Hey there, Faithful Talkbackers Ambush Bug here from AICN Comics with another Q & @. The writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray has been around for quite a while and at the moment they are putting together some of the best action comics around with such hits as HEROES FOR HIRE and CLAWS for Marvel, UNCLE SAM & THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS and JONAH HEX from DC, and the new FRIDAY THE 13TH series from Wildstorm. I had a chance to throw fifty @$$hole-approved questions their way recently. Let’s jump right into the interview.
Justin Gray (JG): We use highly trained dolphin telepaths keyed to a voice adapted statement program. We used to use sea urchins but they didn’t have antivirus software installed.
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): How do you manage typing anything with four hands? Do you split the keyboard down the middle? Who gets to use the space bar?
Jimmy Palmiotti (JP): And I was going to go old school and say we were fallout victims with 2 sets of hands. Oh well, the dolphin trick is now out of the bag.
BUG: Seriously, can you give us some insight on how the two of you work together to produce a story?JG: Stories are usually born from discussions where one or both of us will call the other with an “idea”; then, based on the strength of that idea, we produce characters, plot, and resolution. Idea and resolution being the two most important parts, we then like to leave the road to that resolution open for creativity to occur.
BUG: Is one of you more the plot and story guy and one of you more the dialogue guy, or do you knock it all out together?JG: It is a mix of everything. One of us might do the first pass and then the other will take it and either punch it up or strip it down depending on what condition it is in.
JP: It’s never a battle to see who does what, it’s more of a schedule thing. Either way we bounce things back and forth till happy. We constantly edit each other as well, which helps, especially in the dialogue department.
BUG: Working as a team, how do you decide which assignment to accept or what to propose?JG: When you freelance you take everything that is offered. As for proposals, if you’re talking about Marvel or DC, we try to approach projects that are interesting and exciting to us. Not surprisingly they aren’t always the big name characters, but then again when the big names are locked down by other writers we don’t bother going after them.
JP: Personally, we very rarely pitch existing characters. For the most part any pitching will be for new concepts or characters, or just plain ideas we have and want to maybe pursue if the door is open. Obviously, with comic work our pitching is limited to DC these days which is a nice break for us.
BUG: Do you remember the first comic you guys ever read?JG: Spider-Man, but I have no idea what issue.
JP: I can’t remember the first girl I ever kissed, so really, I cant be expected to remember a comic…lol.
BUG: Do you find that these comics influence the way you write comics?JG: They did before I started working. Once upon a time I wanted to be the next X-Men guy or Batman guy but now I think it is more important to work on material that I like and am excited about.
JP: I think what I read as a kid inspired my imagination and as I grew up I learned how to structure that imagination and be able to tell stories that way. My brain never sleeps…which makes it hard to actually sleep physically as well.
BUG: What's the secret origin of Palmiotti & Gray? How'd you guys team up and come to be the well-oiled writing/fighting unit you are today?JG: The short story is I forced myself into Joe and Jimmy’s lives, they took pity on me, I learned I’m not cut out for working in an office, Jimmy and I continued to talk all the time and one day, while drunk at the Fridays bar, Jimmy called with an offer to co-write 21DOWN.
JP: Wow…so that’s how it happened. On my end I got offered some work and wanted to work with someone I thought was better than me, so I called Justin.
BUG: Have you ever worked on a project that one guy loved but the other hated?JG: I wouldn’t go that far but Jimmy is much more of a Punisher fan than I am. I just don’t get the character as well as he does--or Garth, who is brilliant on that book.
JP: Hmmmm, we worked on a project that got killed that I had no love for the character…then there was a character for Chaos Comics that did nothing for me. If I don’t like the character, Justin will egg me on til we find something we like about him. With The Punisher, I had a special place in my heart for him since it was a character I started working on when I got my start in comics…but I agree, he is a 2 dimensional character all the way. When we worked on him the few times we did we tried to give him a life.
