By Aaron Roberts
They ushered in a new era for a classic character and propelled her to new heights. Now Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti sat down to discuss what’s it like not writing Harley Quinn, what it IS like writing Wonder Woman and the how publisher’s need to adapt in the changing landscape of comic book readership.
THE BEAT: How’s the con so far for you both?
Amanda: It’s going well. Really well because this year we’ve decided not to kill ourselves so that makes it more fun. You know, when you’re not close to death.
Jimmy: Yeah Saturday was a little tough because we’re running all over and everyone kept moving schedules.
Amanda: That was my fault.
Jimmy: Oh OK. It’s Amanda’s fault. That’s what we learned today. It’s Amanda’s fault. That’s the theme of this interview. It’s Amanda’s fault.
THE BEAT: What else can we blame on Amanda today?
Amanda: World hunger?
Jimmy: World hunger, yeah because you did eat a lot last night.
Amanda: Forest fires and what else can we blame on me?
Jimmy: The volcano in Hawaii.
THE BEAT: My Starbucks’ coffee was a little bad this morning, can we blame that on you too?
Jimmy: Amanda Conner’s fault.
Amanda: That’s me. I told them, I went downstairs and said “water that down and give me the extra shot”
THE BEAT: It’s been around six months since you’ve written Harley regularly. Are you going through any withdrawals? You have that itch yet? You need a fix?
Amanda: Actually, we took care of our Harley fix by actually doing a Harley one-shot. I guess that would be our Methadone clinic. We’ve weaned ourselves off of Harley Quinn by doing one-shots.
Jimmy: Yeah we did the Harley Quinn/Gossamer Special which I think is out in September (August 29th). It’s just a lot of fun. We didn’t have a deadline which was crazy and Pier Brito (artist) got to go crazy with it. It’s with Gossamer which you have to explain to people who Gossamer is because they don’t know Looney Tunes.
Amanda: And once you explain it to people they go “oh that guy!”
Jimmy: Yeah that guy with the big orange guy with the sneakers in Bugs Bunny.
THE BEAT: I had a chance today to visit the DCUniverse experience activation across the street from the convention center. It has a fantastic Harley Quinn experience in it. Have you had a chance to check it out?
Amanda: We went by there but we didn’t actually do the experiences!
Jimmy: It was Amanda’s fault again. We got there late and they said “this is closed”. They literally said “this one is closed” and then we went to the bar and they said “we just closed the bar” and I said “this is all Amanda’s fault once again…” but we’ve been hearing from everyone that it’s fun to break things.
THE BEAT: It’s a blast. If you get the opportunity, you should absolutely go by and do it.
Amanda: Do you actually get to break things or do you just get to hit things because I heard that there’s a rubber dummy in there.
THE BEAT: There is a rubber dummy in there. It’s a full-torso defense training dummy that you can beat up with a baseball bat.
Jimmy: Does it look like Dan DiDio? If so then I’ll be right back.
THE BEAT: Ha! Moving on. Amanda, what projects do you have coming down the pipeline that we can get excited about?
Amanda: Starting more trouble across the world that would be my fault! There’s also the Harley Quinn/Gossamer project that we’re doing and Jimmy and I are working on the Walmart books. We’re doing Wonder Woman.
Jimmy: For the Justice League collection.
Amanda: Yes and we’re lucky enough to get Chad Hardin on it again.
Jimmy: And Alex Sinclair.
Amanda: So we’re very happy about that and we have to grab Chad while we can because he’s a teacher or a professor or something… he does something really honorable somewhere in a school in Utah and when the summers are off, you have to grab him.
Jimmy: Yeah we made sure he had enough vacation so he can get back to school in time.
THE BEAT: Speaking of the Walmart books, the reception to those has been overwhelming positive however there has been a small but vocal contingent of people who say that putting new and exclusive content in big box stores results in driving business away from their local comic shop. Jimmy, you’ve been fairly vocal on social media about how it’s been a positive thing but going forward, how can publisher’s balance the need for expanding awareness with cultivating a positive relationship with local comic shops?
Jimmy: Well first off, the books do have a comic shop locator in them. So if we’re going for a brand new audience, we have to put the books in places that they can’t normally get them. Not every town in America has a comic shop in it. So the idea is that in Walmart, a Mom or a Dad or a kid goes by, sees it, picks it up, gets into the world of comics, wants more and other than the Walmart books, they have to go to a comic shop. They look up the local shop or try to find one and hopefully we have another person hooked in to comics.
The people that are vocal, now I don’t mean anything against them, but I don’t think they’re looking at the big picture. I think they’re looking at, “oh I’m going to miss that 5 dollars.” The reality is these will be collected afterwards so we’ll have this product to sell one day. But for now their stores have 300 exclusives a week and Walmart has 4 exclusives a month. Comics are not going to grow unless we think beyond just the retailers. Now again, DC is doing everything they can to work with the retailers on this like collecting it later and putting in the CSL so these are positive things but you have to expand. If we just keep with the same audience then it’s going to dwindle down. As the movies get bigger, as the games get bigger, the comics are getting smaller and we’re noticing that. Stores are going out of business and things are going on. We need to get more readers. The more readers we have, the more people we’re going to have on those Wednesdays when the new books come out. It’s big-picture thinking and with big-picture thinking you can’t look at the little details. There’s always going to be little problems along the way but there’s a learning curve on something new. So I say give it six months and let’s see how the retailers feel after that.
