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AICN COMICS: Ambush Bug visit’s artist Menton 3’s studio & talks with him and Kasra Ghanbari about their upcoming project MONOCYTE!

@@@ What the &#$% is AICN COMICS Q&@? @@@

Q’s by Ambush Bug!

@’s by MONOCYTE’s
Menton3 and Kasra Ghanbari!

Hey folks, Ambush Bug here with a very special interview I just did the other day. I had a rare opportunity to check out up and coming artist extraordinaire Menton3’s studio here in Chicago and sit down and do a follow up interview with him and his co-writer Kasra Ghanbari about their upcoming comic MONOCYTE through IDW Publishing. The book is still available through Diamond Pre-orders now and will hit the stands in October. I spoke with Menton3 briefly in San Diego (click on this link to read that interview!) and when he found out we were from the same town, he invited me to his studio in Chicago and check out where he creates his gorgeous artwork. As a special treat, the guys provided not only preview pages for the upcoming book (scattered throughout this article—click em and watch em grow!) but also a very cool time-lapsed video of Menton doing his thing. Check it out!

And that image on the left is the final cover. I thought it was amazing to see the artist at work!

And now, on with the interview…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Alright, well I am here in Chicago and I just walked into this gorgeous building with a clock tower on top of it and an old time elevator and these winding hallways. How about we have everybody introduce themselves here?

MENTON3 (M3): I’m Menton3.

KASRA GHANBARI (KG): I’m Kasra Ghanbari.

BUG: Okay and we are here to talk about MONOCYTE and your studio space and creator owned books and anything else that pops up in the next couple of minutes. So let’s start off with MONOCYTE. We talked a little bit about it a couple of weeks ago from San Diego, so do you want to describe what the book is about?

M3: It’s basically about the horrors of mortality, but in the same way we are kind of flipping the antagonist-protagonist thing in this. In a certain way, I don’t want to give too much away from the book, but we really flip the way that a protagonist and an antagonist work together, but in a lot of ways it’s social commentary, but it’s an action adventure book at it’s very core with lots of violence, lots of cool stuff. I mean you’ve got a guy, the main character is a guy who walks around in bone armor that does whatever he wills it to do and controls blades of bone and pulls up dead people and sends messages through skulls, so at it’s very core it’s an action adventure book. I think IDW or somebody started coining the phrase “An occult action adventure,” but yeah it’s basically about the horrors of mortality and it’s… (To Kasra) I don’t want to be too long winded with this. He’s going to put that in there, too. It’s going to say “I don’t want to be too long winded.”

KG: Tell his transcriber right now what you would like done.

M3: I would like you to like me, transcriber.

[Everyone Laughs]

BUG: I’m sure he will. Kasra, would you like to add anything to that description?

KG: Well I guess we can give you a little bit more plot description. Did you go into this much in the last interview?

M3: I don’t know.

KG: It’s set way in the future in a world where basically everything is dead, no trees, no plants, no insects, no nothing except for these two immortal races that have basically made the world the way it is, one of them based on alchemy and magic, the other one on technology and they have human slaves that they treat pretty much like cattle or like currency. They don’t treat them very well at all and they have been warring forever, to a stalemate, to a point where it’s almost pointless that they fight, but yet they fight because they simply just covet one another. Dead, the figure of death or Azrael has just become completely irrelevant, he’s got nothing to do and dies. He has no role. He’s been forced or induced into a physical form. He calls upon this long lost immortal necromancer, Monocyte our main character, who has been trying to figure out basically for tens of thousands of years how to die and went to sleep to approximate death. He summons him and completes his training basically in necromancy and send him out to destroy the respective power sources of these two immortal races to return balance to this world and in return if he is able to accomplish this fete he will grant Monocyte what he wants, which is to die.

M3: But I mean that’s kind of book #1. One of the issues that we have with this and not to… I think I might have said this in the last interview and I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but the stories that I generally like that I’m attracted to, like LORD OF THE RINGS, DUNE, you know sum up DUNE in two sentences. It’s pretty hard, there’s this messiah guy and the story that we have created is a really rich world that encompasses multi layers of things that are going on and in order to understand the whole story, you pretty much have to read the book. A lot of times people will ask me to describe stuff and one of my responses is if I could explain it, I wouldn’t have to paint it and so this book, a lot of trying to describe it is very hard to put into a pitch. One of the running jokes at IDW is “God, we love the artwork for this book, but can someone tell me what this book is about?” There definitely is a plot. There definitely is a theme, but for us to talk about the ending is going to completely destroy the book, so we are basically left trying to describe the beginning which has so many plot points in it that can be a little bit overwhelming, but those are the kind of stories that I myself am attracted to, so that’s the kind of story that we set out to write.

