Van Jensen, the up-and-coming writer behind Green Lantern Corps and The Flash, has a whole new kind of hero to introduce to comics fans: The Leg.
A mix of Mexican folklore and real history, The Leg is a 180-page, full-color graphic novel that tells the story of the sentient, disembodied leg of real-life historical figure Santa Anna.
The Leg's description goes like this: In 1938 Mexico, it's a century after Santa Anna lost his left leg in battle against French invaders. Now, mysteriously, the Leg has returned, and it discovers a new threat against its beloved country. As the Leg ventures across Mexico, it will encounter the strangest elements of Mexican folklore and history, and it will come face to face with its own turbulent legacy.
Drawn by Jose Pimienta, the book is completely finished, but it's being sold this month via a Kickstarter campaign that's about 70 percent funded.
For readers who think the concept of a leg going on adventures sounds a little too silly for a comic, be forewarned that Jensen made the odd-sounding but surprisingly character-focused comic Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer into a critical hit (with an omnibus being released in June from Top Shelf).
Newsarama talked to Jensen to find out more about The Leg, how the writer came up with the concept, and why Kickstarter was his outlet of choice for the project.
Newsarama: Van, when I first heard the title Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer, I laughed at the idea, but it ended up being a really fun book with some poignant moments. So as wild and even silly as the concept of The Leg sounds, I have a feeling it's going to also have some depth behind it.
Van Jensen: If anything, this might be an even less silly book than Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer, as surprising as that is. It really is a story about character and identity.
Nrama: OK, let's start with a basic outline of the story. How would you describe it?
Jensen: It takes place a century after Santa Anna lost his leg, which happened in the Pastry War in 1838. And the leg was then given a big funeral, but later, it was exhumed by the Mexican people to protest Santa Anna. The leg then was lost to history.
But this takes place, again, a hundred years later. And what happened is this leg... it doesn't know what it is. It's just this sort of magically alive leg that's in a very ornate boot. And it's been living for an indeterminate amount of time with this lonely cobbler in the northwest of Mexico.
And these thugs, essentially, roll through and end up killing the cobbler.
As it turns out, the thugs have a much bigger mission. The entire country is in peril again.
So the leg is both trying to save the day, but he's also specifically trying to claim revenge for the death of his father, Santa Anna.
Nrama: You mentioned that it's a story about character and identity. So is the leg kind of looking for purpose, because of Santa Anna's history?
Jensen: Yeah, Santa Anna had this dark and troubling history, where he was great in some ways, but he ended up being thrown out of the country, and Mexico doesn't claim him, really, or celebrate him in any way.
This has been done with other stories, where it would be a child dealing with the tarnished past of the parent.
Rather than that, it's a disembodied leg.
Nrama: I would assume there's very little dialogue, since the main character is a leg.
Jensen: Yeah, the leg is sentient, but it doesn't talk. And there's no thought balloons or narration or anything to give a first-hand picture of what the Leg is thinking.
So much credit has to go to Jose Pimienta, the artist, because it's a character that's just a leg in a boot, and it's hopping around and getting into adventures.
And so much of the story really hinges on the emotions of the character, conveying what it's thinking and feeling. And he has totally nailed it. He came up with some really cool little wrinkles to add some humanity to the leg. But it has to be a challenging book to draw. He did an amazing job with it.
Nrama: So you're saying it's not as comedic as Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer. So how would you describe the tone of the book?
Jensen: It's fun. Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer had outright jokes in it; this book doesn't have those laugh lines in it. So it's not overtly comedic in that way. But at the same time, it's very whimsical.
It's very inspired by Mexican folklore and fairy tales and legends and history. So I really wanted to keep the tone of a fairy tale — especially the older fairy tales that were fun and whimsical with a great sense of adventure, but then they also have a heaviness to them.
Nrama: This is set in historical Mexico? Is it historically accurate?
Jensen: Yeah, it's set specifically in 1938. I mean, obviously, to my knowledge, there has never been a sentient leg adventuring across Mexico, so it's not accurate in that way. [laughs]
But it all traces back to this Mexican history class I had as an undergraduate, which has been a decade ago now. I heard this anecdote about Santa Anna's leg, and the whole class was really fascinating, and I realized how little I knew about Mexican history. So it's been a source of interest ever since then.
At a certain point, for whatever reason, I decided to write this thing. And it was the first comic book I ever wrote.
So once I started working on it, then I realized that my casual interest… I kind of needed to increase the level of research. So I tracked down books and resources from relevant time periods. I wanted to really do the place justice and not paint a really broad picture of it, but try to make it as real and believable as possible.
Nrama: You mentioned that this was the first comic book you ever wrote, and you've obviously come a long way since then. Do you remember what motivated you to start with this story in particular?
Jensen: You know, it's been eight years ago since I started to work on it. And I don't remember what the point was that I decided to sit down and write it, but it was around the time that I realized I had an ambition to write comic books, and I think, in a lot of ways, it was almost a test, just to put a toe in the water and see what comic books are all about, and to see what it would be like to write one.
I really don't think I ever would have done anything with it. I mean, I showed it around, and the response was always, "This is cool, but it's way too weird."
But then I happened to meet Jose at Comic-Con International: San Diego, like three years ago now.
I had no idea he was originally from Mexico. Someone introduced us, and he was introduced to me as Joe. So as far as I knew, he was just a guy from California. So he was interested in drawing something. And I didn't really think I had anything for him to draw. I felt like it would be rude to say, I don't have anything.
So really, just as a courtesy, I said, "You know, I've got this really weird story about a leg adventuring in Mexico." And he perked up! And he said, tell me more about it. And so I told him. And I thought he was going to tell me I was a crazy person. But instead, he said, "I grew up in Mexico, and even specifically, in the part of Mexico where the story takes place."
And he actually said, "Almost every story set in Mexico is just stereotypical and offensive, but I want to read your script." And I was like, OK, no pressure. [Laughs.]
I emailed it to him, and within an hour, he got back to me and said, "Please let me draw this book."
Nrama: So the challenge of drawing the leg as a main character wasn't daunting for him?
Jensen: He just really emotionally connected with the story. And it's something that I worked on while I was working a full time job, and he did the same thing.
Nrama: So it's finished?
Jensen: Yeah, it's 100 percent done. I supported it financially to go ahead, and finished it. At a certain point, it had enough momentum that it felt like it would be silly to stick it back on the shelf, after Jose had drawn it.
Nrama: Why did you end up going with Kickstarter? Is it because people were telling you it was too crazy to sell, so you thought, well, let's take it to the people?
Jensen: Yeah, it was a combination of things. I talked to a few people who were somewhat interested in it, but the basic feedback was that it wasn't a commercial project.
And that was before I started working at DC, so I have a little bit more of a profile now. So I don't know… maybe if I had tried a little later, I would have had a different response.
But at the same time, I had been transitioning out of working in journalism and writing full time. And it just seemed like Kickstarter was a good fit for the project, that it would be fun to self-publish something, and that Kickstarter would potentially connect with a larger audience.
I certainly don't expect to ever make any money off the book, but it's a really fun project. It's a book that I have a lot of passion and love for, and just to see it turned into a real thing is very exciting.