There is a rich tradition of unlikely vampire slayers. Think valley girl Buffy — as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer — or lord and savior Jesus Christ — as in the horror/musical/comedy Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. Writer Van Jensen, a native Nebraskan and 2004 UNL grad, and artist Dusty Higgins thought that Pinocchio — as in the puppet who wishes to be a real boy — seemed an obvious choice. The two wrote and Higgins illustrated the graphic novel Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer , one of last year’s surprise comics hits. Soon the sequel, Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater will be available online and at comic book stores. Higgins says the idea of Pinocchio slaying vampires had more humble, or at least less demony, origins: a one-off cartoon Higgins made while he and Jensen were working at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette . “I imagined what would happen if Pinocchio was caught spraying graffiti, and accidentally staked the police officer,” Higgins says. Whenever the wooden puppet tells a lie, his nose grows, providing him with a ready supply of one of the more basic, and effective, weapons of vampire slay-age. “We made the vampire connection, and from then on it took a life of its own,” Higgins says. Higgins and Jensen self-published a 10-page mini-comic as a preview of their idea for a full-blown graphic novel to show potential publishers. Jensen, who now lives in Decatur, GA, took the mini-comic to the 2008 Heroes Con comic convention in Charlotte, N.C, and suddenly the mini-comic was circulated among writers and artists Jensen had admired for years as a comics fan. Fleshing out a gag-drawing to a full-length graphic novel for part one was difficult, Jensen says, especially since he’s “always really disliked vampires.” “They seem really played out. I was really reluctant to write a story, I wanted to do something different.” Turning to vampire folktales that predate Bram Stoker’s Dracula , Jensen found portrayals of vampires more bestial than Stoker’s suave, alluring, archetypal count. “There are really cool historical accounts by Catholic bishops in eastern Europe of vampire plagues in the 1700s,” Jensen says. “It enabled me to write about vampires and not feel like I was rehashing stuff that’s been done a thousand times.” And for the Pinocchio side of Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer , he turned to Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio , first published in 1881. “We researched the story, and it had so much original, amazing, totally bizarre stuff,” Jensen says. “Most people aren’t familiar with it at all. We just wanted to play in that world and help people get an image of how awesome and weird Collodi was as a writer.” Jensen says he turned to Collodi’s original story for the backbone of part two: The Great Puppet Theater. In Collodi’s original, Pinocchio comes across a performance of other puppets. “It’s like he’s the little brother of these sentient puppets. They have a small adventure and part ways,” Jensen says. “If there are these other wooden puppets out there, it makes sense that they’d be equally good at killing vampires.” Higgins had the idea of basing the members of the Great Puppet Theater on the stock characters of the Italian theatre tradition Commedia Dell’arte, such as the Harlequin, Il Capitano and Columbina. His art for the comics is simple, heavy on black space, but dynamic and cartoony, the result of time constraints and aesthetic choices. Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer is something he’s worked on between full-time work and time with his family. “I wanted to do something relatively quickly, a page or two a night,” Higgins says. “The balance is realistic style with something cartoony … using a lot of black space allowed me to finish pages faster.” Higgins and Jensen have plans to make Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer a trilogy, and each is working on other comics projects with other collaborators. The response to part one has surpassed their expectations, Jensen says. “It’s pretty terrifying to create something and put it out in the marketplace,” Jensen says. “I think people enjoyed the book first because it is clever and second because we worked hard to craft a character-driven story. Or maybe they just like seeing vampires get shanked with noses.”

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