Jensen and artist Pete Woods' "Cryptocracy" imagines a world where every conspiracy theory -- from Roswell to the moon landing -- has been carefully controlled by a shadowy group called the Nine Families, who rule the worlds' governments from the shadows. That rule, however, is challenged once someone starts to hunt down and kill the Families.
"March's" Nate Powell joins Jensen on "Two Dead," which is similarly based on true events. The series follows the story of Jack Deubler, a Little Rock, Arkansas police lieutenant who was murdered by Police Chief O. N. Martin in 1947. Together, Jensen and Powell explore the crime, conspiracy, violence, racism and madness behind the murder-suicide.
Jensen spoke with CBR about both of his new titles, explaining what drew him to conspiracy theorist culture, what his experience as a crime reporter brought to the books and more.
CBR News: "Cryptocracy" is an interesting word. What made it the perfect title for your series?
Van Jensen: We actually really deliberated over a title for this book for a long time. There have been so many stories about dark, conspiratorial agencies over the years. But previous stories in the genre always pit the shadowy folks as villains, and our story is truly from their perspective. Why do they do what they do? What's their agenda? And what is it that scares them?
I finally came across a reference to "cryptocracy," which is a term conspiracy theorists use to describe the supposed hidden rulers of the world. It seemed fitting, and it has just the right hint of secrecy and menace.
You name a handful of well known conspiracy theories in the solicitation for the series. Was there any one in particular that inspired you, or was it the culture that surrounds them that piqued your interest?
This series evolved out of a long fascination with conspiracy theories. I tend to be a skeptic, but I find the culture of conspiracy fascinating -- the psychological reasons that lead people to believe lizard people are controlling the world, for example.
But even as skeptical as I am, there are plenty of things about this world that just don't make sense. The Antykthera Mechanism is probably my favorite example of that -- a piece of complicated machinery dated to a period of time far before such machinery should have existed. It's impossible and inexplicable, yet completely true. That's something we visit a lot in the series, exploring things that seem incredible, yet become undeniable.Â
Also, there are loads of crazy cryptozoological creatures!
Did your history as a crime reporter help influence this story?
Working as a journalist, I'm big on research. I've done a near-obsessive amount of reading and digging to prepare for this series, delving into some of the most obscure tracts on conspiracies.
But beyond that, at the core of our story is a good mystery centering around a murder. And that's the kind of story I covered almost daily on the crime beat.
Where and when does the story open?
"Cryptocracy" is set essentially in an alternate version of the present. It opens near Chicago, at a particle physics lab, home to dark matter researchers who have developed an advanced particle accelerator. Then everything goes wrong.
Can you tell us a little about the protagonist of the series?
It follows Grahame, who leads one of the Nine Families who rule the world from the shadows. They are unseen and omnipotent; their only enemies are each other. But, now, suddenly someone is hunting and killing them. And the race is on for Grahame to discover the truth about the Families' origins if he is to save them and maintain their rule.
What about Pete Woods makes him the right choice for this book?
Above all else, Pete is a phenomenal artist who, even after years of success and acclaim in comics, is still pushing his style to new places. He's also a great guy, an amazing, energetic and thoughtful collaborator. And it turns out he's one of the few people I've met who knows more about conspiracies than I do.
Your other Dark Horse project is a true crime series, a genre that's not tapped too often in comics. What about the medium makes it right for "Two Dead?"
I always saw "Two Dead" as a comic, I think in large part because -- while it is inspired by a true story -- that history has some incredible, action-packed and even horrific aspects. It's a wild yarn set in the post-WWII South, a very particular environment that is visually and thematically fascinating, yet is largely unexplored in comics.
What drew you to this particular case?
I was a crime reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper, covering homicides in the wrong part of town at the wrong time of night. I started reading up on the city's history, and what first caught my attention is how insane Little Rock used to be. It was strictly segregated, and had a serious organized crime presence. The police of that era were often Wild West-style lawmen, prone to solving problems with their service pistol. Amid that era, this crime was the most bizarre and impactful, as the police themselves were dragged into a maelstrom of race and mental illness.
What kind of research did you conduct to prepare to write this story?
I wrote an article about the story years back, and to research it I pulled a lot of microfiche of historic newspaper articles. The Little Rock Police Department also has a nice volume on the department's history. There are some other resources that have good photos of the city of that era.Â
How was creating a true crime script different from writing fiction? What was it like for you to combine both of these experiences?
This series is inspired by true events rather than strictly based on them -- both to protect the families of people involved, and because there are gaps in the historic record -- so it did involve the same creative muscles that go into writing "The Flash."
But it is different, as it's so heavily based in fact. I hadn't really combined those skill sets previously, and it's been really energizing. Honestly, I'd love to work on more nonfiction comics, if the right project came along.
Considering the events in "Two Dead" are based in historical fact, how did you coordinate the story with Nate Powell? As an artist with experience chronicling historical events, what does he bring to the table?
Nate is a native of the Little Rock area, so he brings a firsthand knowledge of the place and its culture that goes far beyond what I saw in my few years living there. And you're exactly right. Coming off of the "March" graphic novels, Nate is an old pro at nonfiction. He does tons of research on visuals, perfectly capturing the look of the era. Nate has brought a lot of great insight to the story. He's written some of my favorite comics, so I'm thrilled to have him lend his storytelling skills to the series.
Nate is also just a great guy and a good friend. I couldn't imagine doing this book with anyone else.
"Cryptocracy" will be available in May 2016. "Two Dead" debuts in September 2016.