Here’s an old bullet item from The Comics Journal, a review of De:Tales. I think the book got some attention when it came out, so you might know it: a slim paperback volume of black-and-white vignettes written and drawn by Fa?bio Moon and Gabriel Ba?, twins down in Brazil. Dark Horse published it two years ago.

Judging by this book, I’d say Moon and Ba? have talent. But so do lots of people, many of them with more going on inside than the boys apparently have. MoonBa? put me in mind of my old surefire observation about George W. Bush: maybe he’s not stupid, but he might as well be. And maybe MoonBa? aren’t a pair of no-talent poseurs but … all right.

The title of De:Tales doesn’t even make sense. Ok, “tales” and “details,” so you have a pun, but why “details”? The stories don’t have anything more to do with details than other stories do. Someone just wanted to feel clever and didn’t think about what cleverness involves. As I remember, the book’s foreword also contained a clunker. The editor, I forget her name, tittered over how the boys had first approached Dark Horse with superhero art samples. I can see how contributor guidelines might warn against superhero stuff because otherwise a company risks being deluged with nonsuitable material. But if the pages are in front of you, surely you can tell whether they show any talent. Waving them away because of some capes and tights seems like a caste gesture.

There are no superheroes in De:Tales, but it’s a dumb book. The editor couldn’t tell. Why do I care? Basically because I was assigned the book and I wanted it to be good because otherwise I’d be stuck reading crap for an hour or so — and guess what happened. Worse, the crap was prettied up with the scent of the artists’ self-regard. Not to mention the editor’s.

Still, it’s not a bad life the boys have down there in Brazil. They’re working hard, tapping American dollars, turning out professional product. Going by their self-portraits, they’re youngish fellows, lanky and rangy, and Brazil has lots of good-looking girls. It’s a nice thought, the lives they’re hypothetically leading. I just wish the guys would shut up.

And now my bullet:

Fa?bio Moon and Gabriel Ba? are Brazilian twins who share writing and art duties but don’t like using the same last name. The foreword to De:Tales, a collection of 12 short pieces by the team, tells us they picked new surnames off the rack as “reflections of their distinctive artistic spirit.” This isn’t a good sign. The foreword promises stories “of love and loss, of coming of age, of the questions of youth and life’s search for answers”; the collection’s first piece adds to the list “stories with bars and drunk people” and also “fairies and talking birds” and “dreams.” In practice this means stories that are like the old “no soap, radio” joke, except that one of the elephants is a craggy fellow with long hair and the other is a cute girl in a belly shirt and they’re walking down a street in São Paulo instead of sitting in a bathtub. The two brothers can really draw, but they have trouble getting a point into their work. The best they can manage is wistfulness attached to some generalized problem. If the problem has a bit of size (for example, the absence of a dead friend), the story manages a little heft. But most often the problem has to do with the sort of girls you see in beer commercials. It seems the girls aren’t available often enough, or else not on terms that make the brothers feel emotionally cozy.

“Happy Birthday, My Friend!,” the collection’s meatiest story, has charm, a bit of feeling, a decent joke about London. Second place goes to an anecdote (“Qu’est-ce Que C’est?”). Past that point we find notebook entries and exercises in style. In “Outras Palabras,” a beautiful girl lights a candle against the night sky. We move from the candle’s flame to a street light, along telephone wires, past more street lights, and arrive at a dark window where a craggy fellow is gazing out past another candle flame. This isn’t a story, it’s a printed rock video.

The brothers, especially Gabriel, can be too loopy and expressive in drawing individuals, but they do fine crowd scenes and settings. The local color is a big attraction here, and the characters always move through well-paced sequences of well-chosen shots. But the expertly assembled panels convey content so vapid it’s shocking. A beautiful girl with bad teeth doesn’t really cover the effect. Imagine a beautiful girl with no teeth: She opens up and all you see is gums and darkness. Or maybe there’s one tooth, a single gleam against the black, a lonely candle in the night. If that image makes you wistful, read De:Tales.

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