I sat down for Bleeding Cool this weekend at C2E2 to speak with Menton3 and Kasra Ghanbari of IDW’s MONOCYTE to discuss the series, the creative and religious influences, and the upcoming hardcover collection.
Taylor: I’m loving the stuff that you guys are doing right now at IDW with MONOCYTE, it is wonderfully creepy looking, and I was mentioning the chance I was getting to speak to you with someone else with only a very limited experience with your stuff, and they wanted to know, on a scale of 1 to 10, just how weird is their stuff? Do you guys look at what you do and say, “this is the line I can not cross.”, are you holding back?
Menton: No, to me honestly, it is not weird at all. To make art and music in general, the reason I do that is to externalize the internal. So basically what I’m doing is taking things or images that happen in meditations or in dreams and I’m painting that or I’m writing that. And so for me I don’t think its creepy at all. In fact it was a kind of shock to me when I started working with IDW, that they looked at what I did as horror. I’m Oblivious to it. Maybe a bit immune as well
Kasra: We hear people call MONOCYTE horror quite a lot and we don’t have any perspective on that at all. I’ll give you one little story, where we don’t have perspective and where we get perspective. At the conventions a lot of the adults come by and they will be a little hesitant to come up to the table, and they will see a painting or something and they will be kind of like “one foot in, one foot out” , but the little girls and the little boys will come right up and they know exactly what they like and they love it and they are drawn to it, they are there, they are interested and open to it and looking at it and absorbing it. It is the parents that have the problems. So is it horror? Is it right? Is it wrong? Are we going too far? I have no idea, but when people have an opinion on it, it is because we brushed up against something in them, and that is awesome.
Menton: I have a 3-year-old son who loves my paintings and he is not creeped out by them at all, maybe he is just used to them. But I don’t mind other people looking at them as creepy, I think that’s great, but for me, I don’t go “I’m going to paint something really creepy and far out” I just paint what comes out.
Taylor: You mention your son, I have talked to an awful lot of people here that have families that don’t really get it, even though it is what pays the mortgage. Are you guys cool at home? Do they get it?
Menton: My wife is the most supportive thing I have ever heard of or seen, my family is great. I have an amazing home life, nothing to complain about. My wife is the best cook, best wife and best mother I have ever seen in my life and we have a great time and a great life. I’m a lucky guy. My wife is a deputy coroner, so there is a kind of odd sense of things fitting together.
Kasra: You suck. I’m kind of the same. My friends are family, not friends, and those that are “just friends” then I just don’t see them very often, they are either family or their not. I’ve got a kind of Southern Italian thing in that way. Menton and I are the same in that way with our significant others, whether it’s his wife or my girlfriend They are the person that we call first when we get news. When we finish a book, his wife Sara or my girlfriend Kelly are the first two people who look at it and we want to k now what they think. The relationship has got to be at that level of it is not a relationship. That is also my girlfriend Kelly you hear singing on the album
Taylor: Since you mention soundtrack that can accompany the reading, I finished it and was blown away. Menton, you play all of the instruments. You play violin, viola, keyboard, drums and cello. What else is happening there?
Menton: Yeah, I do everything. It is kind of pretentious sounding, I know. It come out of not really being able to work with other musicians that well. The bad thing about being in a band is that you have to deal with musicians. I don’t play well with others, but I found somebody in Kasra, that I can’t imagine a better working partner. He can tell me to fuck off, and I believe him. But he is way faster and way smarter than I am so I have no issue knowing that or dealing with that.
Kasra: And I disagree with him when he says stuff like that. It is why we work so well together.
Taylor: Actually I have seen several teams where the art side does not feel like they are the brains of the outfit. Here at the show already, I have already talked to two people who said, “well, I am the visual guy. I don’t think about it.” Which I find false. You know that can’t, or shouldn’t be the true.
