'Death Sentence' Creator on New Comic: Superpowers and Six Months to Live

Monty Nero says of his surprise hit comic book series: "I believed 100 percent in what we were doing and wouldn't take no for an answer."
Titan Comics
"Death Sentence" No. 1

What would you do with superpowers and six months to live?

That's the question British comic book writer Monty Nero tackles in his new series, Death Sentence, which takes place in a world where a sexually transmitted disease called the G-Plus virus gives people superpowers, then kills them after six months.

Nero wrote his outrageous, gritty-yet-grounded comic not expecting to make any money from it. But now, after two sold-out runs of the first issue from Titan Comics, he and artist Mike Dowling have a surprise hit on their hands.

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"It's exactly the same comic I was selling 20 copies of after sitting all day at a Con, back at the start, Nero tells The Hollywood Reporter. "So the fact that single shops are now buying 1000 copies at a time of issue 1 -- the same comic -- is amazing. People are responding to the energy and originality of the tone, which is inspiring."

Nero, who has received high praise from acclaimed comics creator Mark Millar, says the idea came to him when his wife was three months pregnant.

"Everyone kept telling us that when the baby came, life as we knew it would be over -- that everything would irrevocably change," he says." So the idea of having extra-normal enhancements to do something brilliant in six months was very appealing.

Find THR's full conversation with Nero below.

When did you first conceive of the basic premise -- of a disease that gives you superpowers but will also kill you in six months?

My wife was three months pregnant, so sex was very much on my mind. Everyone kept telling us that when the baby came, life as we knew it would be over -- that everything would irrevocably change. That turned out to be bullshit, but it felt very much like we only had six months to do something mad and creative before we settled down. So the idea of having extra-normal enhancements to do something brilliant in six months was very appealing.

The virus I invented comes from unprotected sex, and that idea simply came from filtering the concept through the lens of good storytelling. As soon as you introduce the element of choice, the premise becomes much more compelling -- the characters are the architects of their own destiny. Catching a normal virus is just sad. It's just chance. But an STD raises all these fascinating questions about hedonism, why people do the crazy things they do, and what exactly you'd be prepared to give up to be talented or famous.

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Mark Millar is a fan of Death Sentence. Like your work, his work seems very real even though it's set in a comic book world. Was he an influence at all?

No. I wasn't reading many comics at all when I wrote Death Sentence. There was nothing I could see that spoke to my life, that had the compelling narrative and thought-provoking subtext I look for in prose fiction. So I wrote the series for myself. It's the kind of comic I'd like to read. Of course, when I learned that Mark loved the comic I was knocked out. He's an absolutely top writer and the fact that he rated our work really meant an enormous amount to me.

It's clear from very early on that this is a series where anything can happen. But were there any boundaries or borders you didn't want to cross as far as violence or sex?

Yeah, absolutely. I'm not a gorehound. I've no interest in gratuitous sex or violence. Everything in the comic is wildly entertaining and happens for good storytelling reasons -- to make a subtle larger point about life and society. When you analyze it technically, it's all handled very deftly.

You write in your afterwards of issue No. 1 that you didn't think you'd make any money from this series. But now issue No. 1 has sold out two printings and it's been getting rave reviews. Does that success surprise you?

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Enormously. It's exactly the same comic I was selling 20 copies of after sitting all day at a Con, back at the start. So the fact that single shops are now buying 1000 copies at a time of issue 1 -- the same comic -- is amazing. People are responding to the energy and originality of the tone, which is inspiring. The whole point of the comic was to do something exactly as I wanted, without compromise.

What does Death Sentence mean for your future career, as far as expanded opportunities?

Well, I've had some interesting calls. But the main thing that's occurred to me recently is Mike and I can make more Death Sentence, which is thrilling. There are a lot of stories still to tell with these characters.

What was the hardest part about writing Death Sentence?

Creatively it was capturing the right tone for the comic. It's a situation where real people are dying in six months, which is tragic. You have to convey the horror of that accurately, or else the whole premise falls apart. But there's also enormous humor and vivacity and energy to the characters and the story. It's a hugely entertaining read. Figuring out how to do that without lurching awkwardly took a lot of time. I think we nailed it -- and it all comes from the characters, from Verity, Monty and Weasel. They are the voice of the book, and it feels really fresh.

What was the most difficult part about the business end of things, as far as getting it published?

It was all really difficult. Getting this made, as a completely unknown writer, was really challenging. Just keeping going sometimes, in the face of overwhelming disinterest, was hard. And financially it was tough to finance. The principle problem someone like me faces is getting anyone to look at what you're doing. It doesn't matter if it's good or not, no-one cares. But I believed 100 percent in what we were doing and wouldn't take no for an answer.

What did you enjoy most about writing Death Sentence?

Just the sense of complete freedom. No one to please but yourself. That sense of anarchic enthusiasm transmits from the pages and makes the comic very exciting. I wrote most of it away from the computer, so it was liberating in every sense. Writing the dialogue for all the characters was a joy -- they're hilarious. Probably Weasel was the most fun to write. He encapsulates the hopeless f--k-up within all of us.

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