Twitter came through for me again – woot! – and I was lucky enough to land an interview with Van Jensen, writer for Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer (illustrated by Dustin Higgins), one of YALSA’s Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2010. Hurray for twitter stalking!
Can you tell us about your comic Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer?
The concept behind Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer is pretty simple: Pinocchio lies, his nose grows out and — ta da! — he can snap it off to make a perfect wooden stake for killing vampires. But the artist and I wanted to make more than just a jokey little story, so we went back to the original Carlo Collodi Pinocchio fairy tale and used it for inspiration.
The first book begins with vampires arriving in Pinocchio’s hometown and killing Geppetto, sending the puppet on a campaign for revenge. The second book — Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater (coming out this month) — sees Pinocchio team up with a band of theatrical puppets that also appear in the original story. Then a third and final book will come out in about a year.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got interested in reading and then creating your own comics?
I started reading comics when I was 4 or 5, but I grew up in a really small town, so I only ever could buy stuff like X-Men, Spider-Man and G.I. Joe. I actually originally wanted to be a comics artist. But I dropped comics in high school, and it wasn’t until college that I got back into them and started to read a wider range of titles. I was working as a newspaper reporter and started writing a column of comics reviews and news, and eventually I just realized that I had a burning desire to make some comics of my own.
Where did you get the idea for Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer?
All the credit for that goes to the artist, Dusty Higgins. We worked together at a newspaper, and one day he sketched out a “bad Pinocchio” character that was killing vampires. I thought it was clever, but I totally forgot about it. I had moved away, and Dusty randomly called me and asked if I wanted to write a book about Pinocchio slaying vampires. Of course I said yes!
What are some of the vampire books and comics that you love? Did any of these influence Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer?
I really enjoyed Stoker’s Dracula, of course. And some of the old horror comics, or newer stuff like Blade. But I have to admit that I thought the vampire genre had grown a little stale. So the vampire books that most influenced me were nonfiction books that focus on the historical vampires and vampire folklore. The two most influential were Vampires, Burial and Death by Paul Barber and Phantasms by Don Calmet, which was written during the late 1700s when stories of vampirism were spreading across Eastern Europe.
What was the creation process like between you and Dustin?
Dusty and I live in separate cities, so most of our communication is through e-mail or phone. Because the book was his idea, I’m always very careful to make sure he’s happy with what I write. So I send him outlines and get his feedback before starting on the script. He has suggested lots of great stuff to write into the books. We’re both very open to adjusting things to make the best book possible, and our aesthetic tastes are pretty similar. Dusty’s a great artist to work with.
Ok, here’s a question I ask all folks I interview: I’ve noticed that most of the authors I follow on Twitter talk about the music they’re currently writing to. What kind of setting/atmosphere do you find most conducive?
I actually can’t listen to music at all while I write! Boring, I know. But I have to write in situations that are very free of distraction, so I turn off the Internet, turn off any music and just sort of lock myself away and pound at the keyboard for a few hours.
Who is your favorite fictitious vampire (other than your own)?
Definitely Eli from Let the Right One In. She’s a great mix of incongruity: terrible and sweet, gentle and ferocious, delicate and terrifying.
Given the current vampire craze, people feel specially attracted to vampires, why do you think that is?
There’s evidence that the idea of vampirism goes back almost to humanity’s origin. For example, early humans would mutilate dead bodies in a ritualistic way, presumably to prevent them from returning as vampires (though the practice certainly predates that term). Barber’s book makes a strong case that this idea stemmed from a fear of death and a misunderstanding of the natural processes of decay. I think that the fear of death is certainly part of it, as that’s one element that’s present during every time period when vampires are in vogue.
But my thought is that vampires don’t represent death as much as a triumph over death. Because if vampires are dead, and yet they live, that means there is life after death. So, in that sense, vampires are almost hopeful even as they’re horrifying.
What is your favorite vampire movie?
I think my favorite piece of vampire fiction ever is the film Let the Right One In (the original, not the U.S. remake). That movie is brilliant, and it holds a very important lesson for writers: Focus on the characters.
Tell our readers why they should check out Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer – in 3 words: (bwahaha)
And finally, what other projects are you currently working on? Any goodies we should watch out for?
I just finished the script to the third (as yet un-subtitled) Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer. I’ve written three other graphic novels — a crime noir, a children’s superhero story and the adventures of the disembodied leg of Santa Anna — and am in the process of pitching them to publishers. A few other things, but sadly nothing I can announce quite yet!