Make no mistake, Harley Quinn is hotter than ever, with rumors of her own solo film in the works and her series being one of the most consistently funny and clever comics on the stands. AiPT! recently had the opportunity to talk to the writers of Harley Quinn, Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, about their new three-issue story arc in issues 5 through 7 and the upcoming Harley Quinn’s Little Black Book #6 with guest artist Simon Bisley. The conversation discusses punk rock, their collaborative writing process, Joker’s potential beef with Red Tool, and more!
AiPT!: What’s your take on comic book reviews?
Jimmy: I think I like to look at the reviews and say, you know maybe that’s not your kind of story in that issue and hopefully we’ll win you over in the next one, you know. I don’t think they all can be great, but I think it’s good to review things. I think it’s fun to read reviews even when you see a movie and read the reviews afterwards it’s kind of fun to see what other people are seeing; in that respect I look at it as entertainment. I don’t take it personal unless the review gets personal.
Jimmy: Yea, and I just find out where you live and…you know.
AiPT!: [laughs] Right, if the review is a clickbait piece or a trolling kind of thing it’s no good for anybody. You guys have a new story arc coming out called Eat to This Beat, and I was curious — Harley already has a rocking costume and the proclivity for going all out, what inspired you guys to go this route?
Amanda: We were feeling nostalgic. [laughs] We also thought it would be really fun to take her in a direction that’s a whole new experience for her. You know, that’s what she would do, she would decide to do something crazy and just go ahead with that plan. Full throttle.
Jimmy: We were harkening it to Point Break meets punk rock.
AiPT!: Oh, I like that.
Jimmy: She kind of goes undercover with the band to take out these other bad guys and gets the mohawk. Her supporting cast is in the band, and then it goes crazy from there of course, that’s the nature of the book. We had so much fun doing this three part story, and John Timms and Alex Sinclair did an amazing job on this.
Amanda: Killing it. They really are.
Jimmy: Amanda wrote some song lyrics for the second issue that are pretty amazing.
Amanda: I did, it turns out I really enjoy writing really bad song lyrics.
AiPT! [laughs] I’m looking forward to that.
Jimmy: The story has a lot to do with Harley’s past which comes into the story. We have these bad guys who are stealing mail and um, robbing these things, she goes undercover to bust a band, but also there’s something about the packages that are coming in the mail that have to do with her past and in the second issue we have a flashback that… Amanda you can talk…
Amanda: We do, we have a flashback and we were lucky enough to get Jill Thompson to say yes to doing it. We’re really happy about that and it’s beautiful.
Jimmy: And she painted it.
Amanda: Her gorgeous watercolors.
Jimmy: It’s one of the first times Harley Quinn – as the psychiatrist – meets the Joker in Arkham. The flashback has to do with one of the story elements we have in the three issues but, as usual, at least the story is beautiful looking. It’s crazy, we’re getting uh, we’ve taken things way too far, so it’s like a modern-day Point Break with a flashback to the 80’s.
AiPT!: Did you have to do any research into punk rock for this story arc?
Jimmy: Amanda did…
Amanda: [laughs] Well, I couldn’t find my old CD’s, you know, from way back when…
Amanda: Cassettes, I couldn’t find the cassettes. They’re packed in a box somewhere so we had to download all my old stuff from iTunes. A lot of it was inspired when I was cleaning out the refrigerator and listening to the Sexpistols and the Ramones.
Jimmy: I grew up in that era and lived New York, so this is something I remember. That whole crazy wild scene and it’s still there in a bizarro way on some level, and in this book we kind of cover that. Good music doesn’t die; it just kind of finds it’s little niche audience and it still goes crazy on a weekend basis. There’s a lot of cool references in the comic. Amanda’s song actually reference two real songs, and we’re going to try to let fans figure out what they are. I mean the name of the band is GG Harley and the Skull Bags. And her name is GG Harlin.
Amanda: It harkens back to GG Allen. Who had a special strange…
Amanda: Act going on … yeah.
Jimmy: Yeah it’s good for the readers to research him.
AiPT!: What is your collaboration writing process like?
Amanda: It’s um, we do a lot of writing when we’re not sitting in front of a keyboard. It usually happens over dinner or lunch, we’ll throw story ideas back and forth and/or something completely nuts will have happened earlier in the day…
Jimmy: A lot of it happens in bars.
Amanda: That’s true, bars yeah. That will give us story ideas, I always say Jimmy does the heavy lifting of it. He’ll go down and he’ll put everything down, then the artist gets it and I go in and I redecorate everything.
