Joining us today for our first interview of 2010, we have Dusty Higgins and Van Jensen, creators, artists, and writers behind the graphic novel Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer.
LibraryDad: How on Earth did you come up with the idea for a vampire killer in the body of a wooden puppet?
Van Jensen: I'll let Dusty tackle this one, since he came up with the idea.
Dusty Higgins: I sketch a lot just to keep those creative muscles going. It all started with a sketch that got way out of control. That and I've got a weird sense of humor.
LD: How long did it take to write and illustrate the book?
VJ: First we had to talk through the story and get an outline we were both happy with. From there, the scripting took me a few weeks. Then we continued to tweak things until right before it was sent to the printer.
DH: It's hard to say exactly because I juggle a lot of projects around at once, but it was about a year from when we first said "Hey, let's do this" to when we said, "Whoa, we actually finished that."
LD: Are you two working on another another Pinocchio book or some other project?
VJ: I've completed the script to Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer 2 and Dusty is started illustrating it. We can't say much about the story yet, but if you like the first, you'll love the second. Beyond that, I have a handful of my own writing projects that are on the way, including three graphic novels with other illustrators.
DH: I've started the pages for Pinocchio II, and I'm sure we'll be posting some updates on the second book on the pinocchiovampireslayer.com Web site in the coming weeks. I'm also working on another project with Ron Wolfe called "Knight of the Living Dead."
LD: Did growing up in the mid-west (Nebraska and Arkansas) make it harder to get the book published? Or did you find a stronger following because of it?*
VJ: The key to getting the book published was finding the right publisher and sending them a good pitch. There are a lot of qualities I think one gains from living in the Midwest, with work ethic being atop that list. But there wasn't anything in my background that really related. I think it helped that I had worked in the comics industry before, and so I knew what publishers were looking for.
DH: I hadn't really thought about it. I think it's the idea and the quality of the work being done that sells the book more than mine or Van's location. The internet has helped a lot in getting the word out on the book. I think that makes location irrelevant. It is kind of nice being considered one of a handful of comic book artists in Arkansas.
LD: What was the best part of working on Pinocchio?
VJ: Definitely seeing pages as Dusty sent them over. It was a fun book to write, and I tried to script as much fun stuff for Dusty to draw as possible. And he always exceeded expectations.
DH: The characters we have, hands down. Be it the ones we created, or the ones we've pulled from the original Pinocchio. They were really fun to work with. It all started with Pinocchio, but some of my favorite characters to draw ended up being Canpanella, the blue fairy, as well as the Fox and the Cat.
LD: What's the least glamorous thing you do in the line of duty?
VJ: I work on the side for the publisher Top Shelf, and often my job is to help out packing boxes in the warehouse. Not very glamorous!
DH: As much as I enjoy it, I wouldn't exactly call drawing comics glamorous. It's a lot of long hours and late nights spent hunched over the drawing board. It can be fun and rewarding but it takes as much as it gives... none of it's glamorous.
LD: What skill would you most like to improve?
VJ: I'm always working on my writing, but one thing I've been focusing on lately is art. I grew up drawing and wanted to illustrate comics as a career. After spending the past decade working as a writer, I'm finally picking up the drawing board again. Unfortunately, my skills are pretty rusty.
DH: My first inclination is to say drawing, but I'm constantly finding new styles I enjoy, and I'll probably never be satisfied with that. Same for my writing. Perhaps my ability to network with people... it's really important nowadys, and I suck at it.
LD: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
VJ: I've been working toward having a book published for the past five years, so to finally have it happen is really rewarding. The most enjoyable part is definitely talking with fans.
DH: I'm proud of finishing a 128-page graphic novel, it was a big achievement. I do feel like my first child, coming in June (sorry, not available in stores), will be an accomplishment I'll be much more proud of.
LD: What keeps you up at night?
VJ: Besides vampires? Usually deadlines.
DH: Assignments... and video games (when the assignments are finished, of course).
LD: Who is the most under-appreciated author you know?
VJ: I'm not sure people realize just how good Rob Venditti is. His two Surrogates graphic novels are the best science fiction I've read in the past decade. He has two big books coming up this year in the thriller Homeland Directive and a graphic novel adaptation of The Lightning Thief, though, so he'll be plenty appreciated soon.
DH: I don't know if he should be described as an author, but I think Ben Caldwell is really under-appreciated as a comic book artist. He does some amazing work and his Wonder Woman for Wednesday Comics was phenomenal. His forms have this terrific feeling of action and movement. I'm surprised he hasn't been asked to do more work in the industry (although maybe he has and has just been turning people down, I don't know).
*I know this sounds like an odd question, but it was actually the Nebraska connection that made me want to read Pinocchio. My father's side of the family comes from central Nebraska so I always have my ears on for authors coming from the region.