The beginning of the Comic-Con International panel spotlighting comics power couple Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner was a warm welcome: a representative of the convention welcomed them as honored guests and presented them each with an Inkpot Award for Achievement in Comics Arts.
Palmiotti was very pleasantly surprised. "I never win anything. Except for her," he said, eliciting an "aww" from the ladies in the audience. "At the beginning of the panel I say that, by the end we wanna strangle each other!"
They began discussing their works from DC Comics -- the high selling "Harley Quinn" book and the brand new "Star Spangled War Stories Featuring G.I. Zombie."
The adventures of the Joker's ex dominated the conversation. "This is not the first time Jimmy and I are writing together," Conner said. "You've helped me out with little things, here and there. I've often drawn things, but not writing together."
Palmiotti noted the title is an odd fit in the New 52. "It's one of the few books that makes no sense in the continuity of DC. You're welcome. Power Girl joins the book for three issues. Power Girl has amnesia and doesn't know who she is or where she is or what she's doing. Harley Quinn convinces her they're a superhero fighting team. She cuts a diamond where her cleavage is. The more the book sells, the more they let you do."
"There's also the middle ground," Conner noted, "where if it doesn't sell, nobody pays attention to it."
"That's my other book. A western? We're still publishing that?" he returned, noting his surprise at how long "All-Star Western" survived. Meanwhile Conner noted, "I get out my scatalogical humor," in "Harley Quinn" #8.
A fan asked about the recent Comic-Con related issue, and they noted that the random characters drawn in were all choices from the artist. "We did have an overall note for the book," Palmiotti said. "We told every artist, every chance you get, there should be a homeless person in the background in a superhero costume. Nobody did it. We did all these jokes, we wanted to see a slow moving Flash with a walker, and nobody did it. Still, people who have been to this con said, 'Yeah it's like that.'"
Another attendee asked why Conner doesn't draw more. "Time constraints," she said simply. "I'm just too slow. I would love to. Every time we write a scene, I'm like, 'I want to do this so bad.' I wish I was faster. John Byrne used to write and draw three books a month. I don't know how he did it. Jack Kirby. I don't know how he did it. I'm so anal retentive that I can't let anything go. I'll noodle it to death and get three hours to sleep, and my health starts to suffer."
Palmiotti noted she drew the three pages in the San Diego special in just two days. Conner drew the adventures of Hurl Girl in the way she imagined Harley would draw, so the artist didn't take it as seriously.
Palmiotti was very proud of the work on "All-Star Western" with Western anti-hero Jonah Hex. "Justin and I finished the last issue," Palmiotti said, "We went out with a real bang. The last issue is all Darwyn [Cooke] and it's just stunning. It has a happy ending. I'm sorry. In a way he does die. When you'll read it you'll understand. We thought it was gonna get cancelled by issue #12. He's one of the easiest characters to write because I relate to him. Even though he's a miserable bastard, an alcoholic, a womanizer, I really understand what drives him. We left our mark on that book. If you liked Jonah Hex, you'll like G.I. Zombie. I'm gonna miss it."
The duo were asked how being artists affect their method of writing. "Because we're artist we know not to write three actions per panel," Palmiotti replied. "We kind of visualize it and when we write we say 'Give us a wide screen horizontal panel.' We see it. I kind of give the artist reference. Thank God for the internet. It's all visual for us. The artists have an easy time with us because we know what they can draw there and what's impossible."
"I find myself apologizing to Chad [Hardin] on the book," Conner said. "I love a book with a lot of panels. Sometimes I'll write I wanna see action and reaction and a lot of that. It'll end up being seven or eight panels, and I apologize. I always cram more in."
When asked about process, Conner said, "We go out to eat, and we just see things that give us a good idea for a Harley story. Something happens in the world and we'll try to apply it to Harley. The best way I can describe it is Jimmy builds the house and I decorate it and paint it. He has a great thing for story structure," she said, turning to him. "You're so good at that. I have Harley's voice in my head. She's a cross between some psycho killer and 'I Dream of Jeannie.' She's insane, but she's always happy and eager to please."