Jimmy: We talk out the story. Eventually I type the whole issue out, then Amanda goes in and tweaks dialogue and moves stuff around. Then the art comes in and she fine tunes it again with the art. Then we finally let it go. We drive our editor Chris crazy.
Amanda: Poor Chris.
AiPT!: Sounds like it’s an organic process.
Amanda: It very much is yeah.
Jimmy: Except since we’ve gone bi-weekly we have to lay out where the stories are going. We have this big board now with all the little story threads intertwining and everything. This 3 partner has a beginning, middle and end, but it’s also a tease to what we have coming up with the new year. There’s a lot going on in the books.
AiPT!: With every issue there’s plenty of wordplay and witty banter in Harley, to the point where I have to wonder…do you guys spitball the dialogue? There must be pages of unused stuff.
[Jimmy and Amanda laugh]
Jimmy: First off, it has been pointed out many times in reviews I write too much. I’m of the school that if I’m paying 3 dollars for a comic I actually want to read something.
Amanda: Here’s how I measure it, I like to be able to read a comic in two dumps. Not in one…
Jimmy: Oh my god, she’s so classy. No wonder they never put you on “Women in Comics” lists. You’re a disgrace. Unlike Amanda I write at the chair and keyboard, but she has the two dump policy so I don’t know.
Amanda: I like to have a read that, you know, I don’t like to read something in 30 seconds and be done with it.
AiPT!: A lot of these stories have a lot of decompression where it’s clearly slowed down so it will fit into a 6 issue arc sort of thing.
Jimmy: Which I don’t like by the way. We always look at the comic like, is this the first Harley Quinn somebody is picking up? Is this their first issue they are buying? On some level, you have to treat it like that and all that decompressed storytelling does is alienate the reader. It just makes you go, “Where am I coming in?” I love the idea of the book making people read. We have so many women and kids in our audience; it’s moms and daughters reading the book and I love the idea that they have to sit there and…like Amanda said, “Take two dumps while they read.”
Jimmy: No that, they have to take some time to read it together. It’s not just something they do in 5 minutes.
Amanda: You can tell where I get all my reading done.
Jimmy: Our bathroom looks like a library.
Aside from Harley’s pets and Tony there’s a big cast of characters!
AiPT!: On top of the dialogue you have a huge cast of characters. Do you have a hard time picking who will show up in an issue, or for that matter how many you can fit?
Jimmy: The poor artists that work with us…oh my god.
Amanda: It’s easy enough for us to right.
Jimmy: With the Gang of Harleys we don’t bring the gang in a lot because they have their own mini-series going on right now but with the band we have Eggy and Red Tool and Tony [who] are in the band. It makes sense because they play different instruments. Our goal with Harley was to take her away from being somebody else’s supporting character and become the main character who has her own supporting characters that are exclusive to her. I have yet to see Eggy or anybody in another DC comic. I’ll be very pleased when that happens. [Amanda laughs] Nobody is running to pull our supporting cast. I recommend the Gang of Harleys should be in all their books. I think they are missing a great opportunity.
AiPT!: There’s a lot of comedic value there.
Jimmy: They are fun characters in a grounded story. People say it’s so over the top. And I say, “No it’s not, look around you!” Look how people act. This is exactly how people act. You’re just seeing it fresh. And then they realize this, like how Harley yells “Run away” and it’s so what people would do.
AiPT!: Often when I pick up your book I think of the song “People Are Strange” [by the Doors]. Speaking of strange, I really love Red Tool. This might be a spoiler, but what do you think Joker’s opinion of Red Tool is? They’re both sort of in love with the same girls after all.
Jimmy: You know what, you’re a very perceptive person aren’t you? I will say you’ll be able to have some of those questions answered around issue 10 or 11, or 12. We made Red Tool up initially because it was our…okay we can’t do Deadpool.
Amanda: Everybody wants to see Harley and Deadpool get together but that’s impossible.
Jimmy: With Red Tool, it’s a lot different than Deadpool and it makes sense we wouldn’t take it exactly in the Deadpool route. That said, the poor bastard gets his arm cut off. Dave Sharp is responsible for the most wonderful word balloons in the history of comics with Red Tool. He has one in the new issue, I think it’s a rubber duck word balloon, because he’s talking about ducks. It’s just wonderful. but he’s a character that’s growing on us so you’re going to see a lot of him. Coming up soon.
AiPT!: Another character I like is Police Chief Spoonsdale. He’s an intriguing one since he and Harley both have questionable ethics to achieve the greater good. Will you be exploring Spoonsdale and his relationship with Harley in this story arc?
