The many worlds of Van Jensen
Meet the storyteller behind comic books, movies, diplomacy and more
No value assignedIN THE PAST few years, Jensen says he realized something was missing from his work life. In March 2014, he walked away from running Georgia Techbs alumni magazine to write full time. It was the dream, he says. A couple years later, he decided to leave DC to focus on his own works.When he looked back at his career, though, he saw how much he loved the large-scale collaboration and project management side of being at the helm of a publication. He also started thinking about his roots.bGoing back to the silent-film era, my family had this theater called the Silver Hill Theater,b he says. bIt had just, generation to generation, gone through the family. You go up in the projector room, and everyone whobd ever ran film wrote their name on the wall: So, itbs my dad, a couple of uncles, grandparents, great grandparents, friends of the family b all these names are up there. It closed in the b70s, but as I was growing up, my dad and my grandma were always showing me movies that they screened at the theater and then telling me stories about what happened while they were showing the movies.bAs he was mulling over these things, Jensen became acquainted with two local film guys, Justin Miller, a production designer, and Chris Campbell, a director of photography. (They own their own production company, and have worked on big-budget feature films and television shows, such as bThe Walking Dead.b) They suggested he consider directing film because so much of that work is preparation, coordination and tedious labor b the very things he missed doing.So, he took a shot and self-financed a short film he wrote called Pisser. Miller and Campbell co-produced it with him. bThe first day of shooting, I was like: bThis is a terrible mistake, this is so overwhelming and so intense,bb Jensen recalls. bThe second day, though, I could see the machinery of it. I saw how all the gears worked. Itbs not like I knew how to run the machinery really well, but I at least understood what it was. That was the point where I realized this was the right path.bPisser, about a sad guy who decides that the victory he needs in life is to make a spatter-free urinal splash, is now in post-production.bRight off the bat,b Miller says by telephone, bVan impressed us with his intensity and also the truthfulness that he strived for in storytelling. He always has a really strong sense of what a story should say about a character. Hebs very imaginative but also very rigorous in his structure and process in storytelling. Thatbs a really difficult combination to find in a storyteller.bCampbell adds via email: bI have learned so much about the nuts and bolts of storytelling because of working with Van. He just has a way of breaking a story down to the parts so well that an IKEA customer could put it back together. I think that is how he creates such unique worlds. He just starts with an insane idea and keeps breaking it down into parts until he can reassemble it as an entirely new entity.bEven though Jensen has only been doing the film stuff for a little while now, hebs already got his hands full. In addition to writing an original screenplay, he also just finished directing a second short called Hot Yoga (which was adapted from a comedy sketch by Highwire Comedy), and hebs also preparing to direct two music videos for local hip-hop group Far Out Family.
Joeff DavisWHILE FILM may be in his blood, itbs his work in comics that has made Jensen bthe cool guy.b Last year, he was tapped to become Americabs first comic book ambassador. bI thought I was being bcatfished,bb he says. He spent almost two weeks in Tbilisi, Georgia, teaching people of all ages b including refugees who were displaced from their mountain villages after Russia invaded in 2008 b about comics. He also helped writers and artists there launch the first Georgian comic book.bThey had this idea of using comic books as a way of cultural engagement,b Jensen says, as comic books as they are now are breally the one true art form that is American.bbTherebs no way that this doesnbt sound stupid,b he continues, bbut I do what I do because I think itbs the path that I have toward making the world a better place. For me to be productive in my work, I have to feel like Ibm actively striving to make the world a better place. I feel like taking on the comic book ambassador role fit really well with that value thatbs important to me.bJensen says he was asked recently to travel to Russia on ambassador duties, but he declined, as he and his wife are expecting their second child. (Also, the idea of going to Russia is a little scary right now, he says.) Plans are in the works, however, for a trip to Israel in the fall.In the meantime, Jensen volunteers his time in local schools, teaching kids about storytelling by making comics with them. During a recent visit to Dobbs Elementary in Atlanta b one of the schools impacted by the big test cheating scandal b a boy asked him if he could be Superman.bAll the other kids started laughing,b Jensen says, bbut hebs really earnest, and so I say, bAll right, can you shoot lasers out of your eyes?b bWell, no.b Then I ask, bWell, can you fly?b bNo.b bWell, can you punch through a brick wall?b bNo.b I was like, bMan, I donbt know kid, Ibm sorry. Wait, hold on a second. What makes Superman a hero?b So he says, bWell, all those powers.b I was like, bWhat does Superman do with those powers?b bWell, he helps people. He looks out for people who are in trouble and he fights against the powerful who are doing bad thing.b I said, bOK, can you do that?b He said yeah.b
Jensen pauses. bThatbs the kind of encounter that I live for. People look at me as, bWhoa, he has a cool job.b I was just a kid in the middle of nowhere who wrote and drew stories.b