The first thing you think when you meet him isn’t, “Well, he’s very quiet.”
Outgoing and always ready with a handshake, an enthusiastic greeting, a story to tell, an off-color joke, or a point to make, he’s seems the same whether talking with fans or old friends. It’s the same whether he’s signing autographs at a convention, posting his blog-column on Newsarama, or raving (or ranting) on his Paper Films forum.
It’s difficult to say a gregarious guy like that and someone who has had his name attached to so many high profile projects has done anything quietly, but nonetheless, he sort of has.
When you take it all in, Jimmy Palmiotti has rather quietly amassed an impressively diverse list of credits first as an inker, but later as inker, artist, writer and editor. The first time many spotted his credit was when he became the regular inker on Punisher for Marvel.
Not too long after that, he formed Event Comics with artist Joe Quesada, and their comic Ash became one of the huge independent hits of the 1990s. They also published a mini-series entitled 22 Brides, which introduced their other big character, Painkiller Jane.
With Marvel Comics in the doldrums, they were brought in to head up the Marvel Knights imprint. Where many saw a sizeable potential for failure, they saw – and achieved – a huge success with Daredevil, The Inhumans, and other titles.
That success, though, led to the end of Event Comics when Quesada was appointed Editor-in-Chief of the entire Marvel line. Never one to leave all of his eggs in one basket for too long anyway, Palmiotti began freelancing again for a number of publishers.
Such titles as 21 Down, The Resistance, Master of Kung-Fu, Gatecrasher, Beautiful Killer, The Monolith, Sci-Spy, Dock Walloper and The Pro followed over the years with Palmiotti handling various duties from inker to writer. In many cases, he worked with his fiancé, artist Amanda Conner, and/or his frequent writing partner, Justin Gray.
“It is an easy and simple process actually,” Pamiotti said previously of co-writing with Gray, though he was quick to add that all collaborations have their own unique dynamics. “Justin and I get together and discuss and outline where each book is going to go, as far as direction and content, and then either one of us starts the outline the final script. We continuously bounce it back and forth to the other. This volley goes on a bit till we are both happy with the end product. We pretty much edit each other to the point of exhaustion, but I think the finished script is always enhanced because of it.”
For his part, Gray describes the origin of their partnership as fairly organic.
He added that their approach to writing each project is different.
“Once we have several discussions and brainstorm on a project then one of us will do a first draft of a script and hand it off to the other,” he said.
“Jimmy has a talent for storytelling and a wealth of ideas that have both commercial and critical attributes. His honesty and loyalty to the story and process is one of the things that make our partnership work. He only fights for things that make sense to the story and project rather than anything related to his ego. It can be tricky working with another writer, but we've been doing it for a number of years now and the chemistry works simply because we have a shared goal regardless of differences in style,” Gray said. “Jimmy also has the ability to look at things and mesh them together into a brilliant concept that is so obviously a good idea that you wonder why no one thought of it before.”
Palmiotti and Gray are currently writing the long-running Jonah Hex revival with a who’s who of artists (With the other creators he knows, he’s revered by friends and colleagues as a human Rolodex, the most connected man in comics). Together with Conner they just complete the Terra mini-series and are launching the upcoming Power Girl on-going title and on his own he’ll be once again writing Painkiller Jane for Dynamite Entertainment, where last year he crossed the character over with their Terminator series.
He has worked with the proverbial who’s who of fellow creators, ranging from his famous partnerships with Conner, Gray, and Quesada to developing Dock Walloper with director Ed Burns. Along the way, in one capacity or another, he’s teamed up with Mark Waid, Dan DiDio, Billy Tucci, Paul Gulacy, Phil Winslade, Phil Noto, Kevin Smith, Steve Dillon, Garth Ennis and many others.
On Jonah Hex alone he and Gray have worked with a laundry list of top artists including Luke Ross, Tony DeZuniga, David Michael Beck, Mark Sparacio, Jordi Bernet, Dylan Teague, Val Semeiks, Rafa Garres, Darwyn Cooke, and J.H. Williams III, among others.
His ability to recruit top talent for his various projects relies in no small part on what other creators think of him.
