The story of Pinocchio originally debuted in 1883 in The Adventures of Pinocchio by writer Carlo Collodi, and since then the story of a wooden doll searching for life has gotten a life of his own. Best known for the Disney animated movie Pinocchio, it’s also found it’s way into comics with Bill Willingham’s popular series Fables, as well as being the inspiration for Osamu Tezuka’s iconic manga Astro Boy. With all his success, Pinocchio’s never had a proper continuation of his own story – until now.
In the upcoming SLG-published graphic novel Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer, cartoonist Dusty Higgins and artist Van Jensen have teamed up to tell a tale of the titular hero as he goes down a dark path – a path forged by vampires who have taken over his hometown and killed Geppetto. With his maker and adopted father dead, Pinocchio has turned into a boy seeking single-minded vengeance against the vampires who caused it all. He’s aided by two adults from his past, the Blue Fairy and Master Cherry – the carpenter who found the wood which became Pinocchio.
Newsarama talked with the graphic novel’s creators about this interesting take on Pinocchio.
Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, guys. How would you describe Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer?
Van Jensen: The book is a really fun and ridiculous mash-up of horror, humor, action and folktale, and I think it's something that just about anyone can pick up and enjoy. It's loaded with cool fights and jokes that could've come from a Steven Seagal movie. But Dusty and I also worked diligently to give it heart and depth, too. I imagine there will be people who dismiss it as frivolous, but we did treat Pinocchio as a real, fully realized character. So I like to think folks looking for more cerebral fare will appreciate it as well.
NRAMA: How did the idea for this book come to you, Dusty?
Dusty Higgins: I sketch or doodle or whatever you want to call it, a lot. And it can be about anything, whatever's running through my head at the moment just to keep those creative gears turning. The whole idea can be traced back to this one sketch I did with Pinocchio (I think I had just seen a Shrek movie, and that character had appealed to me) writing graffiti on a wall and being caught by a police officer. He lies to get out of it, accidentally stakes the police officer and as I'm looking at this finished sketch something clicks over and the concept of him as a vampire slayer becomes so obvious. Then there was more sketches, and the looking around to see if anyone else had done this idea, and then the giddy (yes, giddy) feeling that I've actually managed to come up with a pretty cool idea that it appears no one else has done. At a certain point, though, I realized I was stuck. When I write, I'll write over and over again, I'm not very confident in the writing thing. So, knowing Van was interested in writing comics, I called him up and we start talking about it. I think he said yes before I'd finished telling him the idea. Working with him has really filled out the story more than I had anticipated was even with possible. Some of my favorite parts of the story are ideas he brought in.
JENSEN: We worked together at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper in Little Rock, where Dusty still is a designer/illustrator and I was a reporter. I had seen Dusty's sketch of a "bad Pinocchio," and after I moved to Atlanta he called and asked if I would script it. More than anything, I knew how skilled Dusty was, so I accepted.
NRAMA: Dusty, how would you describe this book?
HIGGINS: I guess dark humor might be the best way to describe it. I think a lot of people are going to go into thinking it's going to be a big joke (and maybe they'll finish it thinking it was too) but there is a story there. You've got your horror elements, drama, even a little love interest, and of course, the ridiculousness of a puppet lying to make his nose grow so he can slay vampires. I might be biased because I've been working with this story and these characters for nearly a year, but to me it can't simply be slapped into the humor category, though it probably will be.
NRAMA: And Pinnochio, he’s changed since the original story. What’s he like now?
HIGGINS: Pinocchio's matured, at least his attitude has. He's had to deal with vampires invading his town and killing his father. That can make you grow up pretty fast. He's still a puppet, but he's much more cynical and less of that innocent happy-go-lucky puppet from the children's story.
NRAMA: Dusty has told us about Pinnochio. Can you tell us about the other primary characters of the book?
JENSEN: After Geppetto's death, Pinocchio has assembled this team of vampire hunters. The fairy Canpenella returns from the fairy tale, but she's now very old and haggard. She uses her magic spells to help Pinocchio learn the secret origin of the vampires. Then there's Mastery Cherry, also from the original. He's a carpenter who fills in as a father figure, and he also devises various wooden implements to combat the undead. My favorite is the cricket. In the fairy tale, he gets smashed with a hammer by Pinocchio, then returns as a ghost. So in our book, Pinocchio has a ghost cricket floating along, offering a mix of advice and wisecracks. There are also a variety of villains whose identities will be revealed in good time.
NRAMA: In this, Pinnochio uses his own nose – broken off – as a stake to kill vampires. This is an interesting idea – how’d it come up?
HIGGINS: I probably answered that in the first question, but it can also be because I have a weird, quirky way of looking at life... and I'm also a big nerd who's actually considered the concept of Pinocchio more than any person probably should.
NRAMA: Since it’s based on the original story of Pinnochio, can you tell us your own thoughts on that original as you come in for this homage/sequel?
HIGGINS: I grew up with the Disney version of Pinocchio, which is really, not Pinocchio The original story is so much darker than the original, we've used this example a lot, but Pinocchio was hanged in the original. You're not going to see that in the Disney version. And I'll admit, I didn't read the original story until we started fleshing out ideas for the book, but there are so many great characters and moments in the original that I had been unaware of. There are so many great characters from Collodi's version that we were able to pull into our story, and while we've made some changes (obviously Pinocchio didn't quite make it to real boy status), we wanted to retain the same essence of that version. I like to think of this story as being the, "what if Pinocchio didn't live happily ever after" sequel to the original. As dark and funny as the original was, I don't think we had to stray too far, just throw the vampires in and imagine how the characters might react.
JENSEN: If our book leads to people going back and reading Carlo Collodi's original fairy tale and forgetting Disney's version, I'll view it as a success. Collodi's story is one of my favorites, just an incredibly funny, weird, subversive yarn. When I started reading it to research our book, I was both overwhelmed by how much awesome material Collodi had created and how high of a standard he left for anyone wanting to play in his sandbox. I would never say our book lives up to that standard, but we tried to maintain the tone and, most importantly, to carry on Collodi's very imperfect character of this wooden puppet.