Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner held court in their own panel at Wizard World Philly on Saturday, as part of the ongoing “Wizard School” series, which is designed to assist and inform aspiring creators in achieving their dream of becoming comic book professionals. Palmiotti and Conner were a few minutes late, so host Buddy Scalera opened with a brief talk about the photo reference books for artists he currently puts together, and also mentioned the “Creator Connection” meetings Wizard is hosting at the con, which will enable would-be creators to make contact with one another and possibly find collaborators. Once Palmiotti and Conner arrived, Scalera began with asking each of them how they broke into comics.
Conner related her trick of calling up editors at Marvel and telling them that she was “just in town for the weekend”, and asking if she could please come by and show them her portfolio. She used this trick about 6 times before she was finally given an assignment on a back-up story. She said she thought security would be too tight in a post-9/11 atmosphere for aspiring creators to just walk into Marvel offices like that these days, and recommended that people post their work online as the best way to show their stuff.
Palmiotti explained that he started off at the High School of Art and Design in NYC, where he studied cartooning. While he was still in school, he managed to get some jobs “ghosting for guys who did a lot of drugs,” as he put it, but quickly realized this wasn’t the direction he wanted to go in. He then went into advertising, and it was about 10 years before he got back into comics. Ghost Rider and Punisher artist Mark Texeira, who Palmiotti had gone to school with, needed help making deadlines, so Palmiotti began to draw backgrounds for him. From there he moved on to inking, though he said this was more a matter of what was available; he really wanted to be a penciller. He emphasized persistence, professionalism, and people skills as the keys to making it in the industry.
He then went on to relate how he’d first met Joe Quesada while standing in line at a hamburger place; they got into self-publishing because they could do whatever they wanted without fear of criticism. “Of course, this was before the Internet got big,” he added. “Now, people constantly criticize you, but when you see them in person, they’ll tell you ‘You’re the best!’ And I tell them ‘I know what you look like now,’” he joked.
Talking about what editors are looking for, Palmiotti said, “They want you to make their jobs easy.” He explained that editors want assignments finished on time, with little or no input needed from them. “The more baggage you have, the less they want to work with you.” Relating from his personal experience editing at Marvel Knights, he said that some artists want to just talk for hours on the phone. “A lot of them live alone, and want someone to talk to.”
He told one story of an artist who left a string of bizarre voice mails for them. One such message went “Okay, I’m looking for a FedEx now to send you the pages. I can’t find one,” followed by “Ok, it’s 2AM now. I’m eating some Lucky Charms. I’m gonna give it one more shot to find a FedEx office, and then I’m giving up.” Another artist apparently had some deeper issues, and called the office to check if Ghost Rider’s hellfire motorcycle was there, because he was drawing the pages and was afraid that it would come to get him.
When asked if they’d encountered any pushback from DC on things they wanted to do, Palmiotti related that he had written one scene where, while throwing a punch at a villain, Power Girl’s "mammoth mammaries" accidentally pop out of the infamous hole in her shirt. “Tastefully,” Conner interjected. But tasteful or not, readers will not see this in the pages of the comic, as DC vetoed the proposed scene. Conner commented that she’d like it if DC would allow them to use some established villains in the book, but Palmiotti stated his preference for creating new ones. “Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading comics for so long, but I get bored with seeing the same villains over and over.”
Turning to the subject of writing, Palmiotti acknowledged that in some ways, it’s harder for writers to break in than artists, because editors can usually tell with one look whether an artist is ready for professional work, while writing requires the editor to sit down and read. As to how he himself broke in to writing, he laughed, “Honestly, I’m not sure I would have if I didn’t have some Polaroids of bachelor parties.”
Palmiotti and Conner then discussed the collaborative process between the two of them. Laughingly, they described it as “a lot of yelling.” Conner said, “He hands me the script, I tell him ‘This isn’t quite right,’ we yell at each other, he does a rewrite, I draw some panels, he tell me ‘This doesn’t work,’ we yell some more, and then I add some panels. It really helps that we’re right there and can talk to each other all the time.”
Palmiotti then went on to talk about his experiences with some other collaborators. With Conner and his frequent writing partner Justin Gray, he’s developed a “shorthand”, so a great deal of explanation isn’t needed, but particularly when he works with some of his Spanish and Italian collaborators, the language barrier can get in the way. “I’ll get some pages, and a character will have a lobster in his hand! And I’ll say, no, no, no, I wanted a gun!”
Talking about her artistic process, Conner said that while she’s drawing, she likes to have something on TV in the background that is visually uninteresting but fun to listen, such as Judge Judy. “She’ll be screaming at some idiot, and I’m like 'Yeah!'” But when Conner's doing thumbnails and laying out the story from a script, she needs complete quiet.
Scalera talked a bit with Palmiotti about their work on "Deadpool" together, and how the writer works with the artist. Scalera mentioned that he once asked for “a building” in one of his scripts, and Palmiotti pressed on him on exactly what kind of building. “How many floors? Is it tall? Is it short?” The particular story involved a sniper shot from the roof of the building, and Palmiotti pointed out that the height of the building made a big difference in setting up the scene.
The final question of the panel went to Palmiotti, asking him if he would change anything about his career looking back. He cited wishing he hadn’t started off inking, and wishing he’d started writing earlier in his career. He also joked about wishing Joe Quesada worked faster. He cautioned aspiring creators not to spout off on the Internet. “If you need to talk, go to your priest.” The panel concluded with Palmiotti promoting his Paper Films website, and his weekly blog (which he described as “brain vomit”), and reminding the audience to check out the couple’s work on "Power Girl" and "Wednesday Comics."