On Friday June 4 and Saturday June 5, I attended Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC. While I was there I had the honor of interviewing with several creators who make comics for kids and teens. Today’s interview (transcribed from the audio recording) features Van Jensen, writer for Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer (illustrated by Dustin Higgins, published by SLG), one of YALSA’s Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2010.
GCFK: What is your comic background? How did you first get started working in comics?
Van: The short version is that I read comics growing up, into the 90s and then the industry kind of sucked at that time, to be honest, so I quit reading all comics and moved into journalism as a career. I was a newspaper reporter, I’ve written for all kinds of magazines, websites, etc. I wrote a novel at one point and thought I was going to do an MFA in creative writing. Then I started doing comic book reviews for the newspaper and was gradually pulled back into them. It’s just been a train ride from there!
GCFK: What comics and comic creators have influenced you?
Van: I really like Top Shelf’s books, so it’s great to work with them. I wasn’t able to read a lot of comics as a kid beyond Spider-man, G.I. Joe, X-Men. I thought Larry Hama did a great job on G.I. Joe, surprisingly. I read a ton of comics, probably 100-200 graphic novels a year at least and I learn something from all of them. I don’t think there’s any one person who has a big thumbprint on how I write.
GCFK: Where did you get the idea for Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer?
Van: From the artist [Dusty Higgins]. We worked together at a newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas and one day he did a sketch of Pinocchio stabbing a vampire and showed it to me and of course I laughed. Surprisingly a year later, after I had moved away, he called me and said, “Hey, why don’t we make a book out of Pincchio killing vampires?” I said, “Sounds great to me!” From there it was just going back to the Carlo Collodi original and finding enough source material to make a full story out of it.
GCFK: Did you do most of the research off of the original or did you have other stuff you had to look into as well?
Van: The original is the main thing and then I did some historical research for the Italian setting. One of the big things was that everyone writes about vampires, there are a billion vampire stories out there. I feel like vampire fiction is an evolution of the Bram Stoker story. There’s Bram Stoker, Ann Rice, Stephenie Meyer, there’s a lineage there. I felt like I needed to go before Bram Stoker and find out what the very first vampire stories were like and they were grosser, rough, violent stories that I felt like I could have some fun with. Do something a little more original.
GCFK: Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer was one of the Top Ten on the 2010 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. How has that affected your life?
Van: It’s sold some books, to be totally blunt! [laughs] I think there were people who maybe wondered about the quality of the book, if it was just a simple joke. The concept doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good book. But I think that the American Library Association, for a very good reason, has a great amount of influence, so I felt like it was a broad validation, saying that there’s a real story here, that it’s a quality book that you can really get something out of.
GCFK: What new projects are you working on right now?
Van: The second volume in the Pinocchio series; the full title is Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater. It will be out in October [from SLG]. There will be a third book in that series and I’m going to start working on it shortly. I’ve written four other graphic novels that are hopefully on the way at some point. I’m also working on a screenplay right now.
GCFK: For the new graphic novels that aren’t in the Pinocchio series, are you doing art and writing or just writing?
GCFK: Do you have any advice for young comic creators?
Van: I think just read a lot and just make stuff. There are resources out there that you can learn [comic creation] from, but by far the most valuable thing is to absorb the content [in other comics] and learn how other people have done it. As far as nitty-gritty advice, once you get to a point where you have a book, pitch it to a publisher that does that kind of book. I work with Top Shelf, which is an indie publisher, and people will try to sell us on superhero stories and we would never publish a superhero story, so it’s a waste of your time and it’s a waste of our time. Do the research, know the industry a little bit before you just start throwing your book around.