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Interview: THE BIG CON JOB and HARLEY QUINN Writer Jimmy Palmiotti

If you’ve read comics over the last 20-something years, odds are you’ve seen Jimmy Palmiotti’s work. The Brooklyn-based writer started out inking several Marvel titles in the late ’90s like The Punisher and Ghost Rider. Alongside his extensive inking career (which included DC and Dark Horse as well as Marvel),  he also expanded into writing.

Working with longtime friend Joe Quesada (currently the Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Entertainment), he founded Event Comics, creating series like Ash and Painkiller Jane. In 1998, they were hired by Marvel in 1998 to create the Marvel Knights line, a banner for mature superhero stories for adult readers.

Nowadays, Palmiotti is primarily a writer, having worked on a variety of books like Deadpool, Daughters of the Dragon, Hawkman and Superboy, as well as co-writing tie-in video games for Punisher and Ghost Rider films and the story for Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe as well as a number of screenplays.

With co-writer Justin Grey, he’s written several series about more obscure DC characters like Jonah Hex and Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. Currently, he and his wife, acclaimed comic book artist Amanda Conner, co-write Harley Quinn, which has been a high seller for DC since its inception — Palmiotti and Conner both received Inkpot Awards for their expansive bodies of work at Comic-Con last July. He’s also published several original crowdfunded graphic novels through his company Paperfilms. Now for the first time, he’s branching out into working with BOOM! Studios, co-writing the miniseries The Big Con Job with journalist Matt Brady, with art by Dominike Stanton, about a group of washed-up sci-fi stars who decide to rob Comic-Con to make up for their dwindling appearance fees.

With the second issue’s release last week, we spoke to Palmiotti about the series, his ending and upcoming DC work, and his thoughts on the comics industry at large.

TS: This is your first time in a while co-writing with someone who’s not Justin Gray or Amanda Conner. What has working with Matt Brady been like? How did this story and collaboration come about?

JP: Actually, I co-write outside of comics with screenwriter Craig Weeden and have with a group on TV shows; in comics with guys like Joe Quesada, Mark Waid, Garth Ennis and Buddy Scalera and so on, so working with a partner is nothing new to me. Matt is the latest and brings a unique voice to his work that I find very refreshing. Its been great, mainly because Matt is open-minded to ideas and what we have in common is that we can see where a certain idea may not work and agree on that and move forward from it. He is a positive person, which is key for me in a working relationship and it’s been a blast. The idea itself was something he told me about and didn’t do anything with for a few years. It stuck in my head and when I approached him with the idea of working on it together, he thought it was maybe time to get it done, and we spoke and pitched it to BOOM! And now we have the book. This all took a few years to happen.

TS: While there’s a lot of humor in The Big Con Job’s premise, there’s a lot of melancholy infused in this story (particularly when one of the main characters of the first issue commits suicide). Was that tone there from the beginning or did that slowly emerge?

JP: We had the dilemma of taking honest people and pushing them in a spot where becoming a criminal was necessary, so we had to create a dark atmosphere and series of events to push them in that direction. If people didn’t buy that they would pull off this crime, the whole book dies right away.

TS: When did Dominike Stanton come on board? What is it you’ve liked about working with him?

JP: We were given a bunch of artists to look at and to pick from. Dominike stood out because he was able to draw older people, distinctive characters, and his storytelling was easy to follow. His end product is beautiful to look at and at the same time provides the reader an easy experience since the book is a bit word heavy. Honestly, storytelling is everything for a book like this, so we got really lucky having him on board.

TS: This is also your first time in your long, storied career working for BOOM!, which has a reputation as a very creator-friendly publisher. What does BOOM! publishing this story do that you couldn’t get by working through Paperfilms?

JP: Well, Paperfilms is only a couple of people and we can only do a few things a year. The Kickstarters themselves kick my ass, so in between that, we make sure other work is going on to pay the bills and at times, help Paperfilms stay healthy. BOOM! has been talking to me for a couple of years about working with them, and to be honest, I love the crew there. [CEO and Founder] Ross [Richie] and [President of Publishing & Marketing] Filip [Sablik] are two of the coolest guys and if I was living near them, we would be hanging out all the time. They’re like-minded guys that understand the industry and the reality of putting out new material. I remember years ago, Ross and I spoke about doing a line of books together and it fell apart for some reason or another. With The Big Con Job, this is my way of trying them out and so far so great. BOOM!’s team of editors and PR people are amazing. I’ve known [Marketing Manager] Mel Caylo for a long time and think the world of him, and his talent, so this was an easy decision all around.

TS: Paperfilms has run a bevy of successful Kickstarter campaigns to print full original graphic novels. Do you think crowdfunding is a platform all creators should utilize?

JP: Yes, if you are smart, are able to do the math, and commit to understanding that the Kickstarters are a ton of work. I think most creators don’t understand business, because they are using the other side of the brain too much in their work, but there are pretty big handfuls that do and this is a great way to get your work out there. I give advice to a lot of pros, and the ones that follow it usually are very successful. Again, you have to be ready to talk to your backers weekly, show the product, be able to pitch, have accounts set up to receive and refund funds, turn your home into a post office, and be able to deal with printers and such.

TS: What’s great about The Big Con Job is how it sympathizes with the forgotten and cast-aside. You’ve had a knack for doing that with lower-tier characters in DC like Jonah Hex and Bat Lash. Why do you think you’re attracted to the underdog?

JP: I am attracted to the underdog mainly because I grew up not having money, living in Brooklyn, watching my dad pay bills and take care of us the best he could, and so on. I had a lifetime of people telling me what I couldn’t do and always fought that. My first girlfriend told me she thought it was a bad choice reading and drawing comics and that I would never go anywhere with it. I worked in advertising and only wanted to leave and do comics while there.

