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REFLECTIONS: Talking with Jimmy Palmiotti

by  in Comic News Comment
REFLECTIONS: Talking with Jimmy Palmiotti

REFLECTIONS #215

What can be said about Jimmy Palmiotti other than that he writes some of the best books nobody reads.

I still treasure his sadly-shortlived “Monolith” series, consider his “Hawkman” run one of the best superhero runs in recent years, think that the amazing-yet-lowselling “Jonah Hex” is the most consistently entertaining comic on the stands right now. Oh, I could keep going, I really could.

Palmiotti (along with his frequent collaborator Justin Gray) has a gift for mixing the dark and horrific with realism unlike any other writer out there. His books have a phenomenal pacing to them and Palmiotti also knows how to end a story with a bang, something that is becoming less and less popular on the comic stands these days.

And this is the first time I’ve ever had the chance to interview him.

Story continues below

Robert Taylor: Hey Jimmy, I’ve been interviewing people for five years and we’ve never done an interview together until now. This is like a landmark or something!

Jimmy Palmiotti: For you and me and no one else. There has to be some better landmarks out there to discuss. Ah well.

RT: So I was doing some research for the interview and when I had everything you are currently up to listed in front of me, my brain exploded a little. How exactly are you juggling everything and do you have that aneurism scheduled in yet?

JP: Well, my time with the “Painkiller Jane” show is over, and the episode I wrote aired July 13th on SciFi, so that opened up a lot of time and less traveling for sure. It’s been the main focus for me other than the writing for the past eight months.

The bulk of my work now are the monthlies and pitching all sorts of things to the West Coast as well as two screenplays Justin [Gray, Palmiotti’s longtime collaborator] and I have to finish this summer. Justin and I have a few things outside of comics in the works that we can announce soon, like the “Speed Racer” episodes we wrote for Nickelodeon and a dozen other things we got in the works.

RT: And the aneurism?

Palmiotti at WW Los Angeles in March, 2007.

JP: Yes, the aneurism will not be for a while I hope. Keeping my blood thin as I can these days, thanks.

RT: Do you ever get tired of people asking you how exactly you and Justin Gray co-write books?

JP: No.

I hope that in each and every interview I do they always ask me that same question over and over till I die. I have only answered it around 459 times, so I think pretty soon I will be able to finally answer it the right way. I never get tired of being asked that question.

I also never get tired of waiting on lines, listening to crying babies and paying taxes.

RT: [laughs] How does the fact that you are an artist in addition to a writer inform the scripts you turn out? Are they more or less descriptive and visual?

JP: More visual on every level and at rare times I will lay out something I can’t get 100% right in a description. A lot of artists like our scripts for this fact and we are happy about that.

I just feel bad for the colorists really. If an editor gives me the gift of color-editing, usually the colorist will thank me or want to kill me.

“Jonah Hex” #23

The trick to any script-writing is knowing when to let the artist do their thing. We write each script differently if we know who the artist is first. Some artists are so brilliant, little description is needed, but we are sticklers for not putting three or four actions in one panel. Unfortunately, a lot of writers don’t understand how insane this is for an artist to handle until they actually try to draw it themselves.

RT: Okay, let’s talk about “Jonah Hex,” which is probably the most consistently great comic on the stands right now. You are still on it for the foreseeable future, right?

JP: Till the end of time. It’s our baby and we will fight anyone that tries to take it away from us to the death!

Anyway, glad you like it, but sad it’s ignored by all those award people and fans that don’t like Westerns. They will learn soon enough – sorry – in my head for a minute there.

We will be on the book as long as they will have us. It’s our favorite thing to work on and most satisfying. Anytime you can make a genre style book a success that isn’t about superheroes in the mainstream, it’s something special

RT: When the book launched almost two years ago, people weren’t expecting it to live longer than a couple issues because it was a Western with one-shot stories in most issues, and yet sales have remained pretty consistent from day one. Did you think it would still be here two years later?

JP: Actually, no. But my fingers, legs and eyes were crossed that we would have a long life and so far so good.

“Jonah Hex” #22

The trade books really help the series break even, so as long as the good people out there continue to support the book, we will be doing the best job we can making sure we do the best job we can.

