Van Jensen and Jose Pimienta on The Leg
Van Jensen is the current writer on The Flash and Green Lantern Corps for DC and has written the Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer series for SLG and Top Shelf Productions has launched a Kickstarter for a project of his own. The story is titled The Leg: The Remarkable Reappearance of Santa Anna’s Disembodied Limb and it is one of fantasy, history, and adventure. The book is drawn by Jose Pimienta who has previously done work on A Friendly Game. We had the opportunity to talk with the creators and find out a lot more about the project.
All-Comic: Hi guys! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about your current project. The book is certainly unique and involves a lot of different elements, including mythology, history and magic. In ways, it is quite complex, though the experience of reading it never feels overwhelming or dense. How do you explain what the story of The Leg is?
Van Jensen: It’s the story of a magically alive disembodied leg who, after his only friend is murdered, goes adventuring through Mexico to claim revenge against the murderers. On the way, he journeys through the weird, mystical place that is Mexico and learns more of his own troubling legacy.
In some ways, it’s a lot like the Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer books, in that there is a huge mythology to the story, but it’s still just a fun adventure romp. I love books that combine fun genre elements with more literary aspects, and that’s what I strive for in my work.
Jose Pimienta: As I read and drew the story, I never found it confusing or relying on exposition because we’re always following the leg as things are explained to it. Van did a wonderful job at keeping it simple, yet whimsically decorated. Even visually, I tried to keep things clear before making them complex. it makes the story rich, yet not overwhelming.
The character after which the story is named is quite unique. How did you come to writing a story about the severed leg of Santa Anna?
Van Jensen: A decade or so ago, I heard this anecdote about Santa Anna having his leg blown off and giving it a big funeral. Then it was exhumed to protest him. For some reason, this idea of a leg stuck with me, and for some reason my weird brain thought maybe this sentient leg could be still alive and going on an adventure.
The Leg has a very specific historical setting. How was it that you came to choose it for this story?
Van Jensen: It’s a compelling point in Mexico’s history. The country had grown more independent and was trying to wrestle back control of its natural resources as it transitioned into a more modern era. It’s also a century after Santa Anna lost his leg, so that seemed like a good fit.
There is a fascinating blend of the adult world, of realism and some violence mixed with that of Ana’s view that carries aspects of magic and fairy tales. How did that come to be and is there a message you have in bringing the two together?
Van Jensen: I wanted to capture the aesthetic of fairy tales, which take reality and then just push a little farther. A lot of this book exists just on that boundary, and it veers back and forth between realistic moments and fantastical events and places. That also flowed out of my research into Mexican folklore, which is filled with bizarre and really wonderful little stories that can be both hilarious and tragic.
Jose pushed that aspect even farther, which I really love. For us both, I think the underlying message is that life is far more magical and, well, weird than we realize.
There are some really fascinating places and beings that Ana and The Leg come across over the course of the story. How much of the look of these were in the script, and how much, especially the more fantastical characters or places, were born in the art?
Van Jensen: There were some suggestions, but Jose brought a whole new aesthetic, and he really upped the magical weirdness of the book, which I love. The book turned out so much stronger because he added his personality to it in so many ways.
Jose Pimienta: Whenever I had to design a creature or a character, I kept two important things in mind: Van made a huge emphasis on how this book was a combination of play and grace and two, am I representing my heritage in a proper manner. If I had to come up with a character, I’d take research and then, just twist it a little bit so it’s not over the top but still unexpected.
Where did the character of Ana come from?
Van Jensen: I liked the idea of giving the Leg a companion, and I thought the dynamic of a child and a sentient leg together would be fun. The book is largely about the legacy, for good and bad, of Santa Anna. Ana is related to Santa Anna, but through an out-of-wedlock relationship. So she’s a physical embodiment of his past transgressions. The Leg is then dealing with this history, trying to overcome it. And Ana helps him work through it.
As the story continues, The Leg adopts more personality through some clever uses of how the boot is constructed and, later, an addition by Ana. Eventually, it truly feels like a living character. It was amazing to see how much expression could come from a boot. How did the characterization of The Leg come to be? Was that always the aim of the story or did that grow through the art?
Van Jensen: That was all Jose. It’s easy to describe a boot’s emotional state in a script, but Jose totally brought it to life. Again, his work on the book is nothing short of amazing. If nothing else, I’m thrilled that people will finally get to see this awesome world he created.
What was it that led you to Kickstarter for the book?
Van Jensen: I’d been growing more interested in self publishing, and The Leg is an admittedly non-commercial project. So it seemed like this route would be the best option, and it seemed fitting to do it ourselves seeing as this book has been such a labour of love for us over the past several years. It’s been really rewarding to connect directly with readers as they’ve pledged support. It’s a grueling process, but I’m very happy with the choice we made.
