All too often I come back from my local shop with a huge stack of comics and devour them furiously, one after the other. With the many spin-off titles and big ticket characters appearing in the multitude of books, they can easily blur together and become forgettable. Sure, I can remember story details and hold a conversation about ‘what Cap did next’ just as well as the next reader, but I’ve been getting a little jaded when it comes to feeling my comics. The comic book that imparts a real feeling that stays with you, long after you’ve read it, is getting rarer than ever. I suppose that’s why I took so much notice of Monocyte.
Read my review of the first issue here and you’ll get an idea of why this book has featured in most of my comic book related conversations since. After the first couple of reads I had very little idea of what was happening in the book in the traditional sense of story, or progression of events. What I did have was a weird and unassignable feeling of unease. I read maybe 10 or 15 other comic books that night and still couldn’t shake it. A comic book that grabs your interest via a stealthy and emotive skill set is unbelievably rare, and completely deserving of further investigation. It was this that led me to want to talk to the book’s creators, Menton and Kasra Ghanbari.
I spoke to Menton and Kasra shortly before Christmas of last year and had intended to get this interview out before the release of issue 2. When you find a comic book you love, you have to shout about it as much as possible. This is doubly true when it applies to creator owned titles. Remember the issue one of that book you loved so much, that seemed to disappear without a trace? Sadly, it’s all about the sales and that’s where we take our responsibilities here at Comics Anonymous seriously. When we find a book that we’re passionate about we want to tell everyone we possibly can. This is where I’ve fallen down over the last couple of months. Illness, loss and assorted rubbish have conspired against me and so I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to tell you all about how I feel about Monocyte prior to issue two. I am in time for issue three and I hope as many of you as possible go forth to reserve your copy after reading this.
Monocyte is a comic book unlike any other on the shelf. It combines ridiculously ambitious and original world-building with art that is both beautiful and frightening, into an inventive package, which keeps your interest and rewards multiple reads. It is clear from the start that Menton, the book’s artist and co-writer, did not study at the Kubert school. Although this is Menton’s first creator-owned book, published by IDW and co-written with Kasra, he has produced interior art for a number of other IDW books including Silent Hill and Zombies Vs Robots as well as covers for The Dunwich Horror and several other books. The complex layout of the title led me to believe Monocyte would be a time intensive project for its creators, particularly with respect to its art. Menton assures me that this is not the case.
‘Monocyte is pretty quick. I’m doing covers for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Nickelodeon owns that, so there’s like 500 revisions, and with Hasbro and Wizards of the Sun Coast for D&D I think I’ve made a dwarf’s head wider about nine times. Monocyte is what I want to do.’
The long standing friendship between Menton and Kasra is clearly one of the factors that makes the book such a pleasure for them to produce. Kasra describes the working on the book as being very ‘instinctual’ and tells me that they have spent around a year working on the book and the Monocyte mythology before the first issue even came around. With so much time spent developing the ideas together Kasra says that when they eventually got around to doing the book ‘it was just like releasing’.
It’s obvious when talking to Menton and Kasra that they are both big comic book fans. Menton has ‘always loved comics, always collected comic books’ and says ‘they’ve always been pretty significant to me’. Both of them cite Bill Sienkiewicz as the most major of influences and Kasra says his Stray Toasters and Bob Layton’s Iron Man are his crucial book ends. They see the more ‘esoteric’ branch of comics as being where they have both matured as fans, and developed their goals as creators.
Discussing the origin of Monocyte the character is where things get really interesting. There are no analogues of tried and tested mainstream characters to be found here. In fact, Menton told me that the character of Monocyte was borne from the deconstruction of a once loved superhero,
‘I was commissioned to do an oil painting of a superhero that I loved as a child. I went back and started reading books of this character and they were terrible. I had subconsciously placed a ton of information onto this character and these books that simply wasn’t there’
Whilst working through the commission, Menton began to explore the idea of ‘what would be a cool superhero now, as an adult’. He describes the whole experience to be quite metaphysical in nature, and the project gathered speed quickly.
‘I just kinda started dabbing all this stuff out and within about 15 minutes there was the basic construct of Monocyte’
Once the character of Monocyte had begun to surface it was Kasra that Menton turned to in an attempt to further develop his ideas.
‘Kasra started asking the appropriate questions and poking holes in the story and basically saying ‘you know that really doesn’t make any sense, how would you make that make sense?’
Menton perfectly illustrates a natural progression from friendship to collaboration and it’s clear when talking to them that they are regularly riffing off each other’s ideas, developing and enhancing them, all whilst playing to the other’s strengths. Kasra believes that it is the similarities between them that make them both good friends and great collaborators. He said that when Kasra and Menton decided to pitch Monocyte to IDW, they knew that if picked up, it would stand out right away.
