Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Interview With A Leg! I mean "The Leg". (Actually it's the creator of "The Leg", aka Van Jensen, which is still pretty awesome.)

By now you should have heard, from many places, all about this curious-and-awesome Mexican folklore based graphic novel of The Leg: The Remarkable Reappearance of Santa Anna’s Disembodied Limb. 

If you missed my post from a week ago (when a special Kickstarter was launched on Cinco de Mayo to get it printed), you can catch up HEREIf nothing else, be sure to check out the trailer. It is made of awesome! (Folkloric treasure trove!)

Creator and word wrangler, Van Jensen, whom you will know from his amazing three volumes of Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer!, kindly found time to answer a bunch of questions on folktales and more (we even talked spaghetti) and allowed us a closer look into the story and the folklore that's woven through The Leg.
Hi Van! Thank you so much for agreeing to let us behind the curtain a little and scratch your brain about your latest project. What with Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer! getting a new multi-volume release, a new graphic novel and a Kickstarter that's jumping along in leaps and bounds (huzzah!) among regular work and other projects you have brewing, we know you're a busy man! 
Van Jensen at work
So first of all, your hero is possibly the most unusual hero ever written. How on earth were you inspired to give life to an amputated limb?
This all goes back to a Mexican History class I took as an undergrad, and the professor randomly mentioned the anecdote of Santa Anna losing his leg in the Pastry War and then giving it a full military funeral. Later, the people exhumed the leg to protest Santa Anna. I have no idea why, but that story struck me as fascinating, and I kept thinking about it for years. At some point, it morphed into this question: What if the leg was still alive? What would it do? Where would it be? 
Santa Anna's wooden leg, Illinois
So, this is a true(ish?) legend that you've given additional (zombie-like) life to. I need to know: have you been to Springfield, Illinois to see the real Leg? (And how 'ish" is this LEG-end anyway?)
As far as I know, that fake leg is the real deal. There's been a lot of fascination over the years with Santa Anna's fake leg, especially in Texas given the Alamo connection, and then the King of the Hill episode. I haven't seen the leg in Springfield, but perhaps a road trip is in order! 
So this wasn't just the Van way to get on the zombie train?
It's funny, but I never thought of this as a zombie story. I don't know why, but it just didn't dawn on me. Maybe it was my subconscious! 
What is it about Mexican lore and folklore that fascinates you? 
Starting with that class I took, it was really the realization that, despite the nearness of Mexico, I knew very little of its history. And it has a fascinating, bizarre, violent history, complete with a wealth of folklore and fairy tales. Some of the folklore especially has a lot of European influence, but even then, these familiar stories have a new spin on them. And then there are crazy native legends, like the story of the Witch Wife.  
I worked a lot of that into this book, but there's so much more that I wanted to include but couldn't.  

Your hero has an unusual sidekick (ahem) for a spaghetti Western with a folkloric twist: a little girl named Ana. Can you tell us about her? How did she come to be, why is she so important and why does she get so attached to this leg?
Ana is a young girl who was separated from her parents and is stuck in an orphanage. She believes she's destined for greatness, because her lineage traces back to Santa Anna. But what she doesn't realize is that Santa Anna was famously promiscuous, and so her connection to him is a source of dishonor, if anything. Then she discovers the Leg, and they help each other as they strive to reach Mexico City and save the president from assassins. 
Ana is a voice of innocence, and it is through her that we see the Leg's personality emerge. She humanizes him, allowing him to connect with a literal part of his legacy. There's also a kind of Calvin and Hobbes aspect to their relationship, which was just a lot of fun to write. 

