Comic book writer Van Jensen (Pinocchio Vampire Slayer, Flash & Green Lantern) attended the 31st Dragon Con, with many fans clamoring for autographs and pictures. I got to sit down with him and talk about his upcoming new comics and his exciting new venture into filmmaking. Check out the interview below.
What are you nerding out about recently?
I just came back from Nebraska with my family where we watched the eclipse. We nerded out pretty heavily.
Did you get to be in the middle of the darkness?
Yeah. We drove out and got to be in the middle of totality.
How did you get started in comics?
I read comics as a kid and my mom’s an artist, so I started drawing my own comics. I wanted to be a comic artist, but I never really met anyone who was in comics. It didn’t seem realistic. It was almost like Santa Claus made it up somewhere. So I became a journalist and I worked at a newspaper with an artist, but I still had aspirations of doing creative writing. The artist had this idea of doing a story about Pinocchio killing vampires, and he asked me to write it. That was in 2008 and that became Pinocchio Vampire Slayer. We didn’t know what we were doing. We just said, let’s do a book together. It came out and did pretty well.
I actually sold a lot of the Pinocchio books when I worked at Georgia Tech’s bookstore.
Oh yeah. I used to work at Tech. I helped run their magazine for a while and guest lecture sometimes. I guess with that connection they would have the book there.
When you started to branch out in comics, when did you know that it was a viable thing?
I kind of had this really weird, early validation. I had a ten-page preview of Pinocchio and I had just moved to Atlanta and I didn’t know anything about comics except I was reading them. So I took these ten-page previews to HeroesCon in Charlotte. I passed them out to a few people and one of them ended up doing a panel with Darwyn Cooke and some other writers. And while they were doing the panel, he was reading it and laughing. The other panelists wanted to know what was happening and he showed them the comic. I had no clue this was happening. But all of these big name people were reading this book. All of a sudden I had Mark Waid tracking me down and telling me I needed to be doing this. I didn’t even have a book out. I only had a preview.
I’m always curious how much freedom you have, especially with characters you can use, on big titles like The Flash?
That’s kind of the challenge for any big superhero property, because these characters have been around for seventy and eighty years, so the job is to write something that’s never been done but also don’t change anything. I think there is a lot more freedom than you would expect there to be. I never had DC hand me a story and say, “this is the story go and execute it.” The most direction we got was with the Green Lantern series and they asked us to do something with the New Gods and the Green Lantern. I was like, sure, I’ll write a story. And that was Godhead.
With all of the recent comic adaptations into screen and television, have you been approached about any of your stories?
We just went through a five-year effort with Pinocchio Vampire Slayer, and I had no expectations but it would have been a terrible movie. Stuff definitely comes up a lot. I’ve actually directed a couple of short films and I’m pitching a television pilot now, but doing things in comics definitely opens a door for you.
How different is it going from comics to television?
With any type of writing there’s a storytelling skillset that applies, but the skills are very different. I’m working on a novel now, and prose is very different to write.
Have you tried to get back into drawing?
I’ve actually drawn some backup and variant covers for indie stuff. I’ve done commissioned work, but I don’t really broadcast it. Since I’ve started directing films, I draw my own storyboards.
Can you talk a bit about your films?
I used to run magazines and then I shifted to writing full time. I just discovered, and it’s really stupid to say, but I missed project management. I love overseeing a big production and managing every aspect of it. I like facilitating broad scale collaboration. I just thought, what kind of job could I do that’s creative that’s like that? After talking to some of my friends, I realized that I’m talking about directing. I just directed a short film last June and it’s doing the film festivals this year. It’s called Pisser, and it’s a comedy about a guy battling against a urinal. It was super intense, but a great experience. I’ve directed another short and I’m about to shoot a music video with a local hip-hop group. I also worked in a small capacity on Stranger Things.
What other comic projects do you have coming out?
I’ve got a book coming out called Fallen Suns. It’s a sci-fi series from Chapterhouse Comics. I’m doing graphic novel adaptations of the James Bond novels. Casino Royale will be out this winter. In about a year, I have a book coming out called Two Dead, from Simon and Schuster; it’s a true crime story.