BUG: It seems like the books or the stories that you described have kind of a rich history in themselves already, so is that what you guys were busy doing first? Just developing the back story first and then moving forward?

KG: Yeah, Menton will tell you the story. He came up with the sort of genesis of the idea and we started talking about it and then he asked me to come onboard and help, but I will tell you we spent I think more than 8, 9, 10 months talking about the story, the characters, literally how they fit in together, their history way back, their future if you will, and until we actually wrote something down on paper for this book… We carved out these four issues almost like in mythology it’s called “in medias res,” they start in the middle, we kind of took a little bit of that format where we were going to tell this story over four issues at a very, very critical point, but it is a point. It’s a point that we had many many points before and after already I would say fully rendered in our minds through discussion and if we are lucky, people will respond to this point that we are showing you right now and they’ll want to know more about these characters and then we will be able to do more comic books.

M3: I mean we did get pretty intense. I’ve studied alchemy and the occult since I was a kid and there are mythologies in the occult world you could say of how one actually obtains immortality. I mean whether or not that’s true or not, no one is to truly say, but within this book there’s no happenstance, there’s no “Well let’s throw that in there.” Everything we do, every line of dialog, every panel, there’s a reason for all of it and we have developed huge amounts of history prior to the events taking place in this book. We have also developed what happens way, way after this book, so yeah I mean we are working in a world and this is just one little point of duration within that world, but not the totality of the story. I mean I hope the book does well, because there are so many more stories to tell in this.

BUG: Okay, so you guys are co-writing this, correct? So how did that come to be? Have you guys known each other for a very long time?

M3: He’s my art rep, but we met a few years ago. A mutual friend introduced us and usually when a friend of yours tells you “Oh, you’re going to love this guy” you normally get in the room and you hate them and we met at C2E2 two years ago and before I met him, he sold like four of my originals, so when he walked up to my booth I really… and he wasn’t taking commissions.

KG: He loved me at first dollar. (Laughs)

M3: Not really. I didn’t know what he wanted and so it was weird, but after about two days of talking it was like we had known each other for like seven lifetimes. He completes me. I’m kidding. Us working together, one of the great things about it is we are able to argue vehemently and passionately and we still remain very good friends. He has an amazing ability to tell an artist that something they did sucks without hurting their feelings, which you know us artist types, we are very sensitive and bad that way, but he has this amazing ability to do that. When I first came up with the basic idea of the story, which we talked about in the last interview, I started talking to my best friends about the story and mainly him and he’s sort of poking holes in the story and like “Well that doesn’t make any sense” and he was right and it was a very natural process, but at the same time he started adding things into it and making me think about it in ways that really got me excited and so it became like a real place that the two of our psyches would go, we would sit and talk about it and you know we know the characters now and we can laugh, like this one character, she would never do this, you know and the story started to write itself by the infusion of both of our psyches working together and that was really exciting to me, because in a lot of ways it made it real to me, like when I read DUNE or LORD OF THE RINGS or a lot of other amazing literature, there’s a realness to it, there’s a reality set to it, and when we would talk about the story it was the same way and I have never had that with anything else and I don’t think I ever officially asked him to co-write it with me, we just did it and it was natural and it was awesome and the book wouldn’t be a tenth of what it is without him, I know that.

KG: And we share a studio now, so literally I mean this is what we do for 12 or 14 hours a day. Whatever it is that’s on the table for the day, mostly it’s been MONOCYTE lately, but really whatever I’m working on or whatever Menton’s working on we just hit each other with it like “What do you think? Why? How does this work? Why isn’t this quite working? What can change?” Sometimes that’s hard and sometimes it’s easy, but we’ve earned out relationship and now we are basically in a little bit of a crucible with one another sharing a studio. (Laughs)

BUG: So does that prove to be difficult sometimes with you guys being that close?

M3: I love it.

KG: No, it’s fine.

M3: Honestly I’ll be working on a particular panel and I mean even though we are co-creating and co-writing it, our roles are I’m the artist, he’s the writer. That’s basically how it works and so I will come in and he will change dialogue to a panel, I’ll change panel to a dialogue as we are gong through the book and that to me… When doing SILENT HILL, which was awesome and fun, you get sent a script and you know as the artist you can make changes, but you are not going to have that constant feedback with the writer sitting there. So that’s been really interesting. Ben Templesmith was here for like two weeks and I think he was actually fairly amazed at how we worked, like we would sit at my desk and just really take the book “very seriously,” according to Ben.

