Comic-Con International is many things to many people. It's a place for publishers to make their biggest announcements; for aspiring creators to try and break into the industry; and for fans to rub shoulders with big names in and out of comics.
And for FÃ¡bio Moon, Gabriel BÃ¡, Becky Cloonan and Vasilis Lolos, Comic-Con could very well be the center of their universe -- and it's certainly the center of their friendship. The four met at Comic-Con, released their first ensemble graphic novel "5" there last year, won an Eisner for it this year, and followed it up with "PIXU" #1, on sale now. CBR News spoke with the team about "5," "PIXU," and what comes next for this critically acclaimed foursome.
Brazilian twins FÃ¡bio Moon and Gabriel BÃ¡ -- who won two additional Eisners this year for their work on Dark Horse's "Sugarshock!" and "The Umbrella Academy," respectively -- met Brookyln's Becky Cloonan at the 2004 Comic-Con, back when Moon and BÃ¡ had just published "Ursula" at AiT/PlanetLar and Cloonan was still drawing "Demo" with Brian Wood.
"She liked us and we liked her right away," Moon told CBR. "And when we saw each other the following year, it was like we've been friends for a long time. And then she had Vasilis [Lolos, artist on 'The Pirates of Coney Island' and creator of 'The Last Call'] hanging around with her all the time, and he was this strange Greek dude who we also befriended quickly. We all just loved comics and doing them."
Beyond their shared love for the medium, the four creators felt they had complementary art styles and a similar outlook on the purposes comics can serve. "I think good collaborations come from people who have a similar sensibility regarding their art," said FÃ¡bio Moon. "BÃ¡ and I have it and we love working together, and when we read 'Nebuli,' which was Becky and Vasilis's first collaboration, we knew they had something about doing comics for the love and inspiration it can bring into the world, and the idea of working together started to grow in everyone's head."
Cloonan doesn't remember whose idea it was to produce a book together, but she said, "Right when we started talking about making a comic together, things started falling into place." The result was "5," a 32-page anthology minicomic in which each of the four creators created a silent story about one of the other creators. Moon and BÃ¡'s fellow Brazilian Rafael GrampÃ¡ provided illustrations and the cover.
"We were so happy with '5' that we wanted to do another one," said BÃ¡. But the group weren't content just rehashing '5' -- they wanted to up the stakes. "We wanted it to be more than '5' in all ways, so we wanted dialogue and the book to be one big story instead of four little ones. Each of us would be responsible for chapters of the same big story."
The result is "PIXU," this year's Comic-Con offering from the group. "Pixu" is a Brazilian word (pronounced "pee-shu") defined in the story as "the mark of evil that forecasts imminent death."
"We live in a world where there are some bad people who do bad things," BÃ¡ explained. "Sometimes, something really bad will happen to these people, and that thing is the PIXU!"
"I think we were all on the same page when we thought [our follow-up] should be a horror comic," added Cloonan. "We thought of a general storyline and theme for the comic, like a foundation, and we were able to build our stories around that so they all worked together."
For both Cloonan and BÃ¡, the best thing about how "PIXU" turned out is the way the story is filtered through the four different creators. "You get one major storyline, but you also get four types of stories that weave throughout the book that not only have an individual style and voice, but that also interact with each other."
"PIXU" ended up growing too large to finish in time for Comic-Con, so the creators split it into two issues and just released #1 at the show. "PIXU" #1 is set in a house with five apartments and tells the stories of the people living in each one as they are menaced by the appearance of the titular mark of doom. But though the cast all share a roof and a common approaching fate, that's about all they share.
"All these strange things going down, but nobody talks to each other about it," said Cloonan. "They just go about their daily lives paying rent and taking out the trash. Even though they all know something is wrong, nobody says anything about it. They all have their own demons to worry about." It's a situation right out of Cloonan's life. "Last year I moved into an apartment building with six floors, and the thing that struck me right away was the anonymity I have living here."
The creative team all share the cast, but each creator came up with their own characters for the story. Cloonan described her characters, Claire and Omar, as a "normal dysfunctional couple." "I like to think that they're engaged," said Cloonan. "They go though a routine of breaking up and getting back together. When we first meet them they're in the middle of breaking up again. Claire has a close encounter with the PIXU and she changes dramatically after that." Cloonan said Claire and Omar are perhaps the most "normal" of the cast. "My characters are maybe the closest thing to innocents in this comic, especially compared with Gabriel's Castillo."
Professor Solano Castillo is, according to his creator BÃ¡, "a drunk and sorry bastard who misses his dead wife. He has obviously screwed up at some point in his past and has not recovered from the blow. Don't feel sorry for him, for he's no-good of a person."
Then there's Cafard and Katerina, Moon's contributions to the cast. "Cafard is an old man with a strange view of the world, and he thinks all the strange things he keeps in his apartment " jars full of dead animals " will help make him safe. He has a little girl living with him who might be his granddaughter, named Katerina. Katerina doesn't quite understand, neither does she like, Cafard's strange habits, and she is curious about the world outside their apartment."
Finally, there's Lolos's character, who Lolos describes as an explorer in his own paranoid decent. "The worst thing when you are paranoid is when you are right, and that makes you ever more paranoid," Lolos said. "This guy has been right more than a few times."
The creators aren't very forthcoming about what happens in "PIXU" #2, which is intended for a September release. "There are a lot of questions in the first volume that will be answered in the second one," is the most specific Cloonan gets. "Things get very grim, and our stories begin to merge as the characters interact more."
Rather than take their ensemble books to Oni Press, Image Comics or one of the other indie publishers the group has connections with, the four chose to self-publish "5" and "PIXU" -- an extremely uncommon move for established, popular, and Eisner-winning creators in an industry where self-publishing is generally reserved for newcomers and committed do-it-yourselfers.
For BÃ¡, the appeal of self-publishing is the immediacy of the gratification. "We practically did the whole book in a month and had it ready in 15 days for the Comic Con. If you do it [make a comic] with a publisher, it has schedules, approvals, printer schedules and Diamond schedules as well. It is all too bureaucratic."
For Cloonan, self-publishing is about being hands-on with your book. "It gives a kind of satisfaction you can only get by doing everything yourself. It's that taste of absolute power that you never get with a publisher. We work at our own pace and we edit each other, and when it's done we sell it at conventions, online and wholesale ourselves."
Also unorthodox in comics is the team's decision to bypass Diamond for their distribution. "I never really thought of distributing through Diamond," Cloonan said. "I don't think our print run is big enough for that."
Cloonan and company only made 1,000 copies of "PIXU" #1. They sold more than half during Comic-Con, and the remaining copies will be available at conventions and through online comics store Khepri.com. "We made 2,000 copies of '5,' and we pretty much sold out within a year," Cloonan said. "We do well at conventions. I'll be bringing 'PIXU' to SPX and APE this year, and to [New York Comic-Con] if I decide to get a table. I don't have any doubt that we'll move all the copies by the spring."
And as far as their next ensemble book? "We talked a bit, and some good ideas were thrown around," said Lolos. "But we have to finish 'PIXU' #2 first."
Only time will tell if next year's Comic-Con is as momentous for Cloonan, Lolos, BÃ¡ and Moon as the last few have been.