BUG: Can each of you tell us a little bit about the other's strengths and how you utilize that to write a story?JG: Jimmy’s strength, well one of the many, is the infamous question he asks every time we start something new: Why should we care? He’s very interested in getting the reader to invest emotionally in the story. I am too but there are times when I’ll sacrifice some of that for other elements. Jimmy is also great at looking at something, deconstructing it and then rebuilding it better than it was before. You know that scene in ARMAGEDDON when NASA shows Harry Stamper his stolen drilling rig and they did a “piss poor job of putting it together”? Jimmy can look at a film, TV, script or whatever and improve on it.
JP: Justin is relentless in his pursuit of knowledge and brings it into the work each and every time. The other thing I love about him is that he has a brilliant memory for the completely insane and can dig into a project and steamroll all the way til it’s done. I will forever be playing catch up to him. Out of everyone I have ever worked with, he is by far the most talented and easy going…which is perfect. O.K., now Amanda is jealous.
BUG: Justin, what's the most annoying thing about working with Jimmy?JG: He doesn’t take enough time for himself. He’s always worrying about other people and looking out for them. It’s that goddamned old school Brooklyn thing so there’s nothing I can do about it.
BUG: And Jimmy, how about the most annoying thing working with Justin?JP: Hmmm, his dog wants to eat my fingers off? Maybe annoying isn’t the right word…I just wish he would get out more…
BUG: Anybody got a solo project on the way, or are you guys gonna tag-team everything for the foreseeable future?JG: We mix it up. I have a few things in the works and I’ve done solo books like LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT, MA FANTATSIC FOUR as I mentioned, some stuff for Moonstone Books. When we’re not doing comics I’m generally tinkering with film scripts.
JP: I still write PAINKILLER JANE for Dynamite and a few odd things here and there like video games and such.
BUG: Have you guys thought about forming a writing supergroup with Abnett and Lanning? Or maybe an old-fashioned key party where you end up swapping partners for an issue?JG: I don’t think that I could co-write with another person other than Jimmy and I’d prefer in that situation to do my own thing. Writing partnerships on the level where we’re at are tricky thing to pull off.
JP: Been there and done that and when something works, why mess with it? If I were to do it, it would be to help someone, and not for my own gain.
BUG: Jimmy, which do you prefer: writing or inking?JP: Sleeping. But after that writing is very satisfying. Inking is great, but I have inked so much that it’s nice to take a break now and then like I am doing now.
BUG: Is it hard to change hats from inker to writer and back again?JP: The worst part is cleaning up my studio when I change hats. Other than that, it’s not hard at all. I think the hardest part of this whole business to me is trying not to care so much about every little detail of the work. I know I drive people insane.
BUG: You'd think a big barbarian from outer space with wings and a mace would be a sure-fire hit with comic book readers, but Hawkman is dead again nonetheless. Why is HAWKMAN such a hard character to write and keep cool consistently?JG: I don’t believe that he is--the one thing that’s always hindered Hawkman is his continuity. Hawkman is cool as hell but when you look at the most successful properties in comics, the one consistent truth in each of them is simplicity. Batman’s parents were murdered. Superman is the sole survivor of a dead planet. X-Men are genetic mutations. A radioactive spider bit Spider-Man. These are simple to explain and follow. With Hawkman you’ve got one group of fans that want Katar and another group that wants Carter Hall. You also have Thanagar, ancient Egypt, reincarnation, multiple versions, hawk avatars and so on.
JP: Our HAWKMAN run did well and was gaining readers. I think it was not the best choice to switch gears, but things change and at the end of the day I am very proud of the work we did. Hawkman will always be cool ‘cause he f*cks shit up with his mace and has a beak!
BUG: What was your biggest challenge writing HAWKMAN?JP: Understanding why people liked him at first.
JG: Turning the sales around.
BUG: MONOLITH didn't really sell as well as you must have hoped, despite your use of lesbian and HIV positive leads handled in a mature, realistic manner.JG: Actually neither of them are lesbians. They’re just very close friends who aren’t afraid to be affectionate with each other. We both know a number of women who are like that.
JP: Given a bottle of wine, the right lighting and some anger over a bad relationship, I could see the girls’ usual affectionate relationship going a bit further. We actually had a whole issue where they were in the bathtub together telling stories about how they lost their virginity. It was issue 13…damn you D.C. Comics!!!
