If you haven’t been keeping up with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen recently — you’re missing out. Following the antics of Superman’s best bud Jimmy Olsen, writer Matt Fraction and artist Steve Lieber have breathed a hilarious new life into one of comics most beloved — and seriously underrated — characters. Whether they’re making a callback to, you know, that time Jimmy got turned into a turtle boy and killed a bunch of people — or creating new shenanigans and heartfelt moments to be shared between Jimmy and Superman — there’s no doubt that Fraction and Lieber have found a book that they can really sink their teeth into and have fun with, for both themselves and for the reader.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Fraction and Lieber this past weekend at Rose City Comic Con in Portland, Oregon to talk to both of them about what it takes to tackle the background elements of such an iconically fun series, plus reveal a big preview for Issue #3!
Chloe Maveal: I was at your panel on Friday, which was brilliant and hilarious. But coming from that I have to ask: was tackling Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen something that was nerve-wracking for either of you? He’s a goofy character, for sure, but he also comes with a lot of history and baggage.
Matt Fraction: …I think so do I.
Steve Lieber: I was just going to say that! But just about everything I’ve done in the DC universe has weirdly turned out to have auto-biographical elements — and I’m not even the writer, I’m the artist! But it’s impossible not to find elements of your own life in these larger than life characters. The moment Matt started telling me the story and showing me what was already down…I was like “I know who these people are. I can tell this story.” So, no, there were never any real nerves about it; just whether or not we could tell the story as well as it needed to be told.
Maveal: Steve, I’ve been following your Twitter really closely…so I’ve been seeing a lot of your concept art for Jimmy and—
Lieber: Oh gosh. I’m so sorry.
Maveal: No, but it’s all so much fun! You seem like you’ve really taken it on personally to really stylize Jimmy. Like, who takes the time to figure out what kind of argyle a character’s socks are going to be? You put time into what color bowtie will fit the occasion.
Fraction: There’s a character called the Porcadillo who shows up in issue three and he’s wearing Crocs. I didn’t even catch it until our read-out. I contacted [Steve] and was like “I’m sorry — did you put him in Crocs?”
Lieber: Of course I did.
Fraction: Like, what else would you wear if you had porcupine feet?
Lieber: You need somewhere for the quills to go or else it would be wildly uncomfortable!
Maveal: I mean…there’s holes in the top and everything.
Lieber: I try to put a lot of thought into what everyone is wearing because —
Fraction: Specificity is funny and human and real. When it gets real, it’s real because it’s so specific.
Lieber: And if I’ve learned anything from contemporary comedy TV it’s that characters are at their best when they’re their purest selves. You need to nail down as much as possible who these people are. I’ve read lots and lots of characters who could have easily just been two Mego action figures just having a puppet show. I think we can do better.
Fraction: I was more shaken up because I hadn’t done anything at DC before. Expectations are implanted — on almost a genetic level— for a book like Jimmy Olsen to be very, very low. That was exciting to me, because if it sucks everyone is going to say “Well you did that thing that has always sucked. Whatever.” Not that we have any control over that, but I could tell myself “ah, no one could have made that book work” to try and, you know…sleep at night.
Lieber: Throughout the history of comics some of the most memorable stuff has been on neglected properties.
Fraction: Oh totally. And there’s something hubristic in doing the book that Jack Kirby did when he went over to DC, which, I won’t lie — was in my head.
Lieber: But of course, when he did it, he came to DC and said “What’s your lowest selling title? Put me on that,” and they basically said, “Oh. Well, meet Jimmy Olsen.”
Fraction: I knew that, inevitably, there would be some— even though I hadn’t stopped writing my own comics — there would be some perspective of that I was back somehow; there are some people that just don’t go past the Marvel of DC section of their comic store. So there would be some anticipation of that; knowing that, okay, most of all I want to read — I want to do something challenging — but also oh, I can use all of these preconceptions as ground cover.
Maveal: And you both have riffed quite a bit on the old Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen comics from back in the day even with the two issues that you’ve put out so far.
Lieber: I think Matt knew exactly how to use that with quick imagery. The moment you’re introduced to the idea it’s wonderful but some of those things are just not there to be developed. Let there be a perfect moment and then move on to the next moment.
Fraction: The danger is that it gets into someone like…trying to tell you about a dream that they had? It’s like, alright, beyond a sentence, it’s pretty boring. But knowing that I wanted to try something structurally as aggressive as I wanted to do? This is the book to do that. You can change chapters every few pages. What if the jump-cuts build to something? What if we organize the story by theme instead of time?
Maveal: That just sounds more fun altogether.
Fraction: Right. And no one is going to go into Jimmy Olsen like “Oh this is that book. The one that’s organized by theme rather than time. Interesting — oh look, he’s a turtle.” You kind of have a ground cover. And maybe you surprise somebody and maybe you surprise someone into giving a shit. I try not to think about reception very much but the idea of someone having to go back and re-read a Jimmy Olsen comic because they missed something is really, really funny to me.