“From comics to video games and everything in between, Jimmy Palmiotti is the epitome of a self-made creative and marketing force, but to me, his remarkable talent pales in comparison to his selfless generosity,” said Billy Tucci, creator of Shi, and a longtime friend of Palmiotti’s. “Even with the work load of three men, he will always the find time to equally assist anyone from a wide-eyed newcomer to an old pro in any way he can. His success is an honest product of his integrity and no one deserves it more. To say I have a tremendous respect for this man, would be a heinous understatement.”
That isn’t to suggest – far from it – that everyone takes their affection for him so seriously.
“Jimmy's one of the smartest, canniest, most creative guys I've ever met in this industry. I would trust him with my life,” said Boom! Studios Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid. “Now please tell him to let my sister go. She's harmed no one.”
With all that in mind, here’s 20 Questions with Jimmy Palmiotti:
JCV: When did you know that you wanted to work in comics?
Jimmy Palmiotti: I started like most creators, reading my older brothers books, eventually buying my own and the notion that I could actually work in comics at some point didn’t hit me till I was in the high school of Art and Design in New York. It was there that I was taught cartooning and did pretty well at it. It wasn’t until years later I realized I can make a career out of it.
JCV: What were the first real steps in that direction did you take?
Jimmy Palmiotti: I was taking a class in school when the teacher approached me and asked if I was interested in lending a hand to an actual comic artist in Queens, New York, who needed an assistant. The artist was Chic Stone and honestly I didn’t last long. After that I went from gig to gig while at school and by my senior year, I realized there just was not enough money to be made in comics and switched to advertising. It wasn’t till I was turning 30 that I decided to give it another shot. Coming from a big family with not a lot of money, it was important I earn a decent living first.
In school they taught us how to fine-tune the talent we had and how to apply it as a professional, but along the way in my career, I have always been learning from the people around me. I still am to this day. It’s a never-ending process. My father used to draw all the time but he didn’t consider himself an artist and my mom also enjoyed it, but they both chose a life of hard work and bringing up children, which for the times, was a perfectly normal thing to do. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. Their support and love meant the world to me. They both are gone now, but both their voices are imbedded into my brain and I am a better person for it… what I wouldn’t give to have just another day with them both.
JCV: When did you realize that improving at your craft wasn’t simply a matter of wanting to do so? How much work did it take?
Jimmy Palmiotti: A ton actually. I think I have a truckload of samples I have done and submitted. Honestly, a lesser man might have quit at some time, but that’s what it takes to make it in anything: talent and the drive to succeed. To this day I still doodle, draw and try new things because I still think I have a part of my career yet to explore actually doing steady drawing work. I am just too lazy and critical about it right now.
JCV: How did you train your eye to be critical of your own work without being so critical that you were paralyzed by it?
Jimmy Palmiotti: I still do not know how to do that yet, that’s why I am not penciling more. I wish I could, but I think that will come later for me. As far as writing, I get inspired by reading others work, good and bad. I can’t tell you how many terrible books there are out there and when they are top 10 comics, I am inspired to work harder and prove myself. Again, it’s just my opinion, but it gives me a good kick in the ass to experiment and not worry about failing. So much of what is considered mainstream is not very good or business as usual. When something is great, it inspires me. I am still learning, so it’s going to take me a bit of time still to get to a level that I am comfortable with, but I think I am heading in the right direction. I really enjoy a well-written film more than anything.
JCV: What was your first successful professional experience and how did it come about?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Probably inking Punisher #50 for Marvel Comics. I was doing piecework then I got that book and stayed on for a while. As far as writing, probably all the Event titles that Joe Quesada and I published. Joe and I were winging it at the time, but the feedback and fan love was awesome. The actual work itself could have been much better but we were working on pure adrenaline.
JCV: When you started inking for Marvel, were you already coming up with your own characters or did you have to get to some comfort level in the industry first?
Jimmy Palmiotti: I have come up with characters my entire life…even as a kid I came up with a few stinkers, but the imagination was always on overdrive. At Marvel, at first I was only inking and penciling and not writing there until after I left and started Event Comics with Joe. Now it’s mostly what I do when not working on paying gigs for the comic companies. I have a few new books coming from Top Cow, IDW, and some others this year that feature completely new concepts and characters. It’s my number one interest.
