It’s got staying power like you wouldn’t believe, but no one is more excited about the success of DC Comics’ Harley Quinn ongoing series like writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner. Sitting down with Comicosity in the final moments of C2E2, Jimmy and Amanda share a little bit more about their writing process, how the fans have been reacting, and Jimmy gives us some initial details on what we can expect out of DC’s next big star: G.I. Zombie!
Matt Santori: Thanks for taking time out of your busy con schedule, and congrats on the amazing success of Harley Quinn! You’ve propelled a female lead title to the top of the charts for the first time in many years. How does that feel and what do you think that can mean for the landscape?
Amanda Conner: It feels really good to have such a big book! If I wasn’t so slow, and had more time, I think I could enjoy it more. But rather than sitting back and resting on our laurels, we’re like, “OK. OK. We gotta get the next book out!” (laughs)
If we weren’t so busy, I think we’d be reveling in it a little bit more!
Jimmy Palmiotti: I think being at the con this weekend made it sink in a little better. We’re at home working, and other than the local retailer who said he had to keep restocking every issue — which is a very nice problem — it doesn’t really hit until you’re sitting here and have a thousand people walk up with all six issues in their hands.
AC: And then twenty girls dressed up as Harley coming to take pictures! That’s pretty awesome!
JP: Right! A lot of women are reading the book, which I love. And they’re saying, “Thank God this book is here! We’ve been looking for something more fun.” and all this kind of stuff. It’s great!
I guess you reflect on it later, because right now, we’re worried about keeping people interested and keeping them there beyond the initial “Here’s a new book.” Keeping them around for issue 15, you know? Or 20. Or whatever. We’re planning ahead.
What’s fun this weekend is getting the feedback from people, seeing what’s fun about the book, and realizing that they like it more insane than we actually thought. At least DC picked the right ones to write this book, because… you know… (laughs)
AC: Yeah, we do insane rather well, as it turns out.
I had one young guy come up to me, so excited about the new Harley. He was just gushing and exploding. “I can’t believe how well you’ve handled her! I just love her so much!” He was just very happy.
JP: Very emotional. Yeah, it’s good!
MSG: How did you come upon your take on Harley Quinn’s character, given all the different iterations we’ve seen over the years?
AC: I think it was really important to us, even though she’s a psycho killer, that she be a lovable psycho killer. That was the first and foremost thing in our head. And it’s a bit of a challenge too, because she is a psycho killer. How do you make a psycho killer lovable? And that’s been out goal for her.
JP: You know, when Dan DiDio first asked us to write the book, he said, “Would you and Amanda be interested in writing it?” I honestly said, let me get back to you, because, number one, I had to talk to Amanda. And number two, we had to read up on the New 52 Harley. Because we knew the older stuff, but wasn’t as familiar with the newer one.
So, we came back and said, “We love her, but we want to shoot you a different take on her. A little more of an amalgamated idea of Harley — how we see her overall, standing back, rather than going straight to the Suicide Squad Harley.” I felt that Suicide Squad is delivering that Harley. We need to deliver something else.
Part of that is writing the book in a familiar place, so we set the book in Coney Island and Brooklyn. The characters I grew up with are pretty much in the book, like Syborg. He’s like every old Jewish guy I’ve known in my neighborhood. We put Harley in this really colorful area — she lives in the middle of an amusement park pretty much. It just made sense.
We pitched some crazy ideas to Dan and the crew at DC and they said to go for it! And then we got really lucky having Chad Hardin come onto the book on art and Alex Sinclair on colors. The book looks stunning every month. That has nothing to do with us. That’s our guys. Everyone working on the book has the same twisted sense of humor.
It was more feedback from the fans about what they were looking for in Harley. We did a lot of research online about what fans were saying. “I wish Harley was this. I wish she was that.” No matter what you deliver, there’s a quarter saying they want something different, no matter what you do. I’m sure there’s people reading the book that wish it were more like… this. But for now, it seems like it’s working. And Harley in the other book is working, so it’s all good.
MSG: Amanda, I’ve asked Jimmy this question before, but I want to hear your take: what’s it like co-writing with Jimmy?
AC: Oh, it’s great and it’s torture at the same time. Especially for him, I think. (laughs) It’s funny because I have a completely different speed than he does. He’s just a bulldozer. He gets it done, and I tend to noodle things to death. I think I drive him nuts more than he drives me nuts.
AC: Yeah, because I am a bit of a noodler and I’m a detail person. I was explaining to somebody that when it comes to writing, he sort of builds the house, and I paint and decorate it. If you were getting me to write it, you would just have a couple of cans of paint and furniture in the yard if it wasn’t for him.
JP: And she takes good notes!
AC: I do! I have my little iPad mini with me, so when he comes up with an idea, I write it down. “We can’t forget this! This is brilliant!”
JP: And it’s usually not! (laughs)
AC: No, it’s always brilliant! Yeah, he’s really good!
