Home Culture Cartoonists INTERVIEW: Amanda Conner on HOT & MESSY and drawing Bettie Page

INTERVIEW: Amanda Conner on HOT & MESSY and drawing Bettie Page

Amanda Conner talks about her long lost Bettie Page story and the kickstarter for Hot & Messy: The Art of Amanda Conner

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Hot and Messy: the Art of Amanda Conner is a campaign up on Kickstarter that ends in just a few hours! Your have only a few hours to get 96 pages of rare and often saucy Amanda Conner art from her entire career, including some mature themed art, Red Sonja sketches, Mad Magazine stories, and a long lost story about Bettie Page illustrated by Amanda and Jimmy Palmiotti. The story was to be included in The Big Book of Wild Women, the final volume in DC’s series of non fiction comics. It was the only one written by a woman – Susie the Floozie – and featuring women from history. I was the editor on the book, and it was a pretty unhappy time for me for various reason. Despite my best efforts, the book would have shipped one week late….so the entire project with work by nearly 40 artists, was killed entirely, never to see the light of day. 

As sad as that was, how happy it was to zoom with Amanda herself and talk about the art book and her career. Of course, as always happens when we chat, this turned into a conversation about ’90s fashion, ’70s conventions and why Amanda puts so much detail into her pages.  

Hot and Messy has only a few hours to go, so get your copy like right now! 


Heidi MacDonald: Tell us about Hot and Messy: the Art of Amanda Conner – what is in this book! Why do we need to own it?

Amanda Conner: A lot of it’s titillating! But it’s also a lot of my work. Most people are familiar with my Harley Quinn and Power Girl stuff, but in between I’ve done all of this work for smaller companies, and weird multimedia stuff that doesn’t get seen by a lot of people. So I wanted to put a whole bunch of art in there that people who are familiar with the popular stuff might not have ever seen.

One of Conner’s pages from Mad Magazine

MacDonald: For sure, you’ve been doing this for a long time. So you must have a lot of odds and ends hanging around. What are some of the things in there that you’re your happiest that are getting out there?

Conner: Do you remember our old buddy Lara Behnart? She used to work at Spin Magazine and then Revolver Magazine and she hired me to do all of these really fun cartoons involving rock stars, like Kelly Osborne. I did five or six, but I’ve only been able to find four, which are in the book. I don’t know where I put the other ones! Also Revolver had its own advice column – but instead of Dear Abby it was Dear Vinnie, with Vinnie Paul, who used to be in Pantera and then Damageplan. That was also a lot of fun, picking out which letters would make the most fun visuals. So there’s a lot of those I’m really proud of and I enjoyed doing so much.

There’s also some Mad Magazine work in there. That, I have to say, that was one of my dad’s proudest moments, because he had wanted to be a comic book artist when he was a teenager. And back then, it was your parents job to discourage you from that kind of horrible fate, saying, that’s not that’s not a job. So I think his favorite thing was Mad Magazine and he never got a chance to do that because he got discouraged. When I started working for Mad, he was so excited.

MacDonald: So the kick off for this interview was that the Bettie Page story will finally see the light of day –

Conner: Which you edited.

MacDonald: Yes, which I edited! And to be honest, I’ve heard Jimmy [Palmiotti] talk about the story over the years. But making the book was such a bad experience for me that I’ve kind of blocked it all out. But 2022 Heidi looks back at 2000 Heidi and says, “Oh, I hired Amanda Connor to do Bettie Page? That was a no brainer!” I don’t think I had to talk you into it. You were raring to go. What was your knowledge of Bettie Page before that?

Conner: Not a lot. I had seen some little film shorts of her and she really did have that It Factor. There was just something about her that was [memorable.] During the ‘50s there were so many pinup girls, it was a big thing in the 1950s. I was going back and looking at all the pinup girls, and they’re all beautiful, and fun and fit. But there was something about Bettie, that was just – she had this extra sparkle, something that was really, really mesmerizing about her.

MacDonald: Absolutely. She was somehow very wholesome. Even when she was naked, she was wholesome. She made it very approachable and it was clear that she was having fun. So you were allowed to look and not feel guilty. I think that’s a big part of it – she seemed to be genuinely enjoying herself.

Conner: I think that’s a really interesting way to put it because there was a lot of personality behind that whole look. You’re right, she could be naked but it wasn’t like she was a posing mannequin. That happens a lot when people do erotic photography, it becomes sort of a posed perfection. They’re striving for some weird, unattainable perfection. But with Bettie, there was so much personality. It’s like she was there playing and being rambunctious. It’s one of the things that made her so long lasting and made people take to her.

