The transition from the teenage years into adulthood is challenging for everyone to some degree. That’s a broad generalization, but between physical changes, the mounting number of experiences that we accumulate in the process, and the loss and love and loss again that pour into our lives without warning, it’s a wonder that any of us survive in any sense.

It’s those teenage years that Matthew Erman and artist Sam Beck explore in their upcoming graphic novel Loving, Ohio, out Wednesday, August 7, from Dark Horse Comics. In Loving, Ohio, childhood friends are still reeling from the impact of the suicide of their own. At the same time, several of Loving’s residents are members of a cult, and our protagonists must confront that cult while also learning to move on and grow following their loss.

I was lucky enough to speak with Matthew Erman recently about the conceit of Loving, Ohio, how the Midwest setting informs the story, working with artist Sam Beck, and letting the characters blossom in their realness.

Loving, Ohio is just a fantastic reading experience, and perhaps one that has lingered the most with me in quite some time. Erman and Beck completely capture the sometimes insidious banality of cults and how that seemingly unassuming façade can hide something deeper. More than that, however, Erman and Beck stick the landing on depicting the trials and tribulations of being a teen, no matter where you live; showing how loss and love linger, no matter your age; and reminding readers that growing up is often more difficult than adults remember.




FreakSugar: First of all, I adore this graphic novel. For folks who might be considering picking up the book, what is the idea behind Loving, Ohio?

Matthew Erman: Thank you so much. I’m very happy you enjoyed it. The premise of Loving, Ohio is that after our main characters lose a friend to suicide, they struggle against and confront a cult known as CHORUS who has their main headquarters in town. It’s about many things, but at the center is a story about teens struggling to stay alive in Ohio.

For me, it’s also about the weight of places and the impressions they leave on you. I hope readers find their own meanings though, as well.




FS: The characters in the graphic novel are so well drawn out. What can you tell us about the cast we meet in the book?

ME: The main four characters are Sloane, Cameron, Elliott, and Ana — and the story revolves around their senior year after their friend Jesse commits suicide.

As far as who they are, you find out in the story their strengths and how they’re flawed. They’re products of Ohio, of the midwest and of suburbanism, but because of the insidious nature of religious cults it has warped their sense of normalcy.

To me, [artist] Sam’s [Beck] art does so much of the heavy lifting in letting you into these character’s lives.




FS: One of my favorite things about Loving, Ohio is how much you worked at building mood without the story ever feeling like it’s dragging. Some of the emotions the students were going through tore me right back to high school. How did you approach writing the principal characters?

ME: I approach telling every story I do with an understanding that the characters I’m writing are real and then from that they can blossom and tell me who they are — I follow the beats of the story and let my characters react and make decisions that feel natural in the writing process. That’s the best for me and this one was really no different but I had the benefit of pulling from personal experiences.

FS: Although I know that every experience is different, having grown up in a cult, just based on your personal experiences, what do you think pop culture and reporting get most wrong or leave out about cults?

ME: The cult that I was in when I was a child was pretty boring and the insidious things about them were generally more laughable and strange than anything else. I am no expert on cults by any means and this story was born from my experiences growing up in the midwest rather than my experiences in a cult. Maybe it all kind of meshes together into a single thing but the boring, mundane aspect was the biggest inspiration from my life. All cults are unique in how they operate and what they believe though, so my experience was just mine.

FS: The book is a slow burn. Without spoiling it, the reveal on stage about a third into the book is unnerving. How did you set out deciding how you wanted the book to be paced?

ME: It wasn’t something I really thought about to be honest. I knew generally before writing some of the book’s beats and some of the larger scenes but for the most part I kept it very natural – wrote it like I would have written a novel and trusted in the editorial process with Konner. Sam is also such an incredible person to work with and writing with her in mind is also easy because I just want to write things I want to see her draw.

As far as pacing goes, it’s something I think about a ton and then not at all. It goes back and forth. This story was very natural, but others come with a ton of pre-planning and structuring before I get into scripting.

FS: Beyond the cult associations, this is a story very focused on teen protagonists on the cusp of a new chapter in their lives. I teach high school and, of course, was once a high schooler many moons ago. The dialogue and interactions feel very true-to-life. How much did you draw on your own life when crafting your story?

ME: Very much so, but I also let the characters and interactions speak for themselves. I’m 35, I’m not a teen so I knew I didn’t want to write it like I was writing teens — I don’t really know teens anymore so it would have been fake I guess. I don’t know any lingo or any of what is said but the thing about that age is that that is when you really start feeling like yourself regardless of how each different generation speaks— and many people say things don’t feel like they’re any different from when they were a teen so I kept that all in mind when writing them. Some things don’t really change, but some do in huge ways.

FS: Sam Beck’s art for the book is both beautiful and eerie and sets a perfect tone for the book. What has the collaboration process been like between you two?

ME: Working with Sam was a dream. This book is as much mine as it is hers, and that shows with how much love and care she put into every aspect of designing this book. Everything is her, and that is something really special. This is our second collaboration, so it came really easy and we each liked each other’s work. I think for the most part there are literally zero issues and we just worked really well together. It’s a book I can hang my hat on I believe.




FS: Has any part of the writing process for this book been cathartic?

ME: Haha, not really. I don’t know, maybe that’s not the best answer, but it’s a good question. With that said, I hope those that read it find it cathartic, and that if they do have any trauma from their experiences that the book helps whoever.

FS: What are you reading right now?

ME: The Books of Sandra Boynton, Llama Llama Red Pajama, Find It: Things That Go!, Goodnight Gorilla, and then for me I’ve been reading  Instructions for Traveling West by Joy Sullivan. The Sickness by Lonnie Nadler and Jenna Cha. Anything Zac Thompson is working on. I really dug Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees and also Do a Powerbomb! As far as other reading material, the early work of Hayao Miyazaki. Deprog by Lisa Sterle and Tina Horne. I really liked Parasocial.

FS: Besides being entertained, what do you hope readers get from the book?

ME: I just hope people like it, that’s my only hope really and truly.

FS: If you had one last pitch for Loving, Ohio, what would it be?

ME: Midwestern Emo liminal space cosmic cult horror comic beautifully illustrated by Sam Beck at the top of her game. Dread and death and longing and yearning for escape.

Loving, Ohio goes on sale Wednesday, August 7, 2024, from Dark Horse Comics.

From the official trade paperback description:

“We all lived here. In some way. And wherever you live it leaves imprints on you”

After the mysterious suicide of their friend, Sloane, Elliott, Cameron, and Ana are just trying to get through the rest of high school. They live in Loving, Ohio–a town built around The Chorus, a new age cult with members firmly planted in positions of power and influence throughout the community.

Through their grief a series of murders throw these friends into a mystery connected to everything around them. Sloane and her friends have to escape a roaming murderer, figure out their place in the world, and deal with loss all in the looming shadow of The Chorus. But through it they will find the true cost of friendship and the adulthood they seek. Gut punching emotion drives the mystery of Loving, Ohio. This beautifully drawn coming of age story will stay on the mind for days after reading. An expertly crafted tale about what happens when something infects every institution and structure within a community.