One of the biggest hits of DC Comics Rebirth has been the new run on Harley Quinn written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner. Beginning with Harley #5 (out this week), our favorite hero/villain takes on a new role, as a punk rocker! Our own Jason Sacks talked with Jimmy and Amanda about the new story arc and the tremendous fun they’re having writing Harley and her friends.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Tell me about Harley as a punk rocker.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Harley Quinn #5, 6 and 7 is a three-part story where, it’s our mash-up of Point Break and punk rock. Harley gets involved in an operation. We have this group of bad guys that are in a punk band robbing mail trucks. They kill her mailman, and some of her packages are stolen. And she gets very involved. So involved that she wants to take them down. In order to do that, she feels the need—of course, as Harley would—to go undercover in a punk rock band.
So, she has her head shaved with a Mohawk. And using Eggy and the boys, she goes undercover to try to take these guys down. It’s a three-part story, probably the most insane Harley Quinn story that we’ve done to date. The references, the madness, everything’s all over the place. Amanda even got to write some music.
Amanda Conner: I’m a songwriter but not a very good one.
CB: That’s okay because Harley’s not a very good singer either.
Palmiotti: No, she’s not. The name of the band is – She’s GG Harland and the Skull Bags. She has to resort to other things on stage to keep everyone’s attention, and we cover that in the second issue.
In the first issue, we introduce an item that becomes a little bit of a flashback for Harley and her past life before she moved to her new surroundings. In the second issue, we do a little flashback to one of the first times Harley the psychiatrist met the Joker in Arkham. And we were lucky enough to have that scene done in watercolors by Jill Thompson.
CB: How did she get involved in the project?
Palmiotti: We called her on the phone and said “Please, Jill. Please do this!” Well, we wanted the flashback to stand out, and Jill does these amazing watercolor drawings that she puts on Instagram all the time.
We thought, “Well, how cool to have her do the flashback in that style?” Like everything in comics, you can’t assume anything, so we just called her up and said would she be interested. And we got the okay from the editor.
We explained what the story was, and she was like, “I’m in.” The story – It’s only like 4 pages but it definitely sets the mood and the story up for bigger things that are going on in the book as the year goes on. It’s just nice to have a special guest start like Jill because she’s one of our favorite artists.
So, yeah, we love her.
CB: Tell me about Harley’s band. She’s definitely got a diverse group of friends playing with her.
Palmiotti: Yeah, she’s got Eggy on drums because he has a gorilla suit with four arms. So what could be better?
Conner: He trained at Julliard for drums.
Palmiotti: He did train at Julliard. We learn a bit about Eggy’s background because everyone wants to know what he is. And then we have Tony. Tony’s on lead guitar.
Tony’s on lead guitar, right? And Red Tool’s on bass. At least, I’m pretty sure. Yeah, they’re a horrible band.
Palmiotti: Yeah, they’re bad, and they know it. But I think their first performance is worthy because, like the punk rock scene at the time, part of the act is to be outrageous. Harley steps up to the outrageous plate and knocks it out of the part.
Conner: As always.
Palmiotti: As always. I think we’re going to see something in a Harley Quinn comic that no one has seen before with issue 6.
Conner: I don’t know. We’ve sort of done this before.
Palmiotti: Nah – Not like that though. Not like that. What are you talking about? Not like that.
CB: It’s going to take me a while to get used to the shaved head. I miss the pigtails which were so cute.
Palmiotti: They’ll grow back. They’ll grow back slowly. Don’t worry about it.
It’s comics, so you can just flip to the – You can just watch TV and see the pigtails. She had a shaved head for three issues, and then it slowly grows back. People will get really upset.
Conner: What about a short ponytail?
Palmiotti: It’s true. Short ponytails are really cute on her. Plus, she can grow that mohawk any time, so you be careful.
CB: Okay, as long as she doesn’t sing. It was cute how you threw in the old school pop culture references. I got the Bow Wow Wow reference. Typical for you guys on this book – You love your pop culture references.
Palmiotti: We do, and we’re happy to make those 48-to-52-year-olds happy. Our non-demographic. I’m hoping somebody looks up Bow Wow Wow and says “What is this?” and then plays a little bit of it. And goes “Holy, moly, this is pretty cool.”
Conner: It’s on iTunes.
Palmiotti: The key to references like that is – Does it work if you don’t understand it. And that’s our litmus test for all that reference. It’s sort of like in Bugs Bunny. When you’re a kid, when you watch it, it’s funny, but when you’re an adult, you catch things.
CB: I can tell you guys just hate working together, too.
Palmiotti: It’s a nightmare. I have a gun in my mouth right now. That’s why I sound a little vulnerable.
No – We do love working together. We try to make each other laugh, and hopefully that comes across in the book. Even if the story is serious, there’s definitely a weird or bizarre thing happening. We definitely have a bizarre sense of humor. And I think that hopefully comes across in the book.
CB: Does it help you guys to create the book to have her in the real world in Brooklyn, where – you guys are from there, right?
Conner: Yeah, Jimmy was born and bred there.
Palmiotti: Yes, I was bred there. I was bred there in a stable. Yeah, I was born and raised there. I made Amanda move there later in life.
Conner: You did. It’s all his fault.
Palmiotti: But it does help. We actually knew neighborhoods, and we actually have things in the book that are real things. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything, except – it gives us a map of how we work.
It’s sort of like a sitcom where you know the area you’re working in and the rooms. For us, it’s the neighborhoods: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx. And it’s kind of fun to work in the New York area because we don’t have a Batman or a Superman that’s always on patrol. New York is always – if someone’s visiting. Batman’s visiting. Superman’s visiting. Or Power Girl is there. So, it’s kind of easier to write the book that way.
