Since the first issue, “Monocyte” has been a grim portrayal of the future of humanity, yet it is equally beautiful at the same time. Co-creators Menton3 and Kasra Ghanbari have developed an insane, vast, sprawling epic, and the four-issue mini-series, only offers a small glimpse into their dark world. The series follows the story of two feuding immortal races thousands of years in the future, and the slumbering necromancer, Monocyte, who has been awakened to introduce death to the world once again. With poetic dialogue and some of the best artwork in horror right now, “Monocyte” is like nothing else out there today.
The creative team took the time to sit down with BD and chat about their series from IDW Publishing. With the fourth installment set for release at the end of the month, the book has almost reached its conclusion. Kasra and Menton3 offer in-depth insight into the future of the series, the creative process as a whole, the fear of immortality, plus an exclusive announ Check out the interview after the break.
For people who don’t know what Monocyte is can you give us a brief introduction?
KG: For all intensive purposes, it’s set way in the future in a world void of life in every way except for these two long fighting immortal races that have governance over the world, and human slaves that they feed off of for as their source of immortality. Due to the lack of death, the figure of Death, Azrael, has become irrelevant and reduced into a physical form, which pisses him off. He sets up a plan and calls upon a long lost, and forgotten necromancer, Monocyte, who long ago had gone to sleep to approximate death. So Azrael summons him and sends him out to destroy the power sources of these two immortal races and to bing death and balance back to the world.
I was reading some previews interviews you’ve done and you mentioned that one thing you were trying to do was reverse roles of protagonists and antagonists. What made you want to reverse these roles?
M3: too many horrible things come out of what that people say are good, and too many wonderful things come out of things deem to be evil. One example is we have a church that is supposed to be good, which it then responsible for the Spanish Inquisition. I think thematically, storytelling wise, some of the stories I gravitate towards deal with the fact that there is no good or evil, per say. For me it was interesting to base a story around this concept. I come form the idea that I want to be doing something original to myself, and there aren’t enough people out there doing what they think is cool. So to me, the juxtaposition of good and evil was a good place to start a story.
So you have these two immortal races that have been fighting for thousands of years. One race is based more in alchemy and magic while the other is more technologically based, which makes this interesting dichotomy between the synthetic and the organic. What made you want to contrast the races so drastically.
M3: The reason I make music or any art is to externalize the internal, to a point where self-realization is a forgone conclusion. Art and music are a way of pushing out crazy shit inside my head and a means to communicate with myself. When Monocyte originally came to me as an idea, it came along with this subconscious stuff that dealt with the subject matter you see in the book. It was always just kind of there. I’m not trying to indict religion, the occult, or technology. It just seems to me that this is how the story would play out, so really it fed itself.
KG: As far as world building goes, we could justify, to a point , the basis of immortality being attainted by those methodologies. So we wanted it to be as real as possible when building this world, we wanted people now to look at it and dissect it and go deeper and infer a relevance to the story. Between magic and technology, we went through the actual functions by which immortality might be attained, and eventually we got to the point where we were more than satisfied that this was something that breathed life into the world in an unusual way.
M3: I have studied the occult and alchemy since I was a young child, and Kasra built a biotech company, so we both had a lot of information on these two subjects. So if we were going to do a book about immortality, this seemed to be the way in which somebody could do it, at least within the world of the story.
You’ve also mentioned that you wanted to get across the horror of immortality. Was this something you’ve always found terrifying?
M3: Yeah, when you see plastic flower the reason it’s not as beautiful is because it’s not mortal, but a natural flower, that’s not always going to be there. If you walked up to your every day person and offered them immortality, most people would probably say, “that sounds awesome”. This book is kind of an explanation of how horrible that would be. Imagine someone like George Bush never dies, and stays in power, that would be awful.
We’re kind of in a social media flux with vampires, and glorifying the aspect of how sexy it would be to live forever, but in actuality it would be horrible to see people you love die and not die, and have this egomanifestion continue and never change into anything else. To me that is horror. To me it was a joke growing up with my friends that it was hard to scare me, I would watch movies with them and they wouldn’t scare me. What happened in Nazi Germany with genocide and making death a number was horrifying, or on the other side of things, the notion of Britney Spears never dying is what scares me.
We’ve talked about the two immortal races quite a bit. And we didn’t see much of the humans until issue 3. So how do they figure into the whole war?
M3: The human in issue three is actually Monocyte, just a really long time ago. It is there that we start to unfold the story and tell you why everything has gone on, and to reveal who he is. We spoke about antagonists vs protagonists, and monocyte is for sure the hero but he’s like the anti anti anti hero. The humans become more relevant in issue #4, as they find themselves in this horrible world where nothing dies, and as the story progress they become more and more relevant.
KG: I always say that the humans are represented in a pretty profound way in every issue so far, which goes all the way back to negotiating with IDW where we asked for all 36 pages, because rather than infusing the human story arc within the story arc we wanted to lift it out and dedicate space to them at the back of each issue so that they were present in the main story. Then in issue 3 there is a thematic shift toward more humanistic points. With the unveiling of Monocyte’s backstory, and as the series concludes, and maybe continues, you will see that the entire story was always about the humans. All the other races are beautiful eye candy but they are just representations of the potential within humanity. Just because they are now immortal doesn’t mean they weren’t human at one point. So hopefully readers will see that the humans have been on display all along.