"We do a lot of back and forth, what would be funny," Palmiotti continued. "I throw it down in a row. I'll mark off each page and put 'Harley does this' on the top. We wanna make sure it fits in 20 pages. We have to see it as that grouping. The toughest thing we're doing is the annual, called 'Scratch & Snuff.' It's gonna come bagged, you can scratch the book and smell different things. Smells have to line up with what's in the story, but the people who print the smells say you can only put them in this panel. It's a really difficult thing to do. We have a meeting with our editor Chris Conroy who's bringing us the pile of smells we have to pick from."
"We thought it would be silly and funny and didn't realize what a logistical nightmare it would be," Conner agreed. "We have to have a fresh nose palette on Saturday. We hear there's some outrageous ones. I want the smell to match the villain of the book, so they can smell them coming. It has to come bagged or else people can stand in the aisles and smell it."
Palmiotti asked the crowd what smells they wanted in the issue, and they shouted out cotton candy, strawberries and marijuana. "We want you to pass that comic around," Palmiotti laughed. "Don't bogard the comic." Conner was hoping for a smell of feces, but it wasn't available.
They were asked about how their creative partnership is different than Palmiotti's work with Joe Quesada or Justin Gray. "I sleep with this one," he joked. "Joe and I met at San Diego Comic-Con, and a friend introduced us. We were both starting out in the business. We figured, if we're annoying to everyone, they'll give us something to make us go away. We started Event Comics, and we got the deal to start Marvel Knights. Our intern at Marvel Knights was Justin Gray. We became friends. Every day he would pitch me a crazy idea for a comic," including Galactus eating a planet so big it sent him into food coma so long a civilization grew up on his quiescent form -- cities he would have to negotiate with when he awoke.
"This is a job that's collaboration," Palmiotti explained. "When it's right, there's no more fun than that. I also trust the people I work with to tell me when something sucks. Let's talk it out and make it better. We think everything we do is amazing and all of a sudden you're penniless. Bums are peeing on you."
They were asked about the New 52's changes to Harley's iconic design, Conner said, "People loved the Harley in the video game, they wanted her to be hoochie mama and not cute. When I approached Harley's roller derby outfit, I approached it as taking what they have and skewering it back in the direction of the cute pajama girl. I wanted it to be an amalgam of the two looks. Even though she's sexy, she should have this cute edge to her. I wanted it to be a little rambunctious, and I put the shoulder pads on her. I was like, she's a roller derby chick ... that's the perfect job for her! In issue seven, I put her in pajamas that looked like her old costume."
"I like the old idea," Palmiotti said. "Everything she has, it's like Amanda's creating a fashion line, whether she knows it or not."
What's next for the duo from a creator owned perspective? "We did a book called 'Sachs and Violens.' We're doing another Kickstarter August 4 with three stories. We do whatever we want, and it shows. It's a little out there. It's a great place for us to try out new talent, we have a few artists who are new on the block." Conner admitted, "Captain Brooklyn. It turns out that writing is way harder for me than drawing. My goal was to get one page done a week."
Palmiotti jumped in, "We were charging her $100 a week for every week she was behind. Frank Tieri and I are gonna go out and have the most expensive dinner ever. She moves at her own pace. I'm happy to get anything out of her at all." Noticing what he'd said could be taken a different way, he continued, "Drawing wise. Everything's great at home."
Palmiotti revealed that a "Painkiller Jane" screenplay has been sold and Jen and Sylvia Soska have been attached to direct. "These two gals that are amazing directors, and they give Harley Quinn a run for her money. They're insane and perfect for the project. That's gonna be coming together real quickly."
Conner was asked if the controversy over Alan Moore opposing the "Before Watchmen" project was a concern. "I wasn't really worried about the controversy," she said. "It blew up into this big thing that didn't necessarily have to be a big deal. I was feeling really daunted to do justice to the original material. I read that book again and again, front and backwards. I did so much research on San Francisco in the mid '60s to make sure I didn't screw anything up, to make sure I didn't do anything Alan or Dave wouldn't do if they adjusted the time. That was the hard part of doing that whole book, making sure I was true to the original material."