Jimmy: Absolutely, Spoonsdale is a very easy to understand character since his motivations are all there, but he also understands how to use Harley. She is his lethal weapon in a weird way where he can unleash her on something. In this 3 issue story arc he does, he has a problem and comes to Harley and says, “I need your special skills on this” and they barter, she’s always bartering to be left alone and that’s her deal. We explore the relationship with the mayor coming up, he can’t stand the both of them.
Amanda: When you say left alone you mean without police interference?
Jimmy: Right, yes. It’s a special relationship. He’s an interesting guy and we definitely don’t let any character get left behind — they all have story arcs within the book but the title is Harley Quinn, after all. When we can put out a book called “all the rest” then we can do some crazy stuff. It’s funny because you’re hitting on a couple of things that we have coming up in the next 6 months you’re going to really like.
AiPT!: With Harley’s Little Black Book #6 you’re working with Simon Bisley which is awesome.
Amanda: We’re so excited.
Jimmy: His stuff comes in and we’re like “Are they really going to print that?”
Amanda: We pretty much say “Uh oh.”
Jimmy: It’s kind of our fault because the issue is classic Lobo and Harley and it’s sort of like an intergalactic version of Naked and Afraid. Harley and Lobo get stranded on a planet together naked.
Jimmy: They have to deal with each other. When you say that to Simon, “Well they’re naked but make sure you cover them up” Simon just doesn’t listen. So we’re going to have some wonderful balloon placement going on.
Amanda: And we’re thinking maybe join a bunch of tiny red flags to put in front of…
Jimmy: Naughty bits. But it’s the most fun we’ve had working on a book and we’re happy to say we leave Lobo in the Rebirth universe. So now classic Lobo is there and he’s on Earth. There are a couple of scenes in that book I will guarantee — your jaw will hit the ground when you see them. We got so lucky because we didn’t know what we were going to do for issue 6 and then we were in Italy doing a show and Simon was sitting two chairs away from us. We just looked at each other and went…
Amanda: Aha! we were racking our brains for who we were going to put in the last one… hmm.
Jimmy: We just went over to Simon and we said would you be interested and he’s like, “I only do the classic Lobo!”
Amanda: And we were like, that’s what we’re looking for.
Jimmy: And he’s like, “I’m in!”
AiPT!: He’s going to bring a lot of edge to it too. I met him at Boston Comic Con and boy does he love swearing, but he’s great fun.
Jimmy: Isn’t he Lobo in a way?
AiPT!: You’re kind of right yeah, he’s tough…
Jimmy: He kind of is what he draws; I mean he’s just a big dude, foul mouth, and he’s sweet too he’s a real sweet guy you know? There’s just a certain joy in some of the stuff he’s drawing. They have to deal with each other, they definitely have different survival skills and then they drive each other insane. I will say it’s very soap opera-ish; it’s not exactly a fight book. But I think it’s what the two characters deserve if they got together. These kind of books are so special to get because you get to write two great characters in one spot and you don’t want to mess it up.
Amanda: Just ’cause it’s not going to be a fight book doesn’t mean it’s not going to be funny.
Jimmy: It’s bloody as hell. It’s head-exploding-bloody. There’s one part, I’ll ruin one part; all these bad guys are in this like laser beam prison because of something Harley does and they get sucked out of a room through the bars — so they get sucked out into space into slices.
Lasers meet flesh in Harley’s Little Black Book #6.
Jimmy: Dude, it’s so much fun, I can’t wait till it’s all done and you guys see it. Review it and even if you hate it I don’t care.
AiPT!: I’ll keep that in mind. Now I’m curious what Joker thinks of Lobo.
Jimmy: You know, you’ll see this relationship is a little different than Red Tool’s. Lobo is sort of stuck with her. He’s not necessarily vying for her attention. We do touch on that because they are two very lovely people stuck together naked and afraid.
Amanda: Not really afraid.
Jimmy: No, belligerent. “Naked and Belligerent.” We’re toying with that as a title.
AiPT!: What’s your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?
Jimmy: Procrastination, mine is taking naps, my temptation is Amanda Conner, and my vice is Amanda Conner.
Amanda: He’s so sweet. My procrastination is looking at shoes online.
Jimmy: That’s true. Shopping for shoes, she means. She’s not like, “Oh look there’s a shoe!” [She’s buying them].
Amanda: My temptation is chocolate with almonds in it and my vice is Jimmy Palmiotti.
AiPT!: Thanks so much for taking the time. This was a lot of fun!