By Marty Mulrooney
Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer is a 2009 graphic novel by Dusty Higgins and Van Jensen. A horror-themed follow-up to the original story by Carlo Collodi (where Pinocchio stays a puppet at the end rather than transforming into a real boy), this is an inventive – and often comedic – take on the iconic character, drawn in a highly stylised black-and-white manner. It was named among the Top Ten Graphic Novels for Teens by YALSA in 2010 and the first printing sold out within a few months.
As most readers will no doubt be more familiar with Disney’s version of Pinocchio rather than Collodi’s original vision, Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer begins with a quick recap of the original tale. The opening panels do a great job within the space of only three pages at getting readers up to speed – did you know for example that Pinocchio actually killed the cricket in the original book?! – and this is an imaginative way of ensuring that anyone can enjoy this follow-up regardless of their familiarity with the source material.
We humbly beg Collodi’s apologies and ask that if he ever rolls over in his grave, and rises, bloodthirsty, that we be spared. This story, after all, is in good fun. And we prefer no real guts to be spilled. Especially our guts.
– Introduction, Higgins & Jensen
This opening catch-up is also a great idea because of the art-style used: small, evenly spaced panels convey simple line drawings that charm but ultimately underwhelm. Luckily, when the real story finally begins, everything changes. The art style is suddenly swimming in detail, panels change size dependant on the scene at hand and everything just falls into place. It is a great reveal that immediately draws you into the unfolding narrative.
The story opens with Pinocchio hunting for the vampire that killed his father Geppetto. Although this graphic novel is obviously a parody of sorts, it doesn’t read like one at all. The serious art style and vampire-themed quest for vengeance lend a decidedly adult tone to the book. Although Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer is by no means inaccessible to younger readers – teenagers will no doubt love it – I was initially unsure whether such a stark shift in tone from the mainstream perception of the character would clash with the relatively innocent, central image of a small wooden boy.
I needn’t have worried. By treating the story with respect and never backing down from their unique vision, Higgins and Jensen have created a follow-up that, although of course still a parody, manages to enthral as its own separate adventure. The added humour is a bonus and never goes too far. The biggest compliment I can offer here is that Pinocchio as a character never looks even remotely stupid whilst slaying vampires. Instead, he looks like an absolute badass, without losing too much of his humanity in the process. It shouldn’t work at all, but it really does.
The supporting characters are also superb, with Master Cherry, Fairy and Ghost Cricket all providing great one-liners whilst conversing with Pinocchio. In fact, the main characters are so good that in some ways, it is slightly disappointing that the vampire slant seemed so generic and familiar at times. I truly felt that Pinocchio and his friends elevated the horror elements, rather than the other way around. The story does works well, but even at a slim 126 pages, it soon starts to wear slightly thin watching Pinocchio tell another lie so he can snap off his nose and use it as a stake.
However, as a starting point – Vampire Slayer is the first book of a planned trilogy – this is a splendid opening chapter. The art style is stark and evocative, the characters well-developed and perhaps most importantly of all, the outlandish premise simply works. Pinocchio is back and this time, he means business. I have a strong feeling that Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer – Volume 2: The Great Puppet Theatre is going to address many of my criticisms. If Higgins and Jensen can marry their gorgeous art-style with an equally effective narrative in the future, they will be on to a real winner. I can’t wait to read what happens next!
8.5 OUT OF 10