6BBF Author Profile: Filipe Melo

Juan Cavia
Juan Cavia
Filipe Melo
Filipe Melo

When an award-winning musician and film director partners with an art director and illustrator who has experience in advertising, music videos, and feature films and they share a love of pianos, nothing but pure magic is sure to follow. Filipe Melo, from Lisbon, Portugal, has worked with Juan Cavia, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, before. Their latest collaboration, Ballad for Sophie, is described as a tale of music, rivalry, and regret. It’s sure to tug at the heartstrings as well as your curiosity. This sweeping tale spans the twentieth century beginning in 1933 and reconvening in 1997, packed with all the drama of a rock & roll biopic and more twists than a night at the opera. Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia have composed a stunning graphic symphony exploring a lifetime of ambition, betrayal, compassion, anguish, long-buried secrets, and flying pianos.

Nobody tells a story like a musician; Melo has worked as a jazz pianist, producer, and composer. In Ballad for Sophie, when a young journalist prompts a reclusive musical superstar to finally break his silence, he pours out an astonishing saga of rivalry and regret, starring child prodigies and bitter old men, beautiful dancers and demonic managers, Nazi commandants, compassionate nuns, and lifesaving animals. Referring to his main character, “I imagined what it would be like to play like him. To be like him. Sometimes, it felt like I was the only one who really understood him.”

According to Melo, it was a tough year to go to festivals, they started with a tiny Portuguese edition, so the excitement around the book has all been a bit crazy for them. They have received awards with Top Shelf, IDW and are currently nominated for the Quai des Bulles Award for the French edition of the book.

CALS was able to get in touch with Melo and discuss this upcoming graphic novel.

What was the process involved with writing your book?

Well, a bit crazy – like all the previous books I did with Juan Cavia. We live in different countries, I’m Portuguese and he’s from Argentina, so we always work with an ocean in the middle. I’m a musician, he’s an art director for film, but we got into comics as a hobby and things grew from there. Our first book got picked up by Dark Horse Comics, that was a big deal for us, so we just kept working and trying to improve as a team. We now have a few books we did together, but I guess this one took a lot more work than the others. We discussed the idea before all the writing itself began – since we both play piano, we were in familiar territory – but we wanted to try to really have a larger narrative, where we really took our time and we got to know the characters, and we really tried to get the right pace. I wrote it quite fast – in about 2 months – always with Juan’s feedback and a very significant rewrite after his comments. He really has a strong influence on the writing process, as I do in the process of drawing. We have been friends for many years, so I guess books are also an excuse to talk and catch up – and we did a lot of talking in the process of making Ballad for Sophie.


CALS: What was your favorite part of the writing process?

Melo: I had never done anything as big. So, what I really enjoyed the most was taking a vacation from my own life to get into these characters’ shoes. And I always seem to enjoy more the moment after I write, when I get to see the words come alive with Juan’s drawings. There’s always some pain and self-doubt during the writing itself.

CALS: How was music an inspiration while creating this book?

Melo: I guess that we had a strong influence of the epic Italian films of the 80’s – things like 1900 and Once Upon a Time in America. And Cinema Paradiso, of course. I tried not to run away from a more emotional side, a romantic, nostalgic feel that you get from those stories that span for a few decades. Also, and even more so, we had many musical references and inspirations – it’s a very musical story – so we had two completely different styles as references – very introspective and sophisticated pianists like Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Glenn Gould, and glamorous showmen like Liberace, Richard Clayderman and Jerry Lee Lewis. Quite a contrast. I remember also that at the time of the writing, a German film called “Tony Erdmann” really helped me find the tone for the climax of the story.

Follow Filipe on Twitter and Facebook and go listen to this beautiful piece of music composed for the book. And, of course, put their virtual Book Fest session on your calendar now. He and Juan Cavia will be discussing Ballad for Sophie on Saturday, October 23, at 11:30 a.m. Central. Keep your eyes on the Six Bridges page for the full schedule and registration.