[Chris Sotomayor is a successful and well known colorist for Marvel and other publishers. Recently he began a series of interviews he called “The Dirty Dozen” where he asks industry figures questions about their careers from a business standpoint. The themes are among those that we’ve recently been exploring here at The Beat as the career paths for cartoonists become more tangled — here is more opportunity than ever, but the way to get there is not always clear. Although the interviews appear first at his site, Chris has graciously allowed The Beat to reprint them. Up this time, writer/artist Jimmy Palmiotti.]
By Chris Sotomayor
Saying that Jimmy is a comics professional, is like saying that Jack Kirby created some characters. It’s hard to quantify all that Jimmy has really accomplished during his long career. He’s worn many hats starting as an inker, and quickly rose through the ranks of writer, editor, & co-publisher (not always in that order). Quite simply, he takes risks and gets shit done. I’ve admired and respected Jimmy for a long time. Matter of fact, meeting Jimmy was one of my earlier experiences when I was trying to break into comics. He doesn’t remember this, but when I illegally broke into the Marvel Comics offices one late night in the early 90’s (long story- don’t try that at home), I recall seeing him along with Mark Texeria and Michael Bair, all working on an issue of Ghost Rider. As brief as it was, my young self was completely floored by watching these guys work (learning that it takes a a lot of all-nighters to work in comics).
Years later, Jimmy & Joe Quesada ran the Marvel Knights imprint, and would again have a huge impact on me. This time in a more direct way, providing me art direction that would stick with me, and help me produce some of the best work I was doing at the time- not to mention treating me with a level of respect that I thought was only reserved for their A-Level talent. Nowadays, Jimmy has his hand in writing, creating, and guiding more projects than I can keep track of ( this guy does everything, and does it well). And that’s exactly what he should be doing. You just cannot contain this man. Comics could use more people like Jimmy Palmiotti.
1- Which work do you look back on as a defining moment of your career and which do you feel was probably the most creatively challenging?
I think writing ASH with Joe Quesada back in the early nineties was a defining moment for a number of reasons. It was our first time trying publishing and we put our money where our mouths were. We were the only ones to blame if it was a disaster, which luckily it wasn’t. People stopped looking at me as just an “inker” and that gave me the guts to explore what else I might be good at in comics. As far as creatively challenging, I would say creating Marvel Knights, again with Joe years later…we were under a ton of pressure to perform, surrounded by a lot of people that wanted to watch us fail. I have always believed if you do anything with a real passion, you will have success on some level. These days, every time I launch a creator title, it feels like the first time all over again…and that nervous energy is very addictive.
2- In the business of comics, we’ve come pretty far in creator’s rights. Despite how far we’ve come, what do you think is the next plateau?
I think the next step is creators trying out their own ideas and companies making this easier for them to do. I never mind sharing with a publisher, but giving things away has to stop. Why is it the bigger the company, the more they don’t want to share in the ideas success? Its backwards thinking and it has to stop.
3- Whether it’s a project of your own or someone else’s, what is the one project that hasn’t been published that you feel should be?
I don’t know how to answer that because I put my own books together and publish them…with or without a company behind me.
4- Because of technology, both fans and creators now have an amazing amount of access to each other with an incredible level of immediacy. How do you think the attitudes of both fans and creators have changed because of that?
I love the Internet and all the social interaction. I think its great that fans can read and ask questions and discuss a book with some creators and I am especially glad that I am part of that group. I also love that things are becoming less one sided…that fans can comment and the creators can comment back. I think it makes people become a bit more civil and respectful. We write and create for an audience and nothing is better than getting to know that audience. It’s why I go to comic conventions.
5- Who do you feel is one of the biggest visual influences in comics in the last two decades?
That is a loaded question because there is just not one person. It’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. Here is my list…past 20 years, and I am sure I am missing some people here. Jim Lee, Darwyn Cooke, the Hernandez Brothers, Dave Johnson, Jordi Bernet, Paul Pope, Moebius, Arthur Adams, J.H. Williams, Frank Quietly and a my favorite for many reasons, Amanda Conner.
