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Creator Spotlight: Pat Shand and Giulia Pellegrini Talk Van Helsing: Vampire Hunter

Creator Spotlight: Pat Shand and Giulia Pellegrini Talk Van Helsing: Vampire Hunter

, by Jake Abbate, 12 min reading time

Let’s face it–when your characters occupy the largest female-driven shared universe in the comic book industry, it's almost impossible to pick a single Zenescope heroine as your favorite. But for many of you horror fans out there, there’s only one logical answer–in fact, some of you might find the choice as simple as driving a wooden stake through a vampire’s heart…

Of course, I’m talking about Liesel Van Helsing, vampire huntress extraordinaire and an indispensable part of our Grimm Universe since her first appearance in Grimm Fairy Tales: Unleashed #0 in back 2013. Throughout the last decade, Liesel has become a household name among Zenescouts, battling an endless menagerie of supernatural creatures and living up to her family legacy in bloody (and often heartbreaking) fashion. Now, we’re gearing up to revisit her earlier years in our upcoming Van Helsing: Vampire Hunter limited series, and we’re calling on our biggest fans to help us finance this new adventure through Kickstarter!

Van Helsing: Vampire Hunter #1 - Cover KS-A (Art by Mike Krome, Kickstarter Exclusive)

Vampire Hunter brings Liesel back to the 1800s, long before she found herself trapped in the Shadowlands and emerged more than a century later in the present day. Naturally, we needed someone with intimate knowledge of Liesel’s character to preside over this tale…and who fits that mold better than Van Helsing co-creator Pat Shand? In addition to writing the first four volumes in our main Van Helsing saga, Pat has also scripted most of the Van Helsing one-shots we've released since late 2021. This time, however, he’ll be revealing a side of Liesel we’ve never seen before as she teams up with a band of hunters against a new fanged adversary. But that’s not all–the story will even feature new revelations about her father’s archenemy and (arguably) the prime source of her misery–Count Dracula!

Joining Pat on the new series is artist Giulia Pellegrini, a relatively new addition to the Zenescope family who made her own Van Helsing debut in September with The Horror Beneath. In that issue, Giulia primarily handled flashback scenes depicting Liesel’s introduction to Julie Jekyll, so a full miniseries that takes place in a bygone era sounds like a perfect use of her talents.

Meet Pat and Giulia!

As of today, our Kickstarter for Van Helsing: Vampire Hunter has raised over $33,000 in contributions from readers like you. Need another reason to pledge? No problem–here’s what Pat and Giulia have to say about their latest collaboration!

Pat, you’ve been writing Van Helsing since the beginning, but it’s been ages since we got a story that completely took place in Liesel’s native time period. What’s it been like to return to the Victorian Era for three whole issues?

Pat Shand: From her introduction in Unleashed to her current stories, I've been able to revisit aspects of Van Helsing's life through flashbacks. Mostly, those are used to inform what's happening to her now, in the present. This is the first time that we're really living with Van Helsing, and this is truly an untouched time period. It's after the death of her father, Abraham Van Helsing, and before she joins Sela and the Hunters for Unleashed. On my end, it's fun and interesting to show Liesel at a time when being solitary is new for her and she's learning how to be a hunter rather than an apprentice for the first time.

Van Helsing: Vampire Hunter #1 - Cover KS-B (Art by Drax Gal, Kickstarter Exclusive)

I think most fans would agree that you’ve come a long way as a writer since the early days of the Grimm Universe. Were there any particular lessons you’ve learned about the craft over the years that you were excited to apply to Van Helsing: Vampire Hunter?

PS: Getting into the psychology of your characters is important. That, I have always felt and applied to my writing. When I wrote Robyn Hood for the first time, all the way back in 2012, I did my best to see the world THROUGH her eyes (or, in her case, eye) as I wrote her. And the same is true of Van Helsing. Also important, though, is writing FOR the artist you're working with.

Now, on work-for-hire, you don't always know who will be drawing your comic. Largely, Hakan [Aydin] is drawing the main Van Helsing one-shots. But we also have guest artists, so I keep my writing a bit more generalized. For this series, Vampire Hunter, Giulia is drawing the entire thing. I'm writing it for her, picturing her work as I write, and trying to give her the type of pages she will be able to really show off on.


Giulia, You made your Zenescope debut with Van Helsing: The Horror Beneath earlier this year. What do you enjoy about drawing Liesel and her supporting cast?

Giulia Pellegrini: Vampires are like pirateseverything is better with them! In short, there's a beautiful woman in a corset who impales vampires alongside equally fantastic teammates. I loved to draw absolutely everything.

Is there anything about Liesel's character that challenges your skills as an artist?

GP: Everything is a challenge, from drawing the folds of Liesel's coat to finding the right perspective of her crossbow to choosing the best [action] shots. Even something like putting a hat on someone’s head isn't as simple as you might think, but I always do my best.

Since this is essentially a prequel story, will we be seeing a version of Liesel who’s far less experienced than readers have grown accustomed to?

PS: Yes. She was always formidable, but this is a more careless Liesel, a less desensitized Liesel.


Speaking of supporting casts, Van Helsing will be fighting alongside an all-new team of vampire hunters. What can you tell us about them?

