Jensen and Higgins put a stake in <i>Pinocchio Vampire Slayer</i>

Back in 2009 writer Van Jensen and artist Dusty Higgins introduced three simple yet brilliant words into the comic book vocabulary--Pinocchio Vampire Slayer. Over the course of the previous two volumes, the little wooden boy and his friends won our hearts--and staked a few along the way--as each lie brought a new weapon to use against Pinocchio's enemies.

The print version of the final volume, Of Wood and Blood, isn't due until this summer, but SLG Publishing will release it as a series of digital comics on comiXology and their own website (we managed to get an advance copy, which you can read right now). The first issue is free, while subsequent issues will cost 99 cents.

I caught up with Jensen and Higgins to talk about the third volume, what the series has meant to them and what they plan to do after it's finished.

JK Parkin: What was going through your heads as you put the finishing touches on this volume? Was it bittersweet, relief, accomplishment ... or some combination of all three? Did the fact that this is your last hurrah with these characters make it more difficult to finish?

Van Jensen: It was kind of an emotional conclusion for me, I'll admit. I didn't want to say goodbye to any of the characters, even the drunkards in the bar in Rome. Beyond that, this third book is in some ways a long meditation on death (don't worry, there's still plenty of humor!), so I think I'd been in a pretty dark mindset for the months that I was writing it. But, as usual, I was mostly excited to see Dusty take my script and bring it to life.

Dusty Higgins: What keeps popping back into my head as I finish these last pages (and I’ve still got a lot to go) is a sense of wonder that three years into this project I’m still working on it. When I first approached Van the with the idea, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be working on a third volume. I’d actually intended to get that first book out and move on to something else, but things happen and the story took on a life of its own. It’s always a bit sad to look at a page and think, that might be the last time I draw that character and there are redshirt vampires I’ve felt that way about, but it’s also a relief knowing soon our foray into Pinocchio’s world will be complete in a way that Van and I are both satisfied with. We didn’t make concessions on the story, we told it the way we wanted to and we’re not dragging it out for the sake of dragging it out. Knowing you have that creative freedom and being able to finish a story the way you feel it should finish... that’s what makes me want to keep doing this.

Parkin: What will you miss most about the process of working on PVS? And what will you be happy to leave behind?

Jensen: I'll miss the characters, definitely. Pinocchio especially has become very real to me, and I loved writing in his smart ass tone of voice. There's nothing I'm really eager to leave behind, but I'm happy to be walking away at what I think (and hope) is a satisfying resolution.

Higgins: Hands down the characters. When you work on characters as closely and as long as we have (I count three years as a long time) you do develop attachments. And even though I think the book ends where it should, I still kinda wonder... what happens next? But I have new stories I’d like to tell with new characters who’ve been in the back of my mind biding their time, getting impatient, so it’ll be nice to have these characters’ story finished so I can move on to other projects.

Parkin: How do you feel you've evolved, Van as a writer, Dusty as an artist, and then as a creative team, over the course of the three books? And what have you learned about the business of comics along the way?

Jensen: I finally feel like I know how to format and write a script, for starters. I came in as a journalist and knew nothing about writing comics. When I look at the writing in the first PVS now, I cringe. Each book I've definitely grown a lot, though I still have so much to learn.

As a team, I think we've always been pretty good. We communicate a lot through the entire process, and we're always batting around ideas. I do think that's become even sharper as we've gone along to the point that we'll often independently come up with the same idea.

Figuring out the business of comics was really its own learning curve. We had to understand contracts, royalties, conventions and marketing. The biggest surprise is probably how hard it is to make a living in comics. If I could offer up one piece of advice, I would just say to aspiring creators that you need to take the business side seriously. Ask questions about the economics of comics. Read closely through your contracts (or have a lawyer review them). And spend as much time at marketing your book as you did creating it.