BUG: So do you guys like kind of yell at each other from between the rooms?

M3: Yeah, I have a nickname for him that he hates.

KG: It’s kind of like “Watson, come here.” (Makes a clapping noise)

M3: If you ever meet Kasra in person, please call him “Rock Rock,” because it started with “Kasrock,” you know like “Frylock “and we call him “Hasbro,” too. But my nickname is “Rock Rock,” so if you ever meet him at a convention, please call him “Rock Rock” for Menton. Thank you.

KG: I won’t mention Menton’s nickname, because it will hurt his feeling.

BUG: (Laughs) “His feeling.” Well going into this with MONOCYTE being a first issue, a brand new series, there are so many new series out there right now, what is it about this series that should make people pay attention to this series and really pick it up when it does come out? With all of the other stuff that’s out there right now…

M3: That’s hard to say with the 52. You know, I think… We just got the book to the editors at IDW and the main response we have gotten is that they really love it, but it’s a very unique book. This is not a book written for teenagers, this is really a book written for adults. Teenagers I think would love it, so I’m not saying that teenagers are stupid, I’m just saying that the language in this book, the articulation dialog is pretty rough, very DEADWOOD like. And you know it’s not necessarily a book for everybody, but it’s definitely a book that is very very different in a lot of ways, especially storytelling-wise. We are definitely challenging the reader in certain ways and we are being very unapologetic for the language. I mean we are using words… I mean I didn’t finish high school and understand these words, but a lot of people are going to have to look up certain words in the book. I think it’s hard to say that and answer that question without sounding pretentious, but I do think that we are offering a very, very fun ride through a very, very different world that in some ways is recognizable to our own world, but at the same time it’s a very different viewpoint that I personally have ever seen.

KG: I think the main element is that this book is made by two people who love comic books and it was truly handcrafted. There was a lot of care, a good intent, and an amazing amount of time, probably too much time that was spent on this book and I hope that that’s reflected on the page. Basically if you are a geek like Menton and I are and you like diving into something and getting a response the further you dive in and asking questions and having them answered and there being some mystery there without it just being you end up at a shallow place or an empty place, we basically made this for you. So we love comic books. We love a lot of the stuff coming out from the major two players. We definitely love a lot of creator owned books and for us it was like “Okay, we got a greenlight for a creator owned book, let’s just go full in on this and enrich it and enrich it and layer it and layer it as much as we can and see whether people respond to this, because we think that they will,” so you’ve got people that could make their own decisions about buying books who are going to put their money where they like, but if they spent four dollars on MONOCYTE, we think we are going to give them back more than four dollars.

M3: And you know the other thing about this is this is not a 22 page book like most comics, this is literally a 32 page book. I mean the story from beginning to end of this book, we are actually even using the back cover of issue #1 as part of the story and you know we’ve got… There’s a guy name Dave Stoupakis who is a really famous painter in New York and sells a lot of big expensive paintings, this is his first entry to comics. He’s done a back story in the back of issue #1. Riley Rossmo did a story… But literally a lot of comic books you get are 22 pages and you don’t… This is a full story, I mean this is packed full of stuff.

BUG: And these additional stories—are they set in the MONOCYTE universe?

M3: Absolutely. I mean we wrote the script that we wanted and we realized that when we finished the script and we finished the story that there was a standpoint within the story that wasn’t being dealt with, which is basically the story from the human perspective. In a lot of ways MONOCYTE is about human liberation and we take a lot of that stand point in our script from THE IMMORTALS and so what Ben Templesmith has been doing, George Pratt, Riley Rossmo, Dave Stoupakis, is they are writing stories from the human slave perspective and from some other perspectives within it, so they are kind of describing different areas of the world and we kind of work with each writer and creator and come up with what they are going to do and then they kind of just go crazy and do their own thing and thus far it’s been really great and most people get the story, they get what they are talking about, they get what they need to do and it works out great. I mean it works out great. We haven’t been disappointed once.

KG: Yeah, this goes back to beyond MONOCYTE number one for the four issues every book is going to have the human perspective from each one of the two slave groups, so there’s going to be two stories in the back of each issue by I guess you can call them an external creator, the likes of Templesmith and Riley Rossmon, Bill Sienkiewicz is going to do a story, George Pratt, and Steve Niles may be doing some prose for one of the stories, too and a few more surprises, so we are not going to let up all the to the end and we’ve got absolutely incredible incentive covers. We’ve got Ashley Wood for issue #1, Bill Sienkiewicz for issue #2, George Pratt for issue #3, and a surprise amazing artist for issue #4 that we are still holding in our back pocket right now, but we are not going to let up all the way until the very end.