The reality is that we are most proud of that 12 issue series. One day, when we are dead and buried, they will collect it.
BUG: The ladies and their golem turned up in the BLUDHAVEN miniseries--any further plans for them to turn up elsewhere, like in the pages of FREEDOM FIGHTERS?JG: Not right now.
BUG: THE BATTLE FOR BLUDHAVEN was a literal vomitorium of characters. Was it difficult handling such a big cast?JG: Definitely, but we learned a lot of what not to do from that experience.
JP: We really needed another 600 pages and not to have the deadline of a biweekly book to nail it just right. I really am still amazed about how many fans actually enjoyed it.
BUG: So far you've managed to keep JONAH HEX grounded in reality, as much as a two-gun-za-blazin' Wild West bounty hunter can be considered grounded reality, but recently you did a ghost story. Are you tempted to delve into WEIRD WESTERN TALES territory?JG: If a story comes along that warrants it then sure, but we’re not going to have Hex fighting zombies any time soon. Of course, Hex is set in the DCU so naturally there will be supernatural elements that seep into the book, but don’t look for a town full of gun-slinging vampires anytime soon.
BUG: Is it a challenge to stick to the one story/one issue format in JONAH HEX? What is the key to pacing a story to fit 22 pages?JG: Originally it was daunting. We’d just come off a year long Hawkman story and had to rethink our approach to telling these stories. One thing you learn right away is how to be a good film editor. You have to tell the most amount of story in the least amount of space. Luckily westerns are perfectly suited to that format.
JP: I like to think of it like a one hour show and how we would pace it. “Gunsmoke” and “Rawhide” did it every week. I grew up on the idea that you can tell a full story in an issue…but don’t think for a second we can’t build on each and every one. It’s tough, but a good tough.
BUG: You're about to embark on a three-issue story revealing for the first time the origin of Jonah Hex.JG: That’s not entirely true. What we’re doing is expanding on his origin, which has been told in chunks throughout the first series. We’re pulling it together and digging into some of the psychological elements that haven’t been seen before.
BUG: Was that your idea or editorial's, and how daunting did you find it?JG: It was a natural progression from ideas we were kicking around. Steve Wacker prodded us in the direction of making the first script we handed in part of an origin arc.
JP: We knew we would get to it but Jordi Bernet’s name came up and we jumped at it.
BUG: Are you at all concerned that the character will lose some of his mystique if you reveal too much of his back-story?JG: Nope. Every issue we learn a little more about him but he’s always got surprises up his sleeve.
JP: He isn’t a superhero where his origin is so important to who he is. He doesn’t have super powers, he is just a good gun fighter with attitude.
BUG: DC has some truly imaginative Wild West characters. So far we've seen Bat Lash and El Diablo guest star in JONAH HEX. Any plans for more guest appearances by DC's Western heroes?JG: We use characters when they suit the story and I’m sure there will be more, but we’re not going to include them just for the sake of grabbing attention.
JP: We introduce one of our own soon in a book drawn by Phil Noto.
BUG: So far, UNCLE SAM & THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS has been about the heroes coming together and fighting corruption in the government. Surprisingly, I have found the series does not lean towards the left or the right when it comes to political affiliation. Was this a conscious choice?JG: To be honest it leans both ways in the extreme. Father Time and Firebrand are polar opposites with Uncle Sam standing dead center with his eye on the Constitution. There were some initial complaints about the book as a left leaning statement. I don’t believe fiction has an obligation to be fair and balanced. Do we take shots at the Bush administration? Yeah, we do. We also take shots at the headless chicken that is the Democratic Party.
BUG: Do you find yourself tempted to write stories reflective of your own political beliefs or do you want to stick to good ol' super-heroics for Uncle Sam and his crew?JG: What we have is a political superhero book. With Uncle Sam as the main character how can you not? This is a fictional universe so we can use allegories and metaphors that reflect real life but at the end of the day these are extraordinary people with super powers trying to do good in the world.