We're told the Leg has to save Mexico; a tall order for anyone, let alone a lone leg with nothing but a boot and a kid to help him! What is the Leg's greatest threat? (Other than centuries of toe cheese?)
Ha! Well, as the story begins, the Leg discovers that there is a plot to kill the president of Mexico, and he takes it upon himself to save the day. Along the way, there are some major threats he'll have to face. But at its core, this is a story of discovery, and the Leg learns that his greatest enemy is himself. Santa Anna was renowned for his ego, and the Leg must overcome that part of himself to win the day. 
The story is full of references to legends and tales and I was continually delighted to discover what you'd woven in, in each chapter. Without wanting to spoil any surprises, can you tell us what have been your favorite folkloric elements that you've woven into the narrative? 
The lost tribe of northwest Mexico were a lot of fun. There's this legend of shape shifters living atop a mountain, and I HAD to include them. There's also some witchcraft, and the details of the spell came from an actual Mexican healing spell I tracked down. 
Are there legends, superstitions, tales or creatures you still wish you'd been able to work into the story? (Do tell!)
Oh, yeah, tons! I actively avoided La Llorona, although it is a really cool story, it's just overly common. The first draft of the script included the Pedro Urdemales trickster character, but I had to cut that to save space. It's a really fun legend though. 
If you could have one aspect of 'Other' from The Leg be real for a whole day, what would it be?
The talking crow would be fun to have hanging around. I always imagined that crows had a lot to say, although maybe I'd regret it. 
Are there any things you included in the way of "folkloric Easter eggs" that readers who know their legends and tales should keep their eyes peeled for? (eg I'm thinking of a particular house-on-one-leg design myself and I noticed an eagle that keeps appearing. Is this a reference to the Mexican fairy tale The Greenish Bird?)
The house-on-a-leg for sure! The eagle is a reference to Santa Anna mostly--that was his nickname. There are some teases throughout as to the identity of the crow, which ultimately is revealed. There are a few other references, especially ones worked in by Jose into the art. One that's kept pretty subtle is the Judas statue, which references a pretty weird piece of Mexican tradition of detonating statues of Judas. 
How did you get yourself in "the Mexican mood" to write this (Art? Music? Tequila? Continuous re-runs of Once Upon A Time in Mexico?) and were their references or resources you kept close?
I'm such a boring writer. I don't listen to music or drink. Pretty much, I just lock myself in a room and get to work. But I did read a lot about Mexican history and folklore. There are a ton of great books, but I remember Judas at the Jockey Club as being one of the best. It's been eight years since I wrote this story, so my memory is a little foggy! 
Fast forward to finding the perfect artist for The Leg in Jose Pimienta: how did you find him and how did you pitch your story? (And how did you decide how far to take the design to make the boot emote without turning it into a version of the Hogwarts Sorting Hat?)
It was at Comic-Con in 2011. A friend introduced us, and Jose was looking for something to draw. I didn't have anything, but then I told him about The Leg on a whim. At that point, I'd given up on ever publishing it because it was so weird. But Jose really perked up, and he told me that he grew up in Mexico, and he wanted to read the script. So I sent it to him, and he responded right away asking to illustrate it. The whole thing seemed kismet, so I readily agreed. 
Jose did an amazing job with the book. It's so incredibly hard to get emotion out of a boot, but he nailed it. I can't say enough about him. He's been a dream to work with, and I'm thrilled to finally share his art with everyone. 
So, let's do a quick check on what people can expect from your graphic novel: 
- Sentient zombie leg?  Check. 
- Ghosts?  Check (we see one in the first chapter, which you can preview HERE
- Walking skeletons?  Check. 
- Magic?  Check. 
- WItches/bruja?  Check. 
- Frida references?  And Diego! 
- "Santas"? (Not the belly full of jelly guy, Saints)  Check. 
- Spaghetti?  Yep. 
- How about gunfights?  Lots! 
- Nuns?  Indeed. 
- Puns?  Of course! 
- Chupacabras?  Hmm. Sort of.  
Do you think we'll be seeing more of the world and characters from The Leg in future stories?