The question of influences came up, and Conner said, "Chuck Jones and Frank Miller were my two biggest influences, art and writing wise." Palmiotti said, "I've always loved Stephen King. I've never seen a guy write so much and pretty much all of it is pretty good. Frank Miller. Garth Ennis when he was doing 'Preacher.' I felt dirty, because I was laughing at horrible things. There's so many great guys. Brian Vaughan...how great is that guy?"
A spoiler emerged from an almost prurient question about the nature of Harley's relationship with the plant themed super villain Poison Ivy, wondering whether or not anything non-platonic could happen between them. "Things happen with friends," Palmiotti shrugged. "We were just friends," he said to Conner.
"We don't want to put Ivy in a relationship with Harley and she sees a cute guy and goes off with him, then she's cheating on Ivy," Conner explained. "If they're just friends, it's fine."
"We see them as best friends," Palmiotti said "Ivy feels like she has to protect Harley. Harley just loves Ivy. Like on 'X-Files' and 'Moonlighting,' whenever they get together, it kills the show. Like 'Bones?' They got married and had kids, and I was like, 'I don't wanna watch this anymore.' I liked it when they were flirting. It was more interesting."
He then revealed that the September issue, set five years later, as Joker and Harley gets married. "Shhh!" Conner said.
"In that issue we address those relationships," Palmiotti continued. "Harley's kind of learned a couple of things. She has to deal with him head on, and it all happens on a tropical island. Chad Harden, he makes us laugh. That damned beaver is in that issue. We kind of retold the origin of Harley, and we managed to sneak in the origin of the beaver because we could."
"We turn down gigs because I have nothing to say about that character," Palmiotti said to a question about having a natural end on a project or doing an ongoing. "I don't let it go out unless I feel I'm satisfied at some level. I would take stuff and hope I would never see that again. At a con, people are like, 'Oh that's your best book.' If you lose passion for something, you get off it. I've said no to other people's dream gigs because I had nothing to say about that character. It's a hard thing to do, because you have to pay bills."
Conner said, "I like story arcs. A beginning, a middle and an end. Writing is still new to me, but I like it better than an ongoing."
Another attendee asked if their creator=owned work would ever come together in a shared universe. Palmiotti responded with a story about packing 1,100 incentives from a previous Kickstarter by himself. "If you checked the DNA, it's all me. I rented a room in the back of a comics shop. It takes time. A lot of the stuff we do is so time consuming, to do something like that, I'd have to stop doing everything else. If we make money, everybody gets some extra money."
He noted that "Painkiller Jane" sells 6,000 copies, but it would have to sell 10,000 to make money. "I think my audience is this room, maybe the room next door, my cousins, people who feel sad for me. 'Batwing,' 'All-Star Western,' cancelled. Does it mean the book's bad? It means it couldn't find an audience. You never know in comics. I'm not the guy who everything he puts out is gold. Everything he puts out is on paper. If you fail and you learn from it then it's not a big failure."
Palmiotti noted that he is still willing to review portfolios and give constructive criticism after getting the same kind of help from legendary artist Jim Sterkano. "It's my job to pay that forward," he said. "80% of the books I do are guys I find at shows. Amanda found Phil Noto at Megacon. He'd just quit Disney."
What things would she prefer? "I'd like to do more Trigger Girl," he said. "I'd like to do that story and add another ten pages in the middle. I'd have to get Phil to do it and he's expensive."
What about "Ash?" "Ash is created by Joe Quesada and I. He's so busy now. He came into Tampa, and we saw the Marvel Universe live. That was fun if you have kids. Hulk came out. Kids were screaming. So Joe's busy. One day when he's not, we'd love to do that again."
Time was running out and DC had provided three Batman anniversary capes as giveaways. Palmiotti cued up "What's New, Pussycat" on his iPhone and made three attendees prance around and do twirls in their new capes to the delight of the audience.