‘[IDW] don’t do a lot of creator-owned and so it is an honour when they say they want to do one. It gets a little bit of distinction in the market place.’
The world of Monocyte is built upon a scale most impressive, irrespective of this being the pair’s first comic together. Menton tells me they ‘didn’t just write this story that we’re doing right now. We probably have hundreds of years of history before this and hundreds of years of history after this’. They have carefully chosen the best possible point to introduce us to their world, filled with explosive events and distinctive characters. He says ‘Nothing that anyone sees in any of the books is there by chance’ and after flicking through either of the currently released issues I’m sure you’ll believe him. At times obscure, but always intriguing, Monocyte is littered with symbolism and numerology. This combined with the extravagant scope of a newly imagined land inhabited by Olignostics and Antedeluvians has lead to some interesting reviews and comments.
A book as far removed from the norm as Monocyte is will dully draw discussion from all over. What sets this book and its creators apart is what they want to achieve. Menton and Kasra haven’t set out to get 10/10 scores on every comics review website, nor do they harbour dreams of seeing every kid in America taking their sandwiches to school in a Monocyte lunch box, or them getting fat on the profits. An unnamed best selling author praised them and said he thought they had the next SPAWN on their hands. Their response is typical of the individual ethos Monocyte strives for.
‘Fuck that! It pissed me off! I don’t want this to be SPAWN, I have no ambition at all for this to be developed out like that. It doesn’t have to be SPAWN, it doesn’t have to be a mythology that we capitalise on or become hyper opportunistic on. It can just be what it is that we want it to be.’
Menton tells me that he sees ‘the most important part about being an artist or making comic books is that you make a comic that you genuinely love’. He is a well respected fine artist and musician and it is a pleasure to listen to him discuss his approach to art and Monocyte in particular. He describes letting the intuitive parts of himself take over and allowing his work to ‘externalise the internal’. I believe that it is in permitting their unique voice and questioning ability to shine through that has allowed Monocyte to harbour an atmosphere that few other comic books can match.
That questioning ability of these first few issues is almost the antithesis of what many of us have come to expect from modern comics. We want answers, we want stories to be concluded and all of the loose ends neatly tied up. ‘Spoon-feeding’ is not a role that Kasra and Menton can easily envisage for themselves.
‘We’d love for those questions to originate from inside of (the readers), if we can do that? That’s one of our goals; that’s one of our ambitions.’
Kasra and Menton aim to achieve this through the weaving of a complex, imaginative and completely original mythos. This depends upon a small number of frightening and horrible characters, at home in any thinking man’s creature feature, they have familiar features too, and are all more fearsome for it.
‘There is (Monocyte) and in the back of his head there is the shape of a bird skull… In issue 2 that bird skull talks independently. To him there are two people in there and it gets really weird. He’s been asleep a long time to approximate death because he literally cannot die.’
Menton and Kasra do a great job of explaining this world early on in the series. Monocyte’s violent and disgusted reaction to it however, is truly felt by the reader thanks to some of the most emotive comic book art ever. It isn’t all doom and gloom though. Menton takes a positively cheery delight in telling me about the upcoming love story between Monocyte and Beatrice, a character who features in one of the human shorts at the back of the comic, Chronicle of the Messenger by David Stoupakis. I’m not sure we’ll see a romance to rival that of Peter and Mary Jane, but it is a very interesting change of pace.
If issue one stands as the reader’s introduction then issue two is where things really kick off. Menton describes the world being turned upside down as ‘Monocyte kills the conduit, the guy who sits in place so that all the Olignostics can be immortal. Some very strange things happen as a result of that’. Moving on to issue three ‘Monocyte goes to the Antedeluvian city to kill their respected leader’ and once he has been killed their entire race is seen as fallible. The status quo is smashed and in the words of Menton ‘a lot of tom-foolery and craziness ensues at this point’.
Menton and Kasra believe that issue four will answer a lot of questions and help to set things in order for their, by this time, wide-eyed readers. As if in return for answering the readers’ questions about Monocyte, Kasra and Menton turn the tables yet again by ensuring that Monocyte asks far greater questions of its readers than we can of them.
‘Monocyte is fundamentally asking the questions, how would you have it be? If you look around the world and you hate what you see; everybody doesn’t have enough money, they have too much money, they hate their government, they love their government; regardless of what you hate, how would you personally have the world be?’
Issue three of Monocyte is set to be released on 21st March 2012 and features alternate covers by Menton, Ben Templesmith and George Pratt. You can view of a preview of the issue here and keep up to date with the creators via Facebook and Twitter. I also spoke with Chris Ryall of IDW at the recent London Super Comic Com and was bowled over by his enthusiasm for the book. The publisher has plans to release a gorgeous oversized hardcover with tons of additional material. Pick up the individual issues though, just to make sure this happens.
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