MacDonald: People were really obsessed with her in the ‘80s and ‘90s and she became this icon again. I think women definitely loved Bettie too. The photographer who did a lot of the best known photos was Bunny Yeager, a gay woman, so obviously, she bought a lot to it. One of the things that I discovered about Bettie was that a lot of those most famous photos of her were taken when she was in her mid 30s. She wasn’t a kid. I think that’s another thing that was cool about her.

Conner: I think so too. It’s funny that you say that, because I did not realize when it was happening, how much I was going to love my 30s. I absolutely liked my 30s way better than in my 20s. I still didn’t feel like I had figured it all yet out yet. But in my 30s I got really comfortable in my skin. Back in the 1950s women were always perpetually 29 because they couldn’t bear the idea of not being in their 20s anymore. And, and that’s really sad. Because man, the 30s are great.

MacDonald: I’m with you. And just to give our age away, the ‘90s really rocked. Everyone was into the ‘80s for so long, but thank god, the ‘90s are back now.

Conner: Absolutely!

MacDonald: There were also so many powerful female images in the ‘90s like the Guerrilla Girls, the Riot Grrls, Lilith Fair. There were so many really great female musicians. And a lot of great weird music. And the fashions were great. It was a fun time.

Conner: ‘90s fashions, man. Oh my god, how fun.

MacDonald: But as far as being in your 30s goes, I was at a networking event over the weekend that was called She Rocked It  with some very successful but unusual women on a panel, like a woman who bakes cookies for The Today Show. They all said that their 30s were a good time to kind of find yourself and not be afraid and just kind of figure out who you are. It can take a while. The Bettie Page story and the whole Big Book of Wild Woman was written by the writer Susan Barrows, also known as Susie the Floozie, and I think one of my problems with this book was that I was brought on after it was written, and Susie and I didn’t really see eye to eye at the time about what made a powerful woman. Susie was very much more into women who found fame through that through sexuality or attractiveness, like Bettie Page. I guess I was more about how they should be a warrior woman with a sword conquering the Brits, like Boudica (who was in the book). I was more into Xena Warrior Princess. And Susie was on a different page. But with the passage of time, I’ve come to understand what she was going for. So I think it said more about me than her, really, that I was having such a hard time with it. The entire book is lost because of various factors – but thank God you’ve been able to get the story back and finally let it see print! And DC is totally cool with you running this stuff like Mad and Bettie?

Conner: Yeah, they’ve been great about letting me reprint it. I think you’re allowed to print like a small percentage of Marvel or DC images in an art book. But it is good to actually get their blessing.

MacDonald: I know you’re a stickler for research, do you like drawing women from history? I know you’re so busy, but are there any other women that you’d like to draw someday?

Conner: That’s a really good question. I struggle with likenesses. I mean, I really lucked out on Bettie Page because she’s got such a distinctive face, she doesn’t look like anybody else. But sometimes I struggle with likenesses a lot. So it would be somebody who would be easy for me to draw, or somebody from so far back in the history, there aren’t any photos of them, so nobody could really complain! Maybe somebody that there are only paintings of!

MacDonald: There’s a great book Brazen by Penelopé Bagieu – who you would love – that’s biographies of historical women.  There’s so many great women in history who have been forgotten. I mean, The Big Book Of Wild Women did have a lot of really great kind of unknown, forgotten women and really shone a light on them. So it’s just really sad that DC decided to pull the plug on it because it was going to ship a week late! But anyway, moving on…

Amanda, what else are you doing these days? What takes up most of your time? I know you do covers, do you ever have time for interiors any more?

A spread from the book

Conner: I love doing interiors. The thing is, it is so labor intensive for me, because I just do a deep dive into it. Darwyn Cooke used to call me the queen of chicken fat. He would always say, “Yeah, you shouldn’t have started doing that, because now everybody’s expecting it.” I’m always putting little stuff going on in the background. I’m always trying to imagine what it would be like if superheroes lived in our real world. People would always be there with their phones out taking pictures of them. Buildings would get messed up and there would be potholes in the ground. It would just be such a big mess! And I always think they would they would have their own comics – it would be pretty meta if they lived in the real world, there would be comics and TV shows about them. So I’m always thinking of that stuff when I’m doing interiors. I’m always putting in stuff that’s going on in the background. And that takes up so much time. Why can’t I just be like Steve Dillon! He used to say, “Hey, nobody’s looking at the background. They’re just looking at the beautiful faces,” and not to worry about the background and he would get books out on time.

