By Harper W. Harris
Down in the bustle of the DC booth, I got a chance to talk with Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Chad Hardin, the team behind the ever popular Harley Quinn series, as well as newer books Harley Quinn and Power Girl and Starfire.
Harper W. Harris: When you wrote issue #12 of Harley Quinn, did you always plan on expanding that story into its own series or story?
Amanda Conner: Jimmy did.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Yeah, when we writing it, I said, it would be great if we could just make it a couple weeks later when they came out of the ring, and if this team up does okay, maybe they’ll let us tell that story. And it did do okay–it did better than okay! So when we pitched it to Dan [Didio], we said, well, we’d like to take what happened during those two weeks, how Power Girl got in a wedding dress, why these three eyed cats, and make it into six issues. He said, “If you can figure out all that, then go for it.” So we did. And we had Stephane Roux that wanted to draw it–we got lucky getting Stephane, so it all came together. It was sort of not a plan, but I left the door open in case something happened.
HH: What has it been like to return to Power Girl, a character that you had such a big impact on several years ago?
AC: We actually love Power Girl so much, and we miss working on that character, so we just said lets put Power Girl and Harley together, why not!
HH: They’re a good pairing so far! So speaking of Harley Quinn, the character has obviously gotten immensely popular in the last year or so. Has that level of fan involvement or popularity changed the way you view the character or the way you aim to tell her story?
AC: Not really–I mean we always loved the character. We wanted to make her the truest Harley that we knew how. I think it’s just resonated with a lot of people, because they feel like it’s very Harley-ish. I think that might be one of the reasons people love it so much, she feels like Harley. She’s wacky, she’s crazy, a little homicidal, but lovable.
JP: We like to say it’s because of Chad’s artwork too that’s sucking everybody into the book. I mean we got lucky–again a lot of things were just timing. The timing was right for the book, the tone that we thought may or may not work actually worked. It’s always a hit or miss when you’re going to change things up a little bit. We got lucky this time, I could tell you about the 40 other times we didn’t get lucky, but that would take up a whole other interview. We’re happy this worked out!
HH: Yeah, I think a big part of its success is the fresh, funny approach to a superhero story. What is your process in writing it as a comedy? Is there a lot of throwing out ideas, sketching them out, then seeing visually a way to make the situation funnier or add a new joke?
JP: We don’t really write it so much as a comedy as this is the story, and then we find the funny, absurd moments in it. All superhero comic books could easily be done like this with everything they do, everything from the capes to how ridiculous it is, if they can do all this, then why aren’t they doing that situations. So with Harley we actually try to lay out the story very grounded, like a regular comic format, this is what’s happening. As a matter of fact, as absurd as it is sometimes, she’s actually more based in the real world than some other characters because she goes through the motions: she’s on the street, she goes from this place to that place–there’s no jump to scenery, she has to get somewhere. We have whole scenes with car services and cabs–
Chad Hardin: Or she’s at work, or eating.
JP: She’s trying to do three jobs…it’s actually really grounded. But in that, it’s sort of like our own lives, right? There are these absurd moments that we see every day and we giggle and then we forget about. With Harley we have these absurd moments and we take it to a hyper sense of reality. And then we hand it over to Chad.
CH: Whenever they hand me the script, it’s like, how can I make this…more. You know, take the football across the goal line so to speak.
AC: And you always do!
JP: We like to think of it, whether it’s perceived that way or not, as a very grounded in reality story. We could be completely wrong and be just getting by on what we think, but that’s how we see it.
AC: You can have a very grounded story, but when Harley gets involved, everything just goes upside-down.
CH: She’s the touch of chaos that spins the universe into this chaotic motion, and that’s where the absurdity comes in.
JP: I also think it’s why people like the book. It’s one of the few books–we know the procedure of a superhero book is that it’s going to have the fight and then the cliffhanger–with Harley, you actually have no idea what’s going to happen on the next page. We throw random things–like all the sudden there are 800 birds on her–like we just go randomly in places and it should be that way, because that’s how her brain acts, so it shouldn’t be so linear in that way. It seems to work and we’re always happy when we get Chad’s pages back and we’re all laughing at things that we didn’t even write that are in the background. We’re like, that’s a really good working team when everybody’s putting their best into it. And with Alex Sinclair on colors, it’s one of the most fun books I’ve ever worked on.
HH: You guys definitely have an awesome team going, a great collaboration. Chad, how is the process different drawing for writers that are very talented artists in their own right?
CH: I don’t know how to explain this so much, but it is different in that it’s the most challenging book I’ve ever been on, but I don’t know why. It just is. But I think it’s because I don’t dare dial anything in.
AC: We know where he lives.
CH: Everything’s got to be perfect, perfect, perfect. We’re crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s. But I think the fans really respond to that.
JP: I harass him once in a while.
CH: If Jimmy doesn’t like something, I can tell immediately. He’ll give me like a one word note, like “cool” or “awesome”–if I don’t get that, I’m like, okay, something’s wrong.
JP: Like, “Staten Island has more trees.” He drew a scene, and he doesn’t know Staten Island, it has more trees.
AC: There is no island off the coast.
CH: Oops! I actually did go to New York, I walked around Coney Island and took a million pictures. But off the coast, I have no idea. Across the Brooklyn Bridge, I have no idea.
JP: We’re dealing with a real city, there are 4 million people in Brooklyn that might have something to say if we completely turn everything away.
HH: You can’t really fake that geography.
JP: Yeah. Even with the scatapult on the roof, Amanda kind of figures out where it is using Google Maps, where it would go over buildings.
CH: We have a map of the building, the floors. I know which way it faces, we’re pretty anal about it.
AC: Oh, we’re so anal about it–I downloaded all these apps so I can know what degrees it needs to be pointed at to hit any J Train that might be going over the Williamsburg Bridge–Oh no that’s the L Train, nevermind!
HH: I wanted to talk about Starfire–how did you get attracted to that character?
AC: They asked us to write it. [Laughs]
JP: They ask, how do you feel about Starfire, I’m not sure how I feel about Starfire. Amanda definitely has more history with her.
AC: I read all the Wolfman Perez Teen Titans, so I liked the character a lot. And I’ve seen her go through a lot different incarnations.
JP: They sent us the New 52 trades, and we read those, and I was like, okay, that’s that, but we also like the cartoon a lot. We laugh our asses off at the cartoon. There’s got to be a way we can make this work for us, in order for us to have interest in writing it. Dan said, alright, then pitch how you would want to do it and we’ll see if it works with what we’re thinking. We pitched the book you have. We said it’s a new town and she doesn’t want to be a superhero so much, like a new start. And they went for it. I think they had confidence with us doing Harley that maybe we could handle that. I don’t think we would’ve been offered it if we weren’t doing Harley. I don’t think it would’ve been a book they would have come to us with, so we hard to earn that book.
Harley Quinn #17, Starfire #2, and Harley Quinn and Power Girl #1 are all in stores now, with new issues coming soon!