THE GRAPHIC HEADSTONE: VAN JENSEN, COMIC WRITER!

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VAN JENSEN, Co-Creator “Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer” and current writer for DC Comics’ “Green Lantern Corps” and “The Flash.”

Deadwest: Howdy there, Scream Freaks! I was try’n to rest up in this here cemetery before head’n back to the Howl-Inn, but some jack-hole’s making too much noise around here! I think it’s coming from that tree over there . . . looks like some loony with an axe. Hey! Knock it off!

Van Jensen: Can’t stop! Can’t stop!

DW: You got lumberjack fever? Why are you chopping that tree down in such a hurry?

VJ: You don’t understand. I have to free him!

DW: Who?

VJ: Pinocchio! Vampire sorcerers banished him to this dimension as a tree, and I have to rebuild him before they lay waste to his village.

DW: Uh huh. We best start from the beginning. You’re . . . ?pinocchio_vampire_slayer_cover_sm_lg

VJ: Van Jensen, co-creator of Pinoccio, Vampire Slayer and current writer for DC Comics’ Green Lantern Corps and the Flash.

DW: I’ve heard of you! Boy howdy, a comic writer in the Crosslands! You mind if I ask you some questions for the Scream Freaks while you chop away?

VJ: Go ahead.

DW: Alright! So, for those who don’t know, Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer takes place after the original fairy tale ends, and starts with Geppetto being killed by vampires. After discovering his nose can be used to stake vamps, Pinocchio must defend his village with the help of a woodcarver, a greatly aged Blue Fairy, and the ghost of the nagging cricket he squashed some time ago. Van, where did the idea for a vamp kill’n Pinocchio come from?

VJ: That was all the artist, Dusty Higgins. We worked together at a newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas, and one day Dusty drew a sketch of Pinocchio lying with his nose stabbing a vampire. It was a year later (after I’d moved to Atlanta) that Dusty called me out of the blue to ask if I wanted to make a book out of the idea. Of course I said yes!

DW: How did you manage to get Pinocchio published by Slave Labor Graphics? Were you already working for them or did you have to pitch the concept?

VJ: In the summer of 2008, Dusty and I did a 10-page preview and showed that to a few of our friends in comics. They were all encouraging, so we sent it to SLG. They signed us on pretty quickly thereafter.

DW: Your success story with Pinocchio sounds similar to the creators of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Turtles was originally a gag of an idea between Eastman and Laird that became an actual comic which was developed into a praise worthy series. Was Pinocchio just a gag that ran away with itself, leading to 4 volumes worth of stories?pin2

VJ: The idea itself is really silly: Pinocchio using his nose as stakes to kill the undead. We thought the right approach was to treat it relatively seriously, never goofy or self conscious. And we actually did have the core of the idea of the whole story from day one. We slipped one teaser panel into that first book, just so we could say “I told you so” years later once it was all finished! We wanted to tell this one story, originally envisioned as a trilogy. We didn’t know it would take 500-plus pages to tell it, of course. We really had no idea if we’d be able to do more than one book, but it took off, so we were happy to keep telling Pinocchio’s story.

DW: Obviously, Pinocchio is a period piece. When writing such stories, do you help your artists with any kind of reference or just leave them to figure it out themselves?

VJ: I do a decent amount of pulling reference. I’m probably pretty anal retentive. Comes from being a journalist. Details. Details. Details.

DW: Many people might not know this, but the writers are also responsible for the sound effects in comics. Do you find it hard or fun to write sound effects?

VJ: It’s funny you ask. When I wrote Pinocchio, I didn’t write any! Not because I didn’t want to, I just didn’t think about the fact that was something I needed to do. But now I find it fun. I probably have pet ones that I over-rely on. I’ve been trying to shake it up more. I like K’s. Harsh feel to the letter. It’s fun, thinking about how a letter looks, rather than how it sounds.

DW: Pop quiz! How would you write the sound effect for a wet bag of trash falling from a roof top?

VJ: FFFLUMMPSSH. Best question ever.

DW: Would you consider your Pinocchio a super hero?

VJ: Nah. He’s really just a very immature, selfish teenager who’s forced to grow up all at once when he discovers the weight of the world is on his shoulders. We wanted to treat him as very flawed and human, in keeping with Carlo Collodi’s original story.

DW: Was it the good fortune you had with Pinocchio that earned you your big break into the big leagues writing for DC Comics?Green_Lantern_Corps_Vol_3_21

VJ: Eventually, yeah. The first Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer book came out in 2009. It wasn’t until 2013 that my pal, Robert Venditti, passed copies along to editors at DC. Even though Pinocchio was my only comic writing credit, it was enough to convince them to give me a shot at Green Lantern Corps.

DW: How many comics are you currently writing for?