We launched “Hex” and Vertigo launched “Lawless” at the same time and the best news I have is that now there are at least twenty more western titles popping up each year. How cool is that?

RT: Really cool. Dynamite’s “Lone Ranger” revamp is phenomenal.

JP: I agree. It’s a great book. Like those Dynamite comics guys.

RT: What’s your favorite western of all time?

JP: That’s not a simple answer.

RT: I love questions like that. Mine is “The Searchers,” by the way.

JP: Well, I love “Once Upon a Time In the West,” “Unforgiven,” “Wild Bunch,” “Ox-Bow Incident,” all the Man With No Name movies, and so many others for different reasons. There isn’t just one though. Can’t decide on things like that, with anything – comics, movies, music, etc.

“Jonah Hex” #21

RT: Let’s talk about the artists who have worked on the series, because the book has been consistently one of the prettiest on the stands. What do you think draws them to the book, first of all?

JP: I think the simple fact that they like Westerns, like to draw something else besides grown men in spandex and have grown up reading and enjoying the Hex character at one time or another. There is nothing more fun than drawing open landscapes and not having to draw hundreds of buildings and such. It’s a break for some artists and a dream for others.

RT: And how much do you find yourself tailoring any given script to a specific artist’s talents?

JP: We custom make them for each and every artist. Really.

We take a good long look at their storytelling style and decide what kind of story works best for them. The two best examples of us doing this were for Phil Noto and Jordi Bernet. Each tale was made for them and we think we got some of their best work ever out of them because of it.

RT: So what’s coming up on the book?

JP: The new issue is out by Jordi Bernet and it’s beautiful. Jordi has a few more issues after as well.

RT: That cover is my favorite since Luke Ross’ on the first issue.

JP: We got the Halloween issue that features the art of David Michael Beck and features Hex, el Diablo and Bat Lash. Then we’ve got a bevy of guest artists coming up for the next year that will knock your socks off. Announcements coming soon.

RT: I am so very excited, you have no idea. What’s been your favorite story so far?

“Jonah Hex” #20

JP: It’s coming up soon, in a few months. But I hope we write one better. I never want to be content with anything I do or call it “the best.” I think the best is something we always are forever shooting for.

RT: Let’s talk “Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters,” because it’s coming back! When you started the first miniseries, or even back when you were doing “Battle for Bludhaven,” did you plan on sticking with the characters this long?

JP: We were always working with the hope that the book would sell well enough to get another series going and put our all into each and every issue. No one expected it to do as well as it did and no one really knew what to expect from us writing it.

Now with the second series before us all we can hope, once again, is that the die-hards are back for more and to gain a new audience as well. We are making the new series very user friendly and, let’s tell the truth, we really need a comic where an uncle is the main hero.

RT: Miniseries? Ongoing?

JP: Miniseries unless the sales do well and the trade that collected the first mini-series that is out next week does well. Things change in a heartbeat around here.

RT: Fingers crossed. So what’s changed since the end of the last miniseries?

JP: Well the art is the main obvious thing that has changed.

We got the award-winning Dave Johnson doing the covers and I can’t tell you how happy we all are for that. Second is that the interiors are now being drawn by Renato Arlem, who we think is amazing. So all the artwork is in line and then there is the story and we got a lot of it. We deal with the after-effects of “Amazons Attack” and move right along into our own little world and what’s going on in it. This series we flush out the individual characters and what makes them tick – it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to revisit these amazing characters.

“Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters” #1

RT: Obviously there is some political charge to the characters and the book. How do you find the correct balance between entertainment and preaching, which I think you did in the first miniseries.

JP: Well, we preached from both sides to make a point and for the reader to understand what the characters were made of and how their points-of-view caused them to react to the world around them.

We needed a balance and we think we managed to keep it and not be so one-sided. If you think it was preachy it’s probably because you might have disagreed with some of the political views presented, but if you dig deeper, it’s never one-sided. The best heroes and villains, to me, are the opinionated ones. We all want to change the world, but some want to do it differently from us.

RT: Obviously Uncle Sam isn’t exactly a character writers were fighting each other tooth and nail to write a miniseries about, so what drew you to the character and plot?

JP: Take a good look at what Justin and I write.

