Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti are comics’ all-time power couple. The wife-and-husband team are longtime collaborators but even taken separately, either one commands long lines of fans waiting to meet them at comic conventions. It’s no wonder why–both have worn nearly ever creative cap in the comic book industry, and in each discipline they’ve found a heady mix of creative and critical success.
They are also an adorable couple, for what it’s worth.
We sat down with the prolific pair to talk about their latest assignment, Harley Quinn (who, as the Joker’s ex-girlfriend, was herself the adorable half of DC’s supervillain power couple). Though Conner is most beloved for her extremely expressive, sleek art, she’s yielded page duties to artist Chad Hardin on this series to realize her humor (though she’s still drawing the covers). Palmiotti, who often inks her work, is similarly focused on their script. And both are keenly aware how their book, which reads like effortless fun, must strike a balance between representative reality and outlandish joy.
Man Cave Daily: Jimmy, you’re a Brooklyn native and Harley has come home to Brooklyn–
Jimmy Palmiotti: Yes, write what you know.
MCD: But I would also say it’s such a perfect place for her, Coney Island. Was that something you always wanted to do, or was there an “Ah-ha!” moment?
JP: The whole series was a lot of “Ah-ha!” moments–
Amanda Conner: I think Brooklyn was an “Ah-ha!” moment and it was also “But of course she would live there.” [laughs]
JP: In the Suicide Squad, she’s in Gotham, and we said, “Is it right to have another book?”
AC: She’s in Louisiana in Suicide Squad, isn’t she?
JP: Oh, she is? Oh, okay. Well wherever she is, I thought, “In order for this book to work, we need to get her out of that group. Otherwise it’s not going to make sense with what we want to do.” And yeah, Coney Island, write what you know. There’s more characters. She would blend in there any day of the week. You wouldn’t even notice her. We threw the ideas out there of her owning a building and it was just a crazy idea that DC, thank God, went for. But it sort of made sense. We felt the character needed to be defined in her own surroundings rather than the Batman universe or the Suicide Squad.
When you get a character that a lot of people know but we’re still introducing to new people, it’s good to get her fresh and give her a fresh start. We thought Coney Island would make sense for a girl dressed like a clown. [both laugh]
MCD: It’s her neighborhood, man: it’s sleazy, it’s prone to riot, but it’s also got a good heart and it’s a lot of fun. I also really like that you’re making the characters out of local types, like Syborg.
JP: Are you from New York?
MCD: No, but I’ve lived there for a while.
JP: Okay, you know Coney Island: it is that. Exactly what you said.
MCD: Anytime I go down there, and come out of the subway — before you even cross the street, you’ll see something that makes you say, “Yep, that’s Coney Island.”
AC: [laughs] “I’m here.”
MCD: So will you be drawing on the surrounding neighborhoods for more characters?
JP: In issue #5 we go to Mill Basin. In issue #8 we take the map of New York and dissect it a little bit. So, she–
AC: I want it to be a surprise!
JP: Okay, there’s things she does that involves other neighborhoods, from her rooftop. It’s going to be confusing, but there’s madness coming. We figure if it’s a real place and people know it, pull out the map, let’s figure out the neighborhoods and set some stories. As you know, New York, it’s colorful. Certain neighborhoods have certain characters. I think in issue #7, that we just turned in…?
AC: Seven, yeah.
JP: There’s a bunch of gangsters in a basement having a meeting, and it’s in Bensonhurst, and she goes there. Does it matter in the long run? Well the Brooklynites, they probably love it, but we’re given this very rich city to work with that actually exists. So it’s kind of fun to throw a story in certain neighborhoods and work with the colorfulness there. Sy Borgman is a great reflection of old Coney Island. And if you pass the boardwalk, there’s all these senior homes all along Seaview Avenue. We take advantage of that and that’s why Harley works for the hospital over there.
MCD: For a book that’s so much about fun and play, do you guys sit down and say, “Today we’re going to plot and tomorrow we’re going to script,” or is it more born of going around New York together and saying, “Oh, grab that, and let’s use this…” is it an ongoing build?
JP: Well the joke there is we live in the sixth borough of New York, which is Florida.
AC: We recently relocated down there when Jimmy discovered that he liked parking easily.
JP: Easy parking, polite people, the beach…yeah, parking is number one. But growing up there my whole life…
AC: He remembers every single thing and I was there for 12 years, and I remember a lot of it so we think about a scene, we think “Well this would be perfect for that neighborhood.”
JP: The writing part happens every day. We’re out together eating lunch, we’re taking a drive, we see something ridiculous, we think, “Boy that would be funny if we did that.” She takes a thousand notes. Putting it together is the time we actually sit down and start writing it out. The book’s always writing itself at all times and plus we hit DC with some ideas–“Could we use this character? Is it possible to mess with this where nobody’s going to get mad at us?” They get right back to us and usually it’s a “Do whatever you want to do kind of thing.”
So we’ve been very grateful and lucky with that. We’ve been hitting the right notes with editorial in DC that they support it. I think that’s what a lot of the success is built on, that everybody’s getting it and having a good time doing it.
MCD: I’ve noticed the art is pretty similar to your style, Amanda. Was that something important to you when you were putting the book together? Are you giving thumbnails for inspiration?