Kasra: For MONOCYTE Menton period is the driving force visually for the book, but I am also extremely proud of my contributions to the visual elements of the story. And certainly for the writing of the words I was the driving element for it but without Menton it would be totally different. We have figured out a way to infuse ourselves into our primary roles and have a substantial part of ourselves in what the other person is doing. That is why we have been able to collaborate so well. I say that not based on some end point of success, but talking about him and I knowing that we work together in a way that we have never been able to work with someone else.
Menton: If people like the visuals at all on MONOCYTE, 50% of that is Kasra.
Kasra: Noooooooo. 15%.
Menton: He honestly helps me with the art so much, if people like anything I do, blame Kasra. I love working with him, he’s the best guy I know.
Taylor: It is nice to see that. There are lots of partners in the industry that just barely tolerate each other, and it is often a creative issue that drives that wedge, so it is nice to see. Are there going to be more collaborations after MONOCYTE?
Kasra: Yeah definitely and I hope we have wedges between us and creative differences on a weekly basis so we can’t stand one another. The fact is that we get back up, we look at each other straight in the eye and we talk it out and we go onto the next fucking thing.
Menton: We are not afraid to argue, we’ll hash it out. We are passionate enough about it to where we will argue , but we are good enough friend to let those arguments be part of it. The whole process of MONOCYTE was that he was there with every piece of artwork and I was there with every page of writing. It was a 50/50 book. It is just as much me as him. It is “what happens when these two crazy fucking guys join psyches?”. It was a lot of fun. The fourth book is just now finished and I already miss it.
Taylor: Like sending the kids off to school?
Taylor: Do you live geographically close together or is this all an email thing?
Kasra: That is why we wanted to do this. We have worked together basically side by side for two years, and we share a studio here in Chicago with Ben Templesmith and we both live like four or five blocks away from the studio.
Menton: We literally live across the street from each other.
Kasra: I could get two tin cans with a string and talk to him.
Taylor: OK, which came first? The collaborating or the living by each other?
Menton: Well, I met him 2 years ago at C2E2 for the first time. But honestly within 5 minutes of us talking to each other it was like we had known each other for 3000 lifetimes. We immediately got along and made each other laugh. He became my art rep and helped me sell a lot of paintings and grow as an artist. I had been talking to my friends about the concept for MONOCYTE, and he was one of my friends at the time, and he just started adding so much to what I was talking about that it was not like at one point I said, “will you co-write with me?” He just was the co writer at some point and was just as much a part of the natural progression of the book as I was. It was a lot of fun, like magic really.
Taylor: There is a lot of religious themes or the plot revolves around the various religious factions. Was that a key part of the book for you, or would you tell the story without that?
Menton: I don’t want to be offensive, and before I say anything, let me say that anything that you believe is right for you. I’m not going to count out anybody’s beliefs, but I definitely have issues with organized religion. If a guy were to be walking down the street in a Nazi uniform, people would get generally pissed off, and rightfully so, but a catholic priest can walk down the street without a problem. Now there isn’t really another organization responsible for as much genocide and torture and rape and pillaging as the Catholic fucking religion but we allowed that to happen. I’ve got a lot of anger about that and obviously I’m not going to go out and hurt people and beat up priests but I can write a comic book about that. I can get it out that way. That’s a kind of origin point of MONOCYTE. I don’t think it is an anti religion book, but was a way of exorcising certain violent tendencies of mine in a safe environment.
Kasra: The Olignostic race has basically at its source and history and escalation as a race, power. The is religious power, political power there is financial power, there is all forms of power. The other immortality group was more about knowledge and the alchemical basis of immortality, nature and communion. Things like this were representations and it was critical that they were structured that way. That is the basis for the immortality. Whether religion was the most important thing, the answer is no. But it is an obvious thing for us.
Taylor: In the digital format these issues hold up very well. They are very cinematic. Did you start with digital in mind?
