EXCL: Conner & Palmiotti Go From Superheroes to "Superzero"

These days, superheroes are everywhere, from toasters to alarm clocks to the silver screen, Netflix, even Disneyland. And as the concept of superheroes continues to cast a longer and longer shadow across society, so does the idea of what a superhero should be, why they should fight, and how they inspire everyday people.

For "Harley Quinn" co-writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, superheroes are a way of life. And with their newest comic series "Superzero," illustrated by artist Rafael de Latorre and published by AfterShock Comics, the duo looks at how superheroes inspire people -- and, sometimes, drive them a little crazy.

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A teenage drama with elements of romance and comedy, the December-releasing "Superzero," one of the nascent publisher's first wave of releases, is an exploration of what superheroes mean to the average person, seen through the eyes of a young girl. Dru Dragowski wants to bring out her inner superhero, and she decides, hey, rather than just talking about superheroes -- why not become one?

CBR News: Who is Dru Dragowski? What does she want from life?

Jimmy Palmiotti: Dru is our main character, a young girl living in Tampa, Florida, wanting to be something more than just who she is and doing something about it. She believes she has decoded the formula to make oneself a superhero and is going to put her theories to the test.

Amanda Conner: I believe most of us who are into comics have a bit of a frustrated superhero inside us. I know I do. At around age 9 or 10, I spent a decent amount of time and energy trying to perfect my Wonder Woman skills.

Drusilla is a girl that takes that about eighty steps further. She wants to be a superhero more than anything on Earth. For most of us, we're pretty practical about figuring out that being a superhero isn't the best career choice, but Dru doesn't let impracticalities get in the way of her dreams -- even if those dreams cause her to make really unwise choices that have really unhealthy side effects!

You seem to have really built an interest over the last few years in properly developing young female characters -- Harley Quinn, Starfire, Power Girl -- and giving them a sense of fun and independence. What is it about this kind of story that connects so strongly with you?

Palmiotti: I think it begins even earlier, with books like "The Pro," "Beautiful Killer" and "Painkiller Jane." Stories about people stepping out and doing their own thing, no matter what others think, has always been a theme in the work. I love characters that feel comfortable being themselves in a world where most conform, and I think these types of characters always make a book more fun to read and relatable.

Dru is someone we understand and find interesting, but the difference with her -- she's doing things that may not be good for her, so there is a price to be paid for doing what she wants. I think a lot of people will relate to her on different levels, but at the same time cringe because we know better. But, as in real life, some lessons have to be learned the hard way.

Conner: I think it's fun to examine what it would be like if we took some of our unrealistic childhood ideas, and instead of just filing them away, we ran with them, consequences be damned.

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This series ties into superheroes from a slightly different angle -- can you talk a little about the particular twist on superhero stories which we'll find in "Superzero?"

Palmiotti: I am not looking at this as a twist-type story as much as a hard look at someone that follows through with what they believe, at almost any price. It's the fine line between fantasy and reality we all live with at times, to make the hard stuff go down easier. We all have a bit of revisionist history in our diet to protect ourselves and make it easier to move forward.

Dru is a complicated, sweet and smart gal that has a hard time placing her brain in reality at times because it doesn't fit in with her plans. She is a complicated character.

What interested you both in taking this approach to the superhero? Should readers expect a little bit of commentary on fandom as a whole in this series, perhaps?

Palmiotti: A little of that, but more a sense of discovery and relation to what a lot of what fandom absorbs and how it's tied and not tied to reality. It's a celebration with a warning.

Conner: Also, we thought it would be kinda fun to examine what would really happen if you tried out all those classic, superpower-inducing stunts.

What kind of tone will the series have? Is the emphasis on humor, teenage drama, romance?

Palmiotti: Teenage drama first, with a touch of comedy and romance. It's not a "funny" book as it's more a drama, but with anything we do, there is always room for a good laugh at the absurdity of a situation.

What did you want from Dru's design, herself? Who designed her, and what did you want to communicate to readers about her personality, attitude, lifestyle?

Conner: Dru is a skinny, freckly girl who sharply contrasts the kids who we always thought were "perfect" when we were growing up, the popular kids. To be honest, I did take some cues from my own childhood and adolescence. I did not want her to be anywhere near "perfect," and certainly not superhero perfect, even though when she daydreams about being a superhero, she sees herself as "superhero ideal."

She comes from an extremely blended family, who all give her a lot of love and support, so she's pretty comfortable in her own skin -- even though she'd rather that skin be impenetrable.

Dru is also super-smart, without having a lot of wisdom. Meaning that she knows so much about so many things, but doesn't think it's a bad plan to get shot up with an unknown compound in order to gain some sort of fantastical power.

I think the one superpower she does have is the power of persistence, and that makes her pretty endearing.

How did artist Rafael de Latorre come onboard the series? What does his particular artistic style bring to the story?

Palmiotti: The crew at AfterShock had a list of artists that wanted to work for them. We took a look at a lot of portfolios, and when we saw Rafael's art and Marcelo Maiolo's colors, we were instantly sold. We needed someone with a strong sense of storytelling and a style that was unlike anything else we were doing. We were going for a "look" that they both nailed.

As artists yourselves, what's your collaborative process like when scripting a series? Are you quite prescriptive in what you'd like to happen, or do you like to give artists space to play around?

Palmiotti: As we work with an artist, we get to know them and their style and work accordingly with them. We always like to give space for the artist to breathe, and at times, it's when we get the best work. Both of us being artists, we do see what we are writing at times, and will go a tiny bit overboard with descriptions, but it's usually not a problem. With this team, there were no worries at all.

Conner: Yeah, being an artist myself does make me tend to want to be a bit of a control freak. I'm trying to wean myself off of that and let Rafael and Marcelo do their thing.

How did you first come to talk about developing a comic at AfterShock? What made you want to work with the company?

Palmiotti: A couple of things. First, Joe [Pruett] and Mike [Marts] are friends, and in this life, that's the secret to everything. Work with people you like. Next, we met the crew behind them and fell in love with their energy and eagerness to let us do our thing. Last, if there is an opportunity for something like this to go to outer media, they will be involving Amanda and I big time, something we don't get from most companies, and last, the ownership of the character between us was a great deal.

We had the idea of "Superzero" in our heads for a long time and we were waiting for the right people to bring this to. So far, so great.

AfterShock's arrival means another venue for people to make creator-owned comics. You've worked at a number of companies -- and for yourself, through several Kickstarters. Do you feel we're in the middle of a boom for creator-owned comics work?

Palmiotti: Yes -- been feeling this since Image was created, and then Event Comics many years ago. Everything changes, and that's a good thing -- most of the time!

"Superzero" lands in comic stores December 16 from AfterShock Comics.

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