JP: When writing anything with passion, your feelings will come out somewhere. That said we try our best to present the story from both sides and the way the reader can understand it best.
BUG: Seems like besides Uncle Sam himself, the Freedom Fighters consist of all new characters. Why didn't you use characters like the previous Ray, Damage, or any of the other incarnations of the Freedom Fighters that have existed in the past when forming the team?JG: Oh great, don’t tell me you’re another Ray Terrill fan. Next thing you know the Invisible Hood Preservation Society is going to picket their local comic shops and bring the publishing giant called DC to a grinding halt. Who wants the old Ray when Stan Silver is a womanizing narcissist playboy scumbag? Don’t those kinds of characters sell anymore?
BUG: UNCLE SAM & THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS is obviously a politically fueled book. Are there any of today's hot political topics you want to cover in the series?JG: We’re doing it over the course of all eight issues, hitting hot button issues and kitchen table discussions. We just stuck our big toe in an interesting and sometimes frightening new century. Our way of life hasn’t changed radically but we are a different nation that faces challenges that other countries have lived with forever. Uncle Sam looks at these changes in the context of a superhero universe, which means everything is larger than life.
BUG: You guys have just launched revamps of two team books, UNCLE SAM & THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS and HEROES FOR HIRE. Are these projects that you pursued or were they projects coming down the pike that were offered to you? In other words...is there something about re-structuring an old team book that appeals to you?JG: USFF was offered to us but HEROES FOR HIRE was a byproduct of wanting to write more stories with the DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON. Sadly that miniseries did not sell very well, and it stands as one of my favorite things we’ve done to date. We pitched Marvel on H4H and it was suggested that we tie it to Civil War so that the book would have a fighting chance.
JP: Now that it is collected, I am convinced it will have a second life in book stores and on sites like Amazon. It was a little too hip for the room when it came out. The idea of writing team books was never a thrill for me, so each and every one I had to dig in and try to understand why this bunch of people would hang together. I am retarded like that.
BUG: Any word yet on whether there's gonna be a follow-up to the UNCLE SAM & THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS miniseries? You're clearly laying the groundwork for something bigger--are we gonna get to see it?JG: We have a number of ideas and plans for the book if the Freedom Fighters survive the eighth issue.
JP: In comics, numbers speak volumes above anything else. The fans decide with their purchase and the company decides based on that. It’s really an easy thing to grasp. Please go out and buy a few dozen if you want to see more. Isn’t that easy?
BUG: Will the cast of HEROES FOR HIRE keep fluctuating long-term, or will we see some sort of status quo reached some time soon?JG: We’re only on the book to issue eight but as it stands we stay with the same handful of characters established in issue #1.
BUG: Are you disappointed that you couldn't use Luke Cage or Iron Fist for your HEROES FOR HIRE series?JG: Yes, those are great characters, but I hope we made Misty and Colleen interesting enough that they’ll be in the spotlight for a while.
JP: Misty and Colleen are the heart of the book and can kick Luke Cage and Iron Fist’s ass any time because they got girl power. I hear that shit is lethal.
BUG: I loved your DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON miniseries. Was it hard to get Marvel to ok a book with a) a cast of obscure characters and b) a cast made up mostly of women?JG: Was it hard to pitch them on it? Absolutely, but we had one thing going for us and his name is Khari Evans. We knew the concept was fun and simple, but a tough sell given the climate at Marvel.
JP: If it wasn’t for Khari, it wouldn’t exist. No one wanted to touch them.
BUG: What's your secret to writing a good action scene? Your books seem to be full of them.JG: Being bored shitless with action movies.
JP: totally. Something off and unusual has to happen or I go to sleep.
BUG: Jimmy, can you describe your relationship with longtime collaborator Joe Quesada?JP: He is a friend of mine that happens to be the EIC of Marvel Comics. We talk, hang once in a while and have characters we both created going out and having a life of their own. It’s all good, really.
BUG: Any funny anecdotes from your time when you were working on ASH?JP: A lot of the money we made was able to help a large amount of strippers pay off their debt from their college tuition. Oh, and we sold a character for almost a million dollars. I think that’s funny.
