Writer Kami Garcia, best known for books like Beautiful Creatures and Dream Dark, has spent the last few years also developing graphic novels for DC. But where her Teen Titans series has skewed toward the more playful and light-hearted, her latest project takes a turn for the darker.
Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity, which debuted starting back in late 2019, provides a new, more-grounded take on comics’ most infamous couple. In the eight-issues story, Harley Quinn, a young forensic psychiatrist and profiler, is tasked to help track down a “notorious serial killer known as the Joker.” Garcia, alongside artists Mico Suayan, Mike Mayhew, and Jason Badower, use “forensic psychiatry, behavior analysis (profiling), and psychological profiles to create a true-to-life take on these iconic characters.”
With the collected hardcover out earlier this month, we got the chance to interview Garcia as part of a roundtable with several other publications. While we only got to field a handful of questions, Garcia nonetheless provided some excellent insight into the larger creative process.
On influences and the impact of Brian Azzarello…
“You know, I would say it’s a lot of stuff [influenced this series]. I always feel like you’ve got to know the canon before you start bending it and messing around. I mean, I love Batman Damned, [and] I love Brian Azzarello’s. Take Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo like that — that’s one of my favorite Joker takes. Just because it was kind of gritty and Gotham itself almost felt like a character to me and his story, which I loved.”
On the influence of Heath Ledger and real-life killers…
“I mean, I love Heath Ledger’s Joker. Because when you’re dealing with real serial killers, killers that are psychotic, psychosis is not the same thing as being depraved or sick. Psychosis actually means that you are delusional and you either hallucinate or you have delusional thinking. And in the real world, serial killers that are delusional and psychotic are not difficult to catch. The Zodiac, [John Wayne] Gacy, Ted Bundy, [Richard] Ramirez. [Jeffrey] Dahmer is up for arguments; some psychiatrists believe he was sane because he knew what he was doing is wrong. And some believe he wasn’t. But you know, those are people who are all sane and super sick. So I loved the Heath Ledger’s take because, even though he was like quirky and strange, and you know, almost played that up, he was very calculated in what he was doing — very smart, very shrewd, and he knew what he was doing was not OK.
And that is the closest to what I was trying to do, where Joker is very sick and very depraved, but also very sane. Because to me, a person who has a mental health issue, who thinks that, like, dragons are trying to kill them, or God is sending them messages, when they do something horrible, it’s horrible. But it’s also really sad and tragic. When somebody who is totally sane goes out, you know, as if they were going to the bodega to get a six pack of beer to hunt down a victim, and they 100% know that what they’re doing is wrong, and they are just going out as an apex predator, that is much more terrifying. And that is the Joker; the Joker has always been to me the other side of Batman’s coin, incredibly smart and incredibly sophisticated and methodical, and calculated. And that’s what I wanted to show.”
On Mico Suayan and Jason Badower’s work…
“Well, number one, I saw Mico’s work and wanted him right away. He was the first artist attached because I knew I wanted him to do the crime scene that he did. He worked on a book called Werewolf By Night years ago, and there were these amazing pencils of the pages online that I saw. And I was like, ‘This is really what I want.’ He’s a horror fan. Like, I knew I would be getting some and looking at his art detail. And Jason Badower, even though he came on later, he’s the same way. He can do hyper-realistic stuff.”
On any initial misgivings…
“Now, I wasn’t as worried about it with Mike [Mayhew] and the backstory just because I knew that wasn’t going to be quite as grisly. It wasn’t going to have quite the same level of number of murders in it. So I was really worried about the “Friend Story.” I think once I saw that first issue, which is still one of my favorites, I knew like that I knew they could pull it off. And then when Jason worked on [issue #3] and started doing interiors, I just knew they could do it. Because once I saw that Venus with drawers especially, I knew they’re going to be able to just nail this.”
On making artistic waves…
“So, yes, I mean, I definitely push things. I think one of the biggest things was just that wanting to do kind of [Jim] Steranko-style layouts, that were more like unconstrained figures and just things that didn’t necessarily always fit into the grid. I think it’s totally just based on the fact that knowing that they could do that as artists, and knowing how good they were. The more they would show me amazing stuff, the more worse I’d mike it for the next issue in terms of drawing. I’d be like, ‘Oh, they totally nailed that.’ I had these all-star artists, so it was so hard not to want to see what they would do.”
On favorite scenes…
“There’s that one scene that I love that Jason did when they’re going through the “The Nutcracker Murder,” the one with the ballerina, and you see all the CSI’s dusting prints and stuff. Like, if you look at that, the details incredible. And Nico actually works in pen and ink and he draws on these huge boards. So when he sent me a page as a present, and when you see that up close, it’s amazing the amount of detail, so I do feel like they would [continually] impress me. I’d say, ‘They can do anything.’ They never were like, “Hey, we can’t draw this. But sometimes, I mean with Nico, I would say, ‘OK, you don’t have to draw every single brick if you don’t want to.’ But it’s hard because, like I said, they treated each page almost like a cover.”
On expanding the story visually…
“It’s really cool because of COVID the production schedule and the release schedule of this series shifted over time. They were really drawing things for almost two years. So, by the time they got to maybe [issues #7 and #8] all of them were like, ‘We want to go back for the collection and kind of look at some of those earlier issues. And put a little more like polish, a little more detail on some of them.’ They felt like they knew the characters better.
And there’s 80 pages or remastered art in the collected edition. Same panels, but you know, remastered art plus the designs and stuff that are in the back. I don’t know if anyone’s ever done that on a book, but I’ve definitely not heard about it. So it was pretty incredible, like on their own dime and their own time. They said, ‘We know the psychology of these characters so well, and there are things you want to add or tweak to be extra. Nico even said he wanted to make sure the leather was right on the coat. So I just feel like I got so lucky to work with artists that are, including Annette Kwok the colorist, just so talented. It makes me look good.”
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