PS: When looking at Van Helsing's crew here, I looked to the present version of Van Helsing and reverse engineered them. I wanted to retroactively show their influence on Van Helsing. When we meet Van Helsing in the present, she is a much more advanced fighter than her father with better and more creative weapons. The hunters that she runs with in this miniseries originated some of the ideas and tech we see Van Helsing advance with in the modern stories. For example, the stake shooter that she straps to her body, where she can extend her arm and a stake shoots out. That comes from one of these new characters from Liesel's past.

Giulia, how much creative freedom did you have when designing new characters, locations, or weapons?

GP: I had a lot of creative freedom. The main character, of course, must be immediately recognizable. For the others, I was offered suggestions, but I had the opportunity to propose my own versions and I invented many details. I've imagined a steampunk system for some weapons...but I don’t want to reveal too much! For the environments, I was inspired by representations of the time that I reworked.


How difficult was it to nail down the look and feel of England’s Victorian Age? Did setting the book in the past force you to make any changes to your usual style?

GP: For me, it was absolutely not problematic at all. I have a background in drawing comics with historical settings, so I’m used to doing research on the aspects to be represented, like the clothes being worn or the tools used at the time. There are a lot of interesting things to learn!

We know that Dracula will have some type of role in the new series. But since he and Liesel didn’t officially meet until The Darkness and the Light, you couldn’t show their characters interacting face-to-face in the 1800s. Did this pose any significant challenges when you were developing the script?

PS: He's always been important in her life. A shadow, stalking her. So many of Van Helsing's stories have shown us connecting her past to her present, even with characters like Mother Margaret, which we saw in the Van Helsing: Hour of the Witch annual a couple of years ago. It feels normal to go back to her past while being careful about the continuity we've established. That is important to me, continuity. That readers can read every issue I've written of Van Helsing and see a throughline, piece together this character's life.

What can you reveal about the main antagonist(s) of the series?

PS: She has fangs.

I prefer when the Van Helsing villains are vampires. It's fun to dip outside of the crypt, but to me, it's important to go back to where it all started for her.


In some of the early artwork we’ve released, Liesel is shown waking up from a nightmare about her father’s death at the hands of a vampire. How soon after his passing does the story take place, and what kind of a presence will he have as the series progresses?

PS: The loss of Abraham is relatively fresh, but we generally don't pin down exact timelines with the flashback. Since we go back to her past so much, the less we can tie things to "This happens HERE and this happens THERE" type shit, the more we'll have creative freedom to add to Liesel's past while pushing forward her story in the now.

What makes Giulia a good collaborator for a story like this? How did working with her this time around compare to your experience together on The Horror Beneath?

PS: When I first saw Giulia's pages on The Horror Beneath, I emailed [David] Wohl and [Dave] Franchini and said: "Who is this?" She stands out, immediately, and her Liesel captures the emotion and action I want in a way that I find uncommon. A strong mixture of action and character acting is difficult to find, with the latter being a particularly undervalued skill in comics. Giulia has all of that and more.


GP:  In the layout phase, I always do several different tests before choosing the one that I think is the most convincing. I try to find the right mix of [character and action], emphasizing certain scenes that I think are crucial to the story.

[Pat] has really interesting ideas, and Vampire Hunter features an engaging story that I’m sure readers will enjoy. There's drama and dark atmosphere worthy of a horror film, but also plenty of fights, which I always appreciate.

How much of Vampire Hunter will tie into the modern-day Van Helsing saga?

PS: Quite a bit! I'm writing the end of the 2023 modern Van Helsing arc right now, with the Bonded by Blood one-shot and Bride of the Night annual, and both are directly related to what Liesel goes through in Van Helsing: Vampire Hunter.

Van Helsing: Bonded by Blood and Van Helsing Annual: Bride of the Night (Covers by Igor Vitorino - On Sale February 2024) 

This will be our first Kickstarter campaign financed under the Zenescope Comics banner. Pat, you obviously have some experience with crowdfunding comics and graphic novels through your own Space Between imprint. What are some of the advantages of releasing books this way? Also, why do both of you think Zenescope fans should support this particular campaign?

PS: Kickstarter is perfect for Zenescope, because Kickstarter is just like what Zenescope does with their livestream sales: it's direct-to-consumer sales. Kickstarter and Zenescope's livestreams both cut out the middle man, creating a direct relationship between the creators and the readers. Kickstarter is the lifeblood of the comics industry right now and I remember all the way back before I ever used the platform, when Zenescope was a trend setter using the platform to fund the Grimm Fairy Tales animated series. It's only right now that their comics branch out into Kickstarter. Now that my primary readership is on that platform, I think that this move will be best for both Zenescope and me personally as a creator, to get the most new eyes on Van Helsing at a time where her story is most accessible.

GP: The series has all the right elementsaction, drama, love, and twists...and then there's my art! I won't let the fans down!


Our Kickstarter campaign for Van Helsing: Vampire Hunter is live until 4pm on Friday, December 29. To get your pledges in, visit the official campaign page here.

Are you excited to see more of Pat and Giulia's work on the new series? Let us know in the comments below!

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