JCV: How did you and Joe make the decision to form Event?
Jimmy Palmiotti: We made some money from Valiant and decided to put our money where our mouths were and self-publish. I will do it again one day, but with a world of knowledge behind me next time. It was fun and crazy and got us where we are today. Good times.
JCV: Your first big hit while doing Event was Ash. How did you guys create and develop the character?
Jimmy Palmiotti: We were in Chicago, and I remember it exactly. I came up with the initial idea it in the shower. I came out of the bathroom, dressed [laughter] and hit Joe with it. It was as simple as “fireman superhero.” We both sat for a long time and hashed out the idea some more. It wasn’t for a few more days before my brother Peter came up with the name “Ash.”
JCV: What made the timing right for it, both creatively and business-wise?
Jimmy Palmiotti: We were both in a place where we felt it was only natural and the market was good and embraced us well. Good timing is everything and having a great fan base as well, which we did, helped. We spent a lot of time spreading good will those days. Now it’s different in comics. Less personal and more business-like.
JCV: How quickly did it become a hit? What was that like to experience?
Jimmy Palmiotti: It was amazing. First we got a ton of support from the people and fans even before we put out issue 1, and it kept going from there. We were lucky and we worked hard and the timing was just right. It was a great time for Joe and I, and I think it showed a lot of people what just two guys can do. At the time we were running against a company that premiered at the same time called Techno Comix. They had millions behind them and crashed and burned way before we decided to move on. Nothing was more fun than going to the big cons with our booth and being busy all weekend. I am still friends with fans I met from that period.
JCV: As Event took off, what were some of the perils and pitfalls you experienced along the way?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Honestly, we learned as we went along and we were lucky most of the time that things worked out. We did have some speed bumps with the distribution of work and feeling the need to expand the line more, but in the end, these were minor things. Since there was so much day to day stuff, we did have some problems getting work done. Looking back we should have paced the books out better, but if it wasn’t for the Marvel Knights deal, we probably would still be doing Event work as well as Marvel or DC gigs… or we would be retired by now and on to different things. Both Joe and I had work experience outside comics and were never really worried about what would happen next. Selling Ash to DreamWorks had its effect on us as well.
JCV: How did the Marvel Knights deal come about and why as successful publishers on your own did you and Joe take it?
Jimmy Palmiotti: We got offered the gig from the then-President of Marvel, Joe Calamari from a recommendation from [Wizard publisher] Gareb Shamus. Marvel was in the dumps at that time and about to cancel a ton of books and they felt we could bring something fresh and new to the line and wanted to experiment. Joe and I were doing well with Event, but they did the thing that we both love and offered us a challenge, a lot of money, creative control and a penthouse office on Park Avenue in Manhattan. We figured we could still do the Event stuff at the same time. After a bunch of back and forth about money and creative control, we had a deal and moved into the Marvel offices and started to shake things up best we could. Unfortunately we let the Event work slip into oblivion for the most part during that time
JCV: The Marvel Knights line pretty quickly became very high profile. What do you think was its biggest initial success and why?
Jimmy Palmiotti: The initial launch was one of the biggest and different ones Marvel comics ever had. Along with Stan Lee, we made it our business to put a face with the books and take the coloring, writing and art to places these titles have never been. We even went as far as creating a brand and logo. Joe and I did press and went out and sold comics to places that never really cared about them including MTV and other news media. Attaching people like Kevin Smith to the books helped us launch in a big was as well. The real success, though, was that Joe and I were giving the fans a feeling that they were part of something special with the books. People were buying the line across the board and I should add that these books were being colored better than anything out there at the time. We had a lot going for us.
JCV: Were there any disappointments in the line for you?
Jimmy Palmiotti: We hit speed bumps with certain creators, but looking back, I am pretty happy with the first two years worth of books that came out. I personally was not a fan of the “Marvel Knights” title at all, but that was created because we were pressured by Marvel for more books.
