EXCLUSIVE: Monteys on Creating his "Universe!" at Panel Syndicate

Following the success of the digital, DRM-free, pay-what-you-want "The Private Eye," Panel Syndicate founders Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin have added a second title to their site's offerings, making Albert Monteys' "Universe!" available to a global audience.

Like "The Private Eye," readers can pay whatever price they think is fair for the first and subsequent issues, and because Panel Syndicate offers worldwide, multi-language distribution, direct feedback from readers, complete creative control and 100 percent of the comic's proceeds, that's just fine with Monteys.

An award-winning writer and artist, Monteys served as director of Spain's satirical magazine "El Jeuves" until he stepped down earlier this year after the owners refused to publish a cover which joked about the king of Spain abdicating his crown.

Now unleashed on Panel Syndicate, Monteys is ready to share "Universe!" - his new ongoing series of self-contained (but cleverly connected) sci-fi stories - with the universe.

For his first interview about "Universe!," Monteys spoke with CBR News about everything from religious freedom to creative freedom and all parts in between. We also discussed some minor teasers and spoilers for "Universe!" #1, the story of Thomas Marriot, who goes through the paces of his day at Wortham Industries like every other work day before it ends with a very big bang.

CBR News: Congratulations, Albert. It's always exciting to launch a new series.

Albert Monteys: Thank you for your support, I'm really excited about this new series and the new path I'm starting in my career.

Let's talk about this new path. What is the secret origin of "Universe!," and how did it land at Panel Syndicate?

I've always been a sci-fi geek, and above all I love those short stories that used to appear in old magazines that, here in Spain, were published as anthologies. That kind of story, with a shocking premise and a surprising but inevitable ending that can also be seen in Silver Age comic books, has always been very attractive to me. When Marcos [Martin], who lives in Barcelona like me, proposed that I develop a comic for Panel Syndicate, the first idea that came to me was good, old sci-fi stories. Later, I developed it and decided that all those tales would happen in the same universe, hence the title, and that things that happened in one story could affect or be developed in another one.

Why does the Panel Syndicate business model work for you as a creator versus releasing "Universe!" through a more traditional publication?

It should be obvious to anyone that right now we are experiencing a deep change of paradigm. Paper will not die, but I predict that it will be used for luxury projects while the most down to earth popular contents will be available online. What are the advantages? What about worldwide, multi-language distribution much cheaper than with physical comics? Or knowing right away if you're selling well? Skipping the middle man? Direct feedback from readers? Creative control, anyone? Truth is, digital comics open a new way of looking at this business. The only real problem is that the World Wide Web is almost infinite, and getting readers to notice your little project in that overwhelming sea of data can be a big problem. I've been lucky, since Brian and Marcos have an established fan base that has made my comic much more visible.

You make it clear that "Universe!" is an ongoing series of self-contained, but cleverly connected, sci-fi stories. But as you yourself ask in the back pages, "What the HECK did I just read?"

I'm not inclined to help readers to interpret or understand what I do in comic format. I believe my stories are pretty straightforward and, I expect, a little thought provoking. If you keep on reading "Universe!" though, you'll get more than the sum of its parts. It will have its rewards, so I hope you will all be there to see it.

What about Thomas Marriot. He is not your traditional leading man. How did you arrive at him as your main character?

I wanted a main character that was as little interesting as possible. The first issue is the story of a very bad day at work. He's just a very dependable employee that is pushed to his limits. That this kind of man could be God was an idea I found especially funny.

I didn't want to spoil too much, but yes, in the first issue of "Universe!" Thomas Marriot basically plays God, albeit in a very science fiction-based setting. Are you a religious man? And do you think the blending of religion and science fiction are a natural when it comes to telling such a fantastic tale?

