There's nothing quite like camping, but the campers at Camp Bloom get way more than they bargained for.
Fans will meet the lovable campers Jesse, Noah, Tony, and Kate in Oni Press' Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom, which features a murder mystery set at a weight-loss camp. ComicBook.com had the chance to sit with creators Terry Blas, Molly Muldoon, and Matthew Seely about what inspired this delightful adventure, and why they chose to have it take place at a weight loss camp.
"That was all Terry," Muldoon said.
"Growing up I liked the movie Heavyweights," Blas said. "But I always wondered why there were no girls at the camp. I also liked this MTV documentary called Fat Camp. There was so much drama and emotion there, so it seemed like a good place to set a story. I tried to think of the most dramatic thing I could and obviously that was murder."
Yeah, it's kind of hard to top murder in the dramatics department, but what makes this book special is the rich characterization of Jessie, Noah, Kate, and Tony. Each lead feels remarkably human, especially if like me you've struggled with weight at some point in your life. That struggle is only one small aspect of their characters, and that's part of what makes the cast so engaging.
"I identify with Jesse and Kate most," Blas said. "Jesse's Latina and comes from a home where every gathering is all about food. But then when you gain weight your family can't help but wonder why. Kate (and Ben) are also gay and dealing with the added pressure of having to look a certain way."
"Of the kids, I always felt a kinship to Noah," Muldoon said. "His awkwardness and the way he forgets about everything around him when he gets his mind on something is definitely reminiscent of myself at his age."
For Matthew Seely, it all comes down to Tony. "I definitely relate to Tony in a lot of ways," Seely said. "He's very emotional and struggles with self-control, and his natural reaction to being thrust into chaos is to kind of shut down and distract himself from the stress with games and the internet. At the same time though, he is also very dedicated to his friends and driven to improve himself, and is dependable and a hard worker when necessary. Also, he's a huge nerd, so I relate to that as well, haha!"
The story of Dead Weight really came together over a marathon Starbucks session (most great ideas start thanks to an endless run of coffee), and one of the best things to come from that marathon session was the cast. Dead Weight's lovable leads never feel like they are just checking boxes on a diversity form, which isn't exactly easy to pull off.
"I knew that I wanted there to be two boys and two girls, sort of Scooby Doo-like," Blas said. "I wanted a balanced cast, in terms of gender. I also felt it was important that not all of the kids were straight, or white, so they just developed naturally."
The characters came together relatively easily, though there were a few lines that switched places after the characters defined themselves a bit more. "I know this sounds trite but all the characters pretty much wrote themselves," Muldoon said. "Once we came up with each of the kids, they slowly grew so that sometimes when we reread over things we'd previously written, we'd realize that a line should be Tony's rather than Jesse's and things like that. I think that's why they feel so real.
The story is a classic murder mystery at its heart, and the team found themselves inspired by some classic (and modern-classic) detectives, including a certain Jessica Fletcher.
"I love Murder She Wrote," Blas said. "Jesse might be named after Jessica Fletcher. Molly has really read way more murder mysteries than me."
For Muldoon, it's all about classic mysteries. "I've been obsessed with Sherlock Holmes since I was about ten and Agatha Christie since thirteen," Muldoon said. "Christie is who I was trying most to emulate when we were writing this, leaving clues for the reader to follow along if they're looking for them and having numerous suspects with secrets of their own. If our book is even a tenth as entertaining as a Christie novel, then I'll feel like we succeeded."
Matthew Seely delivers bright and colorful visuals but isn't afraid to go darker in tone when he needs to.
"I think the fact that my style is more bright and playful, rather than a more realistic/action style that you might expect for a story like this, allows us to do an intense murder mystery story that isn't just one note or takes itself too seriously," Seely said. "These are genuinely likable, funny characters that are thrust into dire situations that demand they react in serious ways, but I wanted the story to still feel fun and exciting rather than grim and overwhelming."
"I'm really proud of how chapter eight turned out, when the kids split up into two teams to go investigate two separate counselors," Seely continued. "It's an exciting chapter where the kids are sneaking around at night, but there is also some real earnest, emotional character development as well as some really fun and funny moments. That chapter really has it all!"
While most of the characters didn't change much throughout the design process, there was one that got an overhaul. Speaking of favorites, these character designs are delightful. Which character changed the most through the design process, and who ended up being your favorite to draw?
"I really enjoyed designing these characters, they were so thoughtfully and wonderfully written by Terry and Molly," Seely said. "Most of the characters stayed relatively the same, but Nurse Gwen changed a lot from my first sketch to how she ends up in the book. I initially drew her very meek and timid, but her character turned out to be more spirited in the end."
Seely couldn't pick a favorite amongst the group, but he did enjoy bringing Counselor Steve to life.
"I think the character I ended up enjoying drawing the most was Counselor Steve, the kind of second-in-command at the camp," Seely said. "He's kinda goofy and silly, but also takes himself and his duties very seriously. At the same time, he's very passionate and expressive and eager to help out. That type of overly enthusiastic and earnest character is really fun to draw for me. Also, his mustache is top-notch."
It's extremely hard to argue with Counselor Steve's mustache game.
One of the more interesting parts of the story is a small epilogue, which shows the murderer in a flashback scene before the events of the book. An image of Jesse and Noah kicking off their friendship directly proceeds it, and we asked the team if that was meant to humanize the murderer or just give additional insight.
"I don't know if it's meant to humanize the murderer, but if that's what people get out if it, I understand," Blas said. "I just wanted something that would mirror the beginning of the book and allow us to see what the camp used to be like."
I think it humanizes them, at least a bit," Muldoon said. "The murderer is actually one of my favorite characters and the epilogue is a chance to explore, at least a bit, what brought them to this point. No one is completely good or evil; it's all down to the choices people make and societal influence and I think the epilogue hints at that."
That scene also gives some weight to the murderer's motives according to Seely.
"I'm really glad Terry and Molly wrote this into the book, not only was it fun to draw and explore how some of these characters had changed over the years, but I think these last few pages do a lot in terms of making the story about more than just, "Oh, some crazy person terrorizes some run-down summer camp." I think it gives weight to all of the character's actions—not just the murderer's—as well as fleshing out the story of the camp itself," Seely said.
Dead Weight brings this particular story to a close, but it also leaves some opportunity to reunite with this group again.
"We may or may not have some ideas up our sleeves...," Muldoon said.
"Molly and I have some ideas," Blas added. "Someone asked me recently if we were worried that wherever these kids go people keep getting murdered. I said, "No. I mean, people drop like flies all over Cabot Cove and nobody feels like it's out of the ordinary."—Kate being loaded, yeah, that is something that would help the kids have… another interesting summer."0comments
"I've definitely grown attached to these characters for sure, and I'd love to keep drawing them and see how they develop! They're all so strongly written and fleshed out, I could see them getting into all sorts of trouble," Seely added.
It seems the future is bright for these four campers, and you can read their first adventure soon, as Dead Weight: Murder At Camp Bloom hits stores on April 24.