JCV: Once Joe became Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, did you have any thought of staying on with Marvel Knights, or was it simply time to move on?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Actually I left Marvel before the job of Editor -in-Chief came along. At the same time I was doing Marvel Knights I was trying to revive the Event characters, doing some Painkiller Jane crossovers and working on a pet project for Black Bull Comics called Gatecrasher. I really wanted to create and start a writing career. I left Marvel and Marvel Knights, but stayed on Punisher. I wanted to get back into creating new characters and Marvel had no equity incentive set up to do this. Personally, I felt we had done our best with Marvel Knights and for me it was time to move on. Joe got offered the E-i-C gig soon after. Personally, it was the perfect choice for Joe and I and we both have been doing well ever since. I think Joe is one of the finest Editors-in-Chief in Marvel’s history and that’s no small thing.
JCV: You mentioned that when you were left Marvel and Marvel Knights, you wanted to do more character creation and further establish yourself as a writer. What were some of the steps you took to do that?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Well, by creating Beautiful Killer and New West at Black Bull Comics and co-creating 21 Down and The Resistance at Wildstorm and Monolith at DC. At the same time I took some writing gigs at Marvel with a nice Deadpool run [Deadpool # 46-55], a run on Superboy and a number of other books. It took a little time to get going, but looking back it was a great time and people were willing to experiment more.
JCV: Having a reputation as a fairly prolific inker and having been part of one of the highest profile art teams in that era with Joe, did you have any difficulties at first getting editors to take you seriously as a writer or was it an easy transition?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Always and still do with a number of the older editors who are still around, but things are finally coming around. I still have to go pitch and push and prod editors for work, but I am used to that. I am usually not the guy that people just call up and hire. Ninety percent of the time, I am the one pitching them. Only a hand full of editors call me, but the ones that do I am loyal to and deliver each and every time. Personally, I am not taking on any inking anymore unless I am in love with the penciler’s work. Last thing I inked was a Darwyn Cooke cover, and that worked out fine. I would love to ink John Romita, Jr. again sometime soon. John is one of my favorite storytellers out there.
JCV: When you think about your various projects such as Painkiller Jane (clearly a character you love), or Jonah Hex (equally clearly, one you were very happy to bring back and one you’re pretty protective of) or The Monolith (which seems an oddly personal work considering he’s a golem), what do you think your best success with a writer to date has been?
Jimmy Palmiotti: I think there are levels to success. Some of my most personal work has been Monolith and Jane, but they are always hard pressed to find the right audience. The great things about these properties are that they are made for film and have something that resonates with a lot of film people. I find my tastes are a bit adult at times for the mainstream comic crowd, but Justin and I have found just the right blend with Jonah Hex. It’s the longest series either of us has ever written. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised and happy with the work we have coming up on Power Girl. I think at this point Painkiller Jane and Hex are the two series I sign the most at cons, and that’s how I judge popularity with my work, not really by numbers sold.
JCV: You’ve written for television, video games, and comics. Which form do you enjoy the most as a writer?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Anything that happens to be something I created from scratch first. It is a total blast building on others ideas and that’s what most of my media work is, but the most fun I can personally have is creating my own things. One day someone rich and smart will throw me a half million dollars and give me a year to create properties we can share. That would be awesome. If you are that guy, contact me. [laughter]. Until then, I really enjoy the video game gigs and writing for film right now is keeping me out of trouble.
JCV: How do you see yourself progressing as a creator in the next few years?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Probably producing, directing and writing films, writing and creating games and crazily enough, self-publishing again. I will never not work on comics. I love them too damn much!
That all said, I want to thank the fans for supporting my work the past few years and want them to know a lot of exciting thinks are coming their way.
Some previous interviews with Jimmy Palmiotti:
The Return of the Western – Part 1
Scoop, April 4, 2008
Packing a Wallop
Scoop, December 7, 2007
Primetime with Painkiller Jane
Scoop, March 30, 2007
The Monolith Speaks: Jimmy Palmiotti
Scoop, February 13, 2004
Palmiotti’s Got a Beautiful Killer
Scoop, October 11, 2002
Palmiotti Turns Up 21 Down, Meets The Resistance
Scoop, June 28, 2002
Special thanks to Seth Kushner for the top photo of Jimmy!