There's not an ounce of faith or spirituality in me, I'm afraid. I don't believe in God, the soul or in any of its new age substitutes. But I find religion somewhat fascinating, maybe because I grew in a home where it was present. The tale in the first issue, among other things, gives a funny explanation of where religion could come from. Some science fiction writer -- I'm sorry, but can't remember who m-- said that any technology advanced enough in the wrong context could be mistaken for a miracle. It is, in fact, a recurrent idea in those kinds of stories, when religion shows itself as a failure to interpret reality. I have deep respect for people's beliefs, but not so much for religious hierarchies.

Can Mr. Wortham, Thomas' boss, be trusted? And what about Eye-3? And will we see these characters again in each and every installment?

You can never trust your superiors. That's one of the few truths I've learned from life. We'll see more of Mr. Wortham, but in an unexpected way. Eye-3 started as a visual gimmick, like the God triangle above the main character's head, but he soon showed his personality, an insufferable little bastard.

Some characters will reappear, some won't, but they all will do it in different context. I have a story about the marital droids that appear in this issue, for instance, that will feature none of the characters in issue one.

In terms of art for this series, what is your process and what tools do you use?

The painful and fun part is writing the story. For that, my tools are silence and desperation. My enemy is the web browser. I never know how long it will take, but I won't quit until it satisfies and surprises me. Usually, I plan all the scenes and panels as I write the stuff. After that, I draw the pages, a slow process during which I listen to a ton of podcasts. I use blue pencil and a Da Vinci Maestro brush to ink it all. I love drawing characters, and I hate drawing the backgrounds, but I understand they are a very important part of the tale. [Laughs] Finally, I color it all with Photoshop and challenge myself to use colors that I wouldn't use on a first thought. I want them vibrant and memorable. When I'm finished the whole process, I usually fall in a state of self pity, thinking that I just did a load of crap. When the comic gets published, I start thinking about the new one.

What about the painful and fun part, the writing? Are you writing these in Spanish and then having them translated, or are you writing both the English and the Spanish versions? Do you have to modify the jokes between the two languages as to avoid losing context in the translation?

I write the story in English. My native language is Catalan, but I've mostly read and written comics in Spanish, so when I'm making comics it comes naturally. I translate it myself, but make sure that an American editor fixes my awful mistakes and keeps it readable.

I've changed a few expressions, but I wrote it with translation in mind. I don't think English readers are missing any Spanish jokes, or vice versa.

Prior to launching "Universe!," you were the director of a satire magazine before you stepped down when the publisher opted not to use a cover referencing recent events in Spain. Has your life changed since stepping down as director of "El Jueves"? Would you make that same decision today?

Well, I have developed a deep mistrust for publishers. [Laughs] "El Jueves" is a weekly satirical magazine that has been published for 37 years. It's the big comic in Spain, the one that can allow you to make a living drawing comics. Leaving it for ideological reasons was a hard decision, but one I would take again. I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror in the mornings. Right now, I have to struggle a little more to reach the end of the month, but at the same time, it's been a very interesting year, full of inspiring moments and awesome projects.

The cartoonists that left the magazine when they didn't allow us to publish a cover about the King of Spain founded an online satirical magazine called "Orgullo y satisfacción." That translates to "Pride and satisfaction," which is the phrase the King of Spain uses to start his speeches. It's a monthly humor magazine that has been very well received by Spanish readers. We are about to release the fourth issue, and it keeps on growing stronger. My two online projects keep me very busy, so I'll focus on that for the next year at least.

I know you have worked with Bill Willingham in the past, but do you have any interest in writing or drawing anything for North America publishers like DC Comics or Marvel?

Not any news for the moment. I love writing more than drawing, so drawing anyone else's stories or characters isn't something I want to do for a living. It can be interesting occasionally, but I'd be very happy if "Universe!" allowed me to give it the time I think it deserves. That said, there is a lot of Marvel and DC characters I love so, if only to appease my inner child, I would seriously consider any proposals.

"Universe!" #1, written and illustrated by Albert Monteys, is available now via Panel Syndicate.

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