MacDonald: Steve was the king of the shortcuts! But he was a great cartoonist. What else are you working on?

Conner: I’m doing covers here and there. We just finished up the last issue of The Invincible Red Sonja, which is so much fun. I loved Red Sonja when I was 12 years old. From when I was seven years old to 11 years old, I wanted to be Wonder Woman when I grew up. And then I went into this newsstand one time and I discovered a Red Sonja comic book and it was one of those Frank Thorne things and I was like, “Oh, wait, no, I want to be her!” Wonder Woman had to sort of be reserved and keep it in check. And Red Sonja, you didn’t have to be.

MacDonald: Did you ever see Wendy Pini as Red Sonja?

Conner: Never in person. I wish I did.

A photo from the Red Sonja stage show. Photographer unknown

MacDonald: I did! I was a kid – I think it was my very first con. Of course I loved Red Sonja too. I loved women with swords! I saw that they were doing this stage show so I saw her and Frank Thorne and her do it. And of course I was very young and impressionable. But I think it went a little over my head! Then I went and to get an autograph, and because it was my first show, I didn’t know anything, so I had a baseball and got Wendy/Sonja to autograph the baseball. And she was totally perplexed and just wrote “huh?!?” It was hilarious.

Conner: Where was this, in New York?

MacDonald: Yes, it was maybe one of the old Phil Seuling cons at the Statler Hilton? Or the Roosevelt. As Bob Schreck called it, where the primordial ooze of fandom was born. I was one of the very few girls there.

Conner: How old were you?

MacDonald: I was a teenager. So I was like 15 or 16. My mom and my grandmother would go with me. It was crazy.

Conner: They must have loved it.

MacDonald: I guess they did, because they kept going. I think honestly they knew better than to leave me alone there because I got so much attention. I’ll leave it at that. What was your first con?

Conner: My first convention was a Creation Con, I think. I saw Nichelle Nichols talking, it was a panel, but she wasn’t sitting. She was standing and she had a microphone and she was just telling fun stories about her time on Star Trek and everything. She was so fun to listen to! That was my first convention if I’m remembering correctly.

MacDonald: And how old were you?

Conner: Actually, it wasn’t until I was in my late teens or even early 20s. Because I didn’t really even think about conventions. I was always thinking about comics but I never really thought about conventions until I started hanging out with people who were always talking about conventions. So I was just like, “What is this Creation Convention? This is interesting. Let’s go there.” I was still in the Kubert School when I did my first convention.

The Statler Hilton, aka Hotel Pennsylvania, via Fancyclopedia 3

MacDonald: Those cons were at all these weird hotels like the Roosevelt, and the Stater Hilton, later known as the Hotel Pennsylvania which they are tearing down, which is sad.

Conner: That is sad. I feel like it could have gotten restored nicely, because the rooms were huge. But at the same time, they were really crappy.

MacDonald: That’s probably why they didn’t just restore it. Anyway, someone has to write the story of this bizarre history of comics in the ‘70s and ‘80s in New York. The Kubert School was definitely part of it as well.

Conner: I didn’t have the luck to see Wendy PIni as Red Sonja at my first convention, but she was one of the people that I looked at as an art inspiration. I loved her art.

MacDonald: She had quite a story, getting known from letter columns, and being interested in manga before it was easy, getting into self-publishing, being so huge with Elfquest…How does it feel when you’re at a convention now? Do people ever tell you that you’re one of their big influences?

Conner: Sometimes. And I’m always like, what? Yeah, it’s really flattering. It’s good and sometimes I’m in disbelief, because it’s like, no, wait a minute. I’m the one who’s influenced by people. I’m not the one who influences people! But if you’re in this business long enough, eventually you are an influence, but it’s really hard to wrap your head around. You see all of these young people who are doing comic books, and they are just too good. They’re amazing. There is some mind blowing art out there right now – and it does your heart good to see the way it’s evolving now

MacDonald: Totally. Well, you are amazing! And I’m not the only one who thinks it. Hot and Messy: the Art of Amanda Conner has raised over $100,000 – and you have just a day to order it.

Conner: I couldn’t believe that. Now I’m thinking I need to put extra stuff in the book to make it worth it. I’m so excited for people to see the Bettie Page story. Very few people have ever seen it, and it’s going to be so cool for people to finally see that story.

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