Higgins: I think it’s easy to see my art has evolved throughout the books. I went in not having a particular style for myself (I drew the first 10 pages of the first volume three times trying to narrow down a look that I was happy with) so I borrowed from artists I liked. As I became more relaxed and confident in what I was doing I think my own style emerged from this collection of other artists whose work I admired. Van and I clicked from the beginning, it’s always been easy to work with him, something I haven’t always been able to do with other writers. I think we’re both good about keeping an open mind on ideas and respect each others opinions to look at them critically. We don’t always agree but we both respect each others ideas. As for the business of comics, being able to network and market are keys to being successful in this business.

Parkin: Besides the title character, which characters have become your favorites to work on?

Jensen: Punchinello is a lot of fun as the grizzled veteran of the puppets. I also really enjoy the group of drunks at the Materasso di Caligula (Caligula's Mattress), the bar in Rome that appears in books two and three. But probably my favorite character to write was the big villain of PVS 3. He has a lot of complexity, which made him really compelling.

Higgins: I really enjoy working with the Great Puppet Theater puppets, and if I had to pick a favorite from them, it’d have to be Harlequin; he acts a little goofier than the other characters which can make for some fun poses/expressions. At the same time, drawing the banter between Flavio and Il Capitano was always fun, too.

Parkin: What’s your favorite scene in this volume?

Jensen: A little secret: Each of these books, I try to write progressively more challenging stuff for Dusty to draw. PVS 2 had a crypt made of skulls and a sea battle. Well, PVS 3 has a fight on a hot air balloon and a battle on runaway coaches barreling along a mountain road ... and that's just in the first half! I offer up that tidbit as an apology, because my favorite scene (which is way crazier than any of that) would be a pretty major spoiler.

Higgins: Well, I’m not finished yet but, although it may change as I get closer to the end of the book, I really enjoyed the beginning. There’s a scene with palm trees and drawing the stark beach and the shadows of the leaves across Pinocchio’s face, I was just really happy with the way it turned out, like you could almost hear the ocean waves crashing against the shore and seagulls overhead. There’s tons of other scenes that are fun too. After drawing a chase scene, I’m actually starting to like drawing horses.

Parkin: SLG has moved to a digital first serialization format with their publications, which you guys are doing for the final volume. What drove the decision to release it like that? And how do it work out for Knights of the Living Dead, Dusty?

Jensen: SLG has been good to us, so we wanted to support and commit to the new digital first format. And it'll give fans a chance to read PVS 3 seven months before they could have otherwise.

Higgins: We were able to get the first two volumes out within a year of each other, but the third volume is so much bigger even before I decided to do Knights of the Living Dead, I wasn’t going to finish it in the same time frame. The third book is almost twice as long as the first one, and I have a 1-year-old in the house now, which means I don’t have as much time to work as I did when I was working on the first two volumes. For the sake of fans who’ve been waiting to see what happens after the cliffhanger at the end of book 2, we thought this would be a good way to let them see the story before the print version is released. Knights of the Living Dead has been pretty successful with the digital release so far and considering the popularity PVS has had, I expect it’ll do well in the digital market.

Parkin: What else are you guys working on right now? And do you have plans to work on something else together in the future?

Jensen: We actually just decided to do a new comics project together. It'll be an all-ages superhero story, very lighthearted and fun. But that's a ways off.

I have the Snow White: Through a Glass, Darkly series coming out soon from SLG. That's with artist Robin Holstein. Beyond that, I'm prepping a webcomic to launch this year, and artist Jose Pimienta is currently illustrating my graphic novel The Leg, which is the story of Santa Anna's disembodied leg adventuring across 1930s Mexico.

Higgins: Van talked me into working on a new project with him after PVS 3 (okay all he had to do was ask, I think it’s an awesome concept). I’m also hoping to finally work on a project I’ve had in mind since before the first Pinocchio Vampire Slayer book. I’d originally intended to work on it after PVS was finished, but then ideas for PVS 2 and PVS 3 got in the way. Still, drawing takes time, so you’ll probably see the project I work on with Van long before that project is finished, unless I win the lotto and can draw/create full-time.

Be sure to check out the entire first issue of the final Pinocchio Vampire Slayer volume right here on Robot 6.

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