Palmiotti: So, it’s a cheat for us – It’s definitely a cheat for us to put her in Brooklyn and in Coney Island. But it kind of makes sense for the character.
CB: Maybe not a cheat for your artist, though, since John Timms is from Costa Rica.
Palmiotti: He is, but we’ve sent him so much Coney Island reference that he’s probably sick of us already.
Same thing with Chad. We sent him a ton – Actually, Chad went to Coney Island to do some research because we keep telling him, “It’s filthier than that. It’s filthier than that.” The streets are cracked. It’s not so pretty. Stop that. There should be dog shit everywhere – More dog shit! 20% more dog shit is what we yell all the time. Right, Amanda?
Palmiotti: 20% more dog shit.
CB: Wow – You really make me want to get out there and visit, now.
Palmiotti: That’s the title of this article, isn’t it – “20% More Dog Shit.”
CB: You just nailed it. Good job – Thank you. Thank you for making my job easier.
Palmiotti: Well, you know, that’s why we’re here.
CB: A lot of the world of Harley is kind of your creation, too. Her whole group of friends has become its own institution in itself. Has that paid off the way that you originally imagined it? And do you have certain characters you love spending more time with?
Palmiotti: Amanda – You wanna answer that since you’re so quiet?
Conner: No, I’m just listening to you.
Palmiotti: Well, that’s not how an interview works. You have to actually say something.
Conner: Well, the main thing about Harley is that we had wanted her to be the main character in her own story instead. We thought that if we had kept her in Gotham, even though it would be pretty much her own title, she would be secondary to everyone else. Putting her in Coney Island was the way to go.
Now, she has all of her own friends. Now she is the main character, which is what we were going for. We want her to have a solid band of close people that she can really trust when everything goes south.
Palmiotti: Yeah – Her own supporting characters in her own world. And they’re fun to make up because they’re all a reflection of her moods and her madness.
None of them – Well, maybe Tony is the most normal character out of the whole bunch.
But they all have their something they do, and we just love them. So, it’s easy to place them in the book. Again, we kind of cater certain stories to fit the supporting characters that we pull out during those stories.
CB: This month’s Previews has a cover with Harley and Batman and the Justice League / Suicide Squad crossover. Can you reveal anything about what her involvement will be?
Palmiotti: Yes – We have no clue.
Palmiotti: We absolutely have no idea what’s going on in that because we look at our book as a sort of post-Suicide Squad.
Conner: Yes – The bomb on her neck malfunctioned and didn’t go off.
Palmiotti: Right, so, we don’t know. They keep us out of that loop, and it’s really okay because we keep them out of our loop.
They coexist, but they don’t really tie into each other. So, we don’t tie into that story line. So, if anybody’s looking for that –
Conner: It’s not there.
Palmiotti: I’m sorry to say, but guess what, you don’t have to buy everything else to get our story.
Conner: Our story just stands on its own.
Palmiotti: It’s biweekly, now, so every other week, you’re getting a Harley. Eventually, it’s just gonna be every day.
CB: I don’t think you work hard enough.
Palmiotti: We’re exhausted, but we’re happily exhausted. We choose this insanity.
CB: It’s a pretty great way to make a living, I’m sure.
Palmiotti: Yes, it is. There’s a lot of characters that I’ve worked on in the past that let’s just say I wish I didn’t. This one is not one of them. This is one that I’m really –
Conner: We’re really pleased with it.
Palmiotti: Yeah, we’re really having a ball.
Conner: She’s a really fun character to write, and you never run out of ideas with her.
CB: You’re really well known for writing these fun, interesting female characters. I know you don’t intend Starfire or Power Girl to be in that group because I could tell your love for those books. It’s just a really unique, fun viewpoint to see these strong female characters, and it just happens to come from your brains. Is this something that is a particular passion for you?
Conner: I love writing female characters because it’s sort of what I know. I know how to do that better. And I feel like Jimmy’s just always loved writing female characters.
Palmiotti: I’ve never been a Fight Club comics guy; I’ve never been the guy that loves nothing but the two big bag guys beating each other up kind of comics. I’ve always loved the soap opera end of the comics. Like Spider-Man – Sure, I liked Spider-Man, but I liked it more when it was Peter Parker, and he had problems with Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy.
I’ve always loved that kind of stuff, and I figured, for these characters – and especially female characters in the DCU. They’re strong, strong characters. They’re not weaklings. They’re independent. They’ve got their own beat to them. And whenever we were handed one of them – whether it’s Atlee or Power Girl, even Harley. The thing I like about it most is getting to the heart of who they are. And why would I care enough to want to follow them.
Conner: What makes them tick?
Palmiotti: Why would I want to follow them every month? What is it about them that makes them so desirable to people besides their outfits and how they look? So, that’s always been the core of the characters. Even when we did Power Girl, people were like “Ugh, that character is so one-dimensional,” you know? And we said, “No, she’s not.”
Conner: She doesn’t have to be.
Palmiotti: Right, it doesn’t have to be. Plus, I’m surrounded by women all the time. That’s the other thing. That’s the secret weapon, so I have to behave.
We’ll be at New York Comic Con. If anybody’s around, come say hi. But, you know what, we’re happy little troopers.
Conner: We’re loving working on this book, and it’s just a ton of fun, even if we have to sacrifice a bit of sleep. We don’t care; we love it. We’re enjoying our exclusive relationship right now.