Starting this December, Oni Press is reinventing comics. The publisher is setting its sights in taking genres of crime, horror, and more and reimagining them for a unique spin on stories that readers have never seen before. To that end, Oni has recruited a bevy of creators who are bringing their storytelling sensibilities to the medium, along with their expertise and skill to these new titles.
One of these books centers on a mystery, a teen who has lost her mother, and a strange game that might be at the center of it all. In Jill and the Killers, debuting this December, teen Jill Estrada is striving to adjust to life after her mother’s disappearance, but a rash of new disappearances and a true-crime subscription game lead Jill to believe that the two are connected. Writer Olivia Cuartero-Briggs is bringing new takes on seemingly familiar concepts and bringing us all along for the sleuthing.
I spoke with Olivia Cuartero-Briggs recently about the idea behind Jill and the Killers, the influences that help shape how she approaches the series, how the comic turns the murder mystery genre on its head, and how the page turn is a comic mystery writer’s best friend.
FreakSugar: For folks reading this, what is the conceit of Jill and the Killers?
Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Returning to senior year of high school after the disappearance of her mom, Jill Estrada is desperate for things to go back to normal… Which is why she tries to appease her friends by ordering a popular murder mystery box game. When the box arrives, however, Jill and her friends quickly discover the clues they are following aren’t part of a game at all, but a very real double homicide that took place right there in their town.
FS: The book has a robust cast. What can you tell us about the characters we’ll meet in the series?
OCB: Jill is a goofy, quick-witted tomboy who masks her grief with humor. She’s competitive, emotional, and doesn’t always make the best decisions, but you love her because at the end of the day, she’s loyal to a fault, and she will stop at nothing to solve the case and save the people she loves.
Ginger is a super smart, somewhat brooding, intellectual. She’s gorgeous, has read nearly every book in the Seligman library, and could build her own computer from scratch, but she’s also super protective of herself. Ginger and Jill have been besties since they were in kindergarten, and just before Jill’s mom went missing, the two had ventured into romantic territory. But when Jill fell off the map, she left Ginger hanging, and – much to Jill’s chagrin – the two are not on great terms.
Cher is Jill and Ginger’s other best friend, and she’s the heart of our squad. An artsy romantic and peacemaker who always looks for the good in people – even to her detriment at times. And Cher is desperately in love with…
O’Brien, Cher’s boyfriend, and a super sweet kid who dreams of becoming a Navy Seal. The town handyman, O’Brien has a helping hand for anyone and everyone… until, that is, he’s the one in need of help.
And lastly, we have Clyde – the super cool, mysterious new girl at Seligman High, who has taken Jill’s friend group by storm, and Jill is not happy about it. Witchy, ethereal, trilingual, and confident, Clyde is the kind of girl anyone would kill to be friends with – and Jill just wants to kill. Not literally, of course. But to Jill’s surprise, she and Clyde have a lot more in common than just crushes on Ginger…
FS: The first issue feels so fully formed out of the gate. What was the genesis for the story?
OCB: Thank you so much! That means a lot. The story for Jill and the Killers came together from a series of inspirations. One, of course, was subscription boxes, true crime podcasts, and murder mystery games like Hunt a Killer. I’ve always been seduced by stories of common people – not detectives, profilers, or cops – solving crimes, and the idea of playing a game that turns out to be real was super seductive to me. I also love writing teenagers, and am a huge sucker for high school stories, regardless of the genre. So, getting to combine teenagers with crime was too juicy to resist. I’m just lucky Oni Press felt the same way!
FS: Following up on that, the series is a teen thriller. What are some of your favorite thrillers? Have they informed how you approach the book?
