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Jill and the Killers: Olivia Cuartero-Briggs finds home in horror.

We chat with the writer about her subversive spin on slashers and the nostalgic pull of the horror genre.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs on Jill and the Killers

Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the comics industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Olivia Cuartero-Briggs about Jill and the Killers. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.

 

For some, the horror genre can create a comfy space to hang inside. For others, the very thought causes suspicion of the other set. It's one of those things that you either understand or don't.


Writer Olivia Cuartero-Briggs deeply loves horror, especially those nasty narratives that dominated cinemas in the nineteen eighties. Her new comic, Jill and the Killers, done in collaboration with artist Roberta Ingranata, leans heavily into that nostalgia while cleverly subverting its conventions. Readers will spot the references quickly, but the Oni Press comic won't spark a senseless Easter egg hunt. It's too busy propelling its characters through a seriously stressful and scary guantlet.


Teenager Jill Estrada is back at school. After her mother's tragic and unsolved disappearance, she wants to grab hold of something ordinary, anything normal. Unfortunately, her friends have discovered a new obsession, Box Killers, the true crime subscription game where each month, an unsolved crime arrives tailor-made to the life of its player. The game's clues rapidly point toward a real-life disappearance in their town, and their investigation invites tremendous danger.


We spoke with Olivia Cuartero-Briggs about Jill and the Killers, delving into her enthusiasm for true crime, fictional crime, and the classics that dominate both modes. We discuss what she's hoping to accomplish with Jill and the Killers and how this universe could support far grander stories. All you have to do is score it this Wednesday when it hits comic shops.

 

Jill and the Killers and the Pull of True Crime


Brad: So, Jill and the Killers, one of the things that I immediately picked up on was the true crime aspect. Lisa and I are both true crime obsessives, but we also have this weird conflicting feeling regarding true crime. Are we contributing to the exploitation of people's misery? As somebody who is playing around with the themes of true crime in this comic and is possibly also a fellow true crime obsessive, do you feel those conflicts occasionally as well?


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Well, I guess there's two things going on. Yes, I'm also a true crime enthusiast, and I think that my conflict when it comes to true crime is that because there's so much out there, especially in terms of podcasts and documentaries about murderers and serial killers and missing people, it's misrepresented that these things happen all the time. Of course, yes, I'm sure that somebody goes missing each day, but the actual percentage of people getting killed by serial killers I think is quite low. So it creates this disproportionate sense of fear and dread amongst those of us who can't get enough of the macabre.


But it's really interesting that you said this because I don't think that there's anyone out there who's like, "Wow, there's a lot of attention being paid to serial killers these days. I should be a serial killer." That's not the reason why somebody would go out and decide to start this, but I'm heartened by the fact that you're saying this because I have an idea that I am thinking about turning into something that actually is along those lines.


Brad: Oh, interesting.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: And someone who already is a serial killer, but one operating in the shadows, they have gotten much more savvy. Now in this day and age, you can't go after college co-eds anymore if you want to have a long illustrious career as a serial killer. So you got to be a little bit more in the shadows than that, but somebody who decides that they are going to try and make a name for themselves to do justice to their victims. So yes, just more in that vein, but specifically when it comes to Jill, I don't have that hangup because... And this has been a kind of back-and-forth thing with the marketing too. Obviously, Jill is not true crime, right?


Brad: Right.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: In the world that they exist in, yes, it is a real crime to these girls, but to us as readers, this is not true crime. So, I do feel like I have the protection of the fact that this is an entirely made-up crime. But what I am trying to do, and hopefully, I get to write lots more Jill books and Jill arcs, is to start commenting on a phenomenon that looks like it could really be a thing. And just to tease it a little bit, it's that serial killers, while most of them do act alone, they're not ignorant of one another. And there could potentially be a bit of a network out there. And I won't say any more than that, but yeah, so that's something that's real that I am hoping that I get to play with in the Jill story.


Brad: With Jill and the Killers, the way that the story interacts with the concept of true crime is through this subscription game, Box Killers. And that's also kind of a unique way to approach our true crime curiosities.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Right. Because when you can't get enough true crime, then you start looking for ways to play crime, right?


