By Gabriel Neeb

Debuting in 2019, the series Something is Killing the Children from Boom! Studios soon gained an enthusiastic following and with the main title reaching 30 issues and spawning one spinoff series, its place in comics is assured. On July 21 in Room 5AB, Eisner-winning Something is Killing the Children writer James Tynion IV, House of Slaughter writer Tate Brombal, and series editor Eric Harburn gathered together to discuss the ‘Slaughterverse,’ as it has become known, in a panel moderated by Dr. Emily Zarka (host of PBS online series “Monstrum”).

Dr. Zarka began the panel by asking how the idea emerged of ranking the masks worn by the members of the monster-hunting order, The Order of St. George. Tynion started by saying that the black mask was one of the visual ideas he had when crafting the first few issues, and that it was series artist Werther Dell’Edera who added the “teeth” on the mask. It was his notion that, “maybe she becomes the monster to fight the monsters…” which Tynion credits as becoming the theme of the series. This even led to the final moments of the first story arc when some of the members of The Order of St. George are revealed.

To refresh the concept for the audience, the black masks are the lone wolf hunters of The Order, the white masks are the pack hunters, and the blue masks belong to support personnel.

Tate Brombal made a point of stating that, when further developing the lore of the House of Slaughter (both the series and the hunters that use the name Slaughter), Tynion and Dell’Edera were very collaborative, even when Brombal went on to add another group of hunters, the House of Butcher. Tynion himself grows weary of exposition as he reminded the audience that the main character, Erica, didn’t even have a name until the third issue.

Dr. Zarka continued with the topic of masks by asking the panelists which mask they would be. Tynion started by saying he’d be a black mask as he has always had issues with central authorities. He wandered off the point by saying there’s a little bit of him in all his books, like the kid in the first story arc that he shares a first name with. Brombal likes to think he’d be a black mask… but then conceded he’d probably be a scarlet [technical area] mask. Editor Harburn proclaimed he’d be a blue mask since editors try to get the guys in line.

Moving deeper into the mythos, Dr. Zarka – who stated that she keeps her own spreadsheet to track the various fixtures of the Slaughterverse – asked about the character Aaron. Tynion responded that he wanted openly-queer characters in the book, Tynion self-identifies as queer, and as elements of his life appear in the series, the decision was deliberate and conscious. Tate added that he wanted to tap into the “angry gay teenager”  with an idea of doing the tragic gay love story.

To continue the line of questioning, Dr. Zarka mentioned that all the black masks in the series have been women. “Makes sense” according to Tynion, as he wanted that class of character to be “…slightly out of step with the herd.” Of course, Tynion did say that by issue 15, the House of Slaughter has NO black masks in its roster.

The next question dealt with the character Cecilia and how the members of Slaughter change masks. To James, she is the efficient and law-abiding character whereas her colleague- Jessica who “recruited” Erica- isn’t… and it was Jessica that became the favorite as they were rising in the ranks. Further developments in the story will see Cecilia and her protege, Maxine, as they rise higher in the power structure of the series towards becoming (or not) the Dragon (leader) of the House of Slaughter. This in opposition to the system of the New Orleans branch of the Order of St George that has a Dual-Dragon system.

Dr. Zarka then asked about the newest antagonist of the series, besides the monsters, Cutter, and why Erica needed a human foil. As Tynion has extensive experience with super-hero comics, he wanted a character stronger than Erica and looked for a Wolverine-Sabertooth dynamic to work with. He also “hears” Cutter in a childlike Mia Goth voice.

The panel then moved to the monsters themselves, or as Dr. Zarka said, the tulpas (definition: an idea that takes physical form). Tynion stated that he has used the ideas of beliefs taking physical form in other works, specifically the series The Department of Truth from Image Comics. Going deeper, his idea of tulpas reflects a modern conception of monsters where fears no longer have a single face. That said, he does want to get into the “classic monsters” with the ‘silver masks’ of the series- the ones that go after the defined monsters. Like vampires.

Both Tate and Tynion want to do vampires in the series, Tynion has an acute love as he grew up on Anne Rice novels.

As the fifth anniversary of the series is coming in 2024, Tynion had only a request to the audience to “wait and see.”

Further developments coming soon will include a Sam Johns-written storyline in House of Slaughter dealing with the activities of the white masks, characters Tybalt and Paris, and the appearance of the horror fixture, creepy little kids.

At this point, the panel, Eric specifically recommended that the audience pick up the Book of Slaughter one-shot for more information on the lore and wider world of the Slaughterverse.

For Tynion, he sees Something is Killing the Children as the easiest book to write. “It just flows,” he said, and he has stories for years with potential further development.

The current cycle of stories- the Tribulation cycle- is coming to an end and a flashback story is coming where we’ll get to see more monster hunting with Jessica and Aaron making appearances. This will be a great jumping on point.

Then came the biggest announcement of the panel: the Book of Butcher one-shot scheduled for Winter 2024. This will delve into the backstory of Maxine Slaughter, feature new beasts, and be “the scariest issue down in the Bayou.”

A project that was teased but left mysterious was Something is Killing the Children: Silver. The panel wouldn’t elaborated on it, though some mention of Maxine was made.

The moderator finished up her questions by asking about how the creators continue to find interest in the Slaughterverse. Tynion said that Erica is a singular character, and the best idea to write. The origins of the entire concept reach back to just the image of Erica, and she tells him where everything is going. Tate just kind of likes the totems the hunters of the series carry around with them: cute stuffed animals that contain the spirits of slain monsters.

With that, the audience question and answer period began. The first was a compliment on the use of diverse cultures in the series. “You hit a nerve,” said Tynion. There is a lot of stuff coming in future stories, especially related to the earlier days of the Order of St George, and with that, there are more Houses coming (beyond Slaughter and Butcher).

The next question was about Erica. Is there a planned ending for her? Tynion has a rough plan for her journey and it can change.

He does know where her story ends.

Another question dealt with totems, and what totem the panel would have if there wore a mask. Tynion would have a ratty stuffed dog, he had named Wuppy Puppy. Tate would have a bunny named Rufus. Eric would have a Ninja Turtle action figure.

As Something is Killing the Children is being developed as a Netflix series (with Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese of Dark fame on board), the question of what Tynion would want faithful and what would he not mind being changed arose. Tynion was adamant that the visual elements of Erica, like the mask, remain. He’s extraordinarily excited, but can’t speak too much on the matter.

The last question was what got the panelist into horror. It’s Tynion’s favorite genre. He was a scared kid and horror allowed him to express his biggest fears. Tate stumbled into horror as he discovered he liked putting this stuff on paper because, “Making people terrified is fun.”

Miss any of our earlier SDCC ’23 coverage? Find it all here!