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Beware, ‘True Believers,’ of the dreaded Killr

Comic Books

Beware, ‘True Believers,’ of the dreaded Killr

Co-writer Joshua Viola discusses the forthcoming horror series about fandom and cosplayers.

Comic book conventions are about community. Sure, they’re often pricey to access, and there’s 1,000 lookalike Harley Quinns, but community nonetheless. But a new book wants you to think less about collectibles and fond memories when considering cons/fandom and instead experience the bloody tinge of absolute terror.

True Believers is a new miniseries from famed author Stephen Graham Jones (he also penned Earthdivers), writer Joshua Viola (The Bane of Yoto), and artist Ben Matsuya (Jupiter Jet). Viola provides a more detailed explanation in our chat below, but basically True Believers takes place at the Colorado Festival of Horror, where a couple fans “embark on a profound journey of self-discovery” only to come face-to-face with “the embodiment of evil within the slasher genre.” It’s a delightfully meta experiencing that dissects and celebrates cosplay and fan conventions, with a distinctly old-school approach to proper horror. It’s so meta, in fact, there’s a latex mask being sold and a soundtrack from FiXT that includes artists like Celldweller, Essenger, and Circle of Dust.

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True Believers is currently crowdfunding via Kickstarter. (It’s only a couple days in, but it’s already blown past its initial goal of $2,500.) In addition to the book’s aforementioned premise, Viola also spoke with us about collaborating with Graham Jones, writing horror stories in 2023, the soundtrack and campaign incentives (including prints, patches, original art, and the aforementioned terrifying mask), and other gory tidbits.

For more info on the True Believers campaign and the book in general, head here.

True Believers

AIPT: This book joins another recent title, Con & On, that explores fandom and conventions. Why is that such a ripe or compelling focus?

Joshua Viola: True Believers is all about that experience. Our story is set at the real-life Colorado Festival of Horror, where we explore cosplay, fandom, and meta horror. A chilling new slasher character named Killr™ has taken the world by storm. As the franchise gains popularity, dedicated fans enthusiastically cosplay as Killr™. At the convention, Rip and Kit, who proudly call themselves “true believers,” start witnessing bizarre occurrences. People are getting killed, but is it all a prank? Soon, they begin to wonder if there are repercussions of idolizing such a malevolent character.

I think the surge in popularity of fan conventions over the past decade has paved the way for them to evolve into storytelling hubs. Cons have become immersive settings where narratives really come to life. Attendees become protagonists in their own convention sagas, from laid-back enthusiasts hunting for deals, to devoted admirers seeking an encounter with their favorite celebrity, to cosplayers displaying their creations. The familiarity we all share with the convention environment, coupled with our personal stories, ensures that conventions resonate with an extensive audience.

AIPT: What’s it like working with Stephen Graham Jones? You’re both novelists before comics writers, and does that complicate or enhance your efforts?

JV: Working with Stephen has been great! I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with him since approximately 2014. To date, I think I’ve published 10 of his short stories, alongside his experimental one-shot comic, My Hero. If you aren’t familiar, My Hero is a really unique project that defies convention by telling the narrative through writer-artist notes rather than traditional artwork.

When I proposed the idea for True Believers, he was all for it. I learned fast that his approach to storytelling is different from mine. I tend to plot more, while Stephen lets the story evolve in the moment. I think he sent his first working draft while he was in an airport—and far sooner than expected. That’s just how he works. Inspiration hits, and he dives headfirst. What truly harmonizes our efforts is Ben’s art, which serves as a sort of cohesive thread binding our ideas.

True Believers

AIPT: Was it daunting to write alongside a true horror pro? Does that make you up your game and get super intense/dark with it?

JV: I’ve been enjoying Stephen’s work as a fan for a long time now. If I didn’t know him personally, I’d probably be a lot more intimidated, but our friendship probably played a role in bringing True Believers to life. I have a pretty good sense of what Stephen does. I love his stuff. That’s why we keep working together. And I think he appreciates what I’ve strived to achieve with Hex. Well, either that or he’s doing me a favor out of pity…

Honestly though, I think we both just love horror. It’s made for a fun collaboration.

AIPT: Can you talk about the art of Ben Matsuya? It feels very dark but also playful, which seems reflective of the book’s thematic interests.

JV: Ben’s an incredible artist! He’s an all-in-one creative package, tackling pencils, colors, and letters. What’s particularly remarkable is his sequential storytelling sensibilities. He just gets story. His artistic versatility knows no bounds. He can easily navigate diverse styles while consistently maintaining his signature look, which I think really comes down to his use of color. That’s what I think you mean by playful. That playfulness sort of harmonizes with the style of horror Stephen and I appreciate. It marries the macabre with an undercurrent of absurdity.