Hell, look at the past year and a half: “Jonah Hex,” “Shanna,” “Heroes for Hire,” “Friday the 13th,” “The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning,” “The Spirit,” “Supergirl,” “Bludhaven” and so on – if you really look hard at that list, you will find that this book is exactly the kind of book we should be writing.

RT: And your head will explode a little like mine.

JP: When we were offered it and Grant’s outline notes, we jumped at a chance to take a shot as such an eclectic group of characters. What’s not to like about them: every one of them is a classic.

The plot itself we felt should reflect the times since they are so politically motivated. A lot of books pride themselves as being timeless, but the truth is that the politics presented here are just as timeless, it’s just the details and specifics that have changed.

RT: In general, how political do you think comics should get?

JP: As long as a good story is told and the politics are presented in a fair and unbiased fashion, I think it’s up to the talents of the specific author. Remember, a lot of politics are hidden in different ways and these agendas get played out at times without some readers ever acknowledging them. I think, like anything, it comes down to how open-minded the individual author is and how the presentation is. It would be a shame if no politics were ever presented. It’s how we learn, question and process the views of other people and the world.

RT: So what’s happening in the book?

JP: The crew comes back to see Washington, which is left a mess after the Amazons attacked. The team has problems all over the map to deal with, and two characters are going through life-changing events.

RT: How new reader-friendly will the new miniseries be?

JP: Like everything we do, we take into consideration that this might be the first time someone has picked up the book or met these characters so we help them along best we can to get them up to speed. This #1 will be an easy read for a new reader, but I would recommend, if you like it, to get the collected trade of the first series.

RT: What’s up with Renato Arlem?

“Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters” TPB

JP: He is very busy working on the book. We had a choice from over twenty different artists to pick from on this new series and he was our first choice. As soon as you see the work, you will understand in a heartbeat.

RT: Are you planning on sticking with “Uncle Sam” after this miniseries concludes? And, if so, how many more stories do you have in mind?

JP: We have hundreds of stories – it’s all about how it sells if we ever get the opportunity to do so.

RT: Now, to switch things up, tell us something embarrassing about Justin Gray.

JP: He is a sweet, caring dude that can cook, mine and castrate a bull in a single day.

RT: How’d you hop onboard “Countdown?”

JP: Simple.

We were asked and we were up for it.

It’s the biggest project of the year and we would have been insane not to join the crew.

RT: Were you a big fan of “52?”

JP: Didn’t read it until we got the “Countdown” job. I read a couple that I inked, but I am not a weekly comic buyer and was waiting for all the trades to come out and then read them. It was a time thing mostly, because I am a huge fan of all the writers involved.

“Countdown” #43 by Palmiotti & Gray

I only read trade books, sorry to say, unless they are independent titles.

RT: How big of a fan of Paul Dini were you before doing the book?

JP: Well, a big fan of his work and consider myself a friend. He is a talented guy and a sweet guy as well – always pleasant, interesting and fun to be around.

RT: What character were you looking forward to writing the most?

JP: Those characters haven’t made an appearance yet, so I can’t say right now.

RT: Cue the mysterious “bum bum bum” music.

You got to write the aftermath of Bart’s death. How big a fan of the character were you and how much research did you do for that specific issue?

JP: I only read “Flash” when Mark Waid was doing it – so a fan, but not a huge fan on any level like some of the people out there. Really, it’s a gig where we get to have fun writing characters other people created – so that’s fun on a number of levels and writing this issue was easy because I have lost a loved one recently and it was easy to have the characters speak from the heart and not sound insincere.

As far as research, we have Justin here who knows everything there is about the DCU and with him as a partner it’s very rare anything gets past him.

As far as the main outline, it’s all Paul Dini and overall, it’s his book in the end.

RT: Are you satisfied with the way the book has been turning out thus far?

JP: So far so good, but getting better every day.

I have personal issues with art choices, pacing, and character stuff, but overall it’s good and we get to address these issues each week.

Really, it gets better every issue, but you are asking a guy who is never happy with anything. If it was perfect I would find flaws. It’s a fun, huge project that is overwhelming on so many levels and it’s like playing marbles during an earthquake. Everything changes from day to day.

