Having introduced his superhero team in their eponymous comic Red Panda & Moon Bear, writer / artist Jarod Roselló is now sending the sibling superheroes on their second adventure with Red Panda & Moon Bear: The Curse Of The Evil Eye (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Roselló discusses what inspired and influenced this series, as well as how this second adventure came to be.
For people who didn’t read the first book, Red Panda & Moon Bear, who are Red Panda and Moon Bear, where are they from, what are their powers, and what happened in that book?
Red Panda and Moon Bear are two Cuban American siblings with magic hoodies and semi-well-defined magical abilities. They live in the city of Martí, named for José Martí, who fought the Spaniards for Cuban independence.
Red Panda has the strength of twelve red pandas, or so she says. She can also build any machine or weapon, however improbable or unlikely. Actually, the more improbably or unlikely the better. Moon Bear has “unspecified magical abilities.” His magic crystal — which he found mysteriously — gives him magic powers that respond to his emotional state, so he doesn’t always know what’s going to happen or what form his powers might take. Sometimes it makes him grow huge, other times he can shoot fire blasts from his hands.
In the first book, Red Panda and Moon Bear stumble upon monsters, strange mysteries, and paranormal problems plaguing their city for the first time. They go from being neighborhood defenders to superheroes. The book centers around their attempts to uncover why all these strange things are happening all of a sudden and how the sudden appearance of these two bizarre street dogs might be related to it. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but nothing is as it seems in the city of Martí.
And then for people who did read the first book, and thus can ignore me when I yell SPOILER ALERT, what is Red Panda & Moon Bear: The Curse Of The Evil Eye about?
The Curse Of The Evil Eye takes place right after book 1 ends. Like minutes later. In Book 1, Red Panda and Moon Bear learn about a Shadowy Figure. So book 2 kicks off with them trying to find this Shadowy Figure (who they assume is evil) to bring him to justice. In the process, they uncover a much larger and more nefarious plot by a living curse — Mal de Ojo — to destroy the city and take over the world by ruining everyone’s lives with bad luck.
Where did you get the idea for Red Panda & Moon Bear: The Curse Of The Evil Eye?
I hadn’t originally planned to do a sequel, but the response to the first book was huge. Luckily, I’d left book one with the suggestion of ongoing adventures. So when I sat down to do book 2, I had a lot of material ready to go in terms of questions and mysteries that never got answered in book 1. The Evil Eye, or Mal de Ojo, as the kids call him in the book, is based off Cuban mythology, which is pretty common across many cultures, that envy or jealousy can poison others and manifest in physical ways: illness, loss, bad luck. Red Panda and Moon Bear are so concerned with finding ways for everything to fit and exist in the world which is informed by a larger sense of empathy for others. Mal de Ojo, as a curse that feeds off jealousy and envy felt like the antithesis to empathy, and a suitable villain for Red Panda and Moon Bear to have to face.
Along with the two Red Panda & Moon Bear books, you also wrote The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found, as well as some short comics and stories. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Red Panda & Moon Bear: The Curse Of The Evil Eye but not on anything else you’ve done?
I think my influences are pretty well-entangled at this point. But the structure of the book — stand-alone stories that weave together — was inspired by the structure of the Sardine In Outer Space series by Emmanuel Guibert and Joann Sfarr. I also love the narrative design of Jordan Crane’s The Clouds Above, which has this constant unfolding of magic an unpredictability. I wanted each chapter of The Curse Of The Evil Eye to introduce more questions that it answered to continue to open the world. I challenged myself in this book to tell more visually complex stories, and I took a lot of inspiration — if not formally, then in spirit — from Thom Pico and Karensac’s Aster series of graphic novels. I’d also been revisiting the work of Jorge Luis Borges, and finding a lot of joy in the complexity of worlds of which we only ever see a small sliver. I wanted that sense of magic that’s bound to the unknown to resonate throughout the book.
What about non-literary influences; was Red Panda & Moon Bear: The Curse Of The Evil Eye influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I’d say that animation is probably the strongest influence of The Curse Of The Evil Eye. There are stylistic nods to Adventure Time. Gravity Falls was a huge influence on me. I loved the magical setting and the ways the kids had to solve mysteries of the setting in order to deal with the concrete problem (monsters, etc.). I was also really impressed with the way the narrative threads in the Tales Of Arcadia series came together. I loved the mixing of adventure, comedy, and heart in Kid Cosmic. I know there’s some of that in there.