There's certainly room to do more with it. Part of that depends on how the Kickstarter campaign does. It's a project that I almost certainly will never make money on, but I do love the book and the characters. And I love working with Jose. If people want to see more, they can help by supporting the Kickstarter and helping spread the word! 
With the graphic novel complete but not yet published, you currently have a Kickstarter campaign to get it printed and into our grubby hands as you and Jose originally envisioned. With 21 days to go (as of May 13) and almost 75% (of $10 000 needed) funded to date, how has it been for you both to see the response?
It's been totally overwhelming. This is an overtly non-commercial book, but the response has been very strong. I think that says a lot about the quality of the art, and that there are readers out there who want intensely weird stuff. Which works for me, because that's what I like to write! 
I was thrilled to hear about the stretch-goal of creating a Spanish-language version of The Leg. Can you tell us more about that (or tease us with some other stretch goal ideas you have bubbling)?
If we hit $15,000, we'll give a free Spanish-language PDF to all backers who pledge at least at the $8 level. We really want to get to that point, so all support in getting the word out helps! Beyond that, we plan to do some upgrades at higher levels, potentially doing a hardcover instead of paperback. And there are some artists who would love to contribute pin-up pages, so that's something that we'll offer. 
Are you up for a rapid-fire word-showdown?Let's do it!
Would you rather: 
Talking animal or a talking object?Animal. 
Flying carpet or broom?Carpet. I'm scared of heights, and a broom doesn't seem very secure! 
Have a corpse bride or bruja wife?Bruja? Yikes. 
Giants or trolls?Giants. 
Face La Llorona or El CuCuy?CuCuy. At least it's pure evil. 
Bet on The Leg or Pinocchio VS in a showdown?Clearly, they would only team up against undead monsters. But if they had to fight, I bet the Leg would kick butt. 
And lastly, because we're dying to know:What are the most creative leg pun/s to date that have tickled your funny bone?
I love ALL leg puns. The more the merrier! Someone the other day asked me if I'd considered calling it "The Leg of Extraordinary Gentlemen." Just delightfully terrible.
Thanks so much Van! We wish you every success and not only hope you meet your initial goal but stretch it far enough to get the Spanish edition made as well!
Here's the lowdown: You rarely see such a great combination of storytelling and images, let alone one that includes folklore, legend and history. It's also entertaining as heck, not to mention very juicy fodder for folklore and fairy tale people. There aren't many graphic novels that can keep my attention beginning to end in one sitting but I became completely absorbed in reading The Leg. The layout, art and excellent use of words flows very much like an oral storytelling and the story itself is everything it promises to be. Spring boarded from recorded history it has that unique Mexican mix of politics and art, gunslingers and family, religion and superstition all coexisting in a harsh landscape. At the same time, the fact that it's chock-full of Mexican folklore and legend references and tales, and all without seeming cramped, is a complete delight. An excellent introduction to Mexican folklore and more for ages 15(ish)+, via a fantastic (in both senses of the word) story. Apart from the fact that I can't yet put it on a bookshelf (c'mon Kickstarter funders!) I can't think of a reason I wouldn't recommend it.
         Here's who we can blame, er credit, for this strange-awesomeness.
Words: Van Jensen, co-creator of PINOCCHIO, VAMPIRE SLAYER  (Top Shelf Productions) and writer of GREEN LANTERN CORPS and THE FLASH (DC Comics). Van is also an award-winning journalist based in Atlanta. This is his first self-published work. Follow him on Twitter.

Art: Jose Pimienta, a native of Mexico and the co-creator of A FRIENDLY GAME and an artist on several successful Kickstarter-funded comics anthologies. Follow him on Twitter
Colors & Letters: Matthew Petz, artist of the webcomic WAR OF THE WOODS and colorist of several comics and graphic novels. Follow him on Twitter
Design: J. Chris Campbell, maestro of WIDE AWAKE PRESS.
Please do go check out Van & Jose's KICKSTARTER HERE and consider helping put some fantastic (& fun - and gorgeously illustrated) Mexican folklore into people's hands. 

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