It has been a while since we last chatted with comic creator Monty Nero, artist and award winning writer for Marvel, Delcourt, Titan, Vertigo, 2000AD and more, and a prize-winning comics scholar.
With that in mind, we’re delighted to present this update in advance of the next Death Sentence book, Death Sentence Liberty, on Kickstarter, the latest in the hit series about an STD that gives you strange powers and six months to live, by Monty Nero, Martin Simmonds (Dept of Truth) and Mike Dowling (Spider-Man, Black Cat)…
downthetubes: Monty, firstly, thanks for the chance to talk about your current projects and your work. From chatting with many creators in recent months, the pandemic has affected them in different ways… how has it impacted you?
It’s been a tough year where nothing went to plan. My wife lost her job, and stress went through the roof, but I’m still busy making comics.
Throughout it all, I’ve been beavering away on the next issue of Death Sentence and there are just five pages left to finish. A crowdfunder will be launching on Kickstarter soon, and It’ll ship to backers within four months of the campaign ending.
downthetubes: Did being creative help you through the health crisis – or, should I say, the crisis so far?
Being creative keeps me centered, and a lot of my thoughts and anger at the world go into Death Sentence. Consequently, Death Sentence reflects and satirises the world we live in, rather than the world as I’d like it to be, with Verity cutting through the bullshit and cracking heads in a way I only wish I could. The story seems to resonate with people more than ever these days, and with the COVID-19 pandemic mirroring the G-plus pandemic, there’s been a lot of renewed interest in Death Sentence in comics and TV/film.
downthetubes: It’s not been a great time for anyone, but creating something out of the experience actually sounds like a positive thing?
Turning thoughts and emotions about the world into stories is the essence of writing, and people respond if they’re entertaining, truthful and relatable. That applies whether they’re serious or frivolous, highbrow or lowbrow. It’s emotional truth that hits you in your heart and gets you excited about a story, and the trick is to learn how to craft your feelings into something people really engage with.
That’s something you can learn to do through study and practice, like being a carpenter. What no-one can teach you is how to have interesting ideas in the first place. That’s more in the hands of your god/your DNA and the life you’re leading.
downthetubes: Can you tell us more about the new story, Death Sentence Liberty, without giving away too many surprises?
The Death Sentence Liberty story ends with an emotional punch that wraps up the third book in spectacular style. We’ve been building to this moment for years and I’ve only made a few cosmetic tweaks in the execution.
The scary thing is how much the world has come to resemble the vibrant dystopia I imagined all those years ago. It’s shaken me to realise that even my most satirical exaggerations didn’t go far enough in depicting the horror and incompetence of the world’s response to a global pandemic. I was trying to laugh at my deepest fears, and say to readers ‘This is nuts, right?’, but the joke was on me in the end.
Liberty finishes a phase where we opened up the Death Sentence world and introduced new characters and wider situations. Despite the satisfying end, there’ll be a few story threads left hanging, as there always should be in an ongoing comic.
downthetubes: And you’re already planning the next arc?
The next book picks those up by concentrating intently on one of two main characters, Verity and Weasel. There’ll be a change in emphasis, with stories which really get in the head of those characters and focus on their personal story intently.
Weasel’s story is a tragi-comic romp, a charismatic quest, and I’ve been saving a lot of his great scenes for his own book. It makes me laugh whenever I read the script, and hopefully it’ll be exactly the kind of entertaining fun the world needs right now.
Verity’s story is darker, more epic, more personal. Yes, there are laugh-out-loud moments but it really gets in her head to explore her character and personality. Threatening revelations emerge from a character in her past, culminating in a one-on-one struggle for her sanity and soul. It’s closest in tone to the first book, but darker and gnarlier. The idea is to make the book more extreme, more raw, as her condition worsens.
At the same time, I’m going to tweak the look of the book a little to fit that tone. It’s a new decade and while the tone I designed at the start served us well, I think it needs a course correction to carry us safely through the next decade.
downthetubes: Can you expand on that?