It wasn’t till I was older that I followed my dreams and it’s still a daily fight to get things done in a sense, because this is not a field where job security is something given to us over time. Look at the talent of the ’80s and ’70s that are still out there—they are not working as much because the companies have pushed them aside for newer voices and they are at cons, selling sketches and getting a few bucks for autographs, making a living the best they can. This reality is out there and we sort of cover it in this title, even though these people are actors. So when you have characters people say will never sell, I say give me the chance and I will show you why they are special and they can. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I will always keep trying.

TS: You’ve said in the past that the future of comics lies in original graphic novels. Do you still believe that?

JP: Yes, because these can stay on the shelf longer, tell an entire story for people outside of comics that might be interested, and can cover a wider range of genre and subject matter.

TS: You and Amanda are also launching Starfire’s first solo comic ever for DC following Convergence. How did that come about? Did you study the negative reaction Starfire had gotten in the New 52 the past few years?

JP: We read some of it, but I know that just because there is an outrage on the internet, it isn’t always the majority of the readers speaking. We got offered the character, looked at her history, figured out what the appeal was, and ran with that. We are making her a hedonistic alien on Earth trying to fit in and understand the culture and history of the human race. If we followed the internet ramblings too closely, we would have to change everything. We learned with Harley Quinn that staying true to the core personality and idea of the character is the way to go.

TS: Harley Quinn is now a huge success for DC, with many comparing your treatment of the character to Deadpool. How do you feel about that comparison? Why do you think the book has struck such a huge chord with so many?

JP: I don’t see it being like Deadpool so much, but can totally understand the comparison. I wrote Deadpool for a while and to me they are two different voices. I think it’s the “anything goes” attitude of the titles that is a lot alike. I think a lot of people are enjoying Harley because it’s Harley at her core. They love the character, they like the playfulness and over-the-top situations, and at the end of the day, understand that she is a good person in some bad situations and I think a lot of people relate to this type of thing.

TS: Your and Justin Gray’s and Scott Hampton’s well-done war comic Star Spangled War Stories Feat. G.I. Zombie ends this month. Do you feel good about the book as far as you got to tell the story?

JP: I am happy, despite some of the worst sales in the history of DC comics, they are letting us tell the full story. Most companies would have just cancelled it right away. I am very proud of the book, love what Scott has done on it, and have all the faith in the world when it is in trade book form, it might find a new audience. That or you will be watching a movie with that title a few years from now. I know, dreaming…but stranger things have happened.

TS: Paperfilms is also seeing a film adaptation of Painkiller Jane move forward, directed by twin horror film directors Jen & Sylvia Soska. How has that experience compared to any other Hollywood experiences?

JP: It is actually the same on some level, in that I am spending a lot of time waiting on just about every single thing…but it is only because comics are produced so quickly I feel this way. With Jane, it’s different because I co-wrote the screenplay and am also a producer on the film, so I have a lot more at stake this time around. We are still in the process of things, but like all development deals, there are deadlines to be had, and this is a good thing for everyone involved. I got a lot of faith in my crew on this one though.

TS: There’s been a lot of talk these past few years of diversity in comics, both in genres and in characters. Do you see that continuing? Do you think superhero comics will still be at the top of a heap in a few years?

JP: Yes, because now more than ever, it’s embedded into our culture. Look at the movies, cable TV, the toys, the clothing, the cons… superheroes are on fire. It’s only going to a bigger audience and with that, people will try new things.

TS: You work on a wide variety of books. How do you balance all the projects you have going? How do you get your mind oriented towards whatever script you’re working on?

JP: I plan ahead, do not wait for deadlines to pass, make lists, have a very marked-up wall calendar and take time off each day to ride my bike and think things over and process what I am doing. Relaxing is part of the process—a very important part.

TS: What do you see the future of the comics industry being? Do you think the diversity in comics will eventually extend to comic book movies?

JP: I think it’s in the works right now and that it will all change given time. We are headed in the right direction for sure. There is a ton of things changing in comics daily…even faster than the rest of media, and I am proud of this fact.

TS: What are your thoughts on BOOM’s Comics Forward movement?

JP: I think it’s an awesome idea and one that a lot of people have been doing, including myself, for a while now. Trying out new ideas and finding a new audience is key to expanding and building the business. We have to think outside the superhero and start telling stories that new readers and people with no interest in comics might give a shot. This will only be done if we can also get the comics themselves to new audiences or start making the comic stores more accessible, which has been happening these past few years, more and more.

What we also need to happen is to get some really good spokesmen like Ross out there selling the business to the general public. When Joe Quesada and I created Marvel Knights for Marvel, we hired Kevin Smith to write Daredevil [for 1999’s “Guardian Devil” storyline] and he started doing shows and press telling people it was cool to read comics…and to me, this was a jumping-on point that most people didn’t realize at the time, where people outside the business started to look at what we are doing. We need more of that, and hopefully with the BOOM! movement, this will happen with time.

 

The Big Con Job is available in print and digitally from BOOM! Studios and Comixology.

Cover image provided by the publisher.

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Categories: Comics, Interviews

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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One Comment on “Interview: THE BIG CON JOB and HARLEY QUINN Writer Jimmy Palmiotti”

  1. 04/10/2015 at 1:13 PM #

    Reblogged this on tomtificate and commented:
    I got to talk to one of my favorite writers Jimmy Palmiotti about his current and upcoming work. Pretty Good Friday.

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