Friday, October 5, 2012

Monocyte -- Menton3 and Kasra Ghanbari

Title: Monocyte: In the Land of the Blind the One-Eyed is King (hardbound comic collection)
Author: Menton3 and Kasra Ghanbari
Publishing Information: IDW Publishing 2012
Source: My Library

Short Bio:
Menton3 (Menton John Matthews III) was born in 1976 in Mississippi, USA, and now lives in Chicago, IL, USA. Per his blurb, blog and website, he began the study of alchemy and the occult at an early age. As he matured, his interests branched into iconography, symbolism, and investigations of the psyche. He now uses his accumulated knowledge, and meditation, to inspire his paintings. He is the artist and co-writer of Monocyte. You can view selections of his works on his website:

Kasra Ghanbari lives in Chicago, IL, USA, just across the street from Menton3, per an interview with the two men on Bleeding Cool.  Kasra has a diverse resume ranging from being a co-founder of Panacea Pharmaceuticals, which researches genetic cures for conditions such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease, to being the art representative of such names as Clive Barker, Ted McKeever and Richard A. Kirk, as well as Menton3. He is the co-writer of Monocyte.

Comments on Story:
I first ran across Monocyte while looking for the latest edition of the Lock and Key series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez on the Science Fiction Book Club (SFBC) website. I was struck by the cover art and decided to give it a try. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t do any further research on it before purchasing it, so boy was I in for a surprise when it arrived a week or so later.

First of all, the book itself is an impressive 9 inches by 13 inches in size and is printed on heavy cardstock, so it has some serious weight to it.  I had to rearrange a few shelves just to find room for it in my bookcase. Second of all the artwork throughout is incredible.  Usually, I don’t expect the art of the actual comic to stand up to the quality of the cover, but in this case, they were just the same, each page a standalone piece worthy of framing.  To give you an example of what I’m talking about, let’s take a look at the cover.  As I’d seen in the preview on SFBC, the front of the book consists of a woman’s head, tilted to the side, apparently floating in space. All you can see of her face is her square chin and full lips, then the color fades to black beginning at her cheekbones, extending up and up into the spire of a church.  Within the spire is printed the title of the book. As you continue to examine the cover, you realize that the picture wraps from front to back with the woman’s throat on the spine and her torso down to her thighs on the back. Overall, it gives the impression of both decapitation and of an immense structure that has collapsed, both of which I realized, after reading the story, were delicious precursors.

As I read the book for the first time, I was somewhat disappointed, as it seemed very two-dimensional with several scenes seemingly going nowhere or altogether out of place, such as a two page discourse on the history of the Welsh longbowmen.  I still don’t understand how that section applies to the rest of the story.  In any case, I set the book aside, assuming it was just another one of those “mistakes” that  I purchased on the off chance it might be good.  Then a few days later I picked it up again simply to look at the pictures, which was, to be honest, why I’d bought the book in the first place.  It was then I realized that, unlike your average comic where the art is, at most, of secondary importance to the words, in Monocyte, it was the words that were secondary to the art. They were embellishments, mere subtitles, to the colors and motion and symbols of the pictures. To someone familiar with Menton3’s work, this would probably not be surprising, but being a novice myself, it was a wonderful twist to explore.

Now I don’t know about you, but the last time I was truly able to decipher symbols was when I was a Lit. student in college. So I summoned my inner Joseph Campbell, dusted off some old cerebral pathways, and sat down to reinvestigate what I’d so quickly dismissed before. Following are excerpts of what I found, however, since symbolism, by its very nature, is both highly personal and subject to interpretation, take what I say with a grain of salt.  To you, it may be completely different.

The story consists of two groups of warring immortals, the Antedeluvians who are older than mankind, steeped in tradition and ancient lore, the keepers of knowledge since the beginning of time, and the Olignostics who were created by an MIT scientist, more machine than living, ones and zeros, the pursuers  of greed and power. Together they are the embodiments of Nature and Man’s worst qualities, locked in an eternal battle with no end, stalemated because neither side can ever die. The Antedeluvians are led by the Greenman, whose role is that of rebirth, but he has forgotten his path and now remains stoic and aloof, allowing his right-hand man, Moses, of Biblical lore, to oversee the day to day, and more importantly, the battles.  Moses is equally lost in the minutia of time, unable to see his way to change.  The Olignostics are ruled by the Conduit, a man (most likely the MIT scientist) who is linked to all of his creations through some sort of cerebral connection. They are a hive-like race, having numbers instead of names, their society feudal, where status is based on the number of humans each enslaves.  Both groups depend on humans in their own way: the Antedeluvians feeding on spirit and the Olignostics on flesh.

Enter the scene, Death.  He perceives the imbalance created by the endless war between the Antedeluvians and the Olignostics, and strikes a bargain with another immortal, who is separate from both, to destroy them all. This champion is called Monocyte, and in return for his services, all he asks is that Death allow him to die, a gift he has been denied since his creation. Monocyte is half man and half spirit and as such fulfills the role of the hero -- able to perform deeds impossible to beings born into either side alone.  

In addition to his links to the hero-myth, Monocyte also has distinct Odinesque qualities, the most obvious being the use of only one eye. Monocyte was the first immortal and was created when a man, Augustus, battled with his own spirit (sort of a trickster type being) while seeking his lost twin brother, Lapis. In the end, Augustus found that his spirit and Lapis were one and the same, but by then they were joined, flesh and spirit, and he was cursed with immortality, and the loss of one eye. In a loose sense this scene reminded me of Odin sacrificing one eye for a single drink from Mimir’s well so he could gain wisdom and foresight.

Another reference to the god of Norse myth plays out in a series of two scenes spread between separate issues of the floppy comic release.  At the end of one comic, Moses, in an attempt to save the Antedeluvian city, uses Monocyte’s human name, Augustus, to summon  forth a gigantic creature called Life to defend the city gates.  With a single blow, Life seemingly destroys Monocyte, separating his human side from his spirit side.  In the opening of the next comic, deep within the caves of the Olignostic city, a man lies on the floor, close to death, but he notices something on the wall, an etched character in the stone. He reaches up to touch it and light begins to grow within the room.  As more and more people see it, childlike crayon drawings of flowers appear in their thought bubbles and they begin to remember the beauty of life. These two scenes bring to mind the sacrifice of Odin on the world tree, Yggdrasil, where he hung himself upside down till near death to bring forth the written language of the runes to the Norse people.

There are many more trips into the mythological and symbolic within the pages of Monocyte, but I don’t want to give them all away in hopes that you will decide to discover them for yourselves. However, one more comment can’t hurt, right?  It has to do with the name of the main character -- Monocyte.  I found this to be a clever homophone meaning both single sight (mono sight) and a white blood cell responsible for destroying foreign material in a body (monocyte).  As for the former, it is obvious -- he only has one eye. And for the latter, he engages in an epic battle to cleanse the world of two warring groups who have devolved through time into a plague. Or does he?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.  

One final note – after reading and then reinterpreting through the pictures, I found that the words, though still secondary to the art, acted as an incantation, a recitation of knowledge, sort of like the chorus in a Greek play. They mimic and chatter like echoes, which is particularly effective given the immensity of the landscape, both physical and psychological, within the story. That said, if you choose to read this book, I suggest you first go through it slowly looking at the pictures and then go back and read the words.  How ever you decide to approach it, enjoy.  It is an interesting ride.

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