I think Issue #3 really brings that together, there were a lot of questions left unanswered, but it all gets pieced together in issue #3.
KG: thank you very much. We knew we wanted to shift back to the humans and we needed someone with the talent of George Pratt and his story in issue #3 to help us pull that off. We love what George did, he brought a sort of emotion to the humans that people can relate to. When readers look at the back-stories in issue #3, we hope people see a shift.
You have quite a few different creators doing these back-stories. How did they get involved
KG: When Menton and I were coming up with the structure of the book we thought it would be cool to take the human story out. So we were turned on by the idea of getting a bunch of our heroes and these incredible artists to do these stories, to see how they see the world we created. I tapped into a lot of my contacts from various aspects of my life, Menton as well, and strangely enough we hand picked them for the book and it all just seemed to fall in place, they were all so willing to help. The relationship has been different with each one, but all absolutely amazing in how it worked out. We have been profoundly blessed for these people to have come on board and lend us their work.
Going back to Monocyte the character. He’s pretty daunting looking guy, he’s very powerful, yet he has this strange existential beauty and he’s poetic in his speaking. What made you choose to make such a grim figure so beautiful?
KG: The character and the design came from Menton, then we built him up on paper together.
M3: I came up with the concept because I was commissioned to do a superhero painting, and I was super excited by it. I went back and read all these old comics I had as a kid, and I realized I placed a lot of information on this hero that wasn’t there at all, somehow through the fantasy of my mind. So I started thinking, well, maybe I should write down what I thought was there and what would be a cool superhero to me as an adult. Literally within about 15 minutes, the core was all there.
Design wise, to a large extent, I didn’t fiddle with it for long. I don’t want to sound New Agey, but I just meditate it and try to translate it into something that will make sense to other people. So the character just is what he is in my psyche, and I tried to manifest that in the physical world.
KG: When it comes to personality and how they function in the world, or how they would communicate this on a comic book page, there was a lot of debate between about their voices, their intent, motivations, and history. So with issue #1 we were trying to show readers a durationless world, which was a pretty daunting task so it came to this weird cadence, and weird floaty feeling, and the lack of words in relation to time. Thinking about these characters who have been alive for so long, they probably wouldn’t be how we speak now, it would likely be a but more esteemed. We both have a love of Shakespeare, but that wasn’t quite right, but we also loved Deadwood, so somewhere between those was the point we wanted to be at. These people don’t waste words, they speak in symbols, rather than how we are now as slaves of linear word construction. We don’t know if we pulled it off fully, but that’s what we are at least attempting to do.
The writing style is very different form any other work out there right now. You have all the superhero books, which I love, but the writing is fairly similar between them. With Monocyte you get these biblical phrasings and this 17th century speech.
KG: We got to rely on Menton’s art and his storytelling.
M3: Which probably made the book fail.
KG: [Laughs]. Well a lot of what I do to preview the book on social media is to do so without the words. By the time we deal with the words, it’s highly complementary to the art, but we try to rely mostly on art to communicate. I saw the opportunity to push things, and we had some doubts with the writing at first, but we eventually we just said fuck it, let’s make the book we want to make.
M3: I hate being spoon-fed and the last thing I wanted to do as a creator was to dumb down the book. We could have done that, but we never even talked about that. We wanted to make a book that we liked, and we just hoped other people would like it too. Ultimately, we wanted to put something out that we would love, something we want to read. And this sounds pretentious on a lot of levels, but in the end some of the greatest pieces of work are not trying to cater to a certain audience. Some creator owned books want people who read X-Men to read their book, and don’t get me wrong I like X-Men as much as the next person, but that’s not why I am doing a creator owned book.
We got some really bad reviews for the first issue. People were confused. But we thought it was cool, it was what we were going for, if you’re not able to go out of your scope that’s fine, it’s not the book for you. Everyone has their own taste, and it would be more horrifying to us if we had to compensate the story just to try to get everyone to like it.
You’ve mentioned that you’ve been influenced by Dune and LOTR. Could you talk about some of your other influences?
M3: It’s hard for me to talk about influence because I’m not really influenced by other writers or artists. I mean I love Dune, that changed my life, and there are artists I really love, but legitimately, when I am in the creative process I do all I can to pull what’s internally within me out. I don’t want to steal anyone else’s style. It would bother me if I saw someone’s work and I was just like oh yeah I want to make something like that. Again, not to sound New Agey, but I do meditate a lot and try to pull out images that are inside of me. Not always do I make paintings and know what it means, but I know it is tapping into something internal. That is really the engine behind why I want to make art, to figure out who I am to myself.
KG: I feel much the same way. I don’t want to use anyone else as a crutch; I want to inform my work myself. The goal is to express the internal, as Menton described, and get to a place, through whatever means, to concentrate through confidence. My experiences writing monocyte, the things I was happiest about, I would see and be like, “who wrote this?” I separated the work from myself, like it had no point of origin within me, and that’s when I knew it was special, when I got goose bumps.
