He’s written sentient living planets, talking wooden puppets and the Fastest Man Alive, but The Leg: Or, the Remarkable Return of the Disembodied Limb of Santa Anna may feature Van Jensen’s strangest protagonist yet.
Jensen teamed up with artist Jose Pimienta to tell the tale of, yes, the leg of Antonio López de Santa Anna, the famous Mexican general and president who fought for Mexican independence from Spain as well as against Texas rebels at the Alamo. He later lost his leg while fighting the French in the Pastry War.
And now the leg is back, in a graphic novel that Jensen and Pimienta hope to self-publish by raising funds through Kickstarter. They’re looking for $10,000 to bring story to print, while their $25,000 stretch goal would allow them to also release a Spanish-language edition.
I spoke with Jensen about the Kickstarter and his inspiration for this tale.
JK Parkin: So, your main character is a leg. Wait, what?
Van Jensen: Comics have a history of weird protagonists, but I feel like this might be the weirdest yet. It’s the disembodied, sentient leg of Santa Anna, clad in a leather boot. The leg learns of a threat against the president of Mexico, and he ventures on a journey across Mexico, trying to save the country and restore Santa Anna’s tarnished legacy. (Legacy! Get it? I couldn’t resist.)
I remember hearing Robert Kirkman on a panel discussing how difficult it is to write your main character after you’ve cut his hand off. What are the difficulties with writing a leg that has no body attached to it? From a visual standpoint, how is this all going to work, exactly?
In this one regard, maybe I’ve topped Kirkman. The leg can’t pick anything up, though he can kick ass. He can’t talk, and there’s no first-person narration to express his thoughts. I included a lot of notes on the leg’s emotions in the script, and it’s a really intense emotional journey that he goes on. But he doesn’t even have a face! So how do you bring that across?
All of the credit goes to Jose. He just nailed that aspect of the book. You can pick up everything the character is going through, and all without a single word.
Despite the surreal idea of someone’ leg running around on its own, the story is actually tied to a real historic event — and I know it’s an idea you’ve had for a while. How did you learn about it, and what made you want to write about it?
It all started with this story I heard in a college history class more than a decade ago: Mexican President Santa Anna lost his lower left leg in battle and gave it a military funeral, but the people later exhumed it and dragged it through the streets to protest him. It was just so damn bizarre of a story, and for some reason it stuck with me. At the same time, I was fascinated with Mexican history and folklore. The more I read, the more that all of these ideas started to attach to each other and started to congeal into a narrative.
It was actually the first comic I ever wrote. I started on it in 2006, back when I had no idea how to even format a script. I finished it right before I started working on Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer, and then I stuck it in a drawer—literally. It seemed like too weird of a project to ever be published.
How did you come to work with Jose on the project?
Dan Vado introduced us at Comic-Con a few years back. Jose was looking for a book to draw, and I at first told him I didn’t have any scripts. But I randomly mentioned The Leg, and Jose perked up. I had no idea about his background, but Jose had grown up in Mexico, in the very part of the country where The Leg begins. He told me that most books set in Mexico were offensively stereotypical, but he wanted to read the script. I emailed it to him after getting home, and he emailed back just a couple of hours later, asking to draw it.
It felt meant to be, kismet. I said, hell yes, let’s do this.
Why did you decide to go with Kickstarter for this project?
There were a few reasons, but the main one is that this has been a true passion project for both Jose and myself. We’ve worked on it for years, so we were hesitant to entrust it to anyone else. I’d also been more and more interested in self-publishing, especially after taking the plunge into writing full time earlier this year. Kickstarter also gave us the opportunity to create a stretch goal to offer a Spanish-language edition of the book, which was something we really wanted to do.
Do you already have plans for how you’ll have it translated?
Initially, if we reach $25,000, we’ll offer a Spanish-language PDF to everyone who pledges for a book. Jose is translating it himself, and then we’ll hire someone to edit it, and of course we’ll have it re-lettered. If we reach a higher funding level, we’ll also potentially offer the book in two languages in print. I hope we can make that happen, both because of the subject matter and the lack of Spanish-language comics available. The more people help spread the word, the better chance we have!
Between Flash and Green Lantern, you’re obviously pretty busy over at DC, but besides those titles and The Leg, what else have you been working on or do you have coming out?
Top Shelf is publishing an omnibus edition of Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer. Dusty Higgins and I are thrilled to have that book all collected in one place. I also have another project lined up, but it’ll be a little while till that’s announced. But, you know, I’m doing the thing I dreamed of doing when I was five. How cool is that?