RT: How much do you guys have scripted so far?

JP: We are working on issue #24 right now.

RT: I’ve talked with Adam Beechen before about the specific writing format for “Countdown.” Now that you’ve written over half of the book, do you feel like the “executive producer” format has been a success?

JP: [laughs] I am a control freak. Ask me when issue #1 comes out.

“Firday The 13th” TPB

RT: It really sucks that “Friday the 13th” was cancelled so soon, because you guys were rocking on it.

JP: It was a six issue mini-series. It was never cancelled and we wrote a beginning, middle and end. We were never supposed to write this book past six.

RT: News to me. And all six issues rocked. Big fan of the movies? Which was your favorite? Least fave?

JP: I liked the first two. All of them were shit after, but Jason in space made me laugh.

RT: What’s coming up with your “Superman Confidential” storyarc?

JP: Superman. Metropolis under water. Lori Lemaris crushin’ on Supes. Lois jealous. Jimmy confused. And Lex Luthor. Go out and buy it.

RT: So, Lori Lemaris, huh? Where’d that come from?

JP: Under the sea.

“Superman Confidential” #8

RT: [laughs] How did you alter the voices of the characters since this story takes place in the character’s pasts?

JP: We don’t. The story is taking place the minute you are reading the book. We treat it like its happening now.

RT: Tell us about Koi Turnbull.

JP: Koi is a talented artist that we are lucky enough to have draw two issues of our “Superman: Confidential” arc. The work speaks for itself, and if you meet him he can speak for himself. I really don’t know him on a personal level.

RT: “Painkiller Jane.” Tell us about working with Dynamite and getting her resurrected.

JP: Dynamite came to me and Joe to license the character and we let them know what we wanted and they said fine.

We write the book as an adult book and get to put them out a few times a year, which is a great deal for both of us. We were looking for an interested publisher at the time and Dynamite had success written all over them. So far, so good. Jane can never die, so it was a matter of time before she showed up again.

RT: Tell us about working with Quesada again.

JP: Well, I wish he had more time, but he is the EIC of Marvel Comics, so basically we discuss a rough outline of the story and I dig in and get to work writing it. Joe trusts me to do my thing and it’s really that simple. One day he will have the time to do more, but I’m grateful for the time he has.

RT: Any funny embarrassing stories you want to tell us about him? I’m a stickler for punishment, I know.

JP: I have a ton, but not for the public. It’s between friends. He is a great, busy, complicated dude that’s creative as hell and has to juggle universes on a daily basis.

RT: Onto the lightning round!

“Superman Confidential” #7

JP: Zap.

RT: What was your first comic book?

JP: I can’t remember. Probably “Archie” or “Superman.”

RT: What comics can you never miss?

JP: None. I can miss them all for awhile and then come back and catch them in trades. Right now I really am enjoying the new “Spirit” series.

RT: Darwyn Cooke equals amazing.

Biggest strength as a writer? How about as an artist?

JP: Making shit up and knowing how to end a story. As an artist, probably cover layout.

RT: Biggest weakness?

JP: As an artist, penciling complete stories. As a writer, probably avoiding reading other comics.

RT: What is your favorite comic book of all time?

JP: “The Pro.”

RT: What advice do you have for aspiring comic writers? Artists?

JP: Try to get schooling for your craft, understand that you always have a lot to learn and stop trying to draw like another artist and draw from real life.

RT: Has there ever been a comic book that touched/changed your life? What was it?

JP: No. Not yet.

RT: If you could only write one book for the rest of your career, what would it be?

JP: “Painkiller Jane” or any number of characters I created.

RT: Who would be your drawing partner?

JP: Amanda Conner or Jordi Bernet.

RT: What’s the best comic book movie ever made?

JP: I haven’t seen it yet. Most really suck badly.

RT: What is your weirdest convention experience?

JP: Weird?

Being asked by another creators’ girlfriend to have sex with her while he watched.

No – I will never tell you who it is. Ever. And no, I didn’t do it.

RT: If you were remembered for only one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?

JP: Probably helping people. The work is fun but really, it’s what you do for others that make the man.

Next week: Tony Bedard!

Discuss this story here on CBR’s DC Universe forum.

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