As the co-writers of the best-selling “Harley Quinn” ongoing series, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti have been crushing it at DC Comics for the past four years. The breakout hit of the New 52, “Harley Quinn” has remained a hot property for the publisher as Rebirth continues to unfold, and while a list of A-talent artists have caught many a fans’ eye, the writing team of Conner and Palmiotti is a big reason why they keep coming back for more.
High-stakes adventures with a high level of hijinks is what makes “Harley Quinn” tick, and Conner and Palmiotti have recently translated their unique storytelling abilities to two new high-profile projects. Palmiotti wrote “Kamandi Challenge” #3, while Conner provided interior art for the special issue. The 12-issue event miniseries serves as a tribute to the late, great Jack Kirby commemorating what would be his 100th birthday. Each issue ends with an unimaginable cliffhanger and it’s up to the next creative team to resolve it before creating their own. Challenge accepted as Palmiotti and Conner delivered a doozy for next month’s team of James Tynion IV and Carlos D’Anda.
Conner and Palmiotti have also been tapped by DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio to write the upcoming — and very different — “Jetsons” series, which was previewed this past week in “Booster Gold/The Flintstones” Annual #1.
With a new story arc kicking off this week in “Harley Quinn” #17, not to mention a new regular backup feature co-written by Harley Quinn co-creator Paul Dini, CBR connected with Conner and Palmiotti to discuss all three projects and the ever-amicable creative team shared great insight into their artistic process, as well as their passion for these concepts and characters.
CBR: “The Jetsons” story you did for the “Booster Gold/Flintstones” Annual #1 was a lot of fun, if not a little disturbing — and if I know you guys, that’s probably what you were aiming for. [Laughs] Growing up in the 1970s, “The Jetsons” were really my touchstone for what I thought the future was going to bring. Are you surprised that we’re not zipping around in flying cars?
Amanda Conner: I’m like you. [Laughs] I absolutely did think that we would have flying cars by now, and a robot maid so I wouldn’t have to clean and I wouldn’t have to drive on the road. I’m living well, but I have to say that there is a little, tiny part of me that is disappointed in my future just because of “The Jetsons.”
Jimmy Palmiotti: I went back and watched a bunch of episodes of “The Jetsons” and realized that the show didn’t try super-hard to push these futuristic ideas. It was more like a futuristic version of “The Flintstones” in a way.
Conner: That’s exactly what it was!
Palmiotti: When we got offered the job to do the initial story and then do “The Jetsons” as a series, since we are living in the future, we had to take the story much further. Dan [DiDio] approached us to do it, and the first thing that we proposed was that we wanted to take it far, far, far future. Earth went through what it had to go through, and we came back to Earth to re-inhabit it again. There is subtle stuff in the short story. There’s actually a lot of stuff in that little story, although it does focus on the grandmother and Rosie — that was just a goofy idea that Amanda and I had. It’s basically, what be George’s worst nightmare? And that’s his mother never leaving the house. [Laughs]
The idea that grandma could be Rosie seemed crazy, and we started laughing but then we thought, it is the future… maybe we can do that. We wanted to hit some really high concepts on the short story, and then when we get to series, we can really go nuts. We can take “The Jetsons” to places it never really went before.
Do you think today’s audience expects, if not demands, a more sophisticated level of science fiction storytelling? New TV series like “Black Mirror,” “Orphan Black” and “Westworld” have certainly pushed the envelope and it sounds like you are heading that way with the premise, as you mentioned, of this new series being that humans left Earth only to return later in attempt to re-inhabit it.
Palmiotti: You’re right. This series is set after the environment kicks our asses off the planet and if you watch and read the news, Earth is actually slowly doing just that. [Laughs] Earth is definitely giving us a slow kick. We’re all a little too detail-focused to see the bigger picture where science sees the bigger picture.
Conner: This series is definitely set post-apocalypse, but it’s not dark post-apocalypse like most post-apocalypse stories are. It’s sort of like post-apocalypse, but we keep moving on.
Palmiotti: As we probably would. When we get into “The Jetsons” series, we see that there is a limited amount of survivors, there is a limited amount of people, but we’re past the survival part and we’re back to the…
Conner: Making shiny things part. [Laughs]
Palmiotti: That’s right. We think we can do it better this time, but we will probably learn our lessons in the same, hard way again because mankind, as a rule, doesn’t listen. The doctor says lose some weight, so you lose some weight and then you go back to the doctor and he says you are doing great — so you go and eat a cheeseburger. [Laughs] That’s human nature. The series has a lot of human nature stuff in it. We didn’t get into their jobs specifically in the short story because there was not a lot of space, but we did set up of what’s going to happen in the series.
Before we turn to “Harley Quinn,” wanted to ask you about your participation in “Kamandi Challenge.” I loved your story Issue #3. Did you enjoy the experience of this collaborative project?
