On Friday afternoon at New York Comic Con, writer Jimmy Palmiotti sat down with writer Buddy Scalera to spend and hour and half talking about his work and career before an enthusiastic audience. Scalera explained that he typically hosts his own panels, but Palmiotti is someone who has always paid it forward and helped people out.
Scalera began the proceedings by asking if Palmiotti would expand on a post he wrote recently about growing up in Brooklyn and how he began working in comics. “I was born in 1961 — which will frighten some of you,” Palmiotti joked, talking about the priests and nuns in Catholic grammar school trying to beat the faith out of him. When he wasn’t paying attention in class, he’d draw. He particularly remembers one nun, whom he described as “not the nicest person in the world.”
“I drew what I thought was this great drawing of a horse having sex with her,” Palmiotti said. “I was really into the detail — the horse’s tail, filling in the black in the nun’s outfit. She grabbed the picture out of my hands and held it up and said, ‘One day Mr. Palmiotti will be a very famous artist, but now he should pay attention.'”
After one year at Midwood High School, he remembers being called into the principal’s office where he was given some money for subway tokens and told to go into Manhattan and take the entrance test for the High School of Art and Design. He was accepted and during his time there met cartoonists, but first ended up working in advertising.
“In ’87 I started doing backgrounds and inking starting at Eternity Comics. It was such crap but it was fun to do,” Palmiotti said, admitting that he wanted to get out of advertising so he just left. One of his early jobs was helping out his high school classmate Mark Texeira doing backgrounds, and would regularly work in the Marvel offices.
“I was the go-to guy for anything behind schedule or any kind of problem book,” Palmiotti said. “I would work in the Marvel offices all night. I wanted it really bad and I was willing to do the stupidest books in the world.” Palmiotti’s goal was always to be a penciller, but his artwork was considered too photorealistic, which is how he ended up working as an inker.
He was introduced to Joe Quesada by fellow inker Rodney Ramos, and the two began working together, first on covers, and then started their own publishing company, Event Comics. “We were too stupid to know better,” Palmiotti joked. “I always leapt into things. We came up with ‘Ash’ and ‘Painkiller Jane’ and ’22 Brides.’ We got lucky. It did well. We should have put out more books, but Joe worked at the speed he did.”
Scalera pointed out that “Ash” was optioned at a time when few indie comics were getting attention form Hollywood and Palmiotti said they were approached out of the blue.
“They said, we’re going to fly you out to L.A. and meet the guys who own Dreamworks,” Palmiotti said. “We’re like, sure. He sent us first class tickets. They set us up at the Chateau Marmont.” Palmiotti explained how they were invited to a screening of the movie “Bound” with the film’s cast, after which Joe Pantolaino invited them to a cigar bar, which he described as a surreal experience.
“Next thing I know we’re in [producer] Walter Parkes’ office and they made a very lucrative offer for ‘Ash,’ but it didn’t have back end,” Palmiotti said. “We got to New York and called our lawyer and said, we’re not interested. We were used to not having a lot of money but the deal was around a million. We thought, we can make a million dollars making comics,” Palmiotti laughed. “Our lawyer thought we were insane. Everyone thought we were insane.
“Six months later they call back,” Palmiotti said, explaining that this time they also stayed in a nice hotel but “it was no Chateau Marmont.”
“We meet Jeffrey Katzenberg and he explains that they saw it as a trilogy and they wanted [“Akira” creator Katsuhiro] Otomo to direct. Then they came back and gave us an offer with a back end and what we wanted.” Palmiotti described Katzenberg as an incredibly smart guy, but at the end of the day, after all that, they had to get back and make comics.
One thing he did with the money was throw a party with an open bar. “We told comics people to drink on us for the night,” Palmiotti said. “Everybody was there. We had the attitude that the comic community is a big family.”
That family mentality continued after Palmiotti and Quesada were given the Marvel Knights imprint and that he won’t take credit for a lot, but they shook the boat and gave the company some energy, which they felt it needed.
Palmiotti had wanted to write for years, but admitted that it was initially a hard sell for those who only saw him as an inker. “I guess it’s like the guy who paints your house says he can build you a giant telescope on the roof,” Palmiotti joked, explaining that the reasons for writing were both practical, because he saw digital inking coming, but also because it was something he always wanted. “Again, the Brooklyn upbringing, I think I can do everything,” he said. “I always like to collaborate with people. I feel this job should be fun. Sitting in a room by yourself and writing, I’m not sure how fun that is.”
Scalera described an instance in which he asked Palmiotti to look at one of his comic scripts, and Palmiotti had two pieces of advice: every issue should have something memorable, and while he told Scalera the script was good, he also asked him to cut the word count by fifty percent and send it to him the next day.
“It’s a dance,” Palmiotti said about overwritten scripts. “I always thought it’s my responsibility to create a scene where someone goes, ‘That’s great, that’s horrible, I love that scene.’ If they don’t have that scene, it’s not worth it. DC had their WTF month — that should be every month.”
“Now don’t take my word for it, because my books don’t sell too well,” Palmiotti laughed.
“She’s the best editor I could have. She’s also my favorite person in the world,” Palmiotti said of his wife, artist Amanda Conner. Palmiotti talked about the soul that he sees in her work, the constant inventiveness, the way she sees a million things he never does and the fact that her sensibility is so fun.
“I’m afraid to draw around her,” Palmiotti admitted.
Palmiotti also talked about the “Painkiller Jane” television show, which happened at a difficult time. “They were starting to film on a Thursday and my mom passed away the weekend before. The funeral was Wednesday and I’m on a plane Thursday to what’s supposed to be the most exciting time
“I got on the set and Kristanna Loken, who didn’t know me from Adam, said, ‘I heard about your mom’ and hugged me,” Palmiotti recalled. “We’re friends for life.”
The writer also made it clear that he’s not slowing down and listed off the books he has coming out in November including “Harley Quinn” #0 with Conner, “Batwing,” “All-Star Western,” and a “Painkiller Jane” revival from Marvel’s Icon imprint drawn by Juan Santacruz who previously worked with Palmiotti on “The Resistance” and “Twilight Experiment,” among others.
“On kickstarter, we finished ‘Forager,’ which was an all-ages book that just ended. The next one is called ‘Denver,'” Palmiotti said. “It’s an adult science fiction graphic novel about both of the polar ice caps melting and Denver is the only city left in the United States. It’s about a border patrol guy and his wife gets kidnapped by bad guys and they make him do things. It’s a hardcore sci-fi story. I’m sixteen pages away from it being done. It’s beautiful.” He added that he met the artist on the book at a previous New York Comic Con when the artist brought him some samples.
Palmiotti asked for the final word, for both creators and for fans. “Treat everyone fair. Do not be greedy. Share. Be nice to people. If you’re good to people your whole life, it comes back to you. And if doesn’t, it feels good. Have empathy. Understand how hard people are working. Be kind. Be helpful if you can. I believe in playing fair and treating people well. That’s the best super power you can have.”
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on the very busy Palmiotti’s many projects.