Jose Pimienta: Van and I discussed the pros and cons of finding a publisher vs self-publishing, and e-book vs print. Bottom line was, we both wanted the book to be in print, and when we became more aware of how big of an avenue Kickstarter was becoming, it seemed like the perfect option. It’s self-published, self-managed, self-distributed; the “work” part of the labor of love, I guess.It’s been a very positive exercise for me to practice self-promotion, sales pitches and to reach out to readers in a personal way. I’m very excited with the support we’ve received so far.
Your Kickstarter explains that, in some form, The Leg has been an idea of yours for a long time. What was involved in it coming together now?
Van Jensen: I wrote the book seven years ago, and it was actually the first comic I ever wrote. I wouldn’t have ever done anything with it, but I met Jose in 2011, and I happened to mention it. He grew up in Mexico, so he got really excited about it, read the script and decided he wanted to work on it.
The book becoming a real thing is totally thanks to him and all of the hard work he’s put in the past couple of years.
Van, you mentioned that you met Jose back in 2011. How did the two of you come to meet and were there other projects you had, or have, considered working together on besides this one?
Van Jensen: SLG publisher Dan Vado introduced us. He was interested in us doing a book together for them, which didn’t end up working out. We aren’t actively working on anything, but I know it’s something we’ll absolutely consider going forward. Jose has an amazing music-inspired story that he’s working on right now. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak at that. And I’m pretty busy at the moment with the DC work and a couple of other upcoming projects.
Jose Pimienta: Yeah, in 2011, I was looking to get back into comics, and I didn’t have any story specifically, so, I approached Dan Vado to see if he knew of an writers looking for artists and he introduced me to Van. Once he told me he had this story (The Leg), it just sounded like nothing I’ve ever read before, so I was excited. If the opportunity to work with Van again comes up, I’d love to sit and discuss a new story, but currently, we’re both on different projects paths, so…
How much of the story was finished when it was brought to Jose to be worked on? Was the script completed or was there some collaboration once Jose came on board?
Van Jensen: It was fully scripted, but of course Jose brought so much to the book that it changed a good deal. He had great ideas for adjusting the design or infusing some new elements. That’s how comics should work: collaborators coming together to push each other to make a project better and better. In every way, Jose has been awesome to work with.
Jose Pimienta: When I got the script, it was a full finished script, panel numbers and everything, and I wanted to give it more room to breath, make the pacing a little slower, but tried to stay as respectful to the script as possible. I didn’t make any specific changes to the story, since it was a complete work, so, it was only in the little gaps, such as the look of characters, signs in the background. Essentially, Van wrote a story and I got to play with it, and if I had an idea, I’d present it to see if it worked. Van was great to collaborate with. He’d tell me when something wouldn’t work, and when something made him happy I tweaked.
Jose, the art in this story is quite stunning and the world doesn’t feel like something that has existed before. Your visual style certainly helps set this book apart. Who are some of the artists you feel helped inspire or shape your technique?
Jose Pimienta: Oy…I never get this answer right, because I feel there’s so many influences from all over the place, but, I’ve always loved heavy background, graphic and simple cartoony characters, so, animation and anime are always a good route for pursing inspiration as well as looking at newspaper comics and visual development artists. To name a few: I guess Jamie Hewlett, Meredith McClaren, Mary Blair, Eyvind Earle,Gerald Scrafe, Bernie Wrightson… so many many more. If there’s one thing in specific I do try to embrace is, to make everything look as organic as possible, as if it’s had a life, even when drawing inanimate objects.
With the increasing precision and range of digital art, it is becoming harder to tell when art is created on paper and when it is created digitally. How is the art for The Leg created?
Jose Pimienta: The Leg was drawn and inked by hand with pencils and a range of inking tools such as pens, quill, brushpens and brushes. After that, it was scanned and sent to Matt who colored and lettered the book. His color choices also included changing the color of the inks from black to the color the page’s mood required instead of just filling in the negative space.
Do you have plans to have additional printings of the book in the future?
Van Jensen: We’ll print some extra copies to have at conventions and maybe available online at some point. Most likely the book will be more expensive later. For now, people can snag a copy for a mere $25.
Jose Pimienta: I’m specifically waiting to get to the stretch goal so we can print it in Spanish as well.
Thank you both for taking the time to talk with All-Comic about this book. It really is stunning. Best of luck with your Kickstarter! Let’s hope it reaches that stretch goal and you can run a printing in Spanish.
To find out more about the book, go to its Kickstarter page where you can track its progress and download the first chapter for FREE. To see what we thought about the book, check out Dan’s review. You can also follow the Van Jensen and Jose Pimienta as well as the book’s colorist, Matthew Petz on Twitter.