‘Green River Killer’: Exclusive Art from the Graphic Novel
Dark Horse Comics has announced that it will be publishing Green River Killer: A True Detective Story, a graphic novel about the crimes and capture of Gary Ridgway, also known as the Green River Killer. Ridgway was convicted of murdering 49 women in the Washington State area during the 1980 and 1990s, although he confessed to 71 murders and some believe the number could be even higher.
The graphic novel is written by Jeff Jensen, the the son of detective Tom Jensen who hunted Ridgway and interviewed him for 180 days after his capture, and it gives a very personal account of what the decades-long search for the Green River Killer meant to Jensen and his family. The graphic novel was illustrated by Jonathan Case (Dear Creature), who spoke to ComicsAlliance about what it was like to try and translate both the horrifying story and the personal experiences into art. We’ve also got an exclusive first look at an interior page from the book, during the dramatic scene where Gary Ridgway finally confesses his crimes.ComicsAlliance: What was your perception of the Green River Killer story when you were first approached about the graphic novel, and how did that change over the creating the graphic novel?
Jonathan Case: I knew he was notorious for a large number of killings in the Pacific Northwest (my backyard), but I had no idea of the details, or number of victims. When Dark Horse approached me with the story, I could only see it as a serial killer piece, but the story is actually about the detective, Tom Jensen, who pursued the Green River Killer. An ordinary guy who didn’t want to be immersed in anything horrific. So the book’s subtitle is an important point: it’s a ‘detective story’, and it is sensitive to the victims.
I mentioned the Green River Killer to one person who said, “Oh, the guy who killed all the prostitutes- he probably thought he was doing the world a service.” Turns out that’s exactly what he thought, and it’s a horrible and completely fantastic perspective. Learning more about the reality of prostitution in the Pacific Northwest in the last year has probably been the biggest perception shift for me. We include a little page of education/resources in the book to get people informed. I certainly was not.
CA: Was making the book a difficult process, given the subject matter? Did you have a chance to talk with Jensen about his experiences?
JC: It was difficult. Even avoiding the explicit and the sordid as best you can, at a certain point, the reality gets to you. There were definitely days when I was especially thankful to be working in a studio of lighthearted people. I never had a chance to talk with Tom personally, but I gleaned a lot of his outlook on the case from Jeff. Jeff spoke about how his dad approached the work as a mission he never asked for, but couldn’t turn away from, even when the case became politically unpopular and his whole task force was dissolved. The guy’s perseverance was astounding. I committed a year to doing this book, but it took Tom twenty years to catch Gary Ridgway. In that sense, any difficulty I had while working on the subject matter seemed pretty insignificant.
CA: What kind of research did you do to prepare? Did you go through crime scene photos or visit any of the locations in Washington?
JC: There were a few different books from which we drew reference — some written by other detectives profiled in our book. Tom also had a lot of behind-the-scenes photos and information. Everything from Gary chatting with detectives to the Jensen family bathroom tile. You’ll understand that last one when you read the book.
CA: How did you feel about the idea of addressing these real-life murders in a visual medium? Were you concerned about it seeming sensational?
JC: I dreaded the potential of that from the beginning. Jeff [Jensen] and [editor] Sierra [Hahn] were very emphatic that they didn’t want to take things in a sensational direction, but it was our first time working together, so I think some trust had to be established as we went along. When you’re not writing it, you don’t know exactly what’s coming. I think they saw my opposition to rendering graphic details as a strength and a good fit for how they wanted to approach the story. In the end, there are horrifying things in the book, but we veered away from the murders themselves. Again, it’s mostly told from the detectives’ perspective, where you come in well after the fact.
CA: As the narrative is written by the real-life son of the detective who caught Ridgway, how does that perspective change the story?
JC: Again, it’s definitely Tom Jensen’s story. Jeff has a cameo appearance here and there (talk about dread- try drawing your writer!), but the story follows Tom’s history all the way back to his high school days and Navy experience, so Jeff wasn’t even a zygote. There are a lot of sweet family moments and humor interspersed with the intensity of the Green River case, and that really brings a heart to the book. Most crime novels have an angle on the cop’s home life and the sacrifices made in pursuit of an ideal, but this story’s approach to that is very special. The reality of Tom’s family life and what it meant to him is every bit as powerful as the reality of the murders he finally solved.
CA: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the book or your experience making it?
JC: When you read this book, you get the sense that Tom spent most of his time in pursuit of the Green River Killer as an unsung hero… and what little they sang, he could probably have done without. For me, this book is really a letter of love and affirmation from Jeff to his dad, and I’m honored to have been a part of it.