THE BEAT: You have a Wonder Woman story in the Walmart books. Writing Harley Quinn is obviously different than writing Wonder Woman. Everyone focuses on those differences but what similarities do you think Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman share? When you were writing Wonder Woman, how did you hone in on the same things that you honed in on Harley Quinn?
Amanda: That’s tough one because she is so so different personality-wise and in their physicality. They’re so completely different. Whereas Harley is a none-stop geyser of excitement and nuttiness, Wonder Woman or Diana is very zen-like and self-contained. If she needs a burst of energy, she can call it up when she needs but yeah she’s… I really don’t know of very many similarities –
Jimmy: I do.
Jimmy: They’re both extremely passionate about whatever they’re doing and they both have a love for animals.
Jimmy: In the beginning of our Wonder Woman story, she’s on a mountain with firefighters and they’re trapped on the mountain. With any fire, the animals run away from the fire too but this particular mountain has the trapped firefighters and the animals. They don’t know which way to go because there’s fires in every direction. Wonder Woman comes down and communicates with the animals to help her get everybody out of there alive. She does communicate with the animals. That’s one of her powers. So her and Harley both have that, their love for animals. They’re both driven in a sense. Now Harley has a lot of voices in her head going on and Wonder Woman probably has just her mother’s voice in her head yelling at her. Although they’re different, they’re both very motivated characters and they’re a lot of fun to be around. Our goal with Wonder Woman is to write this for someone who’s never read a Wonder Woman comic. That’s our goal with these books because I wrote the Batman one in the first two issues and I wrote the Superman one as well in the first two issues and my goal on all of them and our goal with Wonder Woman is to make this an introduction story so if you’ve only watched the movie but have never read a Wonder Woman comic, this story will lay out who she is and then as the stories go on, we’re going to see who she really is, what she’s about and what motivates her. These kinds of things are going to make her more human and approachable. I think that’s the core to everything we do. We want to feel like not only do we know this person, but we’re along for the ride and I think with Wonder Woman, that’s going to be our thing. We’re going to get in there and make her more human and less of the big superhero.
THE BEAT: Did you change anything about your daily routines when writing Wonder Woman as opposed to writing Harley Quinn? Did you listen to different music or eat different foods to get into a different mindset?
Jimmy: I’m going to let you answer that question.
Amanda: Ha! Yeah I’m actually getting more sleep now than I was when we were on Harley. Jimmy, do you change any of your routines with Wonder Woman?
Jimmy: Well it’s only 12 pages a month and Harley was 20 plus whatever third book we were doing so it was almost 60 pages a month. We’re definitely not worrying about deadlines as much. We’re giving the artist a little more room to breathe because it’s only 12 pages. We did a lot of Wonder Woman reading beforehand just to see what everybody has to say about Azzarello and everybody who’s worked on Wonder Woman before and then to find our voice in it. Which is the goal in it is to find our voice and find for us, what makes Wonder Woman tick. So I think the only difference for us is that we have a lot more time and with that comes some care. There’s also an energy to having so much work that you have to get it out. So we’ve actually just been vacationing more, hanging out and doing other things which is healthy for the work.
THE BEAT: Working alongside someone you’re so close to has its obvious benefits and probably some drawbacks as well. How do balance liking one another and being able to disagree over creative choices?
Jimmy: Well when we fight then we make out afterwards. That’s the fun part of the job.
Amanda: Honestly, you know what helps? Having studios on two separate floors. I go to work, he goes to work and then we meet for lunch. He’ll stick his head into my studio and points at his mouth and that means “we have to eat, I’m starving”.
Jimmy: Yeah I don’t like to interrupt Amanda. It’s not good.
Amanda: I get into a zone a lot of times but we’ll take a break for lunch then we finish our work and go and get dinner. Here’s something that’s been different in my life. We’ll go and get dinner and then I’m done for the night instead of going back to work and working until 3 or 4AM.
Jimmy: She actually sleeps and gets in bed with me. I’m a morning person and she’s a night person so when we were on Harley, I’d wake up at 6 and get to work but she would get to work around 5 or 6 at night and work until 4AM.
Amanda: I can work at 10AM but it’s not that good it doesn’t go very fast. I start to get boiled up and ready to go.
Jimmy: She’s a Starbucks person.
Amanda: Yeah around 5, I’m going full tilt between 10PM and 2AM and then I wind down and I’d be in bed by around 3 or 4AM.
Jimmy: We’re taking it a lot easier now.
Amanda: Yes, we’re trying to balance our lives a little bit better.