Jeff Jensen is most widely known as an Entertainment Weekly reporter, covering the movie industry and blogging about Lost. Long unknown to most of his readers, Jensen was closely linked to one of the most infamous criminal investigations in United States history. His father, Tom Jensen, was the primary investigator into the Green River Killer, who murdered more than 40 women in the Seattle area in the 1980s and 1990s.

Tom Jensen persevered in the case, eventually arresting Gary Ridgway and gaining a confession to 48 murders, though Ridgway is believed to have killed even more. Til now, little has been told of how Tom Jensen got Ridgway to confess, as Jensen hasn't said much publicly about the case. Now his son, Jeff Jensen, has turned his father's story into a graphic novel script. The book, Green River Killer, will feature art by Ramon K. Perez and will be published by Dark Horse next year.

Here, Jeff Jensen talks about what it was like growing up as his father investigated the heinous crimes and how that experience became a graphic novel.

PW Comics Week : When did you start thinking of making a book out of the story? When did you start working on it? And, in that process, how did you decide to pursue it as a graphic novel?

Jeff Jensen: I first began thinking about telling my father’s story in graphic novel format a little over two years ago. I had considered and pursued writing a magazine article about my father shortly after the resolution of the case—the announcement of the plea deal in the fall of 2003—but honestly, the article I wrote sucked, for various reasons. The biggest was that I just couldn’t the find the right journalistic voice for it, one that mixed true crime reporting and personal perspective. In the aftermath, I was left with all of this reporting—interviews with my father, his colleagues, the lawyers involved—and a pretty good idea for a compelling, unusual narrative structure for a story. I could see it so clearly in my mind as dramatic scenes that built upon each other. And one day I realized what I was really seeing in my head: a graphic novel. I began brainstorming what that would really look like. In 2006, I believe, I was on the verge of creating a proposal and sending it out to publishers when my wife was diagnosed with brain cancer. Our family battled that back successfully, and right at the end of 2007 I decided to get serious about getting the graphic novel going. A conversation started, and over time the project fell into place to a point where we are now being public about it.

To the point about “Why a graphic novel?” I love comics. My earliest memories are of my father reading issues of The Justice League of America to me circa the mid-70s. I came of age in the 80s, as a teenager, when comics suddenly took this radical leap forward in terms of showing its audience and the culture that it was a medium that could tackle mature themes and tell sophisticated stories. I drank that Kool-Aid. I totally believe in it. My ambition is that this graphic novel, which owes its existence to that creative and marketplace revolution, can now participate in it.

PWCW: There have been plenty of books, TV programs and other coverage of the Green River Killer. What is it about your father's experience that will add something new to what is known of the case?

JJ: From 1984 to about 1990, my father went from being a member of a massive team of detectives trying to track this killer to being the only detective actively searching for him. He went from being a guy who had no interest in homicide investigation—who thought this was a good career opportunity that would be quickly resolved—to a guy who became fixated with this case, who couldn’t let it go, who actually volunteered for the job of keeping the investigation alive, declining the opportunity to pursue promotions. The graphic novel will offer a very emotional, very insider account into the investigation from the only detective who was there through the whole thing. It will offer never-before-revealed insight into the arrest of Gary Leon Ridgway and the secret interviews that were done with the killer during the summer and fall of 2003.

PWCW : Your dad worked on this case for about 20 years. How frustrating was it for him that so much time lapsed between 1987, when Ridgway was named a suspect, and his arrest in 2001?

JJ: My father learned early on that he had to keep his emotions and frustrations in check if he was going to remain on this case, if he was going to survive this case. He had seen colleagues come and go, some even forced to take mental disability because it wrecked them. So he buried that frustration down deep. But he kept his spirits up through an unlikely source of inspiration: the musical The Man of La Mancha. When my father became the last detective standing, he printed off the lyrics to “The Impossible Dream” and kept the sheet hidden under his desktop calendar. When he got discouraged, he’d pull it out, read them. He thought of himself as a “an old knight.” He called the investigation “his quest,” but only to himself; my father doesn’t share his emotions or vulnerabilities easy. This is more than a cheesy story: the tale of how “Man of La Mancha” entered his life—and how that sheet of paper factored into the end of his quest—are big emotional beats in the graphic novel.

PWCW: What was the impact on you, not only of knowing your dad was working on the case all that time, but once it was finally concluded, of learning just how close your dad was to the case?

JJ: I was 14 when my father started working in the case. I was 18 when I left Seattle for school, then work. During that time, my father rarely talked about the case, and I rarely asked. It felt unseemly, and it felt like prying. I could sense this was difficult and trying, emotionally and intellectually, for him. In the fall of 2003, after the plea deal was announced and I finally sat down with my father to discuss his nearly 20 year journey, it was revelatory to say the least. What really got me was the experience he had just gone through—of spending 180 days with Gary Leon Ridgway, interviewing him almost eight hours every day, asking him all the questions he had ever wanted to ask. The graphic novel captures that amazing experience. It zeroes in on the first five days of the interviews, which stand as a microcosm of the whole thing. It culminates with the question my father always wanted to ask, but perhaps was most reluctant to ask: “Why?” Why did he do it? The answer—or rather, the experience of being able to even ask the question—is the emotional climax of this story.

PWCW : It's been noted often that your dad has said little publicly about the case. When you told him that you wanted to make a book of it, how did he respond? How closely has he been involved with you as you wrote the script?

JJ: My father has always been very supportive of me telling his story. I think he trusts me. (Gulp.) He thinks the graphic novel approach is interesting. And cool. And, perhaps, a small cause for concern. He wants to make sure drama doesn’t get in the way of truth. He wants to make sure the imagery isn’t exploitive. I’m keeping him in the loop every step of the way to make sure he’s comfortable with it. He’s both our story and the conscience of our storytelling.

PWCW: What was the most surprising thing you learned while working on the book?

JJ: That my father thought of himself as a kind of “Don Quixote” was pretty funny. And touching. I was shocked to learn that my father’s superiors didn’t want him to participate in the arrest of Ridgway; the book will explain why.

PWCW : You've said the question of why Ridgway committed the murders is central to your book. Do you think that mystery is why the case has continued to draw interest?

JJ: I’ve said the theme of the “Why?” question is central to the book; as for the answer to the “Why?" question, I make no promises. What I’ve learned is that there is no single or satisfactory answer to the “Why?” of Gary Ridgway—but I find that idea itself really interesting.

PWCW : With the focus of the book being a several-day interrogation session between your father and Ridgway, how did you approach writing those scenes to avoid the story becoming visually repetitive?

JJ: Great question. And here, my super-saturation into the world of Lost comes in handy. [Jensen writes a regular column about Lost, replete with research and analysis.] There are flashbacks. We use the five-day window as a framing device for flashbacks to the past that tell the 20-year history of the case clearly and chronologically. The approach has opened up the visuals and the drama.

PWCW : You had a lot of source material for the book, including tapes of the interrogations, right? Did you set out to make the book journalistic in nature? How much creative license did you take?

JJ: I have access to a great deal of source material and interviews—but at the end of the day, this is a story told dramatically. Creative license has been taken. At this point, it’s hard to expand on that, but there’s nothing in the story that is factually or emotionally dishonest.

PWCW : Do you see this as the beginning of a shift toward doing more creative projects? I think you've got to stick with entertainment journalism at least until Lost ends, right?

JJ: I have to stick with entertainment journalism if I want to eat! But yes, my hope is that I might be able to tell more stories in the medium of comics after this book is published.