The good news is you just got laid and now you’ve got superpowers. The bad news is you only have six months to live. That’s the premise in Titan Comics’ six issue miniseries “Death Sentence” by writer Monty Nero and artist Mike Dowling.
Debuting in October, “Death Sentence” follows three young people after they contract the fatal G+ Virus, an STD that gives the infected superpowers for six months before killing them. The book was partially serialized in “Clint Magazine” in 2012 after Dowling and Nero showed a preview issue to Mark Millar at the Kapow! Comic Convention. The Titan Comics issues reprint the original material before putting out new issues to complete the story.
Nero and Dowling spoke with CBR about “Death Sentence,” revealing how the series landed at Titan Comics, explaining what’s going on with Dowling and Frankie Boyle’s “Rex Royd” and teasing the Hollywood prospects for the STD-themed series.
CBR News: What was your inspiration for a comic book about sexually transmitted superpowers?
Monty Nero: I was at a convention expounding my bullshit theories about comics and how to make them more relevant to our lives. It struck me on the drive home it was very presumptuous of me to bang on like that when I hadn’t written a comic myself.
Mike Dowling: Hah! Most people don’t worry about that! Good of you to put your money where your mouth is.
Nero: Yeah, well, it was always an ambition of mine. Anyway, it was a four-hour drive home so I had plenty of thinking time to come up with something. At the time my wife was three months pregnant and everyone — and I mean everyone — had been telling us that our lives were going to change forever when our daughter was born. Our lives would no longer be our own and we would be 24/7 baby-caring machines. It felt like I only had six months to do something creative with my life. I wanted to keep it real, so a virus seemed to fit. Passing it through unprotected sex means there’s an element of choice, which is more dramatic, and tied to the question of hedonism and why people do what they do which is a major theme of the book. Of course, when my daughter was born she slept through the night after six weeks.
Dowling: That’s just smug!
Nero: I know. I’m sorry. We were very lucky. All these dark warnings proved unfounded. I don’t think I’ve ever been more creative than since I became a Dad. New life is inspiring.
Dowling: I guess your wife is changing the nappies then? I change nappies but only during daylight hours.
Nero: And you’re not even a father!
So where did the epidemic in “Death Sentence” come from? Is anybody working to cure it?
Dowling: Straight in with the spoilers!
Nero: Yeah, that’s kind of integral to the plot and there’s no point ruining the fun here.
How did “Death Sentence” wind up at Titan Comics after first being published in Mark Millar’s “Clint Magazine?”
Nero: I was going to publish it myself as a six issue series, but I wanted to get the whole thing finished before soliciting so comic shops would have the confidence to order it. Diamond was on board and I had a printer in China lined up. Mike and I took a preview of issue #1 to Kapow! Comic Convention and showed it to everyone.
Dowling: You showed it to people. I just wandered around enjoying my international champagne lifestyle!
Nero: Yeah, but it looked amazing. That was all you. So we wandered round the floor and accosted people after panels. The two people who got massively excited about it were Mark Millar and Nick Landau at Titan, independently of each other. Titan made an offer for it a few months later but I was set on self-publishing so we turned it down. Publicity is the problem for new comics so when “Clint” offered to serialize it I thought that would be useful. A year or so later Titan came back with a better offer. They’ve got the skills to distribute and sell this, while Mike and I concentrate on making it fantastic. Titan has been great to deal with so far, very professional and good people. I recommend them.
Will the Titan issues differ at all from the originals published in “Clint?”
Nero: Yeah, there’s supplementary stuff and subtle changes in every issue. There’s also a ‘How the fuck did they do that?’ guide to getting “Death Sentence” made — a cross between a practical guide to making your own comics and a director’s commentary. That’s exclusive to the single issues.
Only half the series has been in “Clint,” 11 pages every two or three months or something.Â The point is that “Death Sentence” is a six issue series for comic shops. You can’t get the full flavor and feel the ramifications of the story unless you read it as it was written. The rhythm of the story only works if you read it one issue at a time as the full pattern emerges. I love the episodic format. There’s something hugely thrilling and subversive about comic books that “Death Sentence” understands and exploits to the max. People seem stoked for the comic in a way they wouldn’t have been if we’d released it cold.
We’re lucky to have “Death Sentence” fans now — very interesting people — and they seem massively enthused and vocal about wanting the proper comics and evangelising what they’ve discovered to new readers. That’s hugely inspiring and very humbling.
