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Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer
Written by Van Jensen; Created and Illustrated by Dusty Higgins
Before now, my experience with the story of Pinocchio is limited to three adaptations. One is the Roberto Benigni film, which I don’t remember much about other than the feeling that it was a lot darker and weirder than I was ready for. My surprise was probably because the only other version I’d seen up to then had been Walt Disney’s typically charming, but watered-down one. This past Christmas I bought a collection of Christmas specials on DVD that included Rankin Bass’ stop-motion Pinocchio’s Christmas, which, story-wise, was surprisingly more like Benigni than Disney. While all of these present fairly dark stories (especially in comparison to Disney’s traditional output), none of them prepared me for Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer.
And I’m not just talking about the vampire-hunting part; I’m talking about the three-page summary that catches you up on Carlo Collodi’s original tale. Jiminy Cricket – I know that’s not his real name, but I can’t stop calling him that – dies in his first encounter with the puppet-boy, but returns to haunt him as a ghost. Pinocchio isn’t just tricked by the fox and the cat, he’s hung from a tree by them (but not before he bites off the cat’s hand). He’s imprisoned, tied up outside a doghouse, gets his feet burned off, and of course there’s the stuff where he’s turned into an ass and gets swallowed by a giant fish. Basically, his life sucks. But not as much as it sucks (get it?) after Collodi’s story ends.
Higgins and Jensen apologetically pick up where Collodi left off, begging the dead author that “if he ever rolls over in his grave and rises, bloodthirsty, that we be spared.” While it’s true that their graphic novel may not be faithful to the tone of Collodi’s and they fill it with fun retcons (offering, for example, an explanation for all the talking animals), it’s also true that their story could have been what happened next. If, you know, a coven of vampires had moved into town, killed Geppetto and a whole bunch of other people, and Pinocchio grew a thirst for vengeance.
As the story opens, Pinocchio has teamed up with the Blue Fairy and Master Cherry to hunt vampires. Master Cherry didn’t make it into the Disney version, but Rankin Bass included him. He’s the guy who sold Geppetto the magic wood that Pinocchio came from. Pinocchio’s technique of killing vampires is awesome. He lies (“I’m a real boy!”), snaps off his elongated nose, and uses it as a stake. And since it’s enchanted wood, it causes the vampires to burst immediately into flame. As everyone has already pointed out, it’s one of those 30 Days of Night ideas that you can’t figure out why no one’s thought of before now. But they didn’t. Higgins did. And I’m glad of it because he and Jensen do a great job of turning the concept into an actual story.
Higgins’ artistic style is a nice fit for it too. There are times when it’s hard to decipher, but it reminds me a bit of Jason Asala’s Poe and Nantucket Brown Roasters, two other series that could be very spooky, but didn’t take themselves too seriously. Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer isn’t a comedy, but it’s very funny and cool. After shoving his broken-off snout into one vampire, Pinocchio quips, “You have a bloody nose.” That’s fantastic (as is Cherry’s Monsterminator), but Jensen is careful with the puns, tossing them and the other gags around only when appropriate. The rest of the time, Pinocchio and his friends struggle to survive. The vampires are menacing and the danger is real.
Even the cricket – usually a light-hearted character – is rather dark and twisted. Higgins draws him with a few, quick lines and simplified shapes to make him look unnatural and weird. Then he adds this smoky, bubbly energy that continually comes off the ghost and still, somehow, keeps his face in shadow. The Blue Fairy is no cerulean-dressed beauty, but an aged hag, which makes her feel more powerful and cunning. Pinocchio himself is a fairly serious young marionette. He jokes to make himself feel better, but we get whole pages of him just walking through destroyed sections of his village or mourning quietly on his dead father’s bed. As a result, the book keeps from being as goofy as its concept suggests, while still being a lot of fun.
Four out of five Rabbits of Ill Portent