Talking Comics with Tim | Van Jensen
Next month will see the release of the final installment in Van Jensen‘s and Dusty Higgins‘ Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer series of books, Of Wood and Blood, Part Two. To mark this milestone as well as find out what creative projects he intends to pursue in the future, I cajoled longtime friend of the blog Jensen to do an interview. I was pleased to learn that while Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer is coming to a close, Joe Pimienta is illustrating Jensen’s upcoming graphic novel, The Leg. More immediately, Jensen will be busy this upcoming weekend in Atlanta–as he will be at Dragon*Con, so be sure to visit him if you are there.
Tim O’Shea: You’re ending Pinocchio on a high note, while the project seems to still be doing well. Why step away — and how hard was it to do?
Van Jensen: When Dusty and I were working on the first volume, I came up with this notion of how to explain where Pinocchio came from (the original story has him as a sentient piece of wood that is carved into a puppet, not a puppet that’s magically brought to life) and tie that into the origin of the vampires. We realized it would make a perfect contained storyline; the question was always whether the book would sell enough for us to explore the whole story.
Once the first book did well (thanks to our great fans), we had that chance. I guess what it came down to is that we felt like this idea had a great conclusion to Pinocchio’s story. It really wraps everything up nicely.
I guess we could have dragged it on and found a way to keep it going, but Dusty and I have other story ideas. We don’t want to just go down as “those Pinocchio guys.”
Unless I am mistaken, the final book was actually split into two. How did that come about and are you happy with how things turned out creatively in splitting the tale?
Yeah, the final book was cut into two parts. So there will end up being four books in the series: Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer; Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater; Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer: Of Wood and Blood Part One; and Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer: Of Wood and Blood Part Two. Everyone got that? We’ll have a quiz later.
The split of the final book was something that SLG Publishing suggested, because Of Wood and Blood had grown into a 260-page book. The only problem was that Dusty and I had already finished the book. So we had to crack it open and figure out a way to split it in half.
Honestly, it was frustrating. Beyond just the challenge of dividing the book, we had always billed this as a trilogy. So I know some of our fans have been confused about whether it’s three books or four books, and what order they go in. Then of course we opened ourselves up to a lot of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and Part 2 jokes. And man, oh, man, do I hate any connection to that property.
In working Dracula into the tale, you based the character off of Vlad Tepes III. In using that inspiration, how much research did that take and how much did going the Vlad route help your overall story?
It was kind of similar to how we approached Pinocchio: Go back to the origin. So the Dracula mythos originated with Vlad the Impaler, and it seemed like a cool fit to include this historical figure. What really helped with my research was a conversation I had with Carol Senf, who is a professor at Georgia Tech and an expert on Bram Stoker. She told me that if I was going to include Vlad, I needed to read up on the real history, not just rely on the legend.
So I took the time to read quite a lot about Vlad, and he has this really tragic story. His family lived in Eastern Europe and were caught between the Christian in the west and the Turks to the east. Vlad was actually given to the Turks when he was a child as a promissory note, to ensure his father’s allegiance.
That all set the stage for this character in our book who is monstrous but also deeply, deeply afraid and vulnerable. I always love villains who have a lot of complexity, so that dichotomy resonated with me a lot. I wish I could’ve done even more with the character. I wouldn’t say he was fun to write, but he was compelling. So I hope that all translates onto the page and makes these final volumes stronger.
Not surprisingly, over the course of Pinocchio, the approach of your collaborator has grown immensely. In what ways have you seen Dusty’s style change/improve?
The first Pinocchio was the first comic that Dusty or I had done, so obviously we had a lot to learn. What I really admire about Dusty is that he always pushes himself to improve and refine his style. He’s gone from a very [Mike] Mignola-esque feel to a truly distinctive style.
Dusty is also insanely fast. He’s completed five complete graphic novels in the past four years. There are artists who can’t finish ONE book in four years. And Dusty is doing it while working full time. He’s just a machine.
Will you and Dusty be able to collaborate on another project down the road?
We’re actually working on our next project already. It’s a big departure, a teen/YA sci fi/action/superhero story. We’ll be pitching that around to publishers later this fall, and we’re hoping to have it out in 2013.
Dusty is just a dream to work with. Obviously we wont’ do every project together, but we definitely plan to keep partnering on things.
You have a day job, in addition to your work in comics. In fact you stepped away from comics for a bit in the past year, to devote more time to your day job. What have you been working on and what’s on the horizon for you creatively?
Comics is really a hobby/night job for me. My background is in journalism, and so last May I got the chance to take over as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. And I was given pretty much free rein to completely redesign the magazine. So I spent about 10 months straight of 2011 working on that, and we finally launched the redesign in February. I had to sacrifice comics work because the task was so time intensive, but it was easily worth it. Tech is a cool place with amazing people and tons of cutting-edge research, so we pushed the magazine to be more like, say, Wired than your traditional, stuffy alumni magazine.
We had a great response both internally and externally (I’ll be speaking at a national conference soon about the redesign), but it was tough to be away from comics.
I’ve been ramping up on writing again in the past couple of months. There’s the book Dusty and I are doing, and then Joe Pimienta is illustrating my graphic novel The Leg, which is about the adventures of the disembodied leg of Santa Anna through 1930s Mexico (no, really). And I’m putting together an action-y mini-series with another artist (should have more news on that soon).
No work for hire stuff on the horizon at this point, though it would be fun to do if the opportunity came up.
Which member of the Pinocchio cast is it hardest to walk away from (and never write about again)?
We had a lot of fun characters, but I have to say Pinocchio. I love Carlo Collodi’s version of the puppet—he’s a lot like Huck Finn, just made of wood. And to take a self-centered character like that and heap all of this weight on his shoulders (only he can save humanity from the vampires) made for a lot of interesting character development.
As hard as it is to let him go, I think we came up with a nice ending for him. So it feels to me like his story is complete.
What have we not discussed that you want to delve into–or any questions you want to ask Robot 6 readers?
For any readers who are in Atlanta, make sure to stop by Dragon*Con over Labor Day weekend. I’ll be set up there, and I have a panel on Saturday where I’ll be giving away books and T-shirts.