Kasra: No. We very much started with the physical (books) in mind. Menton and I grew up with comic books and love comics. We wanted to push the actual physical book. It has card stock. It is 36 pages instead of 32, it has spot UV and we negotiated with IDW, very important to both of us, was to have cover to cover content. No ads. No previews, nothing but story and art. Menton’s work is so compelling though, that you can scale it you can do what you want with it.
Menton: That’s just bullshit (laughs)
Kasra: He is a genius with Photoshop and digital manipulation when we went to digital, I would like to believe it reproduced really well. So now for the collected edition, which is going to be over sized at 9×13, I think it is really going to shine.
Taylor: I love that. I am a tradewaiter, ruining the industry, or so some would say, and I love when there is an effort made to make the collected editions special.
Kasra: That is something that has been great about IDW, honestly. They are putting together some brilliant books. 9×13 1/2 inch hardcover, 224 pages in previews in May, and out in July, hopefully in time to debut for the San Diego comic con. This was one of the huge upsides of working with IDW is that their collected editions and their hardcovers are stunning. I love that they are making these $100 hardcovers like the Artist Editions and they sell out right away. That is great for the future of the industry that we would like to explore a little bit more.
Taylor: In the monthly end of things, do you know what is selling better, the monthly single issues or the digital?
Menton: Well, I think the monthly issues are more advertisements for the trades at this point, but I am a big flan of floppies because that is what I grew up with. I don’t see the digital revolution. I have an iPad and read some comics that way, but I’m good friends with a lot of comic creators and we just simply don’t see the sales on digital that we see with floppies. Everyone is saying that digital is going to destroy print, but the sales just really are not there yet, to be able to predict that. maybe one day they will be, but the jury is out for me.
Kasra: I feel the same way and I really respect the fact that the publishers are investing in it, and lets see what happens, but whenever they start using language about it being a savior or some kind of external platform that is going to lift up the entire industry, I get scared. I think that is a really bad premise for working on digital, it’s just supplemental.
Taylor: There are lots of examples of artists here that do “dark and disturbing”, but very few that manage beautiful at the same time as you do. Is there a conscious effort to do that, or is that simply who you are, and how it works for you when working on something?
Menton: I hate to sound like a 40-year-old lady who collects cats and listens to Tori Amos all day, but I meditate a lot and I legitimately just paint what I see in my meditations and my dream life. I know that sounds cheesy, but it really is a way to take stuff from inside and get it out of me. Then I will paint it and realize new things about it for months that I didn’t see before. I have studied iconography and alchemy all my life and so to me it is about symbology and learning about myself in this way. I would never call myself a philosopher but it is in that vein in which I make art. I think that what I paint is typically more pretty than it is creepy, but that is my perspective and doesn’t mean everyone is going to have that same perspective. There is no conscious effort one way or the other. It is just paint what I see, paint what is in there and get it out then figure out what it is later. There is a beauty in the misfit. The nerd in school that no one talked to is the guy that turned out to be the CEO of some giant company, the ugly girl at school is the one the turned out to be really fucking hot, the misfits of the world are the ones that make sense to me, and I hate the misuse of power, and I think that misuse generates these dark things, not really dark, just defending themselves which is actually quite beautiful if you think about it. There are supposed to be people who are supposed to look pretty or beautiful that look like the crypt keeper, and there are people who are supposed to look evil that to me look like a savior.
Taylor: What about the new project The Nosferatu Wars? How is that project going for you?
Menton: I have to say that I don’t like working with writers a lot of the time, but that I absolutely love Steve Niles. I love him like a brother. We have only met and hung out once, but we talk on Skype almost every day, and I just love that guy. We get on Skype and talk about ideas, and he is very open to my ideas. Even though he is this award-winning national writer, he gives a shit about my opinion, it is really humbling and really nice. I can’t wait to get started. We are also doing another book at IDW called Transfusion. I cannot wait for people to read these stories. He is putting things together than shouldn’t be and they work. They work so well you almost hate him, because you think “why didn’t I think of that?” I love these books and I can’t wait to work with him more and I’m very excited about this project.