TRUE BELIEVERS #2: An Interview w/ Creators Stephen Graham Jones & Joshua Viola by Krysti Joméi

Published Issue 124, April 2024

A year has passed since the harrowing events that took place at the Colorado Festival of Horror (COFOH) with the enigmatic slasher, Killr™. A new mysterious figure emerges on the scene of this year’s cosplay convention adopting the grisly murderer’s persona. No one knows if it’s just another obsessive fan of the franchise taking fandom to the extreme — or a new horrifying threat. Armed with 14-inch shears and a grotesque goggled-mask, whoever it is only leaves behind a blood-soaked trail of victims, which never seems to end.

Bestselling novelist Stephen Graham Jones, acclaimed writer Joshua Viola, and artist Ben Matsuya are doing it again with the 3-part cosplay slasher comic series, TRUE BELIEVERS. With a smash hit launch of Issue 1 at last year’s COFOH featuring cameos by Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis, Goosebumps’ legend R.L. Stine, Final Destination’s creator Jeffrey Reddick, and the cast of the cult horror classic, Deathgasm, the crew is outdoing themselves with the Kickstarter release of Issue 2: MURDERVERSARY. Masked metal band GWAR, grammy-nominated band Trivium’s Matthew Kiichi Heafy, and renowned horror actor Devon Sawa (Idle Hands, Chucky), haunt the new issue inside and out with playful appearances and collectible covers created by a slew of artistic talent. 

TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 1 & 2 Variant Covers

Fans can now also score brand new limited Issue 1 variant covers of Curtis, Stine, Reddick and Deathgasm by artist Matthew Therrien. And it doesn’t stop there. Supporters have a chance to get their hands on one-of-a-kind prizes like Oktober Studios latex masks and bloody prop shears, a saw-blade vinyl score by Heafy, signed GWAR skatedeck and drumsticks, original artwork and so much more.

We had a chance to catch up with the writers and creators, Stephen Graham Jones and Joshua Viola, to talk about Issue 2’s star-studded roster, their creation process and what Kickstarter backers can anticipate supporting this independent artist comic series. Issue 1 swept us into fandom. But now, we’re true believers.

Stephen Graham Jones & Joshua Viola alongside their comic cameos in TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 1

Congrats on your wildly successful launch of TRUE BELIEVERS last September! What was a highlight of releasing Issue 1? And anything you learned from this experience that helped in the creation of issue 2?

Stephen Graham Jones: Highlight for me was holding the comic in my hands — all these variants covers, all this wonderful art and lettering and colors and more. Comic books are always a team effort, and we had a killer Killr™ team.

Joshua Viola: The most fulfilling aspect has been witnessing this project take shape and seeing it connect with others. It’s incredibly rewarding to witness its impact and resonance with people. I think we’ve nailed a formula for our world and storytelling, and then learned how to sorta turn it on its head for the next issue.

Preview of TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 2
Preview of TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 2: Cameos in this panel: Matthew Kiichi Heafy, GWAR and Devon Sawa

The new issue is no doubt cohesive with the first but there’s clearly some new design elements present. Describe the artistic process this go-around with artist Ben Matsuya and letterer Jeremiah Lambert and how you all executed your vision together.

SGJ: Scripting for Ben is different than I’ve scripted for other artists. With Ben, I don’t panel-by-panel the story, but page-by-page it. It’s really opened my eyes to how to get a comic done as best it can get done. And, Jeremiah’s endlessly patient with all the little adjustments and fixes. But, each balloon floats where and how it should, so the reader can flow through them.

JV: Issue 1 introduced some experimental elements. For instance, in the latter half of the issue, we explore two simultaneous stories: one unfolding in real-time, while the other takes place within the character’s mind as he tries to recreate his favorite movie, leading to disastrous outcomes. With this latest issue, we experimented with different storytelling techniques. It begins at a specific moment and then backtracks to the events leading up to the opening scenes. We also ensured that the cameo appearances played more integral roles in the story, requiring close collaboration to maintain coherence throughout. Thanks to our fantastic team effort, I believe we’ve achieved just that.

TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 2 characters

Issue 1 centers around Killr™ fanatics and self-dubbed “true believers” Kit and Rip. What was your inspo for Issue 2’s new cast — troubled loner teen KK, convention crashers Dane and Tress, and conniving college quartet Grace, Thomas, Mel and E?

SGJ: Those four, Grace and Thomas and Mel and E, just showed up completely randomly. Dane and Tress were more obvious necessities — gotta have the young couple getting it, to start things off. As for KK, she kept surprising me.

JV: As Stephen sort of touched on, we aimed to incorporate certain tropes typical of a slasher narrative by assigning specific roles, but true to our style, we infused our own unique style into the characters and storyline. Hopefully there are some unexpected surprises for readers.

TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 2 celebrity cameos

Your celebrity cameo lineup is unparalleled in the world of horror world including Jamie Lee Curtis, GWAR, R.L. Stine, Jeffrey Reddick, Matthew Kiichi Heafy, Devon Sawa, and Deathgasm. Your heads must be exploding! Tell us more about their involvement.

SGJ: That was Josh’s magic, reeling all these people in. But then, once we could include them, the trick quickly became how to do it respectfully, and for the most fun? They’re their own people, I mean, who say and do their own things. Incorporating that into a fast-moving story, without making their parts feel like we’re pumping the brakes, slowing down to look at the celebrities, that was definitely a challenge.

JV: Yeah, it’s surreal for me. I keep pinching myself. It’s one thing to create a parody of a celebrity, but our aim was to involve the real individuals themselves, making it authentic. We didn’t want to just parody them; we wanted it to genuinely feel like them. Fortunately, everyone who has appeared has been incredibly generous and supportive of the project. We feel very fortunate in that regard.

TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 2 Variant Cover: Matthew Kiichi Heafy

How did you go about developing their characters? Was anyone personally involved? Or did you have full creative freedom?

SGJ: They had and have approval at all levels, but the story was us.

JV: After pitching our concepts to everyone involved and receiving their initial okay, we proceeded to put it all on paper. Their final approval was crucial, and although there were a few minor adjustments needed along the way, everyone was incredibly accommodating and supportive throughout the process. Many of them were thrilled just to be featured in a comic.

Jaime Lee Curtis is best known for cheating death by psychopath Michael Myers (Halloween) and also her real-life charitable spirit. What’s special about her partnership with TRUE BELIEVERS?

SGJ: She’s, by far, the most iconic final girl of them all. So, in a story that’s a slasher, getting to include her gives things both a different weight and, at the same time, some unexpected levity.

JV: What isn’t special about a partnership with Jamie Lee Curtis? Haha. I mean, we get to collaborate with a legend! But on a serious note, we’re honored to work alongside her charity, My Hand In Yours. For those who purchase the limited edition Jamie Lee variant cover of TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 1 (as seen on the Back Cover of this issue of Birdy), 100 percent of the proceeds will go towards benefiting critically ill children at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

Can you give us a taste of Matt Heafy’s limited edition exclusive score he created for the new Issue? 

JV: Matt’s score is truly remarkable! Trivium’s heavy metal sound is well-known, but with the TRUE BELIEVERS score, Matt is venturing into new territory. While there are still evident metal influences, he’s skillfully incorporated synth and movie score elements, resulting in a captivating and unexpected sound. It’s quite a departure from what you might anticipate from Matt, and it’s incredibly impressive. Personally, I’m getting strong John Carpenter vibes, which feels fitting considering the connection to Jamie Lee Curtis.

TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 2 Kickstarter Rewards

What other campaign rewards are you excited about? And anything of particular significance to spotlight for returning backers of the last campaign?

JV: We’ve got an array of incredible rewards for this campaign. From various variant covers featuring our esteemed celebrities [by artists Therrien, Skinner, Matt Maguire (GWAR), Luigi Scarcella (Half Sumo), and Matsuya] to the above-mentioned exclusive 30-minute original score by Matt Heafy, available in both blood-red saw-blade vinyl and cassette tape formats, there’s something for everyone. Additionally, fans can snag latex masks of characters from the comic crafted by Oktober Studios, an opportunity to be immortalized in Issue 3, signed memorabilia such as a skateboard deck and drumsticks from GWAR, and a [Les Paul] guitar played and signed by Matt Heafy himself. For collectors, we offer a 14-inch hand-painted prop of our slasher character’s iconic shears, also courtesy of Oktober Studios. And that’s just scratching the surface; we also have original artwork, VIP passes to COFOH, and much more awaiting our supporters!

Preview of TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 2

Though an absolute gruesome series, there are blatant themes of comedy and even positivity and hope in the narrative of TRUE BELIEVERS. Why did you decide to incorporate these elements inTO such a dark comic?

SGJ: The slasher, when it’s really working, makes a lot of good use out of the audience not knowing, at any given moment, if they’re going to laugh or scream. But to get that good use, you have to establish early on that laughter is acceptable — that it’s part of the game, here. In horror generally, and definitely in the slasher specifically, humor resets the horror, so it can climb again that screechy incline. Without those irregular resets though, without that pressure release valve, things quickly plateau either into unrelenting grimness or an unending shriek, neither of which have that up-down variation story required to stay engaging.

Preview of TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 2

What are you each personally most stoked about for the release of Issue 2?

SGJ: Same thing as the first: spooking up the Colorado Festival of Horror. 

JV: The ultimate satisfaction comes from holding the final product in our hands. The process of piecing together these projects involves a tremendous amount of effort, but witnessing it all come together is truly gratifying.

TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 2 Variant Cover

When can we expect Issue 3? Any teasers?

JV: We should be able to share details about Issue 3 very soon. Stephen and I have been writing while Ben wraps up the artwork for Issue 2. Let me just say, Issue 3 is going to be seriously bonkers. And yes, expect even more cameos from some incredibly talented individuals.

Support TRUE BELIEVERS and Independent art on Kickstarter.

Visit & follow Hex Publishers for more TRUE BELIEVERS news.

Get tickets to this year’s Colorado Festival of Horror kicking off in September on Friday the 13th.

Stephen Graham Jones is the New York Times bestselling author of some thirty novels and collections, and there’s some novellas and comic books in there as well. Most recent are Don’t Fear the Reaper and the ongoing Earthdivers. Up before too long are The Angel of Indian Lake, I Was a Teenage Slasher, and True Believers. Stephen lives and teaches in Boulder, Colorado. TwitterInstagramWebsite

Joshua Viola worked on video games like Pirates of the Caribbean, Target: Terror, and The Smurfs. In 2014, he founded Hex Publishers, reaching #1 Denver Post bestseller status with Nightmares Unhinged, later licensed to AMC for Fear the Walking Dead TV promotions. His book Cyber World was named one of the best science fiction anthologies of 2016 by Barnes & Noble. Joining Random Games in 2023 for the Unioverse franchise, he co-wrote and published a 6-book comic series and prose anthology expanding the game’s lore. He’s also ventured into executive producing films, first on Skinner’s Shrine of Abominations (featuring Phil Tippett), as well as teaming up with Raven Banner Entertainment on films like Deathgasm II: Goremageddon and a reboot of Roger Corman’s Deathstalker series alongside producer Slash from Guns N’ Roses. FacebookTwitterInstagramWebsite

Head to our Explore to see past coverage of TRUE BELIEVERS, as well as published work by Joshua Viola.