6- I know that in these interviews, one of the most common questions is about creative influence. I’d like to ask that question in a different way though. Which people in your life have influenced your career, either through direction and advice, providing a break, etc.?
My parents have everything to do with the fact that I feel I can do just about anything…and have taught me that its o.k. to fail…but to pick yourself up and try again. I have friends, old and new, that help influence me all the time and have helped give me confidence and support through out my life that I will never forget. I will always be grateful to Mark Texeria for giving me a break when I wanted to get into comics, to Joe Quesada when I needed a partner in crime, to Justin Gray for being someone that listens to me rant daily and not have me locked up and most of all, my girl Amanda, who believes in me each and every day.
7- For the last 30 or 40 years the comics industry has supposedly been “dying”. What do you think this business is lacking, and what can creators, fans, and those behind the scenes do to fill in those gaps and return comics to the healthy business it should be?
They can start spreading the word, become more positive and share the art form they love with others. Overall they can be more positive and support the arts…this one being graphic storytelling. It’s up to all of us to celebrate the great things and stop with all the negative bullshit. It’s time to treat this medium with the respect given to great films and works of art. We all need to grow up a bit.
8- What’s the most discouraging thing you’ve heard or experienced while trying to get your first big break and how did you overcome it?
A long time ago, I showed my art to a comic pro that I am a now friends with at a convention…and he ripped me a new hole and told me I shouldn’t do comics for a living. I walked around like someone shot my dog and for some reason, Later that same day, I sat with Jim Steranko and he took the time to show me what I was doing wrong and I went right home and worked on my art. I never told the guy I know he did that to me…because I figured he might have been having a bad day. I just imagine what might have happened if I didn’t get that time with Jim…I guess this could be part of question six as well. Lol.
9- Whether it’s the quality of material, publishing strategy, marketing, or the treatment of people- what do you think is the biggest “wrong” and the biggest “right” that you’ve seen in the comics business?
That’s tough because a lot of publishing is trying new things. The biggest “ wrong” is to keep talking about the negative things about the industry…its almost as if a lot of fans just want to see everyone go out of business…and I don’t get that anger.
What is right in this industry is the fans…and their endless joy and celebration of the comic art form. Nothing makes me happier than seeing people dressed up as their favorite heroes…fan art and so on…all fun and great ways of letting people you know you enjoy the medium and are proud of it. tv and movies have gone a long way these past few years…but people seem to forget the source material. We need to celebrate that more. Remember, a book or creator isn’t successful just because they made a show or movie from their product…they are successful because of the quality of their product and your connection to it.
10- There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between what comic fans think/say they want and what publishers see in buying trends. Do comics fans generally know what they want or are the publishers really giving them what they want and they just don’t want to admit it?
Publishers go by sales…if it sells, expect to see more of it. Don’t complain about multi crossover event books when that’s the best selling thing. The fans forget that they control the market all the way…their buying power dictates successes and failures.
11- As disposable/ consumable entertainment, how do you think comics (or publishing in general) can keep from suffering the same pitfalls as the music industry?
Respect. Showing the creators respect means not illegally downloading their hard work. I think we are headed towards a place where people will follow creators and not companies. A time where they will buy books they care about, not to complete a set. The collector’s mentality can only go so far. We need people to get involved with the art form of comics…and again, to celebrate their love for them. Maybe we can market certain comics with soundtracks , you know…to help the music industry. As well, things shouldn’t just be thrown together…when books and collections are treated as special, it helps the art form. Its why the monthly books will eventually go away…in that format, they are treated like disposable culture.
12- A few years ago, people thought getting into the book stores was going to be some big boon to comics. I think we’ve seen that’s not entirely true. Do you think we’re headed for the same thing with digital comics/ downloads? Is it ultimately help or hype?
It is a help …like the book stores, its all help. Its only hype if you expect too much. In the end, it’s the audience that controls the supply and demand. I never expect too much from anything…and I’m usually never disappointed.
Thanks, Jimmy. Not just for participating in my experiment, but for everything.
For everyone reading these interviews, go seek out Jimmy’s books (like Time Bomb and Jonah Hex) or follow his blog for the best of everything.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.