AIPT: I love the idea of this book taking place at the Colorado Festival of Horror and also being sold/given out at the same fest this year. Should more comics be fun and inventive like that if they’re trying to stand out?

JV: I don’t know if I’d suggest doing something like this simply to stand out. This whole endeavor is essentially one grand experiment. I don’t know how people will respond to it. I hope they like it. But its ultimate success remains uncertain until we gauge the response people have at this year’s festival (where we’re handing out free previews of issue 1) and the Kickstarter campaign (the only way to get the first full issue and all our other awesome rewards). Regardless, what truly matters is having fun while making something cool. Get creative and go with it.

Beware, ‘True Believers,’ of the dreaded Killr

AIPT: Similarly, there’s an accompanying soundtrack. What does that add to the story and what about those specific bands featured speak to the story at-large?

JV: Transmedia projects have always held a special place in my heart. There’s an undeniable fascination in experiencing a story through various mediums. When the notion of bringing True Believers to Kickstarter emerged, I knew a soundtrack was in order. We have an array of horror-themed covers including tracks like “Cry Little Sister” from The Lost Boys, the iconic Halloween theme, and Michael Jackson’s legendary “Thriller,” among others. We’ve got great artists like Celldweller, Scandroid, Circle of Dust, PYLOT, Cantervice, Young Medicine, and Essenger. There’s also an original track by The All Things.

Without going into spoilers, we have a character in the comic that listens to this music in a moment of frustration, creating a unique juxtaposition as they find themselves embroiled in a series of unsettling events.

AIPT: This book takes a distinct meta sheen to horror. Can you talk a bit about how that plays out, and what that “spin” does for the story?

JV: In many ways, I think this serves as a tribute to the foundation laid by Wes Craven’s Scream, even if that influence was subconscious. Craven masterfully redefined the boundaries of meta storytelling, and not just within the horror genre, but across all narrative realms. He was truly ahead of his time. Nowadays, meta storytelling has proliferated across various works, ranging from Deadpool and Cabin in the Woods to Inception. It’s an enduring approach.

With True Believers, we really wanted this to be special for attendees of the Colorado Festival of Horror. We want them to crack open the comic at the event and go, “Whoa! That’s our hotel! That’s the vendor room! Oh my god, that’s the Killr™ cardboard cutout! That booth is right there!” Our aim is to immerse attendees in the experience, to make them an integral part of the narrative. This comic is intrinsically about them, designed to resonate with their own encounters. But even if you aren’t attending COFOH, you’re still a part of it. Any sort of convention goer will get it.

Beware, ‘True Believers,’ of the dreaded Killr

That said, our meta goals extend beyond the location. The characters in our story hold Killr™ in the same esteem that many hold icons like Michael, Jason, and Freddy. We sought to delve into the depths of what it means to elevate a fictional entity to such a degree that it transcends the boundary between reality and fiction. It’s the exploration of the point in which the distinction between the two realms collapses.

AIPT: Can you also talk about the book’s “big bad,” Killr™? How does he figure into the thematic tentpoles, and what’s it take to make a proper slasher killer?

JV: Creating Killr™ was a lot of fun. In our fictional world, Killr™ originated from an indie film that garnered immense popularity. This emergence led to the birth of Killr™ Cons, where enthusiasts don the persona. However, some cosplayers consider themselves ultimate fans of the character–those who know Killr™ best. And they label themselves as True Believers. The consequence of their conviction is what really drives the narrative’s core.

AIPT: Do you have a favorite moment from this first issue or the series at large? Something to tease the people?

JV: We have a twist that I genuinely hope catches readers off guard. It certainly took me by surprise when Stephen came up with it. I had initially suggested an idea, and he ingeniously flipped it on its head. Also, our approach to integrating the movie version of Killr™ is another one I’m proud of. But, if I were to pick my favorite aspect of the comic, it’d be Ben’s art. The book is beautiful.

Beware, ‘True Believers,’ of the dreaded Killr

AIPT: Why should anyone back this book’s campaign?

JV: Our collaboration centers on experiences so many others love just as much as we do: conventions, horror, cosplay, and comics. It’s a fusion of our collective passions, a resonance I believe readers will connect with. Plus, if you know Stephen’s work, that should speak for itself. And Ben’s art—just wow.

More than that, our aim extends beyond the comic itself. We want to offer backers a deep experience. Like I said, as someone who appreciates transmedia projects, we’ve invested substantial effort into crafting the rewards. The range of cover variants, prints, the soundtrack, Killr™ latex masks (by Oktober Studios), apparel, stickers, and even VIP passes to the 2024 Colorado Festival of Horror con—all of these components form a package I think backers will appreciate. Backers can even be immortalized in the pages of our next comic, among other exciting perks.

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