunch of years ago. I think it was 2004? Anyway, I was very impressed by their enthusiasm and skills. A year later, again at San Diego, I saw them again — and I was immediately quizzed to see if I remembered who was who. Of course, I was a good guesser.
Vasilis: That would be Becky; I thought she was a worthy art rival and really hot.
Fábio: I was right there inside my mother’s belly when suddenly I looked to the side and I saw Bá. At first, he looked small and I didn’t think much of him. He was kinda lazy and was born 15 minutes after me.
How did the idea of collaborating on a book come about? How did you come up with the idea of the horror story?
Fábio: Bá and I always worked together. We learned long ago that collaborating with other people who you feel inspired by creates a “good internal competition.” We see great stuff and we want to do great stuff, and that has been the fuel of our brotherly collaborations, and we saw that same energy in Becky and Vasilis work, especially when they worked together and also challenged each other.
Vasilis: PIXU is the logical followup of 5. I think we wanted to take it a bit further on the way we collaborate and incorporate our teamwork on script and visuals.
Gabriel: We all wanted to do it, but we wanted to do something different from everything we had done or were doing by the time, and that’s when we came with the idea of making a horror comic.
Fábio: Horror is cool to draw. It’s a great genre to use black and white, to use closeups, to use silence and sound effects. You can really explore the language of comics making a horror comic.
Becky: Ironically, I hate horror movies. I have a really overactive imagination and I tend to be scared for weeks after I see one … But doing a horror comic was fun. I was able to step back a bit and try to figure out what scares me, why it does, and then work that into the comic.
Was it difficult to do a four-way collaboration across the globe? How did you coordinate everyone’s efforts?
Fábio: I don’t think it would have been easier if we were all together. With the Internet, the communication is much easier, and it’s possible to work from any corner of the globe.
Becky: Besides daily emails and weekly MSN meetings, we also have a “secret” blog that we started as we did 5 to keep track of everybody’s progress. On that blog we post photo ref, thumbnails, scripts, basically everything. It’s an archive of the entire process, and it’s a good resource if we need answers and nobody is around.
Vasilis: We did a lot of planning out, scouting for houses, making blueprints of the houses, assigning rooms and spaces, figuring out common areas where the characters interact.
Fábio: The most difficult part was to put together the story and write it separately and then watch it to see if it worked as one story. The melting of four heads into one was the biggest challenge, but at the same time I see it was what made the story so rich as everyone brought their own different perception of horror to the house and the characters.
Gabriel: When you’re making an independent comic where nobody is getting paid and everybody is in it for the love of the craft, you can’t really go bossing everyone around. In the end, we finished the comic one month late, but it’s a lot better than we have anticipated in the beginning.
What was it like debuting the first issue together? Why at San Diego Comic-Con 2008? Any memorable moments or reactions?
Vasils: San Diego Comic-Con was ideal because that’s a time where we all meet and hang for a couple of weeks every year.
Gabriel: Becky goes to lots of conventions in the U.S., we do our rounds here in Brazil, Vasilis visits Olympus, but in San Diego we are all together and it always feels great.
Becky: We could debut it at any time, I guess, but we did the book together so it only makes sense to debut it together!
Gabriel: San Diego is like our magic place where we all live together for a week. It’s our safe place where we recharge our batteries and our belief that we’re doing the right thing and why we love comics so much.
Fábio: We felt blessed to be in San Diego doing comics because of our passion for comics, and our previous independent effort together, 5, won an Eisner Award and we were all there together and we received the award together and I felt that there’s nothing better than doing what you love with people you love and that, if you want something hard enough and you work as hard as you can, you can do anything.
Becky: Plus it’s like the Con of Cons.
Vasilis: I think my most memorable PIXU moment wasn’t at the convention, I had a couple intense ones at home while working on it …
What movie scared the shit out of you the most as a child?
Gabriel: The NeverEnding Story, if you believe me. I was scared of “the nothing,” but mainly of that wolf. Big, low-budget fake wolf with gloomy yellow eyes still haunts me in the dark. The scariest part is that due to the technological limitations of the time, very little was shown of the whole wolf, only his head coming out of the shadows or a shade moving through the woods. This “insinuation” of the “monster” without actually showing the thing is the most scary effect you can generate.
Vasilis: I would have to say E.T. — that hospital scene where he went all white, jeez. But truly awesome.
Becky: I gotta echo Vasilis and say E.T. really did a number on me. I was even scared of the Touchstone logo for years after I saw it. It was so fucked up.
Fábio: The Shining. I will fear hotels for the rest of my life.
Becky: Grease scared me too, but I think that was just John Travolta.
Scariest comic book of all time?
Becky: I’ve read a lot of very creepy comics, including Uzumaki by Junji Ito, and The Abandoned by Ross Campbell.
Fábio: Otomo’s DOMU was disturbing, and Black Hole made me feel like I was going to die in the forest if I wanted to have sex. There’s something powerful and scary in the silence these two stories show.
Gabriel: Black Hole. It’s very creepy. Those woods.
