DF Interview: Olivia Cuartero-Briggs launches new razor-sharp teen thriller, ‘Jill and the Killers’
By Byron Brewer
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.
Writer Olivia Cuartero-Briggs (Mary Shelley Monster Hunter) and artist Roberta Ingranata (Witchblade, Doctor Who) present Jill and the Killers, featuring a new kind of game where even murder is much more than it seems.
I had a chance to sit down with scribe Olivia Cuartero-Briggs and chat about this upcoming thriller comic.
Byron Brewer: Olivia, tell readers what inspired this very different kind of thriller saga, Jill and the Killers.
Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: First off, I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with serial killers and true crime. Like many, I’ve found myself attracted to the macabre ever since I was a kid. Then, after researching another project where I discovered the many shortcomings of traditional law enforcement to track down these murderers, I found myself wanting to tell stories about “normal people” – not cops, P.I.s, or profilers – attempting to catch dangerous killers on their own. On top of that, a few years ago, I got weirdly into monthly subscription boxes, and stumbled across a monthly murder mystery game I thought seemed really interesting. And then, wouldn’t you know it, inspiration hit, and I thought—holy crap. What if you ordered one of these games and then found out they were clues to an actual murder mystery! It was kind of my ultimate wish fulfillment.
Byron: You say you are a true-crime fan. Is there another genre you especially enjoy? Also, are you a gamer yourself?
Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: As of this moment, I can’t call myself a gamer, but now that my oldest daughter is getting into gaming, I’m hoping to get pulled in myself. I have the D&D starter set, and I am really excited to learn!
And of course I’m a true crime fan, though I prefer a good podcast or documentary to books in that genre. As far as my favorite books to read, I love historical non-fiction, particularly anything that involves 17th, 18th, and 19th century medicine. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read on bizarre treatments, holistics, early surgery, and snake oil salesmen. It grosses me out and fascinates me at the same time!
Byron: Haha! … Introduce us to Jill Estrada. Can you give readers a bit of her backstory?
Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Jill is a super smart, snarky tomboy with a big heart she is always trying to tuck back into her sleeve. I mean, that thing can get hurt out there, you know? A year before the start of our story, Jill’s mom, a local detective who was in pursuit of something big, vanished, and fearing the worst, Jill’s dad kept her holed up at home. Now that Jill is back in school, all she wants is for things to go back to normal, but normal ain’t exactly what this kid’s gonna get.
Byron: Who are Jill’s friends who are very important to this story? Can you spotlight some of them here?
Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Ginger is Jill’s Achilles’ heel. Ginger and Jill were best friends for years growing up, and just before Jill’s mom went missing, they had become a couple. Jill is super in love with Ginger, and thought that once she returned to school, the two would pick up where they left off. Ginger, however, has a very different idea of how things went down. Accepting and rediscovering the relationship with her one-time best friend and mega crush is a major driving force for Jill’s character, and greatly impacts the investigation as well.
Byron: Give us an overview of the story; an extended elevator pitch, if you will.
Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Jill returns to high school after the disappearance of her mother to discover the new fad is true crime everything. So, to win her friends back, Jill orders a much-hyped murder mystery game. While playing, however, Jill and her friends discover that the clues they are following belong to a real-life double homicide that occurred right there in their hometown. Believing this cold case is somehow connected to the disappearance of her mom, Jill is determined to solve it. Her resolve and that of her friends is then compounded when one of their own goes missing as well.
Byron: Discuss the true-crime subscription game Box Killers, as you have conceived it for this comic.
Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Box Killers is very much inspired by the Hunt A Killer subscription box games I played with my family during the pandemic. They have a series of mysteries you can solve, and you receive a new clue every month. I just loved it. My ex and I would light candles, play scary music, and solve each clue together after the kids went to sleep. I highly recommend them!
Byron: Talk about the art of Roberta Ingranata.
Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: I could go on and on about Roberta’s artwork, but honestly, I think it speaks for itself. She is beyond talented and captures the delicate emotions of these teens in ways I only dreamed would be possible. But what I love most about Roberta is how great she is to work with. She’s a very genuine person, who cares a lot about the stories and characters she devotes herself to. She is a true partner, and I can’t wait to take her up on her offer to come to her house in Italy and eat the best food on the planet!
Byron: Olivia, what other projects can readers look forward to from you?
Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: I am currently writing the new Fate: Winx graphic novel series with Maverick, and the first volume will be hitting shelves in the summer of 2024. I also have unannounced projects in the works with Mad Cave and Humanoids that I am super excited about. I can’t say too much, only that they are both very unique, high-concept horror/thrillers that are deeply personal to me. And lastly, I am also working on an original graphic novel with Maverick, which I also can’t talk about, but it’s a YA romantic comedy with a super fun hook.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Olivia Cuartero-Briggs for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions. Jill and the Killers #1 from Oni Press is slated to be on sale Jan. 31, 2024!