Palmiotti: It’s an intimidating project because look at the other creators doing it. Because I was writing it for Amanda, I was on my own, and this where everybody says, “Well, the inker did okay.” [Laughs] I don’t know if you know this, but they put the names in a hat and I got Amanda — that was just by chance. I was wondering who I was going to get, and there was a list of people who I wanted, but Dan called me and said, “We pulled the name and everyone started laughing.” But they didn’t want to put her name back in and re-pull it because that’s against the very notion of what we’re doing. Dan said, “You’re stuck with Amanda.” And that was of course great because then I could custom write the story for her.
It was a fun project, waiting to see what Peter Tomasi and Neal Adams would do on “Kamandi Challenge” #2 and what cliffhanger they would leave me with to figure out. Growing up, I was a huge Jack Kirby fan, especially with “Fantastic Four.” When “Kamandi” came out, it was about the time that I saw “Planet of the Apes” in the theater. All of sudden, there was a comic book cover with the Statue of Liberty and the ‘Last Boy on Earth’ and I was like, “Okay. I have to get this. This looks awesome.” I was hooked. The approach for me was to make a tribute to Kirby but we also had to do our own thing and move the story ahead. And having Amanda on it as the artist was definitely a big break for me.
Conner: Of course, it was fun for me because I got to draw a whole book myself. That was a huge thrill. I don’t get to do that as often now that I’m writing more, but drawing is really the number one thing that I love to do. I love to draw interiors, so it was just so much fun for me.
When I was younger, I knew who Kamandi was, but I never really read “Kamandi” books because I was more into “Wonder Woman” and “Red Sonja” and a lot of the girl characters. So when I got it, I thought I would have fun drawing him and his world, and it turns out that he is one of the most fun characters that I’ve had a chance to draw. I didn’t realize that I was going to like drawing him so much. He’s kind of boyish, which makes sense because he is the Last Boy on Earth, so I wanted to keep him boyish, but he’s still punching his way through mean animals and stuff like that. I love drawing animals and especially humanoid animals walking around. That was so much fun.
Harley Sinn is back for “Harley Quinn” #17, a character readers really responded to when she was introduced in “Gang of Harleys” #1 last year. What’s she up to this time around when she faces off against Harley in the new “Red Meat” arc?
Palmiotti: We are running three or four storylines all at the same time in the book. That’s part of the fun of it and, really, the book should read like Harley’s brain, with four things going on at once and at all times. In one storyline, Harley Sinn has been pulled out of Arkham Asylum and sent on a mission to take out somebody – we eventually find out who that is, but not yet. What we find out is that Harley Sinn still has a grudge on for Harley, but is being manipulated by other people. What we are eventually going to learn in the next couple of issues is how she is dealing with this manipulation and plays it against Harley, and later, as the book moves into the 20s, we’ll see Harley Sinn play a major part. I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that she does kidnap some characters close to Harley and we have some fun with that. She’s just trouble.
Conner: That’s right. She’s trouble.
Palmiotti: I feel bad for the artist who has to draw all of the tattoos all of the time. [Laughs]
Conner: And I am so glad that I’m not doing all of that right now. [Laughs]
The other big news is that Paul Dini joins the creative team beginning with “Harley Quinn” #17, as the co-writer of the new monthly backup feature. It must be exciting to add one of Harley’s co-creators to the gang.
Palmiotti: Yeah, I wanted to give the new guy a chance to break in. [Laughs] I love bringing in new blood.
People love the old Harley – the animated version – and we wanted to take it a step further. We thought backups would be a really fun thing to do for a whole bunch issues. We said to Chris [Conroy], our editor, we wanted to get the dream team together of Bret Blevins, Jay Bone and get Alex [Sinclair] color it. We didn’t think that we would get everybody — but we did.
The “Harley Loves Joker” storyline basically happens in the past. It happens when the Joker and Harley were getting along great. They were running around Gotham together and robbing places, and Paul and I are trying to take everything further then they did before. We’re always laughing, because we’re really digging it. I think we’re giving everybody everything that they want but at the same time, it’s a little nutty and knowing what we know now about the character, we can go back and plant a lot of stuff in the past. It’s a really interesting backup that’s going to appeal to a lot of fans that like the old stuff. And while it has a nice animated look, it also has a more modern look. There is a lot more detail and it’s a lot more bouncy. I think it’s really funny.
Conner: We did ask Bruce [Timm], but he was too busy.
Palmiotti: Yes, Bruce was busy making a fortune making animated movies. [Laughs] Bruce would have been our first choice, but he’s a very busy man. But really, it’s a lot of fun and it’s really another way for retailers to say, “I know that it’s #17 but this another reason to check out this series.” It really keeps the book crazy and unpredictable and when you’re getting into your fourth year of doing “Harley Quinn” comics, keeping the book crazy and unpredictable is the way to go. It’s very important.
Conner: And I love it because Jimmy is writing it with Paul so I’m not really involved in it. I get to read a little, mini Harley story every month on top of the stuff that I’m doing. It’s like dessert. I get to have all of the fun without doing any of the work. [Laughs]
Palmiotti: Basically, it’s all about Amanda. [Laughs]