In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, writer Zac Thompson talks about the technological nightmare of Cemetery Kids Don’t Die #1 (Oni Press). Find out what happens when a terrifying digital world has new level with killer consequences.

THE PLOT: “The 21st century sucks hard, but it’s made somewhat tolerable by the latest and greatest media innovations. Enter the Dreamwave: the first gaming console played entirely while you sleep. The obsession of millions around the globe, it’s also the one point of solace for four friends known as the ‘Cemetery Kids,’ who spend their nights roaming the endless maps of the most brutal horror game ever created as they seek to dethrone the “King of Sleep”—the Dreamwave’s biggest, baddest, and most mysterious boss. 

“Which was fun…until one of them doesn’t wake up and finds their consciousness locked inside a horror game that is anything but imaginary. Now, the three remaining Cemeter  Kids must navigate a forbidden landscape to rescue their friend — and pray that the secret lurking at its center doesn’t follow them home.” 

Ahead of its release date on February 21st, Zac Thompson opens up about how the premise came about, the video game inspirations behind the concept, and what readers should expect from the second installment.

Villain Media: ell me how the concept for Cemetery Kids Don’t Die came about.

Zac Thompson: The idea for Cemetery Kids Don’t Die was born from a decade of playing World of Warcraft with my little brother. That game saved our fraught relationship. It’s the first space where we learned to be friends. I wanted to tell a story about those online spaces and the magic of gaming with your friends. But I also wanted to explore how addictive those experiences can be. All at the same time as exploring how certain technological advancements can use us just as much as we use them. 

VM: What I find interesting about the plot is Dreamwave, a gaming console played entirely while you sleep. It has a Nightmare on Elm Street vibe. What movies/video games/consoles were your inspiration?

ZT: The Nightmare on Elm Street series was a huge inspiration. Particularly Dream Warriors. Beyond that I’m a rabid David Cronenberg fan so that was the whole impetus behind the fleshy-game console. The Dreamwave’s name is actually a riff on the Sega Dreamcast. That was a console that felt incredibly ahead of its time and criminally underplayed. I still have vivid memories of my older brother bringing one home on launch day and playing with the tamagotchi-like memory card. Of course there’s some Silent Hill DNA in the way we built out and designed the videogame world of Nightmare Cemetery. Beyond some general nods to FromSoft games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Elden Ring. It’s a hodgepodge of influences, to be sure but I think they come together quite nicely.

VM: What can you tell me about the Cemetery Kids, who have to rescue their friend?

ZT: The Cemetery Kids are four friends. We have the siblings Birdie and Pik Cutter. Along with their friends Wilson and Enid. The book primarily focuses on Birdie, Wilson and Enid as they search every corner of the game for Pik. Birdie’s driven by this immense sense of loss. She needs to find her brother in order to live. She literally can’t go on without him. Wilson’s searching for meaning. He feels hopeless and this search for this friend is giving him a reason to get up every morning. Despite her sunny demeanor, Enid is more fatalistic about the whole thing. She’s not sure there’s anything left of Pik to save. 

VM: Tell me about collaborating with artist Daniel Irizarri on this.

ZT: Daniel is a powerhouse. He’s just this multifaceted talent with impeccable storytelling skills. Everything about the dream world of Nightmare Cemetery just oozes life thanks to his work. He’s crafted this wonderful visual sense with the game world having black gutters and jagged paneling. While juxtaposing that with clean lines and white gutters in the real world. He took my rough ideas in the script and really breathed life into every aspect. His character designs (both in-game and in reality) are just so full of personality that I think readers are going to fall in love at first glance. I know I did.

VM: What can you tease about Cemetery Kids Don’t Die #2?

ZT: Decayed factories harboring the remains of a long-dead industry. Resident Evil-like puzzles on the page and a rift between friends starting to take hold. 

VM: How did Cemetery Kids Don’t Die change you as a storyteller?

ZT: It got me to think a lot about the nature of how we split up our personalities into little pieces. About the parts of us that we refuse to lose and the mysteries in life that may never have clear answers.  

VM: What are you working on now?

ZT: I’ve got a new neo-noir series from BOOM! Studios launching in April. It’s called Blow Away and it’s illustrated by Nicola Izzo. The title follows a wildlife videographer stationed in the arctic who may have witnessed a murder. She’s isolated in the harsh wilderness and decides to take it upon herself to investigate.

Readers can find out more about Cemetery Kids Don’t Die from here.