Also, I’m not used to writing. Jimmy has been writing much longer than I have. Even though I did the co-writing on Silk Spectre, it’s still a new thing for me. It really makes me miss drawing, because it’s such a brain exercise for me, and I’m so comfortable with drawing.
MSG: Which brings me to the work you did on Silk Spectre, which was absolutely phenomenal. How does working on Harley Quinn compare for you?
AC: The problem I have with working on Harley is that when we come up with a really fun scene, I want to draw it so bad! I love that we have Chad on it, because I know he’s going to do an amazing job, so I’m a little envious of him. I want to draw this, and I want to draw that, but I always know that we’re going to hand it over to Chad and he’s going to do something brilliant on it. Writing it is fun, but I’m an envy-artist.
JP: The pitch came to me in thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if we did a story with Harley Quinn going to San Diego and how funny would that be? We pitched it to Dan and he said, “Would you rather do it as a special?” I was like, can you get San Diego to sign off on this, because we’re going to be putting her at Comic Con. And they did! They went after it and everything cleared. They actually read the script and approved everything, which we laughed about, because there’s some madness in there.
AC: We wiped the sweat off our brow and went “Whew!” (laughs)
JP: It almost writes itself at that point, because you ask yourself, “What if Harley Quinn actually went to Comic Con?” And we’ve been there so many years now.
The book is broken down into chapters, and the chapters are day one, day two, etc. So, Tuesday, they get there. Wednesday is Preview Night. Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Sunday, the end of the con. And each chapter has a different artist. Page one is Paul Pope. Amanda is drawing part of it. There’s a whole bunch of artists they’ll announce down the line. Each artist gets to do an insane part of it. And it all connects.
Harley doesn’t comprehend Comic Con to a certain extent, because there are so many cosplayers. There’s a lot going on, and she doesn’t really grasp all of it. But that’s the fun of her adventure.
AC: And that’s why it is so fun, because she doesn’t quite comprehend it the same way everybody else does.
JP: There’s a lot of crazy moments. We treated it as if it were really happening, breaking it down to the day. It’s 38 pages of madness and goes all over the place. If you got a couple of tables full of Harley fans and asked, “What would you like to see while she’s in San Diego?” I guarantee we hit almost all of it. We built up a list of crazy moments and then string them all together.
It’s sort of like what we did with issue #0, because that wasn’t a fully written comic. That was sort of like, here’s the beginning, here’s the end, and let’s give a sentence or two to each artist and see what they come up with. And then we wrote it afterwards. It’s sort of a crazy way to work, but it’s kind of challenging at the same time.
AC: I thought it was fun! I had a lot of fun with it!
MSG: Jimmy, if you don’t mind, I’d love to ask a bit about Star-Spangled War Stories, hitting shops in July. Just who is G.I. Zombie and what kind of stories or tone can we expect from the series?
JP: G.I. Zombie is our main character, a soldier and warrior who has been alive for a very long time. He has an extremely uncomfortable appetite to watch. The book is pretty much following his adventures undercover as he infiltrates militia groups in the United States. Our first story takes place in Mississippi with a bunch of bikers. And it goes crazy from there.
It’s part horror and part military war comic. And part True Detective, if you saw that series. When we were watching True Detective, Justin Gray and I were already writing the book. I was like, look at this show! It’s almost like G.I. Zombie. It just needs more guns, because the story takes place in some really wild places.
It’s a book that starts really grounded and then just goes insane. For Justin and I to take this challenge on with this series, we’re trying to leave it so you don’t know what the hell will happen next with every issue. Partly because we don’t know either. We’re just winging it and having a great time with it.
The character is kind of funny, for a zombie. He has the sarcasm anyone alive for a very long time would have with his view of the world. He’s also an expert in every kind of military action and fighting. He’s a war machine, but at the same time, he’s a guy that’s been around forever and knows the lay of the land. We follow the story through his point of view, but also through Carmen King, his partner. She was overseas for a couple of tours, and comes back unable to fit into the normal life that she left. So, they assign her G.I. Zombie to go on a mission with, a guy who’s kind of dead. It’s a good mix of horror and action.
We were lucky enough to get Scott Hampton on art, and Scott is penciling and inking and coloring it. It’s beautiful. It has this sort of dark, yet alive, quality to it. And we have two representations on the covers: the Darwyn Cooke cover and the Howard Porter cover. It’s wonderful because both takes work exactly with the character, yet they are completely different. It’s always fun to see what a different artist does, but this is special.
So, yeah, we’re really hoping this hits the war crowd, horror crowd, and also The Walking Dead and True Detective crowds. Because that’s really what it is. It’s an amalgamation of all of these things.
Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner co-write monthly together on DC Comics’ Harley Quinn series, with a special San Diego Comic Con edition due out in July. Jimmy is also the co-writer on the upcoming Star-Spangled War Stories, as well as Batwing and All-Star Western at DC Comics.