Are there any plans for “Death Sentence” sequels or film/TV adaptations at this point?
Nero: We had a couple of established Hollywood companies get in touch last week when we released the trailer. That was surprising. They’ve just asked to read the comic, so we’ll see what happens. They’ve all had decent films out so it could happen, I suppose.
Dowling: If it happened they’d need nerves of steel to put out a faithful adaptation, but that would be the way to go.
Nero: It’s almost irrelevant, really. Film and comics are completely different mediums. This works on its own terms and exploits all the narrative devices only comics can provide. As for sequels, I wrote about 30 scenes and a whole character arc at the same time as this and cut it all out — by which I mean I decided to do six issues rather than nine. So the bare bones of a sequel are there. The world of “Death Sentence” is enormous, and you only get a glimpse of that in these initial comics.
Monty, “Death Sentence” was your first published comic book project. When can fans expect to see more from you? You did a recent story in “2000 AD” — could they see you there again soon?
Nero: I just finished another short story for “2000 AD” which I wrote and drew. It’s a horror story about snakes. I really hate snakes so it was traumatic to draw, but you’ve got to tap into yourÂ fears. We finish “Death Sentence” in a couple of months and Mike’s already got something else lined up — a long “Judge Anderson” series. I’m just tinkering with the final “DS” script and doing covers at the moment. I’d like to write or draw something for another company after that. It depends how this sells. If it sold amazingly well we’d probably just keep on making it — like “The Walking Dead.”
Mike, what’s going on with your other “Clint” series “Rex Royd?”
Dowling: Frankie Boyle’s pretty busy touring and whatnot. He had an idea of finishing up the story with Rex entering the real world. We were gonna do it as a photo-strip, hire all these actors who look like the main characters. I got well into the idea of Jean Dujardin from the artist playing Rex, but it became complicated. Still, we’ll finish it up at some point!
Nero: That sounds bat-shit mental. Why can’t you make anything normal?
Dowling: My mum asks me that too.
Monty, you’ve named a main character in “Death Sentence” after yourself. Why that specific character?
Nero: [Laughs] Yeah. How to explain that… well, I considered the name without reference to myself, if you see what I mean. Names have to feel right. Verity suits verity because of its strength and truth. My sister-in-law’s boyfriend was called Weasel and it always stuck in my head — such a cool name for someone so crazy, chaotic and unreliable. ‘Monty’ evokes a kind of amusingly British invention and charm masking a sleazy underbelly, which sums the character up — it sums Britain up! So nothing to do with me personally, honest.
Dowling: You are Monty, admit it!
Nero: No, no! He was called Byron at first. What a hideous travesty that would have been.
Dowling: Yeah. That’s awful!
Nero: You can see how desperate I was. It just proves my chronic lack of imagination, really. I’m like Brick Tamland from “Anchorman,” shouting out the name of whatever I see.
In the first issue I appreciated how nobody ups and decides to go fight crime at the end. Will the idea of vigilantism play into “Death Sentence” or will it be eschewing the superhero genre entirely?
Nero: Yeah, I like that too. There are no vigilantes. These are real people like you and me. They’ve got problems, hopes, lives, dreams, people they’ve pissed off and people they love. There’s only six months left and a whole world of stuff to experience and resolve. So fighting crime? [Laughs It’s the last thing on their minds.
Dowling: It’s not about superheroes, it’s about what ordinary people might do. Like, “With greater power comes greater sexual experimentation.” Monty’s uncle could say that to him at some point.
What would each of you guys do if you had six months to live and superpowers?
Dowling: Depends on the powers. If I had the power to turn bread into knitwear I’d probably kill myself within weeks.
Nero: But you could start a Val Doonican knitwear empire! And ransom the world’s food supply!
Dowling: I wouldn’t be so cruel. What about you?
Nero: I’d make comics. I’d use my super speed to create novel length works of sequential sophistication in a couple of days, then piss off down the beach with my family. There’d be some kind of mental persuasion involved to get a readership of billions. Immoral, but what would I care? I’d be happy, then dead.
Dowling: The power doesn’t really matter — if you have six months to live and fully appreciate what that means, I think you could be capable of anything.
Nero: Which is what the comic explores — that liberation. How do you make sense of your life in six short months? What’s the point of it all? Why not get shitfaced instead?
“Death Sentence” #1 by Monty Nero and Mike Dowling goes on sale this October from Titan Comics