Visually, Death Sentence nailed a style that you now see widely and across the DC cinematic Universe in particular, so we need to stay one step ahead. It’ll take a few issues to seep through to you, probably the next three, and once that’s done I’ll hopefully be able to hand over the art duties to someone else and get back to just writing.
downthetubes: Aside from the comic, what else have you been working on?
Talking of writing, I’ve written the first episode of a Death Sentence TV show, and a series arc, and a series bible. As I said, there’s been lots of renewed interest in Death Sentence since the COVID epidemic hit. It’s a comic that deals with the pandemic threat, lockdown, government oppression, and the lives of ordinary people dealing with a fresh and terrifying new virus – so you can see why companies are interested.
This is nothing new, and I’ve rejected overtures from a few very big companies in the past because they were vacuous blowhards I didn’t want in my life.
downthetubes: Yes, we’ve heard some horror stories about film and TV companies buying up rights to a comic series, then simply sitting on them…
Unfortunately, there’s a breed of dick-swinging exec who surfs the comic world picking up comic book options like a whale sucking up krill, in the hope that one of the two hundred or so on their books will turn into a fat payday. That’s their business, and good luck to them.
For my own part, I’m looking for a creative-led approach, people with the talent and vision to translate the comic into a great TV show or film. It’s not too much to ask, really, but you’d be amazed how many of these big companies operate on an engine of pure bullshit fed by ‘heat’ and loglines.
So, firstly, they have to have actually read and understood the comic. Secondly, they have to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of what Death Sentence is and how that will work on screen. Thirdly, they have to bring their own demonstrable skillset for making cinematic or TV gold.
And fourthly, they have to not be an arsehole, and instead conduct themselves with the normal amounts of human integrity and empathy that the rest of us outside the Hollywood bubble manage day-to-day.
Happily, I’ve met a few people of late who meet these not very demanding criteria. Some are producers and directors of major streaming TV shows which you may have been enjoying lately. Some brilliant shows made by wonderful people. At the moment we’re getting a couple of these folks to meet and see if they can work with each other. If not, we’ll proceed with one or another. Either way, the pilot script is strong, taking all the best bits of the comic and adding new elements for a different medium and time. I’m also happy to have finally met some TV/film people who are on my wavelength creatively and personally.
downthetubes: Well, that all sounds rather promising!
What happens next is entirely in the lap of the gods, but I can promise you that It’ll either be a fantastic show or it won’t happen at all. I can also promise you that the comic always comes first, as making comics is my first love and reason-to-be.
downthetubes: And the very best of luck with that, too. Thank you!
All three Death Sentence stories will be available in our new Kickstarter launching Nov 13th. With the global COVID pandemic mirroring the global viral pandemic in the story, Death Sentence has never been more relevant or moving.
Published by Titan Comics (and Delcourt in France) the Death Sentence saga comprises Death Sentence (192 pages, by Monty Nero and Mike Dowling; Death Sentence London (156 pages, by Monty Nero and Martin Simmonds (Dept of Truth); and Death Sentence Liberty #1-#5 (130 pages, by Monty Nero and Martin Simmonds (Dept or Truth)
Each book is a complete story charting the final six months of bisexual artist Verity and musician Weasel in the face of a fatal STD pandemic. It’s been called “relentlessly awesome” (Wicked Horror); “The best British comic in years” (Buzzfeed) and “comic of the decade” (Dreamcage). If you value dramatic storytelling with an intriguingly dark concept and characters then Death Sentence is the series for you!
Monty Nero is an artist and writer published by Marvel (X-Men and Hulk) Titan, Delcourt, as well as short comics for Vertigo and 2000AD His writing has been described as “easily the equal of Dostoyevsky or Dickens” (Popmatters) and “work that ranks up there with greats such as Alan Moore and Warren Ellis.” (How to Love Comics). He’s also an award-winning comics scholar primarily interested in defining how the verbal and visual interplay of comics elicits emotion and meaning
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.