BUG: That sounds awesome. So let’s talk a little bit about the fact that this is a creator owned project through IDW and I didn’t think that they did that very much anymore, is that true?

M3: They don’t really. There is some kind of top-secret information right now about that, but what I can say is they would like to do more, it’s hard. And one of the reasons it’s hard is because the general comic populous doesn’t understand the importance of pre-orders. Pre-orders are how we are gauged with success or not. Buying a comic book off the shelf, thank you, that’s amazing, that’s awesome, but when you go and actually physically pre-order a book… A publisher is only going to print X amount of books from the print run. Whatever they get as preorders they tack on to the print run, so that basically… You hear about comic books selling out, the reason that comic books sell out is because there weren’t enough pre-orders, like you know the first CHEW there weren’t enough pre-orders, so they had to then go back, reprint, and everybody goes “That was a big success,” but here’s the problem with that, people who wanted to get the first issue of CHEW had to wait a month and a half and that does hurt sales. Me personally, I get Diamond’s preview book every month and I will pick out at least five to six books that I have no idea what they are from Image or IDW when they have them and Dark Horse that I have never seen and preorder them. Now I get a stack of crappy books sometimes, but I’m also supporting a system that I believe in that I want to have a good market.

One quick story about that, I was at a Wizard World several years ago and I had kind of broken into comics a little bit, I was doing ZBR and SILENT HILL and I think there were like six guys talking to me that were all other artists and writers that wanted to break in, kind of the question was “How do we break in?” You know the conversation was just circulating and as they were kind of talking a light bulb went off and I asked them “What books do you guys read?” All of them, except one, read X MEN, X FACTOR, FOUR, and “You realize the industry that you want to get into, you’re not even supporting.” So if all of the people who actually wanted to make comic books went and got comic books and pre-order books that were creator made, they would make an industry for themselves and it would be easier for them to get published at that point. Pre-ordering books is a big way to say “These are the kind of books that we like, hey IDW we like creator owned books. We want to see more of this.” If you go pre-order the book, you are saying that. One pre-order is a huge deal, like I’ll get emails from editors “We got one pre-order from DC today.”

One guy going and pre-ordering a book is a big, big, big deal. It’s not like casting a vote for the president; one pre-order makes a huge difference.

KG: Can I add something small to that?

M3: Sure.

KG: If you’ve got properties that are like 50, 60, 70 years old like BATMAN and X MEN, everyone knows who they are, they know which books are going to be coming out and the retailers even, they know that they are going to sell a certain number of these books. When you’ve got a creator owned book, whether it be from IDW or Image or Dark Horse or anybody else, this is totally new stuff, nobody knows what it is. It’s sight unseen for the retailers. The retailers are waiting for the people who come to their shops, people who buy comic books to come in and say “this looks interesting to me, I saw something about this online, I would like to pre-order a copy of it.” So not only are pre-orders important, but for creator owned books they are literally the beginning and end of whether they are going to be made and so as Menton said, when you pre-order a creator owned book you are helping your local retailer out, but you are casting a direct vote into this being the kind of content and the kind of books that you want to be made and we just can’t stress that enough.

BUG: I mean you guys are obviously very passionate about this, I totally understand. I feel the exact same way on a couple of the books that I’ve done and it’s hard trying to get awareness out there about your stuff. So what are you guys doing to get that awareness out there like that?

KG: I’ll tell you we got this greenlit in February and our first issue isn’t coming out until October, we decided that as of April we were going to start doing things publicly to try to drum up some interest and the first thing that we did was a video blog that you can find through Menton’s website for instance or through our Facebook page, MonocyteComic, every two or three weeks we would tell people what was going on, who we were bringing on in the project, etc. and we set up a Facebook page, very early and started previewing the art and then we started getting some of our friends in the industry, whether it be Ben Templesmith and other creators to start doing the social networking just to slowly build up that MONOCYTE was going to come out and then we started getting some support from our publisher as of July at the San Diego Comic Con and then we got very lucky that important news outlets like Ain’t It Cool News and yourself decided that the project was worth covering when you covered it, but actually the reality is that most creator owned books aren’t covered until after pre-orders are closed and people get preview copies of them, so we started very, very early literally drumming up interest and then for the last week or so, since we’ve handed in the print files to our publisher, we have literally been calling retailers one by one by one. They have been very, very kind to listen to us.