Becky: Horror is, I think, the hardest genre to pull off in comics not only because we have a total lack of sound, and unlike novels (which can leave more to the imagination) comics relies heavily on visuals … I think what draws me to horror in comics is the challenge, because to get the audience in that particular mood is, I think, very difficult to achieve.
Have you ever seen a real-life PIXU? What did it look like? What happened next?
Becky: Thank God I have never seen a PIXU in real life, or else I wouldn’t be here today.
Gabriel: PIXO (with an “O”) is a kind of graffiti in Brazil, just writings mainly, with this very particular kind of calligraphy. And the people who write these words, they really break the boundaries of where you can go and “how the hell did they get there,” you know? So it’s this kind of transgressive graffiti that can appear anywhere, with words and sentences very hard to understand, but that bare a message.
Vasilis: I’ve seen some stuff, but they were truly indescribable. Really, really uncanny.
Fábio: I see it all the time, and I’m sure you have, too. Try to remember a place you know where something bad happened. After that, that place was never seen with the same eyes by you, as if it was tainted by the bad memories. We remember places by events we had in those places (or events we know happened there), so the “bad” places will always have that stain, that ghost.
PIXU depicts the lives of tenants in an apartment building. Would you live in an apartment with your PIXU collaborators?
Gabriel: I lived with Fábio for 31 years and I’ve shared a hotel room with Becky and Vasilis once.
Becky: The closest we got to living together was last summer after San Diego Comic-Con. We shared a hotel in L.A. — that explains the earthquake we had! For the good of the planet I don’t think we should ever live together; who knows what natural disasters will occur?
Gabriel: The scariest moments were when Vasilis would turn on the TV. He would never turn it off.
Becky: Although living closer would be nice! Or seeing each other for more than a few weeks a year.
Vasilis: I kind of am already, ha-ha. Me and Becky share an apartment when I am staying in the States. And we plan a long visit to the twins, too.
Fábio: Didn’t we tell you PIXU is autobiographical?
Would you do it all again?
Gabriel: Not in the circumstances we did this one, among lots of different projects at the same time.
Fábio: We are still learning to choose projects and determine what will we do, as the possibilities grow, but the itch to work together will never die, so I guess it’s just a matter of time.
Vasilis: We are going to do it again but not all over, ha-ha, we want to keep it different and interesting.
Gabriel: We respect and admire each other too much not to work together again. We don’t want to do the same thing again. Next time we do something together, it’s gonna be something entirely different.
Becky: I love collaborating with Fabio, Vasilis and Ba. I don’t know when it will happen, but we’ll start another comic fire one day.
Gabriel: Who knows? I’m almost done with Umbrella series 2 (Dallas), I’m getting deeper on the BPRD: 1947 series, and Fábio and I are making our series at Vertigo called Daytripper. It’s all ending by the third quarter of this year and I honestly don’t know what I’m gonna do next. More Umbrella? Sure, there’s more. Casanova? Yeah, it’s coming back. That’s all I know.
Becky: I just finished writing a script for Buffy: Tales of the Vampires, which Vasilis will be illustrating, and I’m currently working with Brian Wood on Demo. I’d love to go back and finish my graphic novel East Coast Rising, but right now it’s tied up with Tokyopop so we’ll see … Apart from that, I have a few other projects in the works, one is a webcomic with my dear friend Hwan Cho, and the other is in the pitch process with two friends as well, so we’ll see. I’m always making room for new projects though, I have a bad habit of taking on too much at once.
Vasilis: Some sort of cosmic adventure. Or a slice-of-life story.
Fábio: Right now I have my hands full working on Daytripper with Bá and on the BPRD: 1947 with Bá, Mignola and Dysart. Whatever comes next will have to wait for these projects, and that’s at least one year away, so right now I’m focusing on the present because the comics I’m working right now are too exciting to let me think of the next ones.
Four creators in PIXU, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the final book of the Bible. Which PIXU creator best matches each Horseman of the Apocalypse? (War, Famine, Pestilence, Death.)
Vasilis: I think Becky is War because she fires us up for comics; Fabio and Gabriel are Famine and Pestilence because those two are related, ha-ha, and I think I am Death, because I come when everyone else is done.
Fábio: You’d die (and kill) to be as talented as Becky. Vasilis is a Greek god of War and he takes no prisoners. Bá is the sick bastard you can’t stand how awesome he is, and I’ll always leave you hungry for more, so I think it’s pretty easy.
Gabriel: I’d say we made our turns as every and each one of them. We became our worst nightmares at some point, a point of no turning back, so we had to face our fears and overcome the problems we have created. Making PIXU was a challenge for all of us, as creators and as a team. And we won. On the other hand, Vasilis is Pestilence, Becky is Death, Fábio is Famine and I’m War!
Becky: If I were to answer this it would signal the end of the world, which in turn means no more comics!! Oh god, then we’d all be out of a job. And life. So let’s compare us to four something else … The Four Seasons? The Four Elements of Hip Hop? I don’t know, I just don’t feel comfortable with these Horsemen guys. They are not to be trusted.