OCB: Movies like Scream, Cabin in the Woods, Freaky… I love how they combine horror with humor, and throw in real emotional stakes for the characters. So, in terms of tone, that’s the mark I was trying to hit, here. And then there are the movies I grew up with – the ones with groups of young people battling the supernatural, or solving crimes, like Stand by Me, It, The Goonies, The Monster Squad, and even Lord of the Flies. I loved those movies (and book!) more than you can imagine, but I could never see myself in them, because they were all groups of boys. Even when there was a token chick, it never worked. I was a big dork growing up, so trust me when I tell you if there was a group of dudes who were going to let one girl hang with them, it would not have been me. And so Jill and the Killers is both an homage to and an F-you to the movies I adored as a kid, because this is a group of kickass teen chicks taking care of business, catching killers, and saving lives their way. It’s for me as much as it is for all my amazing, female comic book readers, and my awesome daughters.
FS: Some parts of the first issue are downright creepy. What are some of the fun aspects and challenges of bringing chills like that to the comic book medium?
OCB: Page turns are your best friend in comics when you’re writing a thriller. I had so much fun figuring out how I was going to surprise or scare readers with those reveals. What’s also so great about unraveling a mystery in a comic book, as opposed to a TV show, is that if the reader realizes they missed something, they can always flip back and remind themselves. But, as with all comics, you have to keep the action moving and the investigation interesting. They can’t sit around in Jill’s bedroom all the time talking over evidence, they have to be out in the world doing things that are visually interesting and move the case forward, on top of their emotional arcs. It’s a big job, but with Jill and the Killers, it was so incredibly fun, and I have a great team of editors who have been amazing at helping me track all the moving pieces.
FS: You’re working with Robert Ingranata on the book. What has your collaboration process been like?
OCB: Amazing. I mean, what else can I say? She’s a consummate pro, a lovely person, and even though we only chat through email, I consider her a friend. She’s invited me to her place in Italy, and I hope she knows, I am seriously going to take her up on that!
FS: What are you reading right now?
OCB: I am a huge reader of biographies and historical non-fiction. Namely anything involving medicine and surgery from the 17th to the 19th century. Gross, I know, but I love it. On the comic front, I’ve been reading my old favorite Betty and Veronica’s from the 90s, I really enjoy Big Jo on Webtoon, and Dahlia in the Dark by Joe Corallo.
FS: If you had one last pitch for the series, what would it be?
OCB: Jill and the Killers takes one of the most exhilarating, well-known, and male-centric genres, and turns it on its head, putting complicated, dimensional young women with a taste for the macabre in control of their own fate, and maybe they even save a few dudes in distress along the way. I think it’s high time for a coming-of-age thriller about a group of teenage girls intent on uncovering the truth behind their town’s dark past, and catching a killer – or killers – before they strike again. Step aside, Hardy Boys, ‘cuz here comes Jill!
Jill and the Killers #1 debuts in January 2024 from Oni Press.
From the official press release on Jill and the Killers:
Just revealed at New York Comic-Con 2023, Oni Press, the multiple Eisner and Harvey Award-winning publisher of graphic fiction for all ages, is proud to reveal the variant covers for JILL AND THE KILLERS #1 – a razor-sharp teenage thriller where teenager Jill Estrada finds herself caught in a true-crime subscription mystery box that’s anything but a fantasy. Launching with a double-sized, 48-page first issue on January 31, 2024 from writer Olivia Cuartero-Briggs (Mary Shelly Monster Hunter) and artist Roberta Ingranata (Witchblade, Doctor Who), JILL AND THE KILLERS #1 is the next release under the ONI 2024 banner – five propulsive new monthly comic series from a wide-ranging cast of award-winning creators and fast-rising stars that fully embrace the potential of the comics medium to invert, collide, and reinvent the foundational genres of horror, science fiction, crime, fantasy, and beyond:
INVASIVE #1 by Cullen Bunn & Jesús Hervás in December
JILL AND THE KILLERS #1 by Olivia Cuartero-Briggs & Roberta Ingranata in January
CEMETERY KIDS DON’T DIE #1 by Zac Thompson & Daniel Irizarri in February
NIGHT PEOPLE #1 by Barry Gifford, Chris Condon, Brian Level, Alexandre Tefenkgi, Artyom Topilin & more in March
AKỌGUN, BRUTALIZER OF GODS #1 by Murewa Ayodele & Dotun Akande in April
Returning to school after the unsolved disappearance of her mother, teenager Jill Estrada can’t wait for things to return to normal . . . even as her friends become compulsively obsessed with Box Killers, a true-crime subscription game where each month’s “unsolved case” is custom-tailored to the life of its player. There’s only one catch: Jill’s game seems to be all too real . . . and when her clues begin to connect to a series of disappearances in her town, Jill and her friends must uncover the truth behind these mysterious crimes before one of their own becomes the next victim.
