It's one of those immediately funny book titles: "Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer."
Based on the name and cover alone, it would be easy to dismiss this graphic novel as a mere follower of two popular trends: (a) vampire fiction ("Twilight," "True Blood") and (b) hybrids of classic literature and genre fiction ("Pride and Prejudice and Zombies").
It would be easy to dismiss if it weren't such a wonderfully wrought tragicomedy.
"P:VS" takes place after Carlo Collodi's original story. Geppetto's been killed by vampires, and Pinocchio, still made of wood, vows vengeance. He's got at least one big advantage. When he lies, his nose grows, leaving him with an endless supply of stakes, which he loves to jab into the hearts of his foes.
Van Jensen, the Nebraska-born comic book writer and artist who co-authored "P:VS" with Dustin Higgins, isn't even all that big on vampires. This wasn't some calculated move to fall into the en vogue vamp genre, he said. Jensen just thought vampires and wooden boys gelled nicely.
Jensen grew up in the wee western Nebraskan town of Lewellen, where he started reading comics when he was 4. In high school, he began focusing on writing and studied journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he was editor of the Daily Nebraskan. He's continued to work in journalism, covering the comics beat for Publisher's Weekly and working various jobs and projects related to journalism and comics. He now lives in Atlanta with his wife.
We caught up with Jensen for a chat about his new book, his apathy toward vampires and the experience of coming-of-age in western Nebraska.
Lincoln Journal Star: Why Pinocchio and vampires?
Van Jensen: At the start, the artist, Dusty, had this basic idea of Pinocchio killing a vampire in this one-panel gag cartoon. At the time I thought it was clever and then forgot about it. Then he called me out of the blue and asked what I thought of doing a book out of this. At first I wasn't sure how to make a whole book out of this. But then I went back to the original Carlo Collodi story. It's just such a brilliant story, so subversive and funny, and there's a lot of stuff that's not in the Disney cartoon. There were a lot of elements left hanging that I could pick up and weave together in interesting ways. I thought, OK, there's potential for a real story here and not just a joke. It's something that's totally ridiculous, but we make it so that it has some meatier elements infused into it.
LJS: The book got a glowing review on USA Today's Pop Candy blog. The review noted that this is not just another story capitalizing on the vampire bandwagon. Is it frustrating that the book might just get lumped into that genre by a lot of people?
VJ: I haven't heard this yet, but I'm expecting people to say, "Oh, this is just another vampire book; I can just disregard it because of that." That would be annoying. But the book is doing well so far. And part of that owes to the fact that vampires have buzz right now. I don't think of myself as a pop author. I'm not someone who just cares about making money. But at the same time I want as many people as possible to read what I write. If being about vampires helps me get more readers, that's good.
LJS: And you're not even a vampire fan, right?
VJ: I'm trying to be. I've read "Dracula" and a couple of the "Blade" comics. But the whole vampire scene doesn't mean anything to me.
LJS: In your book, Pinocchio is this kind of surly, grizzled action hero. Were you basing his personality on any particular character or group of characters? He seemed to me like Pinocchio as mentored by John McClane.
VJ: It probably comes across that I watch a lot of action movies, especially bad action movies. I'd like to think of myself as a serious writer, but I do love some cheesy action. The other side of his personality is just the character of Pinocchio from the original. He was totally over the top and getting into trouble and not listening to anyone.
LJS: What kind of comics did you grow up reading?
VJ: I was limited. There's a grocery store in my hometown, and it's literally called The Store. In Lewellen, they don't need to create names. It's just "the whatever." The Store had a handful of issues. I read the superhero stuff, G.I. Joe comics. It wasn't until college that I even had an awareness of indie comics. I try to read tons and tons of comics because I think you can learn something from everything you read. I'll spend 10 minutes looking at a panel, thinking, "How in the hell did this guy do that?"
I don't think I'm ever going to get to this level, but I'm going to give it a shot.
Reach Micah Mertes at 473-7395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.