Music was also a huge part of drafting this book. I got into a really great sync with Coheed & Cambria, and I think that really propelled the storytelling.
And then, in terms of the art, what artists — comic book or otherwise — do you think had a big influence on Red Panda & Moon Bear and thus on Red Panda & Moon Bear: The Curse Of The Evil Eye, and are there any that only had an influence on Evil Eye?
I spend a lot of time designing characters and redesigning characters. And while Adventure Time probably informs some of the strongest visual elements in The Curse Of The Evil Eye, there’s a lot of piecemeal building that happens. There are some mouths and eyes I lifted from The Amazing World Of Gumball, some body shapes I borrowed from Pinky Malinky. It’s hard for me to even tease out some of these individual influences, because they’re sneaky. But I love reading a book or watching a show and thinking, “Oh, that’s where I got that from.”
This is going way back, but there’s a modified joke from Brendon Small and Loren Bouchard’s Home Movies — specifically, the episode where the Renaissance Faire gets attacked by the kids from the sci-fi convention — and an homage to the original The Tick animated series.
I think if I had to describe the humor in this book, it would be a combination of the “fork in the road” scene from the original The Muppet Movie, and the scene in Roger Rabbit where Eddie Valiant is trying to saw off the handcuffs he shares with Roger. You can find both of those clips on YouTube, I’m sure.
How about other visual sources; was Red Panda & Moon Bear: The Curse Of The Evil Eye influenced by any movies, TV shows, games, or works of fine art?
It won’t be readily apparent, but Cuban painter Tomás Sánchez’s paintings were hugely influential to me in terms of tone and sensation. I love how each of his paintings are peaceful and beautiful but also kind of haunting in the way a premonition haunts you. I also spent a lot of time digging through digital archives of old Cuban magazines and photos of Havana, to help me with colors and shapes and design.
Now, as we’ve been discussing, Red Panda & Moon Bear: The Curse Of The Evil Eye is the second Red Panda & Moon Bear book. Are you already working on a third book or will Red Panda and Moon Bear be taking the vacation to the Bahamas they always talk about taking but never do anything about?
Ha! They’ve definitely earned a vacation, that’s for sure. I have lots more stories and adventures for Red Panda and Moon Bear. I’d really love to do a spin off series with just the dogs as well. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the coming years.
As you know, Hollywood loves making movies and TV shows and games out of comic books. Do you think the Red Panda & Moon Bear books could work as a movie, a TV show, or as a video game?
Oh, totally. I’d love to see an animated series. So much of my visual storytelling and character design draws on animation. There are so many gags I write in my original scripts that really won’t work in a comic, because they rely on motion and timing. In some ways, seeing the characters in an animated series would allow me to expand some of their stories and their world.
I’d also love to see a video game, specifically something like Costume Quest, where it’s a semi-closed world where you can run around and get yourself in trouble.
And if either of those things happened, who would you want them to get to be the voice of Red Panda and Moon Bear?
I’m really terrible at knowing who celebrities are and remembering their faces or voices, so I don’t really have anyone in mind. As you can imagine, my pop culture trivia skills are also terrible. The only thing that would be important to me is that they can hit that Miami dialect of speaking. It’s got a distinct sound to it that’s hard to describe, but you know it if you know it.
And you kind of already answered this, but would you want to work on the animated show or game?
Oh yeah, I would love to work on it. I don’t know if I’d want to get down in the day to day work of it, but maybe as a producer, writing a few episodes, working on the big picture stuff. I think it would be fun to collaborate with others and make something that’s more than just what I can do by myself. And as long as I can hold the line to make sure that Red Panda and Moon Bear stay who they are at their core, then I’d love to see where other people take this world.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Red Panda & Moon Bear: The Curse Of The Evil Eye?
If you love adventure and comedy and monsters and mysteries, then you’ll probably love Red Panda & Moon Bear. While it’s marketed to a middle grade audience, I conceived of these books as all ages stories for adults, too. And the response I get from grownups is that they like it, too.
Finally, if someone enjoys Red Panda & Moon Bear: The Curse Of The Evil Eye, what superheroic comic book of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I would check out Mike Cavallaro’s Nico Bravo series. It’s an adventure series that deals with mythology, and it’s full of amazingly-designed monsters and characters, really fantastic storytelling, and one of the most charming and endearing main characters. It’s probably the series I think is closest to Red Panda & Moon Bear. It’s got a huge world that continues to grow with each book, so who knows how many stories we’ll get from that universe.