Brad: Right, right.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: And it's funny because, I don't know what, I was listening to some podcasts, some audiobook, and I heard an advertisement for a new murder mystery game that's very much like a Hunt a Killer, which was initially what I was looking for. That was the first game that I played that I had a lot of fun with. But yeah, so I use the game as an entry point, but it becomes obvious pretty quickly that the crime that they're investigating has nothing to do with the game itself. I just thought it would be so fun to think that you're playing a game and then all of a sudden realize, "Oh my God, no, this isn't a game at all. This is really real."


Jill and the Killers and Weaponizing Nostalgia


Brad: And the other sort of fun aspect of Jill and the Killers is it plays with our nostalgia, and I feel like we have similar influences, similar cinematic influences or interests dating into the '80s and '90s.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: I'm really excited that you picked up on that. Really excited because that was one of the things that I loved so much. When I first started watching Stranger Things, it wasn't the characters necessarily, although they're fantastic. It wasn't the monsters, it was the tone. The tone felt like home. And I remember just getting a chill in the first episode and thinking like, "Oh my God, somebody made something that's going to enable me to go home." And I'm really glad that you said that about Jill because when I was growing up, I used to love these stories that involved usually groups of boys solving a mystery or a crime. I loved Monster Squad. Stand by Me was one of my favorite movies. I know. It's like no one's seen Monster Squad anymore. I also loved the Garbage Pail Kids movie. I don't think anyone saw that.


Brad: I have seen it. My wife, Lisa, cannot stand the Garbage Pail Kids. So she has stayed far away from the film.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Oh, they're disgusting.


Brad: But one weirdo movie.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Yeah, it was a very strange movie, but I'll never forget that the female love interest, her name was Tangerine, and it was just the most '80s thing ever, and I loved it. And movies like Goonies, and I loved the book Lord of the Flies.


But my hangup was always when I would fantasize about myself in these stories, I was at a problem finding myself in the story. I could never cast myself as the one chick in a group of boys because trust, I was not that cool growing up. If the guys were going to hang out with one girl, that one girl was not going to be me, let's put it that way. So, I really wanted to take that feel, that coming of age, restlessness, that fantastic angst. And the high school years, I love writing high school. Interesting. I mean, I went to high school in New York City, and I find that I hardly ever write anything about high school in New York City. It's always suburban, but again, I think that that's part of what we grew up with in these stories.


And so, I wanted to take all of that, but I wanted it to be a group of girls. I wanted girls like my daughters and all of these fantastic female comic book readers that were finally, after all of these years, really, really servicing. I wanted to give them a story that they didn't have to work so hard to put themselves into. And somewhere down the line, I've been dreaming up all of these different things that I can do with Jill, but I'd love to have an online quiz and you find out, are you a Jill? Are you a Ginger? Are you a Clyde?


I'm really, really glad that you were feeling the nostalgia. Obviously, younger readers won't because they don't have the same attachment to movies from the '80s and '90s that we do. But those people also loved Stranger Things. So I'm hoping to kind of appeal to younger folks as well as people our age and pull them back into that lovely world of the coming-of-age macabre story. I love it pieces.


Brad: Yeah, talking about Stranger Things and this idea of watching it and feeling like you're home, I experienced that with the show as well. Recently, I've been rewatching a bunch of old '80s movies of my youth, and I was rewatching all the Friday the 13th films. And in particular, the first through the fourth one, I was like, "Why do I find these so comfy? What is it about these films?" And I just realized like, oh, it's actually my childhood on screen. And even though all these people are getting murdered, they all look the way that I did, or my friends did back in the early and mid-80s.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Oh, so I'm guessing that you're a white guy.


Brad: You're correct. Yes.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Well, no, I'm laughing. I'm glad that you brought this up though, because I'm not really. I mean, I grew up in a very kind of, I guess, quote, unquote, "white world", although this was New York City, so there's a lot of diversity just by virtue of the fact that you happen to live on this island. But my school and most of my friends were white, and I was kind of off-white. I was like beige or tan, and I used to get these questions all the time, "Oh, you're so exotic. Where are you from?" And I used to get really annoyed, and I would say, "New York, I'm from New York." I didn't want to answer the question.


