Smash Pages Q&A: Jason McNamara on ‘The Cicada’

The writer of “The Rattler” and “Sucker” returns to Kickstarter for a new project about small town horror.

Jason McNamara is the writer behind Sucker, The Rattler and other graphic novels that fall into, or at least somewhere close to, the horror genre. Using Kickstarter, he has brought his character-driven visions to life over the last few years, establishing himself as a “go to” creator for chills on the comic book page.

His latest project is The Cicada, a five-issue comic series he’s kickstarting in conjunction with Evoluzione Publishing. The first issue introduces the town of Braddock, Texas, where a serial killer returns every 13 years to target children. But this killer may have met their match in teenage prodigy Emma Dale.

I spoke to McNamara about the project, working with a publisher and what else he has planned as part of his new venture, Polite Strangers.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Jason. I was hoping you could start off by talking about what The Cicada is about, including the title and how it ties into the larger story.

I describe The Cicada as Judy Blume book where the lead is going through the regular tribulations of adolescence but is also being stalked by the Zodiac Killer.

“Every 13 years, a child killer returns to Braddock, Texas. As the small town prepares itself for a new cycle of terror, teenage prodigy Emma Dale has plans of her own. She’s going to get the hell out of this town, even if it kills her. “

I was interested in the idea of a killer or force that returned to a place every generation or so. If you’ve ever lived somewhere where Cicadas hatch, they announce their arrival with a very grating and slightly spooky song. I wanted something evil to return with them every cycle.

From The Cicada

Reading the first issue, I was impressed with how well you brought the small town it’s set in to life. I always think of you as a city guy, since I first met you while you lived in San Francisco, but what was your inspiration for Braddock, Texas? And is it named for another of your collaborators?

Thanks! I always like horror stories that take place in a specific time or place, Amytiville Island and Haddonfield, Il for example. In a suspense thriller, you need to isolate your characters, setting it in a small town in 1993 helps establish that claustrophobia. These people are trapped with a predator from their own community.

Psychologically it also creates obstacles for our teen protagonist who wants to escape the confines of the town. It was already a horror show for her before the killer returned, now it’s like, “Great, as if high school wasn’t shitty enough, now some creep wants to eviscerate me. Thanks, Tuesday!”

The book was influenced by a few important women in my life, one of whom grew up in a small Texan town. I didn’t want to be tied to a real location, so I created a fictional town and named it after Paige Braddock, my friend, and collaborator. I always try to find ways to honor the people who mentored me in my career, and working with Paige helped elevate my own work. Plus, Braddock, Texas just sounds like a cool place, doesn’t it?

And I hate to ruin the mystique, but before I was the sophisticated cosmopolite you know today, I grew up in a small fishing town on Long Island. I still can’t pronounce the word “orange.”

from The Cicada

You’ve done the Kickstarter thing a few times now — this isn’t your first rodeo — but most of your work in the past has been on graphic novels vs. single issue comics. What made you decide to release this as single issues rather than one complete package? And how has the experience been writing it that way?

Well, first, I should clarify this is being produced by Evoluzione Publishing. They are producing the book and the Kickstarter, and because I am a control freak, I will be signing the books and fulfilling the rewards myself. But the answer to your question would be the same regardless.

First and foremost, you have to create a framework that supports the creative team to do their best work. I’m managing five different creative projects, and the mechanics and resources required for each are different.

The Cicada is an ambitious project with a lot of moving parts and requires an outlay of capital of produce. Micro-funding an issue at a time, as opposed to launching an expensive ogn campaign, is the only way I can see being able to produce quality work, satisfy backers in a timely fashion, and support my collaborators.

Ideally, the first issue will fund the second and the third, all while growing audience awareness for the book.

Creatively, it doesn’t change my writing approach at all. I always write for 24-page issues even when I don’t know the final format. The Rattler, for example, could have been published as four 24 page issues but Greg and I were able to support ourselves, and each other, while we moved toward an OGN release. I usually let the needs of the creative team dictate how the work will be experienced.

from The Cicada

Speaking of Evoluzione, they received some media attention earlier this year related to unfulfilled Kickstarter projects — something that has been noted in the comments section of this project. Have you discussed that with Evoluzione, and should potential backers be concerned about it with this project?

I saw those concerns online as well and addressed them with Marcel Dupree, the publisher. I believe he is working hard to resolve those previous issues. I wasn’t involved in those projects, they are beyond my control, but I can control what happens with The Cicada.

The first issue of The Cicada is completely finished, lettered and ready to go to the printer. If we are funded, the comics will ship directly from the printer to me, and I will be fulfilling the backer rewards myself. Even if Evoluzione were to evaporate overnight, I could fulfill the rewards on my own.

Clearly, there is an opportunity for Evoluzione to improve its reputation among backers and running a foolproof campaign like The Cicada is the way to do it.

With both Emma Dale and Sheriff Roberta, you’ve given us characters to really root for. What were some of the influences and motivations for you when creating these two?

Thank you JK, I tried really hard to get these characters right.

Emma from The Cicada

Emma Dale, the rebellious teenage prodigy who suffers from Ectrodactyly in her hand and foot, is a composite of two different women I had known in my life. I was fortunate to interview both these women before I started writing the script, and sadly, the older of two passed away last year. Before she died, I was able to send her some character sketches to let her know the book was in production.

Sheriff Roberta from The Cicada

Sheriff Roberta “Mondo” Mondanaro is named after my mentor in HIgh School Robert “Mondo” Mondanaro, who has also passed away. Mondo was the teacher who stuck his neck out for me and prevented me from dropping out of high school so I could become a lobsterman (yes, that was really my career plan at 15). Now that I teach on the side, I realize what a generous advocate and mentor I had in Mondo. Not every small town dirtbag was as lucky as I was.

How did you and artist Alberto Massaggia meet, and what’s the collaboration been like between you?

He’s fantastic, isn’t he? I wish I could take all the credit for finding him. Evoluzione publishing paired us together on the project, and I’m grateful they did. Creating suspense in comics is very difficult, you are relying on the visuals to create a sense of dread. Alberto’s visual choices evoke such a visceral emotional response. He’s just a very elegant storyteller, I hope The Cicada can introduce him to a broader audience. But not too big, I want to work with him again.

The Cicada variant cover by Justin Greenwood

If the first issue gets funded, what are your plans for subsequent issues?

Emma initially viewed the return of The Cicadas as a way to get away from her stepfather and into police custody. But the Cicada’s plan is generational, we will visit 1980 and 2006, to see the personal devastation that was created in the past and awaits the children of Braddock in the future.

This is intended as a strict five issue mini-series; the future issues are already written. So, even if I become a victim of The Cicada, the campaign of terror will continue.

You’ve got a lot of other comics projects in the works, including some with past collaborators and some sequels. Anything you want to share about what’s next for you?

I do! In fact, I have so many upcoming projects that I started a company, Polite Strangers, to publish them all.

First up is a second volume to Sucker, my grindhouse vampire book with longtime collaborators Tony Talbert (Continuity), John Heebink (Doll and Creature) and Cicada colorist Paul Little. The new volume is being lettered and should be on Kickstarter in early August.

Nocturnal Commissions

After that Greg Hinkle and I will be reuniting for a macabre romp called Nocturnal Commissions. In which a Werewolf, a Vampire and a Zombie open a detective agency and thenā€¦things get weird.

You can follow me at Kickstarter or on Instagram for updates on those and future projects.

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