From a short run small press comic via monthly magazine publication to a limited run series, plus a glossy hardback reprint edition along the way, writer and artist Montynero’s Death Sentence has had something of a convoluted publishing history as it tells the story of three people affected by the G Plus virus which enhances their natural abilities to extreme degrees but also only gives them six months to live.
downthetube’s Jeremy Briggs talked to Montynero about the various publications of the title as well as his new ongoing series Death Sentence: London.
downthetubes: You began Death Sentence as a self-published comic (below) and I can remember you touting it at the 2011 Dundee Comics Day at Dundee University and at Hi-Ex 2012 in Inverness. How much of the story was originally self-published and why did you initially go down the self-publishing route?
Montynero: The first issue, and the reviews for it were stellar. That was the thing, it got a lot of attention but even with all that it was clear we were gonna sell maybe a thousand or so. Which is great for a comic you’re publishing yourself – but isn’t enough to cover costs. I was paying Mike right from the start you see, plus print costs are high. We wanted to make six issues to tell a story that would really mean something and stand up over the years. We needed to sell more but the actual business of distributing and publicising comics is a full-time job. We just wanted to make it. So when we started to get interest from publishers I could see the advantage, they could help us sell the numbers we needed. It took ages to negotiate a mutually agreeable deal though. They all wanted 50 per cent and I was adamant it should remain creator owned. Eventually we got the deal we wanted.
DTT: As an artist yourself why did you choose to just do the covers and pass the main story artwork to Mike Dowling?
Monty: Mike’s a genius comic artist, I’m not, and I wanted to concentrate on the writing, make that as good as it could possibly be. The danger otherwise was I’d start writing scenes that were easy to draw.
DTT: So that deal was Death Sentence being picked up by Titan’s CLiNT magazine for monthly publication in 2012. What changes, if any, were needed to the story or the artwork for the magazine publication?
Monty: No changes at all. To this day I send over finished pages to the publisher and they print them. It’s creator owned, so the only discussions on content are between me and the artist. It came about because they loved the comic and it was finished so they could just print it with no bother. It was a great way to build an audience. When Titan published the six issue series we had readers all over the world asking their comic shop for copies. That’s priceless. We sold ten times more than we would on our own and actually made some money back, which was a surprise.
DTT: After CLiNT came the six issue US format monthly from Titan Comics in 2013, reprinting what had been in CLiNT, and what seems to have been an avalanche of variant covers. How did the various covers come about and as the artist for many of them did you find them repetitive in nature or liberating in that you could try different things?
Monty: The six issue series was the point of everything. It’s the format the comic’s supposed to be read in, and it was the dream from the start. Everything else was just a stepping stone on the way. I mean the serialisation (in CLiNT), they published half of the material, 12 pages in every issue, and issues were coming out months apart. It’s obviously a very different reading experience to reading what we created, which was complete issues interweaving and interlocking, with cliff-hangers and quotations and supplementary material.
Every issue is satisfying, but inspires you to read on, and makes a point that eventually culminates in the bigger revelation in the sixth issue about the meaning of life. If you haven’t read it in that format, you haven’t really read it. There’s just something thrilling about episodic fiction, about paper comics you can hold in your hand.
The covers are a key part of the experience. I was inspired by magazines, rather than comics though. I wanted to focus on the characters and the rock’n’roll feelings they inspired. Then it transpired that comic shops will buy more copies if you make a special cover just for them. So I did four of them: for Midtown in New York, for Forbidden Planet in the UK (above, lower right), for Strange Adventures in Canada, and for Warp 9 in Michigan (above, lower left). Mike did one for Hastings in the USA (above, top right).
I like the Strange Adventures one best (above) because it’s closest to the original cover I did when we self-published. It’s a full figure Verity holding a paintbrush and she has daubed ‘Death Sentence’ on the wall behind. You can get that painting as a high quality art print from Ricochet Art too. Designing covers is tricky, there’s so little space once you account for the titles and cover furniture, so variant covers are great fun because you can do away with all of that. They’re more artistic and playful.
DTT: 2014 saw the release of the hardback compilation which included the various variant covers and a long ‘DVD commentary’ style feature of yourself and Mike discussing the story. Back when you held your first self-published issue in your hand did you ever think that you would ever get to this point and did it give you the satisfaction of a completed job or the determination to go forward with a more Death Sentence stories?
Monty: I always thought we’d do it because I was prepared to die trying, bankrupt myself, whatever it took. It was just something I needed to do to give my life meaning. So at the end I felt enormous pride and satisfaction that it worked and in Mike’s art, at his wonderful storytelling and acting. I’d never really pictured a hardback, so I was knocked out by the quality of what Titan did with the deluxe collection. It’s a book to last through the ages. Mostly though, I had this great feeling of peace. Of stillness. Like something inside me had been settled, or proven. And then excitement, that we could make more. I never expected to make a profit when I started, so the fact people bought this in such numbers and want more is really thrilling.
DTT: The next step in the Death Sentence story is the first issue of the ongoing Death Sentence: London comic due out from Titan on 10 June 2015 with artwork by Martin Simmonds. What can you tell us about this new series and how can you have an ongoing series when your infected characters only have six months to live?
Monty: Well the first six issues took place over the span of a few weeks. So you could do six graphic novels on each character without changing anything about the pacing or tone. And then there are other protagonists of course. We meet a few interesting new characters in the new series, like Jeb who’s an undercover FBI agent. There’s a lot of mystery and fear in the air and it’s Jeb trying to discover the truth. We learn much more about Weasel and Verity as they adjust to having the virus and become more powerful. And we expand the premise, learning what’s happening round the world and with other victims of G Plus. It’s quite topical and satirical, there’s a lot about Ferguson and civil unrest and you may recognise a few figures from the news.
The art from Martin Simmonds is mind-blowing, he’s like a young Bill Sienkiewicz or something. Mike Dowling had about two years of work with lined up with big publishers by the time he finished the first book, so he was happy for Martin to step up and we’re both blown away by what Martin’s done.
DTT: Monty, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
• Montynero first talked to downthetubes about Death Sentence in 2011 here
• The downthetubes review of the Death Sentence collected edition is here
• There are more details of Death Sentence on the Titan website
The first issue of the ongoing Death Sentence: London series written by Montynero with artwork by Martin Simmonds is due out from Titan Comics on 10 June 2015. Death Sentence: London #1 comes with 4 covers to collect and is available to order from the April edition of Previews
COVER A – MONTYNERO
ORDER CODE: APR151708
COVER B – MARTIN SIMMONDS
ORDER CODE: APR151709
COVER C – MONTYNERO
ORDER CODE: APR151710
COVER D – MIKE DOWLING
ORDER CODE: APR151711