Comics can be a tricky business. Most writers want to be creative while also making a living. For many, the big bucks can be found by working for Marvel or DC Comics while a few creators have found great success and luck doing creator-owned comics. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray do both. The writing duo might be best known for rejuvenating DC’s scarred cowboy Jonah Hex, first in his own series and now in “All-Star Western,” or another New 52 title, “The Ray,” but they also have a series of creator-owned projects like “The Tattered Man” and “Trailblazer” from Image Comics that allow them to flex their creative muscles on their own terms.
But their plans don’t stop there. Instead of continuing to release one-shots or miniseries of their own material, Palmiotti and Gray have joined forces with writer Steve Niles to create a brand new comic book/magazine hybrid called “Creator Owned Heroes” at Image Comics. The monthly series kicks off in June and will not only feature Palmiotti, Gray and artist Phil Noto’s “Triggergirl 6,” but also a second story by Niles and Kevin Mellon called “American Muscle.” With a new creation, new comic and new venture in the works, CBR News spoke with Palmiotti and Gray about how “Creator Owned Heroes” and “Triggergirl 6” came about.
CBR News: How did the idea come about to do “Triggergirl 6” as an anthology with Steve Niles?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Steve and I would run into each other at assorted comic conventions and we had a mutual respect for each other’s work and we got along great. Same background growing up with the same influences and so on. Yes, we are both fans of “Heavy Metal” and horror, sci-fi and so on. We were talking about how basic anthologies don’t sell and how, if done now, it should be hyper focused. We got Justin involved in the discussion early on and thought of an idea where we would be running four-part stories in a monthly book and later decided that we should pad the book with some other material since the prices of comics have gone up. We were looking at two different audiences for our work and thought that it might be cool to do a team-up and put out a monthly featuring our most out-there, out-of-control ideas and “Creator Owned Heroes” was born. Our hope is that there is something for everyone between the covers.
Why the name “Creator Owned Heroes” and not a more traditional comic book anthology-type title?
Palmiotti: We think the name is a perfect fit for the work featured. All properties owned by all the creators and a way to let loose with ideas that don’t normally fit into regular titles or companies.
Justin Gray: It definitely gives us a working platform to create material that wouldn’t normally fit into a publisher’s corporate identity.
What’s the breakdown page count-wise for each other?
Palmiotti: There are two 11-page stories of traditional comics, then another 15-16 pages of interviews, editorial, features and so on. The first issue alone we feature an interview with Neil Gaiman, a guest writer, a cosplay article where two sisters create their own Triggergirl costume and much more. This is not a book you are going to read in a minute. Each issue is heavy with content. It’s the book we would want to buy monthly and in the end, that’s what you try to create, something that would interest us that we think will have an audience.
With “Triggergirl 6” and “American Muscle” having end points, will “Creator Owned Heroes” continue on after that with either new stories by you guys or ones by other creators?
Palmiotti: Both of these lead stories are four parts and after that we have some two- and four-part stories lined up with different artists. For now, Steve, Justin and myself will write the book and the art teams will be rotating; as well as the characters.
Gray: We have a backlog of ideas and material either being developed or in the process of being written. “COH” gives us a flexible format to tell stories, revisit characters based on their popularity and serve as a launchpad for self-contained stories and ideas.
What was it about “Triggergirl 6” that made it the best concept to lead with?
Palmiotti: We felt it was a good way to start since we had most of the book done in advance already and we thought having the cosplay article mirror what Phil is doing with the character design gives another dimension to the book. The concept itself is sci-fi, a medium that is mostly ignored in mainstream comics. We shall see if we made the right choice.
What can you tell us about the actual “Triggergirl 6” story?
Palmiotti: This is the story about the sixth Triggergirl sent on a suicide mission. She is created in a lab and is a killing machine with just one purpose, like a single bullet in a gun going after its target; she is relentless and cares about nothing but her goal. The story is set in the future, around 100 years from now, and takes a good look at what we have learned and chosen to ignore in the world around us.
What can you tell us about this sixth Triggergirl’s mission? Who’s she after and what did they do?
Palmiotti: Without giving too much away, there have been five Triggergirls before her that have had the same mission and failed, and this new generation is stronger and smarter and has a better chance of achieving her goal. More than that, and we give away too much.
How did you guys wind up bringing Phil Noto onboard?
Palmiotti: When we came up with the idea a few years ago and we kept going back to the look of the character as a “Phil Noto” type of look and finally had the obvious brainstorm just to approach Phil to do the book. With this kind of project, everyone involved has something at stake and Phil is really doing an amazing job making us look good in the process. The first part is a wild action sequence and birth of the character. The reader will find out a little at a time and we hope stick around after because we follow it up with another cool project in issue #5.
I know in the past you two have said you do some Big Two work, sock some of the money away and then make your creator-owned books. Is this an extension of that philosophy?
Palmiotti: It sure is. We are paying for every single dime of the production of the book in hopes we can find an audience and the audience will be supportive enough to keep us going. We are not looking to get rich here. After the first year, all we are is looking to break even with our investment and keep the book going and expanding on the title. I have been funding just about every single book outside the bigger companies for the past few years and have been almost to the point of breaking even. We do it for the love of comics and as long as there are people willing to come along with us for the ride, we shall continue making comics this way. When you have been in it for as long as I have, you try to learn and apply and with this book, there is a lot of man hours invested from all of us. It’s an experiment for sure and some people have even told us that its not a great plan of action, but we will be hanging in there for the long haul as best we can — or until we go broke.
Gray: It’s an honor to work on franchise characters, we enjoy the relationship we have with the various publishers, but we also realize a lot of our work is outside the mainstream. It just makes sense to apply a portion of our money, time and creativity to the development of our own ideas when we’re not writing books like “All-Star Western.” I think the people we can count among our fans appreciate this. The previous idea that if you wrote successful superhero comics then that same audience would follow to your creator-owned work. That doesn’t always work. For a select few that is true, but there is another element where certain writers who gather a bigger following doing their own work. The reality is we work, we love our jobs and we have the desire to do a wide array of things.
Anthologies used to be places to test out new writers and artists to see what they could do with a short page count, do you have any intentions of going in that route with “Creator Owned Heroes?”
Palmiotti: The whole book is one big experiment and we have some major plans coming in the future. All I ask is that if you are interested in the book, join our page on Facebook and please pre-order the book with your local retailer.
Gray: The testing ground here is in the content, trying new things and experimenting for both personal and creative reasons. We like the challenge and to challenge ourselves to get better and do more.
The idea of bringing two possibly diverse audiences together for one comic is a really solid one. Do you think other creators will follow your lead?
Palmiotti: I think if it successful, then we shall see others doing it. The sales and interest are key for us at this stage — to see if there is an audience out there to embrace this exciting concept. All we know is if we saw this book, we would have to pick it up. You go by that gut instinct and hope for the best.
Gray: The bigger the better I say in terms of audience and readership!
To see how Triggergirl matches up with Palmiotti and Gray’s other characters, pick up a copy of “Creator Owned Heroes” June 6 from Image Comics.