But getting older and recognizing my family heritage and my mother's parents, her father was from Spain, her mother was from the Dominican Republic, and getting more in touch with that, but also just more in touch with the fact that we all look differently. And I think when it comes to Hispanic stories, for a while there, we had a lot of immigrant stories, which were wonderful, and those stories need to be told. But there's also a lot of people like me, our families have been here for a while. We are American.


We are very, very Western English-speaking people with very American lives. And yet you don't see those gradients of tan and brown represented as much on screen without it being the thing. And so, I have three Latina characters in our girl group because this is Arizona. There are a lot of Hispanic families in Arizona. And so, you have Jill Estrada, she's mixed, her dad's Mexican, and you have Ginger, who's Afro Latina, and Clyde, who's also mixed. And Clyde, she looks very white, but she's actually trilingual. And it was important to me to have this representation. It's not the point of the piece. It's not the point that they're Hispanic. They just happen to be Hispanic and mixed Hispanic teens living their lives and doing things that all teenagers do. And I think it's important to see more and more of that, just people in all shapes, sizes, and colors just living their lives. So that was a really wonderful thing that I got to do with Jill as well.


Jill and the Killers


Brad: And the perspective prevents Jill and the Killers from feeling overly nostalgic, right? There is an immediacy to the narrative that you don't sometimes see in things that are heavily influenced by older work.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Meaning what?


Brad: To me, you're writing a balance of nostalgia and something that is new and immediate and doesn't feel dusty in any way.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Oh, well, I'm so glad to hear that. I mean, I think that in part, as we were saying with true crime, there's something very evergreen about a string of disappearances. There's something very evergreen about people going missing and people getting killed. But also in terms of what you're saying for a modern audience, this is like we were saying, this is an homage to those movies that we grew up in, but it's also a subversion because we're taking them, and we're making them all female, and tiny spoiler alert, but instead of a damsel in distress, this book has a dude in distress. And so, it's very direct in that way. And all of the female characters' names are female names taken from male female duos where the male's name came first. So there's Jack and Jill, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. We have Sonny and Cher, and even Jill's mom, the police officer who went missing; her name is Juliet, obviously Romeo and Juliet.


And so, the only one that kind of breaks that mold is Clyde, because she's obviously the Clyde of Bonnie and Clyde. And that was very purposeful because she's the character that comes in, kind of flips the script for everybody in that friend group. So yes, it is very much an homage, but I try to take a fresh spin on it because it's a bunch of chicks, and they're owning it and they're doing things their way. And sometimes, it's convenient to be underestimated as a young woman in this world, and sometimes it gets in their way, but that is very much what it's exploring. So I'm hoping that that makes it feel relevant.


Brad: Nostalgia is a tricky thing. It's a dangerous thing because it is so comfy, and it is fun to hang out with nostalgic feelings. But I think what Jill and the Killers is doing is also trying to weaponize that comfiness in subverting it.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Well, yeah, I mean, that's always what we do really when we subvert expectations because in order to do that, you have to identify that there are a set of expectations there. And some are fun to play into, but it's great to be able to lead audiences down a well-worn path, and then right at the end, throw the curveball at them. So you take that comfy, and you indulge in it as much as you can until the moment when you really want to shock people and keep them on their toes. So even though, yes, it's dangerous, it can be dangerous, it can also be a really, really useful tool, expectations and nostalgia.


Brad: And it sounds to me like you also have a possible plan, a larger universe for Jill to explore beyond this initial run.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Yes. And again, that's a bit of a spoiler, and readers will see very, very clearly what's going on at the end of book five. And at that point, if you want to see Jill and her friends do some more crime-solving, the opportunity is very, very much there. And it's all part of a larger overarching mystery that is introduced in the first series of books.


Brad: And so, it comes down to if readers are enjoying Jill, we better make sure that we have Jill and the Killers subscribed in our poll box.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Yes. And tell your friends on social media about it and write Oni Press about it and say like, "Dude, I need more of this. I can't get enough." Let everybody know.


Brad: Yeah. Well, the first issue of Jill and the Killers comes out on January 31st, and it's a fat, thick first issue, 48 pages. That's pretty nice.


Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Yes. Wow. You make it sound so sexy when you describe it like that.


Brad: Yeah. Let's say it was intentional.

 

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