Smash Pages Q&A | Joshua Viola on ‘True Believers’

The writer and owner of the publishing house Hex Publishers discusses his new comic with co-writer Stephen Graham Jones and artist Ben Matsuya about cosplay gone very wrong.

This weekend the Colorado Festival of Horror returns to Denver, giving fans the chance to interact with creators, actors and more, and even dress up like their favorite slashers, from Jason to Freddie to … Killr™?

If you aren’t familiar with Killr™, don’t fret — this serial killer is a new creation debuting in the pages of True Believers by Joshua Viola, Stephen Graham Jones and Ben Matsuya. The trio has teamed up to tell the fictional story of cosplay gone wrong at the very real festival.

Viola, who in addition to being a writer is also the publisher and owner of Denver-based Hex Publishers, was kind enough to answer some questions about True Believers, which is currently on Kickstarter.

Before we jump into the project, Joshua, I was hoping you could tell me — how did you come to comics, both as a reader and then as a creator/publisher?

I’m a child of the ’80s, so reading comics was just a customary part of growing up. In my small Nebraska town, you could only find comics at the local grocery store. The selection was pretty slim, but they had enough to keep me occupied between my NES rentals from the nearby gas station.

In terms of my comic publishing/writing journey, it began in 2012, when I released a 3D comic book app as a tie-in for my debut novel, The Bane of Yoto. I have a background in video games and collaborated with Leviathan Games to create the digital comic during the early days of mobile 3D comic tech. Since then, I’ve published various standalone comics and other tie-ins, such as the Denver Moon series. Additionally, I’ve contributed cover art, with my most recent one being a variant cover I did with my husband, Aaron Lovett, for Aftershock’s Miskatonic #1. Last year, I dove headfirst into comics again with a tie-in for the Unioverse video game franchise. The final installment of that miniseries will be available next month.

I know comics is only a part of what Hex Publishers does, so can you share a bit more about your approach to publishing and the types of stories you publish?

My publishing company, Hex Publishers, specializes in genre fiction, which includes horror, science fiction, crime, dark fantasy, comics, and any other form that explores the imagination. While we are well-known for our anthologies, we have also ventured into novels, novellas, comics, and articles. At Hex, the stories we publish are driven by my personal interests rather than marketing trends. I prioritize publishing material I’m passionate about, often embracing unconventional and experimental fiction. I gravitate towards high-concept ideas that twist genre tropes, offering fresh but familiar perspectives. Furthermore, Hex places a significant emphasis on physical media and collectibles, which I think sets us apart as a unique boutique publisher, delivering a distinctly Hex experience.

Getting into the project, True Believers is set at the Colorado Festival of Horror, which is a real festival. What led to this partnership with the festival, and why was it the right place to set your story?

I have a history of collaboration with The Colorado Festival of Horror. For their inaugural year, I edited the popular anthology It Came from the Multiplex: ’80s Midnight Chillers, which remains one of my best-selling titles. This year, I aimed to follow a similar creative approach but with a meta twist. Given my recent involvement in the Unioverse comics, I pitched the concept, and they enthusiastically embraced it. Then we roped in Stephen Graham Jones and Ben Matsuya, and the rest is history.

Speaking of which,how did the three of you come together to work on it?

I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with Stephen for nearly a decade now, publishing numerous short stories and one of his comics, My Hero. More recently, I had the pleasure of working with Ben on the Unioverse comics, and it was a delightful experience. Joining forces with them for True Believers was a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to working with them on the next two issues.

What were some of your inspirations for Killr™, your slasher character in the comic?

For Killr™, our creative process began with a strong emphasis on visuals. Given the central theme of cosplay, crafting a distinctive appearance for the character was paramount. Collaborating with artists Xander Smith and Aaron Lovett, we developed initial concepts based on ideas from Stephen and me. Once we arrived at a visual style we all liked, Ben took those concepts and brought Killr™ to life. Regarding the storyline, we’re intentionally providing only a glimpse of the character’s background in issue one. We have grand plans for the upcoming issues and aim to avoid any potential spoilers. However, he’s our official breakdown for the character:

KILLR™, the infamous slasher character, emerged from a short film that quickly gathered a devoted following, paving the way for a feature-length trilogy. In the series, Killr™ haunts an abandoned warehouse previously occupied by an art collective, wielding terrifying fashion shears to pursue their victims. The trilogy’s success gave rise to a passionate community of fans who wholeheartedly embrace the character, engaging in Killr™ cosplay and elevating the entity as the epitome of slasher horror—a symbol of ambiguity and open to diverse interpretations, making Killr™ the ultimate dream for cosplayers.

I’ve always liked the idea of having a soundtrack for a comic. What inspired the choices in music for this one?

I’ve had the pleasure of releasing several novels and anthologies with accompanying soundtracks, including titles like The Bane of Yoto, Blackstar, Cyber World, Denver Moon and now True Believers (with another in the works). I’m particularly drawn to the transmedia aspect of storytelling and enjoy the opportunity of experiencing a narrative through various mediums. Fortunately, I have a close working relationship with Klayton (Celldweller/Scandroid/Circle of Dust) and his music label, FiXT, which published my first novel. His label has 40+ incredible artists, which has led to some fantastic collaborations.

What sets True Believers‘ soundtrack apart is our inclusion of popular covers from well-known horror movies like Halloween, The Lost Boys, and, of course, Michael Jackson’s masterpiece, “Thriller.” Additionally, The All Things crafted an original theme song for Killr™. We’ve also incorporated lyrics from the soundtrack into the comic and have our characters listen to the music within the story, adding another delightful meta element to the experience.

What else have you been working on lately?

I’m collaborating with Shirley Jackson Award nominee Sean Eads on a cyberpunk novella tie-in for Klayton‘s forthcoming Scandroid album. Klayton has just released the first track (which is fantastic; give it a listen here). Stay tuned for more details on this project soon. Additionally, I’m joining forces with James Aquilone on a comic book series as part of another videogame tie-in. More information on this one coming soon as well.

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