AC: I don’t really give any thumbnails. I don’t have to with Chad, he’s so good. When we were choosing artists for the book, we wanted somebody who could really handle humor and craziness at the same time who was good–and thank you for thinking Chad is similar to me. [laughs] I’m very flattered–Yeah, we wanted somebody who could really handle insane situations with a goofy hand.
JP: And Chad doesn’t live in New York, so the only notes we give him is “More trash on the street, please, Chad…crack the sidewalk up. Can you put these guys in the background going through the garbage pails.”
AC: “Not enough graffiti.”
JP: “Pigeons, pigeons, pigeons!” That’s the kind of notes we give him, and he’s laughing. But he has this really uncanny knack–and it’s getting better as it goes, because we did a whole action sequence in a zoo in #6 and we’re describing to him, “The bears rip the guy’s head off. The head flies through the air. The bird grabs the head and flies away…” And he’s taking it a step further. He has monkeys making faces in the background. Everything’s reacting.
He did even a panel where I think Sy and the Russian spy are about to kiss, and Harley’s practically upside down in the panel looking down, going [makes face]. Upside down–how would you even think of doing that? She’s losing her mind at this thing. Let’s turn her upside down and hang her from the top of the panel. That kind of thinking is wonderful. And Alex Sinclair comes in and goes nuts with the coloring, so he’s fantastic too.
MCD: I hate to ask this–I never ask this question, but I want to win a bet with myself. Are there any influences in mind when you’re working on this book?
AC: Aw, yeah. That comes back to me being frustrated that I can’t draw the book, cause I want to draw it so bad and I’m envious of Chad that he gets to draw it. Every time we have a really fun scene, I’m like, “I wish I could draw that!” but I know I have to let Chad have his shine on it. But in my head I’m doing it myself, writing it the way I would draw it. And my influence always is Chuck Jones. He’s just my hero.
MCD: I was right!
AC: You were right, weren’t you?
JP: Chuck Jones and I think there’s MAD magazine there. We like stuff going on in the background a lot.
MCD: I interned at DC years ago and I remember some of your art came in–I think it was a Zatanna story–and you stuck half of DC editorial into the audience.
AC: [laughs] I do remember that.
JP: Look, comics are a visual experience. You read them but you look at them. It’s so important to look at the surroundings of where your character is. I think it adds another level of believability to the scene when the backgrounds are interacting in a bizarro way. And again with Chad we were like “The details.” We never come back with notes on the drawing. We always come back with notes like “You know, that floor would be a mess right now, with ripped tiles.” And he goes, “I get it,” and he goes right on it. He’s great like that.
MCD: Is that believability something you stress because you want to ground it from all the heads sticking in from the top of the panel? Is that a counterbalance to the Chuck Jones stuff?
JP: Well yeah, there’s timing. The book’s in real time. You want to ground it because if it’s too silly it’s a pushback to some people. If it’s too much, that you don’t believe anything, and it’s too over-the-top, comic fans tend to go, “Well, that’s crazy,” and that’s the end of that.
AC: “That’s not my universe!”
JP: And Harley’s a homicidal maniac. So there’s the joy of everything and suddenly she severs a guy’s head. In issue #5 there’s a Russian spy in a hospital bed in a coma. And they can’t kill him, right? So they start cutting the wires, and Harley walks over, grabs all the wires and just blows into them. The guy explodes in the bed.
It’s a horrific scene. If it were in any other book, it would be the most horrible thing ever. But in Harley you’re sitting there, and because you’re almost hearing the circus music as the thing is going on, you buy it. You say, “Yeah, okay, they killed that guy and they’re on to the next guy.” But turn the music a different way, turn the angle, put another character in there, all of a sudden it’s the most horrific thing ever in comics. So it’s fun that we can hit those notes without it getting us into too much trouble.
MCD: It’s almost like a New Girl type of sitcom where she moves to a new town, has a new cast, fresh start after a breakup…and yet she’s got hitmen coming after her. She’s an innocent victim here, and most Batman villains are halfway between victim and villain. Do you have some sort of red flag between each other like “We’ve just made her too adorable? We have to have her do something terrible.” What’s the core?
AC: I think it’s important for us that she becomes her own person in her own new neighborhood and not to make her victim-y at all. The Joker was really mean to her. He was not a good boyfriend. He was not good for her. We’re trying to make her really comfortable in her own skin–
JP: Even though it’s bleached.
AC: [laughs] No matter how bad the situation she can always get herself out of it. I don’t think she has a fear of her own demise because it never even occurs to her that it might happen. She never plays the victim.
JP: And there will be romance in the air soon. It might not be exactly who you think it is. It’s funny how the fans tell you who they want her to have a relationship with. We just figured she’s attractive in a lot of different ways to crazy people so there would be a lot of suitors. There’s no such thing as just one guy’s interested in her.
AC: Yeah, a lot of guys I know are attracted to crazy girls.
JP: It’s me! There’s a rule: whatever you’re attracted to is the thing that breaks you up eventually. So if you look at your old past romances and say, “Well I was attracted to her because of this.” Well why’d you break up? “Well, she’s crazy!” or “She’s beautiful.” Why’d you break up? “She thinks it’s all about the beauty.” There’s always that bookend. Of course not with Amanda. That’s a whole different story.
Brendan grew up a shy nerd reading comics, but now he’s courting actresses to be your special lady in Girlfriend Audition: Jessica Kinni.