M3: yes, and we are absolutely insane. There is a state of consciousness called hypnagogia, and its right as you wake up from sleep, before you’re awake. And what I did in that state was I kind of put these characters in my head and let them talk, and that’s where the prequel comic came from. Another example is the bird skull on the back of Monocyte’s head is a separate individual with a mind of his own. I can go into my head with that character and he will respond to me, we are crazy, but it is a lot of fun and it leads to self discovery. It’s helped me with temper issues, and personal issues, because I am learning more about myself rather than relying on something else to inform me, I am informing myself as to myself.
A lot of horror right now feeds off of these trends, whether it’s zombies, vampires, or whatever else, but Monocyte is a more cerebral type of horror. Why did you choose to do stray so far and do a creator owned book?
M3: I love all those horror movies, but what pisses me off is that I want to talk to Freddy Kreuger, or whoever, and find out why he is so evil. People have reasons for what they do, and I’ve always been compelled by stuff like that. Jason Voorhees is this killer with a hockey mask, but why is he killing people? Sure some teenagers piss him off as a kid, but that doesn’t justify being an immortal dude form a lake with a machete that fucks people up. To me if you’re getting into spooky stuff, the scariest thing to me is how these people justify this stuff in their head. So allegorically turning that into a story that is compelling to read is what I wanted to do. I think vampires, and goblins, and ghosts come out of our psyche where we have these fears we don’t want to talk about. Rather than being scared of what is right in front of us, people would rather look at these movies or whatever, and be scared of that, it’s easier. So for me, if you’re writing a horror book, it has to be about what really bothers you, whatever keeps you up at night, what makes you hot and sweaty. I hate that we have standardized this to the point that we are no longer dealing with the shadow side of the psyche, but we have now this Teletubby horror.
The Monocyte album was just released recently, and it works in conjunction with the book. So how did the two art forms come together? How do they compliment each other?
M3: Can I just say something. People keep writing articles about it and about my music project as Saltillo and people keep saying I’m classically trained. I’m not fucking classically trained! I never went to one music lesson in my life. I did not go to Julliard.
I spent most of my life making music, from when I was a kid until about a few years ago. I made a conscious choice to start doing artwork and stop music about four years ago. There was an album I released called Ganglion, and there was a track on there that was my goodbye to music. I get a lot of emails asking me where my music is. Well I never planned to make music again. But when we entered the Monocyte world, we lived there for 6 months before we started writing out the comic, and this place had a certain sound, a certain feeling. So we wanted to promote it because it’s a creator owned book, and it kind of came up as an idea. I started making music again and I missed it a lot. I hadn’t recorded in so long, and I was like oh my god this is like seeing my best friend again. So it kind of all came together after all that.
My last album had over 2 milllion hits online, and it blew me away. So I was shocked by the release of this album, I charted in the top 50 electronic on iTunes, I topped the industrial chart on Amazon. It has been so humbling and amazing that people are willing to listen to my music, which has allowed me to create something in a new way. But that said, I did not intend for people to buy the sound track and listen to it while reading the book, it was more so that this is how the world sounds to me. They do connect, but they are not meant to be side by side exclusively.
I hate asking this, but do you have any favorite horror movies?
M3: I love Session 9, I love it so much. I love the grainy style, I love the scene in the hallway where the camera turns. I love City of Lost Children, which I consider to be a horror movie. I could sit here for hours talking about it. Antichrist is disturbing, and if anyone can sit through that without getting disturbed they are psychotic.
KG: I have a hard time talking about horror, because for me it has to do with an individual’s relationship with a piece of work or a subject and I feel so displaced from other people’s relationships. I don’t think what I find horror other people would. I don’t find Monoctye to be a horror story at all. To me, that just means that some of our intent hit too close to home and it touches parts of their minds that make them uncomfortable. But as far as straight up horror, it’s hard for me to just categorize it, but if I had to give you 5, they would be, in no particular order: Antichrist, Let the Right One In, The Kingdom by Lars Von Trier, Apocalypse Now, and Werckmeister Harmonies.
Anything else you guys want to add?
M3: I am not classically trained!
KG: As an exclusive to BD announcement, IDW has just agreed to give us an oversized hardcover for the Monocyte collected edition! The dimensions will be 9×13.5″ allowing for the art to really shine. The book will include the digital series prequel, all four issues, and all 12 covers, as well as 60+ pages of new content for a total of 224 pages. The new pages will be filled in part with art contributions from some amazing friends in both the fine art and comic book world such as Toby Cypress, Scott Radke, Matthew Bone, Richard A. Kirk, Tim Roosen, and many many more. Also, menton3 and I will be creating a new short story set in the Monocyte world and occurring past the end of issue #4.
M3: yeah, we are also adding extra pages in the trade at the end of the book, that will explain a lot more of what’s going on in the story. Not to scam people out of money, but I want this ending to be presented with the entirety of the story. I also really appreciate all your coverage on BD, so thank you very much for that!
Thank you both for chatting with me, I really do love the book and I hope to see more of that world in the future.