Maveal: You mentioned at the panel on Friday that despite the core of Jimmy Olsen being silly, dumb fun that it’s really ornate and there’s a lot of weaving together going on the background. Can you tell me a little bit more about what that background is?
Fraction: I honestly just wanted to find something that was interesting to do. Like you said, the jokes aren’t. I wanted to find something real and engaging and “what is this story worth telling” and what is it about this character that’s worth spending this much time with. Something that I could honor the kind of…shape of the classic era of the book? But at the same time push that past being an homage; more than just being a cover band. It all starts to puzzle together and that’s just an interesting way to tell a story. What can we tell you that you’ll know that we told you on page one that isn’t until chapter 12 that you didn’t realize was the key all along. It was a challenge to me just as a writer. Using every scene as it own self-contained chapter gave me the toolkit to make that happen.
Maveal: And Steve, what’s it like for you as the artist trying to follow that with the art? Like, trying to depict through illustration the smart within the stupid.
Lieber: That’s been my goal for my entire career. [laughs]
Fraction: Part of it, too, is knowing that you can do that. I always want to write the best possible “blank” book that I’m working with. Steve, I know is just capable of so much and that is just what I wanted people to see.
Lieber: My goal with any comic I’m telling is to turn myself into a pane of glass and just be a window into the story being told. In this case it’s a whole bunch of different stories so that window just keeps rotating to show different vistas. I never wanted to draw a sequence and have people think “Well that’s a Steve Leiber sequence.” That’s completely contrary to the goals. I want to think about what the meaning of the scene is and what the scene is here to communicate; what feelings do they have when they come out. I just want to tell that story — or that part of the story — as directly and honestly as I can. In this case they’re wildly different stories! I’m never in one place very long, which is great. For many cartoonists, finishing a project and starting a new one feels like a vacation because you’ve been thinking one way, and now you get to think another way. I get to do that twice a week sometimes now.
Maveal: I can’t be sitting here with you both and not talk about Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3, which is coming out this coming Wednesday. It looks like you’re introducing another new character — Timmy Olsen: Irresponsible Blogger. As someone who writes on the internet, should I be personally offended?
Fraction: Are you an irresponsible blogger or a responsible one?
Maveal: Uh. I really try hard to be responsible, you guys.
Fraction: You’ll have to let your conscience be your guide then.
Maveal: I know we need to start wrapping up, but is there anything you can tell us ahead of time about issue #3 or any of the other adventures of Jimmy we’ll be seeing in future issues?
Fraction: I think the entire cast dies.
Lieber: We didn’t want retailers to know about this because we want the book to sell out.
Fraction: Yeah. It’s the issue where everyone dies. But honestly, in a book like this what does that even mean?
Lieber: Hrm…what can I actually say?
Fraction: Things get very dangerous and very real for Jimmy.
Maveal: As they are wont to do.
Fraction: Right. He goes on the run undercover as Timmy Olsen. Timmy is sort of bizarro Jimmy. He’s like Gotham’s Jimmy. Timmy is the Jimmy that Gotham deserves…?
Lieber: He’s sort of his own Mr. Mxyzptlk.
Fraction: He has trouble with it, which is funny. Lois will look at his work that he does and she’s like “This is so dark and mean!” And he’s like “Ugh I know, I KNOW. This place is changing me!”
Lieber: I love that. I’ve always thought of Gotham out of something of J.G. Ballard. Like, the angles of the architecture have terrible influence of the minds of people around them.
Fraction: Yeah! It’s just a very different place. I don’t want to write about New York or Chicago in DC. I want to write about Metropolis and Gotham. They have equity in those place and it makes it fun. And the back half of the book is Jimmy going to all the different cities of the DC earth.
Lieber: God, I can’t wait to draw Opal City.
Fraction: I think it’s going to be like when Jenna on 30 Rock went to L.A. Jimmy is basically going to get out of the car and see everyone wearing waistcoats and bowties and be like “Oh no. No no no.” And then get immediately back in the car and drive away.
Maveal: Steve, you’re gonna get to draw so many more waistcoats and bowties!
Lieber: It’s so great. Honestly, I want to meet wildly enthusiastic Jimmy cosplayers. There’s one I’ve been following online called Selfies with Superman (@selfieswithsuperman on Instagram) that’s just perfect. It’s just this really professional Jimmy Olsen taking hundreds of selfies with Superman cosplayers at conventions. As the book gets a bigger audience I’m really looking forward to seeing some people in bowties coming to my table at conventions.
(You heard it here, folks. More Jimmy cosplay! Stat!)
And if you can’t wait until Wednesday, here’s an exclusive preview of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3!
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3 will hit the shelves of your local comic store on Wednesday.