“Death Sentence” is an artistic and commercial success, period. If you don’t know, it’s a book about a sexually transmitted disease that grants the infected superpowers, but also guarantees death within six months. An imaginative, if mature, concept to put things mildly. Well, based on the success of the book’s phenomenal six-issue run, Titan Comics has announced that its on its way back to fans this June in an ongoing series; “Death Sentence: London”. Creator Montynero answered some questions for the Comic Crusaders about the series, the characters and well, life in general, via email.
Comic Crusaders: At the end of the first issue of Death Sentence you give some pointers for aspiring comic book creators. What motivated you to share?
Montynero: It’s always good to share. But to be honest I was just writing it all down so I didn’t forget how I did it. Though Death Sentence is such an unlikely success story. I’m not sure I could do it again, start a successful creator owned comic from nothing, even if I did everything exactly the same way. You always need luck on your side. People that don’t acknowledge the role luck plays in life worry me a little.
Comic Crusaders: Dave Montgomery is based on Russell Brand right? Were there real world referents for Verity and Danny as well?
Montynero: None of the characters are based on any one person, though they’re often an unholy mix of various public figures, celebrities, me, and people I’ve met. There’s a few politicians you might recognise in the new series.
CC: Hmmm, with that in mind, did you find that you identified more with one character or another in the book’s first iteration, or did they all feel like your creative “children”?
Montynero: Well, It depends on what they’re doing. One thing I don’t do is try and write characters people will love. Its so fucking easy to do that, it’s fish in a barrel. What I try and do, and I’m not saying this is a good idea, is to write characters who are real. And real people do stupid things sometimes, things they’re ashamed of that reflect badly on them.
So when Weasel’s being a thoughtless bastard I hate him. But when he’s being funny and rebellious I love him. And that’s the way I see all the characters really, to varying degrees I mean, if you love some of these characters without any caveats whatsoever you should probably see a doctor or something.
CC: Verity has the most interesting ability of the trio to me; the manipulation of light energy. Where’d you get the idea for that?
Montynero: It developed naturally in relation to the creativity angle. The thing that’s frustrating about art is that what you render is never as good as what you had in your mind. But if you can manipulate light with your mind, that problem goes away. So you’re free to express yourself, which throws up a whole new set of issues.
Verity’s desire to do something meaningful, to leave a legacy that outlasts her own life, manifests through art. But it comes out in other areas later in the series, and speaks to a deeper need that drives a lot of human behaviour.
CC: You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into what drives us to create, as people. Do you tend to think of Death Sentence as your magnum opus, or is there something else you’ve yet to do that you feel may be a more important or lasting work?
Montynero: Christ, no, that would be insufferably pompous. I just get up and try to create work that means something, that stands the test of time. That’s the beauty of creator owned – we can do whatever we want. So it’d be a chronic waste not to try.
CC: Besides the core idea of the book (an STD that gives the infected super powers and a six month lifespan to boot) were there any other themes that you wanted to Death Sentence to explore?
Montynero: Yeah, the meaning of life and the role of creativity is the main subtext of the first book. The second is more concerned with the rights of the individual versus the state, as articulated in a lot of the rioting we’ve seen in London, Ferguson and Baltimore. Though we’re also entertaining ourselves with action and comedy.
CC: I feel that comics, as a medium, serve the function that mythology once did in that we can use them as vehicles for our cultural values or as a means to inspire our fellow humans toward some as yet unachieved ideal…My question is, what role, if any, do you think comics should or do play in human culture?
Montynero: I’m not sure. I think stories generally are tremendously significant though. Not just as entertainment, they’re integral to our soul, to our minds, to our way of viewing the world. Any task, any action – whether it’s going to war or to a party or fixing a tap – we have to pre-visualise it as some kind of story first.
We are story making bipeds, it gives us our evolutionary edge. Throw three random images out there and people will try and turn it into a story. They’ll seek to find meaning in it. Stories embody humanity in so many ways, for better and for worse. And comics are the purest way of telling stories Everyone understands comics, kids, grannies, rich, poor, educated, uneducated. Comics are more universally understood than most people seem to think.
CC:Was there a single moment in your life where you decided that, Hey I want to write comics and that’s all there is to it, or was it something that you just found yourself involved in by way of life’s knack for sending us in unexpected directions?
Montynero: I really, really wanted to write comics for a living. I would have died trying, pretty much. It don’t think it’s something you can just fall into these days, in terms of getting paid to do it. Though the great thing about comics is no-one can stop you making them. It’s just you, an artist, and a piece of paper.
CC: What’s your creative process like? Do you lock yourself in a room and bang away until you’ve got a script or is it something more fluid?
Montynero: I think the less said about fluids emerging while I bang away in a locked room the better – don’t you? Hmm. The creative process. I spend a lot of time thinking about the world, and the story structure, and how to reflect the former in the latter.
I write ideas for scenes down on little cards, and then shuffle them around on the floor, delete and replace them until the plot really motors. I write dialogue first, and when it sounds credible I start to knock that into a script.
Usually I cut the start of the scene because its extraneous, and lots of the ‘best lines’ . ‘All good writing is rewriting’ as a great man said, though I’ve found that doesn’t work for dialogue so much. I cut dialogue constantly, but I find rewriting it tends to make it sound stilted and unreal. You lose that natural spark. You’re basically trying to convey as much clever stuff as you can with as much effortless natural brevity as possible. That’s the thing with comics. Less is more. The readers are bright, so let them do the work.
CC: If you could work with anyone, regardless of financial or time period considerations, who would that be?
Montynero: Dave Mazzucchelli in the eighties. Because he’s a genius artist and storyteller.
CC: What types of comics (if any) are you into?
The Comic Crusaders would like to thank Montynero for a great interview and also remind everyone to pick up the first issue of “Death Sentence: London”, in stores June 10th.
Until next time Crusaders!