VJ: The Flash and the Green Lantern Corps.

DW: I understand the life of a comic artist is very demanding like 25/8. Is the life of a comic writer any less stressful?

VJ: Writing takes WAY less time. And I’m pretty efficient, with my training from being a newspaper reporter. It’s a fun gig, but it has its stresses. Mostly that comes in editing issues (looking over lettering, art, colors, etc.) as deadlines loom. And then every issue that comes out, there’s the stress of instant feedback online. But I’m definitely thrilled with the line of work I’ve chosen and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

DW: Is it difficult writing 2 comics that could easily become heavy with a lot of scientific jargon like the physics of space travel with Green Lantern Corps or the science behind kinetic energy with Flash?

VJ: I have a background in science writing, so the big weird physics of space are cool to write. I was also a crime reporter, so I love the idea of space police. Flash really drew me in, because I know the crime/forensics stuff really well, and Iris has my exact job.

DW: One’s got to be tougher to write for?

VJ: Oh, man, Flash is so easy! He’s a dude on Earth who runs fast. No sweat. Green Lantern Corps is way more time consuming. So many planets to create, so much history to remember.

DW: I have to ask, were you a fan of Green Lantern or Flash before writing for them?

VJ: I can’t claim to being a fan. I had read the books off and on over the years, but I was always too busy to read lots of superhero stuff.

DW: Does that mean you have that one uber geek friend that helps you write what fans might want to read about each hero?

VJ: I have a lot of friends who are really into these characters. One guy, Durf, he’s my Green Lantern expert. Durf knows EVERYTHING. I definitely do ask people, but mostly I just re-read the old stuff. I want to see it with fresh eyes, see what sparks my imagination, what old elements I can play with.

DW: Any of these friends ever try to persuade you to bring back some silly or obscure character from each title?

VJ: For the little shout-outs to fans, I probably try mostly just to squeeze in things to amuse myself. We threw the Lantern B’ox into a lot of issues. He’s just a box, basically. So awesome.3774250-flash+01

DW: Is your writing free of any influence or tie-ins to events occurring on the new Flash TV show on the CW?

VJ: I wouldn’t say there’s no influence. Just not a lot. My editors have been great about encouraging the most creative stories, above all else.

DW: How far in advance do you have to plan a issue? Do you have to have like 5-6 issues at least plotted out at a time or do you figure stories out 1-2 issues at a time as you work on them?

VJ: I always have a pretty good idea of the stories coming a full year ahead. That’s just how my brain works: I’m constantly thinking through the plot, following logical progressions. And then I do more detailed plots typically 4-6 issues ahead. However, things have come up that forced course adjustments. That’s just part of the gig. And a lot of that comes from us writers figuring things out as we go along. You make one change, then you have to do the work to make sure the logic carries through to everything.

DW: I heard Pinocchio was in the works for being a movie. Does your involvement in its development process cut into your busy schedule a lot and make deadlines difficult?pinocchiotease1

VJ: There was a years-long effort to make a Pinocchio movie. Ultimately, it didn’t happen. Maybe one day we’ll do something more with it. The people involved were great, so I was very hands off. As I had to be, trying to balance a career plus comics work.

DW: I see your almost done with your little wooden boy there, so I’ll wrap this up with a few machine gun questions: What comic book would you like to write for? What artist do you want to work with? What’s the biggest thing you think you might be remembered for writing Green Lantern Corps and Flash?

VJ: I’d really love to write this Creeper story I came up with years back, based on the Steve Ditko origin. If I could work with anyone, it’d be Nate Powell. One day. I have no idea whether anyone will remember me or not, let alone what they might remember. For Flash, hopefully the “crying sandwich” GIF will be my legacy.

DW: Finally, what advice do you have for comic writers out there trying to break into the business, and what can they expect when they do?

VJ: If you want to break into comics, just make comics. Forget your opus. Start with eight pages, 10 at most. Make those damn good pages. Then hire a good artist. Then put it online and print out copies, and get feedback. Take that feedback. Study your mistakes. Make another 10 pages. Make it better. Get more feedback. At that point, you’re already farther along than 99 percent of those who say they want to break into comics. Once you’re actually IN comics, realize it’s going to be another 3-5 years before you’re really IN comics.

DW: Your little wooden boy looks a little rough around the edges there.

VJ: Dusty’s the artist, but I’m fairing pretty well.

DW: Kinda looks like Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

VJ: Dammit! Maybe I can start over with the stump. Give me a hand?

DW: Looks like I’m in for the long haul, Scream Freaks. Be sure to check out Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer in one of his 4 graphic novels and pick up an issue of Green Lantern Corps and The Flash at your local comic shop today! If you want to keep up with Van and his adventures, just follow him on Twitter, @van_jensen. I’ll see ya later!

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