BUG: Has Joey Q talked with you about ever returning to ASH?JP: We have spoken about it a few times…but we both are busy boys these days.
BUG: Now that Joey Q's reigning Mayor McCheese over at Marvel, has your relationship with him changed at all?JP: As soon as he took that job it has become 10 times harder to get any work out of there. It has gotten better over the years though. At first he had to be careful to show that he just isn’t “giving” his friends work…but those days are over. I have always made Marvel money, so really, the numbers work in everyone’s favor. I really never ask for special treatment…I just demand it!
BUG: Do either of you have any plans for more creator-owned material, or will you be sticking with existing properties for now?JG: I want to do more creator-owned work, absolutely, but the more I look at where comics are and what direction they’re moving in the kinds of stories that interest me have very little place in the direct market.
JP: We will be launching a few creator shared properties in the next two years at DC. They just haven’t gotten the memo yet.
BUG: I'm a HUGE fan of FRIDAY THE 13TH and not ashamed to admit it. I long for the day when the property can be treated with respect despite the Z-movie status that has been associated with the later installments. I hear you guys are going to be handling the writing duties on a new WildStorm FRIDAY THE 13TH series. What are your plans with this series?JG: Back to basics. My favorites are the first two movies, before Jason and Pinhead and Freddy and Chucky became pop culture icons instead of murderous pedophiles, homicidal maniacs and demons. I think once you put a mass murderer on a lunchbox there’s no chance in hell you’re going to scare anyone with him. We’re also putting a lot of emphasis on the characters inside the story that will be unexpected and hopefully entertaining.
BUG: In the past, this property has seen a few incarnations in comic book form. How is the Palmiotti/Gray helmed FRIDAY THE 13TH going to be different from others we've seen?JG: The idea is to write something that will interest a wider audience and not just fans of the franchise.
JP: And to help out, I personally have never read the other books. We just wanted to build on the legend established by the first 2 films really.
BUG: Have you seen any of the F13 films? Which ones are your favorites?JG: The first two are the best in my opinion.
JP: Same here. The one in space had funny moments.
BUG: FRIDAY THE 13TH films have been known to have some imaginative kills. Any favorite offings from the films?JG: Crossbow.
JP: Bunk bed death.
BUG: Any plans to go into the origins of Crystal Lake, Mrs. Voorhees, the long-rumored Father Voorhees, and reasons for Jason's powers of resurrection?JG: Maybe.
JP: Good guess!
BUG: You recently completed co-writing the PUNISHER and GHOST RIDER video games. What's the difference between writing a video game and writing a comic book?
BUG: Do you each have a wish list of characters you have yet to work with?JG: KRYPTO: YEAR ONE with Amanda drawing.
JP: I got like 40 characters I want to get out of my brain really soon or I’m gonna kill someone.
BUG: Any future plans or bombshells you'd like to drop on us? C'mon, give our rabid Talkbackers something meaty to chew on.JG: We’re writing a TV show.
JP: I will be directing an episode of a different TV show and I just quit a project today. I have slept with two women twice…and once beat a guy up in the back of a cop car. That enough?
BUG: What are your plans for HEROES FOR HIRE in the coming months and why should we be checking it out?JG: The plan is to have fun. You remember fun, right? Not that unmasking and mind wipes aren’t fun, but we’re much less serious in HEROES. Let’s see: there’s a Humbug arc inside issues 6-7. A ten-year-old boy with a piggy bank full of pennies hires H4H to rescue his robot from super villains. All Bad Girls go to Latveria. The return of Ruby Thursday. Ninjas. Cosplayers in diapers. A major member of the team is decapitated. Ricadonna turns green. Business as usual post CIVIL WAR.
BUG: How about JONAH HEX?JP: We have a lot of special guests showing up…some cool artists in line to take a shot at Jonah and really, just trying to promote the book to get new readers on board. A book like this needs a wider audience.
JG: Tallulah Black.
BUG: FRIDAY THE 13TH?JG: Blood and sex.
JP: Lots of both.