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Battling the Nose-Feratu: Van Jensen on Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer

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Recently, BF spoke to Van Jensen, co-creator of the upcoming Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer graphic novel from Slave Labor Graphics.

Some readers may not be familiar with Van and his work, so he began by filling us in on his background. Says Van, “I grew up outside a village in western Nebraska, then studied journalism and became a crime reporter. It didn't take too long to decide I didn't want to spend my life standing over dead bodies in the middle of the night.”

His connection with comic books goes back much further however, and has continued through to this day. “I read them starting when I was about 4, then got into drawing. For various reasons, I gave up that dream. But then after college I started doing freelance comics journalism and slowly was pulled back in. I've been scripting various projects for a few years, and over the past couple years I've worked for Top Shelf Productions, helping with the company's Amazon Kindle initiative and less noteworthy tasks, like packing boxes at the warehouse.”

Van’s collaborator on Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer is artist Dusty Higgins, and the two were working together well before this project was conceived. “We both worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas, right after we came out of college. We had a mutual interest in comics and so became friends. We'd often throw around story ideas.”

The conception for this project began during this time. “Dusty had the first idea, to do sort of a "bad Pinocchio" who mischievously staked people with his nose. Then he added vampires. It was a year later, after I'd moved to Atlanta, that Dusty called and asked if I wanted to script it. It's a very clever idea, but at first I was worried there would be enough for a book. But once I went back to Carlo Collodi's original fairy tale, I realized it was full of wonderful, bizarre stuff that could be explored further.”

As Van tells it, Dusty is the perfect collaborator. “He's a super-fast artist and extremely talented. Really a dream to work with. Once I started on the story, I drafted an outline, and then we talked through it and made some changes. Then I drafted a script, and we tweaked it a little more. And as Dusty worked on the art, we continued to talk through the story. The very last page was actually rewritten just a few weeks before press, because we kept looking for the best way to tell the story.”

After developing the idea, the next step was to find an outlet for it. “We made a 10-page mini comic last year that I took to conventions. Surprisingly, a lot of people loved it, including BOOM! publisher Ross Richie, who promised me that Slave Labor would publish it. Ross could be a fortune teller, I suppose, because SLG snapped the book up rather quickly after we sent it through the normal submissions process. It's funny how that works, because I've pitched other stuff around that didn't get a bite, then this one went so fast.”

Some readers may wonder, in this market, why the authors chose to go with the original graphic novel format rather than a miniseries, for example. Van believes this format is ideal for their purposes. “We always wanted to do a small-format, black-and-white graphic novel so it could be sized and priced similar to manga works. I think of comics as things that should be read, not collected, so the goal was to make it accessible to as many readers -- especially teenage readers -- as possible. After the recent Diamond cuts, it's just extremely difficult for single issues to succeed unless Wolverine is on the cover.”

Wolverine may not be on the cover, but another tough-as-nails protagonist with a penchant for impaling his foes is. Of his story, Van explains, “At the center is Pinocchio. It picks up after the original fairy tale, with the exception that he didn't become a real boy. The vampires invade and kill Geppetto, and so Pinocchio is out for revenge. He's joined by the fairy and Master Cherry, a carpenter, and a ghost cricket -- in the original, Pinocchio smashes the cricket and kills him!”

And no, despite Geppetto falling victim to vampires, there will be no Vampetto. But how is it that Pinocchio is not a real boy in this story? Van has the answer. “We explain it that Pinocchio's legend spread around Italy, and in the process it was mixed up a little. So Collodi must have heard a version of the story in which Pinocchio became a boy, when really, he wasn't destined for such a happy ending. At least not yet.”

With the original fairy tale serving as the launching point for this story, one might wonder what other sources Van drew upon for elements of this story. But as he explains, he decided to go against the grain in terms of looking at some of the more well-known versions. “It's probably more notable for what I left out. There's no similarity to the Disney film, and I tried to ignore other vampire stories and go back to the origin of the vampire mythos. I mainly tried to make it as fun as possible, which probably owes to my love for bad action movies.”

So where does the story go after this? “Believe it or not, we've already plotted out a trilogy. And, I swear, it's a totally logical mythology that ties together the original vampire folk tales and Collodi's story. It sounds like orders are strong enough that we will get to do the second one, which I've started to script.”

           

In addition to the strong central concept, the orders probably also owe a lot to the extensive promotional campaign, something essential for any independent comic book, since they typically don’t have the instant brand recognition that the big publisher projects do. Explaining their efforts to market the book, Van says, “Working in comics journalism, I made a lot of contacts, and that's helped to get the word out. Slave Labor has made a big push too, getting various sites and publications to look at the book. They did a trailer for it, and we're going to be doing a contest later this month, giving away some of Dusty's original artwork and signed copies of the book. We also just started a Facebook group, and there will be lots of news and insights published there.”

And there are even rumors of Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer merchandise. “All I know of so far are the T-shirts, which were done by Slave Labor. I just saw them the other day, and they're quite nice. Not sure what else is planned on their end, though I might be constructing a Pinocchio marionette to take to shows. We'll see how much time I have.”

Beyond Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer, Van has a lot on his plate these days. “Doing more Kindle books for Top Shelf, then I'm looking for an artist on The Leg, an adventure graphic novel set in 1938 Mexico starring the disembodied leg of Santa Anna. I'm also writing a crime noir in the vein of L.A. Confidential that will be illustrated by Bob Hall, formerly a Marvel illustrator. Then the Pinocchio sequel. And if I ever have time, I have two novels outlined that I'd love to get finished.”

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer is a 128-page original graphic novel priced at $10.95 and ships September 30th (Diamond order code JUL090644). Tell your retailer to order it for you now!

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