M3: Most of them.

KG: Most of them have been very kind. I’m a little bit more politically polished than the bearded one to my left, but they have been overwhelmingly I think responsive to hearing about the book, looking it up in previews and telling us whether they had ordered or not or whether they would consider it and then taking emails from us with the little digital ashcan that we put together and I’ve got to send this out to anyone reading this book that’s making a comic book is that you have got to do all of that stuff. I would say probably more than fifty percent of our efforts to build out MONOCYTE was not actually working on the book, it was making sure that it was into people’s consciousness just for them to consider it. That was our whole aim “Just know about it and if you can decide whether to buy it or not, we have done our job.”

BUG: Let’s talk a little bit about this space, is that okay? Can we do that for a second?

M3: Oh yeah please, yeah.

BUG: What is it about this space that helps you guys create this world of MONOCYTE.

M3: That window. (Laughs) My last studio space was a storefront and so the front of it was just windows and I had to cover them so no one could see what I was doing in there, right? So it was dark all of the time and there was an old folks home literally right next door to me, so people were dying… It was a really depressing place and I shit you not that when I was there alone at night, which would happen very often, doors would open, faucets would turn on… It was fucking creepy. I’m a creepy guy, I just am and I’ve done some crazy shit in my life, but this place was the most depressing place possible, so I actually got very ill last year and Kasra being a very good friend was like “You know what? We are going to move out of here” and he went and he found us a great space, but you know we are up five stories, we’ve got a great view, lots of space, a hangout area, a work area and I get to segment my oil painting, digital, and all of that stuff together and we got a TV for NFL… We are both huge NFL geeks.

BUG: (Laughs) That’s good, you’ve got to have the necessities.

M3: It’s just about finding a space that you feel a little in tune with. We saw like five or six spaces and this one just immediately called to me. It just had a nice feel about it and thus far it’s done its job. It’s very cheap, too.

KG: It’s a 120 year old building that used to build musical instruments. They used to make xylophones here until not that long ago, so the building and the elevator and the shafts and everything there’s a lot of character here and actually working here at night is the best, it’s completely still, the building empties out and feel like we’ve got basically a private place on this crowded earth.

BUG: Cool. That sounds great. Well guys the project seems fantastic. I’ve seen some of the preview art for it and it looks amazing. I’m a huge fan of your work from way back and I can’t wait to read the story. Sounds good. Well is there anything else? Any last words you want to say about MONOCYTE to the Ain’t It Cool News readers?

M3: Oh we’ve got… I’m doing some covers for you. What’s that book called?

BUG: Oh, cool. Yeah. The book’s called LUNA. It’s a werewolf book we describe as CLIFFHANGER meets THE WOLF MAN. And it’s coming out in October as well and that cover, man, it turned out gorgeous (check out the cover on the left!).

M3: Thanks. I would like to mention that this year I’m doing a project with Steve Niles called TRANSFUSION. The last time we talked it was a different name.

BUG: What was it called?

M3: The book was called VAMPIRES VS. ROBOTS and it still very much is vampires vs. robots, but long story short Steve wanted to change the name and I solute him for that. It’s called TRANSFUSION, vampires vs. robots, but that should be coming out… I’m going to start working on that relatively soon, so I’m very excited. I just got the script for that and Steve did an awesome job on it, I can’t wait to work on that. I’ve got some Lovecraft stuff coming out…

BUG: Is that all for IDW? Are you pretty much exclusive to IDW right now?

M3: (Laughs) That’s a loaded question. I love IDW. I did just do some stuff with Dark Horse although I can’t say what I did yet. I did that a while ago and I still can’t say what it is, and IDW just gave me another offer about something I can’t talk about that I’m really unbelievably excited about.

BUG: We will touch on that in another follow up.

M3: Oh yeah, I will say that I get to work on something that I loved as a kid and it’s really going to be a lot of fun, but MONOCYTE is available for pre-order right now. You can go to any local retailer anywhere and say… It’s page 158 of Previews for August… We’ve got an Ash Wood incentive cover that’s awesome and please, if you have the heart to go pre-order it, please do and if you hate it, you love it, you want to send us death threats, please we would like to know what you think, so let us know.

BUG: Okay, cool. Alright well thanks a lot guys. Thanks for the interview.

M3: Thank you, Mark.

KG: Thank you very much.

BUG: Be sure to seek out and tell your comic shop owner to order MONOCYTE in this month’s Previews. It looks to be an amazing book available from IDW Publishing in October!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and will be releasing FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA in October (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees)! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!

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Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling: Ambush Bug
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