“Fans of true crime and murder mysteries will love this exciting new series from rising stars Olivia Cuartero-Briggs and Roberta Ingranata,” said editor Megan Brown. “With powerful messages about the effects of trauma and the importance of friendship, and dynamic art that shines on the page, this woman-driven creative team has crafted a story that is both heart-wrenching and hair-raising. We can’t wait for readers to unbox the first issue!”
“It’s hard to adequately express how proud I am of this series and all the incredible women who put their big, brilliant brains into bringing it to life,” said Olivia Cuartero-Briggs. “Jill and the Killers is both a love letter to, and a very direct, female subversion of, the great dude-driven, coming-of-age stories I loved as a kid. It’s my gift to my daughters, and all the other kick@$$ chicks (and dudes!) out there who love the macabre and aren’t afraid to be weird. And finally, it is the grand debut of my goofy sense of humor on the page. I hope I make you laugh, but if not, you’ve got the stunning artwork of Roberta Ingranata to admire instead!”
“Jill and the Killers is the answer to the nostalgia and love we had (and still have) towards all the 80s and 90s films of our childhood,” said Roberta Ingranata. “It’s a compelling story, full of connections, feelings and emotional depth, with a side of gripping mystery. I loved the plot from the first lines, and I think that Olivia was very good at conveying the love for the past and re-proposing it in a modern way. It’s a story that I loved, and I hope that our passion can reach readers!”
Featuring covers by Sanya Anwar (Clean Room), Marguerite Sauvage (Black Panther, Faith), Alison Sampson (Hit-Girl), and Celia Lowenthal (Dungeons & Dragons), JILL AND THE KILLERS #1 is available in stores January 31, 2024.
About the Author
Olivia Cuartero-Briggs is an award-winning dramatic writer, fitness junky, and girl mom, born and raised in New York City. She is the author of Mary Shelley Monster Hunter and Silver City with Aftershock Comics, as well as the upcoming Fate: The Winx Saga graphic novel series with Maverick (2024/2025). OCB is also a film and TV writer, whose most recent credits include Queen of the South and The Arrangement.
About the Illustrator
Roberta Ingranata is an Italian artist who made her debut with several Kickstarters before working with various publishing houses on regular series, including Robyn Hood and Van Helsing with Zenescope Entertainment, Withcblade with Top Cow, and Doctor Who with Titan Comics. She has also collaborated with Aftershock, IDW, BOOM! Studios, and Marvel.
About the Publisher
Founded in 1997, Oni Press has a 25-year history as one of the industry’s most respected and acclaimed publishers of award-winning comic books and graphic novels with titles including Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, K. O’Neill’s Tea Dragon Society, Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt’s The Sixth Gun, Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer, Ezra Claytan Daniels’ Upgrade Soul, Brenna Thummler’s Sheets trilogy, and many hundreds more. In 2019, Oni Press merged with Lion Forge Comics – the Eisner Award-winning independent comic book publisher founded by Academy Award-winning producer and entrepreneur David Steward II – to create one of the largest, independent libraries of comics content anywhere in media. The Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group now exists as a publishing subsidiary of Steward’s diversified global media company, Polarity.
The Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group publishes more than 60 original and licensed graphic novels annually, in addition to an extensive list of periodical comics.