What happens when teens sent to a summer camp to lose weight end up losing a beloved camp counselor in a gruesome murder? Well, it's up to them to find the killer.
Oni Press' Dead Weight: Murder At Camp Bloom by writers Terry Blas and Molly Muldoon and arist Matthew Seely is a murder mystery set at a teen weight loss camp. Stress, hormones, the great outdoors, and murder - it's a powder keg.
Newsarama spoke with the trio ahead of the OGN's planned release on April 25, delving into the characters, the murder, and their own real-life (and fictional experiences) at camps like this.
Newsarama: Terry and Molly, be the welcome wagon for us - what is Dead Weight about?
Terry Blas: Dead Weight is about a group of teenagers at a weight loss camp who band together to solve the murder of a much loved counselor. They're already put in a situation they don't want to be in and by amplifying that to a much higher degree we can see how much stronger people are when they work as a team.
Molly Muldoon: And on the flipside, this also makes the kids realize what their own particular skills are, the things they're good at they might not have realized so they grow as people, as well. Your classic coming-of-age-come-murder story.
Matthew Seely: The thing that really drew me in to the project initially was how Terry writes these kids. They’re all very honest and authentic representations of what it’s like to be a teen, but they’re all very different. Jesse, Noah, Kate, and Tony each feel like distinct individuals motivated by their own stories, but they way they interact as an ensemble and learn from each other and develop as the story progresses is really a joy to read.
Nrama: How did the idea for situating a story at a weight-loss camp come about?
Muldoon: The weight-loss camp idea was all Terry...
Blas: I remember as a kid seeing the movie Heavy Weights and my first thought was "Why are there no girls at this camp?" Surely young women face much more pressure regarding their weight and it didn't make sense to me why there weren't any girls there. Then, years later I saw a documentary series on MTV just called Fat Camp, and there was so much drama, romance, humor, that I thought, "Well, what doesn't this place have?" … and for some reason, I thought, well… murder. That's sort of how it started.
Nrama: Can you tell us about Jesse, Noah, Kate, and Tony?
Blas: Jesse is a young Latina who is mostly fine with her weight. She's an artist and she wants to be a fashion designer. Her parents promise her she can go to a summer fashion program if she loses weight first. Noah is a boy who knows Jesse from back home. He's gone to Camp Bloom before, and he's surprised to see Jesse there since he has a crush on her. Tony is an insecure kid who is obsessed with technology and Kate is a lonely young woman with a big secret who has been to Camp Bloom more years than anyone.
Muldoon: Noah and Tony already know each from having gone to camp before and of course, they know of Kate. Jesse's new and shakes things up a bit, as Jesse is wont to do. It's all very middle/high school but in a good way.
Nrama: Matthew, how did you go about designing the kids?
Seely: From the start, Terry had a really clear idea in his head of how he wanted these characters to look and feel. In our initial design meetings, he provided me with a lot of reference images and photos of different actors and actresses, and we had some great conversations about what we wanted the character’s designs to communicate about them. Then, he gave me a lot of freedom to just feel out the characters myself and explore. It was important for us to break away for the stereotypical “Fat Kid” archetype you find in so much popular media, and that each character have their own distinct design that reflects their unique personality.
Nrama: Are any of these places or people based on someone or someplace you two know?
Seely: As a kid I went to a few different summer camps out in the Oregon wilderness, and I definitely pulled from those experiences while illustrating the book. Summer camp has a really weird, specific feel to it. There’s a very particular strangeness and excitement to being dropped off hours from home in the middle of the woods at a big campus of cold log cabins with a bunch of random kids you don’t know. I wanted to capture both the fun and weirdness of that experience as well as possible.
Nrama: And who is this camp counselor that ends up murdered?
Blas: Counselor Cory is a well loved counselor at Camp Bloom. He's recently lost a lot of weight and is motivating to many at camp, especially Tony.
Muldoon: Poor Cory. R.I.P.
Nrama: This sounds like a rollicking Goonies/Nancy Drew style story. How'd it come about?
Seely: Honestly, I’d say this book would be very at home sitting between Hope Larson’s Chiggers and Harry Potter. A coming-of-age story at summer camp and a group of kids solving mysteries way out of their depth. [Laughs]
Blas: I had the idea rolling around in my head for a long time and was talking to my editor about a different book idea when I mentioned I'd been wanting to write a fat camp murder mystery. She liked it and we started work on that instead. About halfway through the synopsis, I knew I was having trouble putting things together and figuring out the end, so I sought out Molly who is incredibly observant and intelligent and I knew loved murder mysteries. I had no idea at that time that she had been voted "Most Likely to Write Murder Mysteries" in high school. We sorted out the second half of the book and then wrote the script together.
Muldoon: Terry and I had an epic, four hour coffee chat session that ended with us plotting the whole book. It was so fun, both working with Terry and getting to use all this knowledge and nonsense about murder mysteries I've got rumbling around the back of my brain. I don't know if I'm as cool as Terry, but that being said, I definitely know way too much about this kind of thing. Fingers crossed I'm never suspected of a crime; I'll look very suspicious.
Nrama: You're working with Oni and artists Matthew Seeley, how'd this team come together?
Blas: Matthew Seely and I went to art school together. I could see how insanely talented he is and knew that if I didn't snatch him up for a book someone else would. I'm so excited that he agreed to work with us and wanted to take on such a big project.
Seely: I’ve been friends with Terry since I moved to Portland in 2007. We both went to PNCA and were in a local comics collective together, Portland has a great comics scene. Terry was always super talented and super ambitious, and we bonded over a shared appreciation and enthusiasm of nerdy stuff like Nintendo games and Disney movies. So when he initially approached me to see if I wanted to collaborate on a project with him, I knew it would be a great match!
Muldoon: I didn't know Seely beforehand, but he's just delightful.
Seely: When Molly joined the team, I knew we had a really special thing on our hands. After learning more about the story and characters, I immediately started getting really clear idea of what the book could look like and how we could tell this great story together.
Nrama: What are your big goals for Dead Weight?
Blas: You know, my only goal right now would be for Dead Weight to get into the hands of as many people as possible. It might be geared to a Young Adult audience but I think it's really for everybody. The book says a lot about some difficult things people face and I would love for people to connect with it.
Muldon: I just want people to enjoy it. There's a mystery to solve, sure, but the book also has a lot of heart and I hope people enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed making it.
Seely: I think the most important thing for me is for as many people as possible to read it. I think the story is a lot of fun and very entertaining and clever, but I think it also has a lot of heart and speaks to issues that many kids (and adults) face.
Nrama: What would you have done had your parents sent you to Camp Bloom and you ended up in this situation?
Blas: I'd have complained, told everyone where to get candy and snuck into the girls bunks to hang out with them… like Benji.
Muldoon: When I was around Noah and Jesse's age, I spent at least three summers at theater camp. There was a lot more singing and a lot less running but other than that, it was pretty similar. So I guess the answer is I would awkwardly try to make friends, hurt myself exercising, and read a ton of books.
Seely: After witnessing a murder at camp, I’d probably would have reacted somewhere between how Jesse and Tony react. I would most likely totally freak out about it, then go into denial, then curl up in a ball of anxiety and stress. Then, probably just find a way to tell the police? Maybe I’d just do that first. [Laughs]