Interview conducted by Karen Pinter
This year in sunny San Diego I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jimmy Palmiotti to talk about some very important topics: Time Bomb, which is his current project with Radical Publishing, the Jonah Hex film, and, of course, the story behind Power Girl’s cleavage.
Karyn Pinter: I’m sitting here with Jimmy Palmiotti, talking about Time Bomb.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Yup.
Pinter: I read it last night, stayed up to read it.
Palmiotti: Oh, you did? What did you think?
Pinter: It was pretty good.
Palmiotti: A lot of set up.
Pinter: A lot of set up? Well, I don’t know, not a whole lot of set up. It was like it just immediately started raining hell and fire from above. It kinda threw everyone into the middle of a shitstorm.
Palmiotti: Yes, but does it make you want to go to the next one?
Pinter: Oh, absolutely.
Palmiotti: Good, good.
Pinter: I mean, who doesn’t love Nazi schemes and foiling Nazi schemes?
Palmiotti: I thought it was funny ‘cause there’s a lot of killing Nazis in this book, and I thought, well, that’s one audience that’s not going to buy this book. That might hurt my sales, that actual Nazis might not buy this book. But I’m willing to lose them as an audience to do this kind of title.
Pinter: Exactly. So where did this story come from?
Palmiotti: When I was a kid, I used to go away for the summer in New York. My dad and mom used to rent a bungalow in upstate New York just to get me out of Brooklyn as a young kid, because if you’d spend the summer in Brooklyn without school you’d usually get in trouble. We went to this, it was like a bungalow colony and people have these cabins in an area, and we’d go to camp and on Saturday night they used to show 16mm films against the back wall of the pool. So that was our movies when we were kids, and they used to show this one movie called Where Eagles Dare.
Pinter: Oh, fantastic movie.
Palmiotti: It was a Clint Eastwood movie, and I used to watch it — they only had six movies — every summer. So every summer they would show Where Eagles Dare. I saw it like thirty times growing up, and I loved the idea of the American spies going in and infiltrating the Nazi castle. So when I was 14 or 15 years old I came up with this story, like, wouldn’t it be cool if a bunch of hi-tech guys went back and messed things up a little. Like everything, I pitched a lot of ideas that no comic company wants because they’re way out there; with Time Bomb, what happened was I met with Barry [Levine] at Radical and he said, pitch me some ideas, and I’m like, alright, let me give you this one, no one ever wants it. The story is they’re building a subway station under Berlin, there’s a cave-in, they explore it, and they find a hidden Nazi city and accidentally trigger a missile to go off.
Pinter: Oh, spoiler alert, by the way.
Palmiotti: Spoiler alert, yes. Things happen and eventually by the end of the book we have a bunch of guys going from present day to the last days of World War II, and they have to infiltrate Berlin, try to find this underground city, and then hopefully take out the missile before it’s ever triggered in the future. So I pitched it to Barry with Justin Gray and I doing it, and he loved it. It was like, imagine Where Eagles Dare, and he [Barry] was like, that’s my favorite movie. Once a guy says that, then you nailed it, you know. We knew [we’d have] three 50-page issues — how were we going to make this interesting? Justin and I dug in and we said we’re going to do the thing time travel movies don’t do; we’re going to say “who cares what you do in the past” because there is no future if they don’t do this thing.
Pinter: There isn’t a lot of mention of that in the comic, like, if you kill someone now, it’ll fuck up the future.
Palmiotti: Right, that whole Bradbury thing. And we were like, well, no, in this case, there is no future, so what do they care?
Pinter: So it’s left open to the possibility…
Palmiotti: There’s a conversation between them (the characters) where the reader needs to know what they are thinking, and then by issue two it’s balls to the wall crazy because they’re on a time clock and they still have to find the place, and we have a black guy go into Berlin and it’s not really a smooth transition unless it’s the Olympics going on. There are a lot of funny things going on, and we created characters that don’t really know each other except for two of them, but by the end of it they and we get to know them pretty well, and how crazy they are. You know, this was kinda an adventure comic. Something you don’t really see done too often, and not a superhero thing. It’s just action adventure with a little bit of history in it. I researched the history so I knew enough of what not to do. I didn’t want to make it by the word or by the letter.
Pinter: Yeah, because then you’re restricted.
Palmiotti: Restricted, especially when you get to book three, because in book three we kinda messed with the idea that not only is everything going insane, but we did a thing in the book that, like in a movie where there is usually an explosion and everyone saves the day in the end, we added another 20 minutes. We went and said, “Okay, here’s the end, now the team goes, ‘What do we do now?’ and then they’re, “Well, we’re here, let’s…” and then another crazy door opens. But it ends. It’s a finite story, and if you like time travel, and you like killing Nazis… and we got Paul Gulacy on art, who for me was the best guy I could get on the book.
Pinter: I was going to ask you about the art. Radical is known for their painted comics, they’re like 85% of all their comics. What made you go with the traditional hand drawn art?
Palmiotti: Well, when we were writing it we didn’t have an artist, and while writing it [Radical] asked me who would be the dream guy, and I said Paul Gulacy would be my dream guy because he could do this kind of stuff. And they were like, well, why don’t we just get Paul Gulacy? I like the painted style, but if I were to critique the painted style I would say the characters need to have more of a soul. This story needed more traditional characters; you need to be able to read the faces and the acting, and a lot of times with the painted style it’s more about the world.
Pinter: How big and grand it all is.
Palmiotti: Right. This one, Time Bomb, even though it’s a somewhat big story, it’s all character pieces. It’s like you’re looking in the eyes of somebody.
Pinter: Yeah, because you have your team of four people, and you really want to feel the personality of each character.
Palmiotti: Right, right, you want to feel like you know them so there’s at least something at stake when everything goes wrong — and it does.
Pinter: And speaking of things going wrong, how good did it feel to just completely annihilate the world within the first ten pages of the comic?
Palmiotti: Well, we knocked out Germany and the surrounding area. Honestly, our first instinct was to make this 80 pages of the world getting wiped out, because I’d love to write that. What we did instead, since we had only six pages to do this thing with the city and the bomb, Justin and I decided it’d be best to pull in and focus on one guy trying to get home to his family.
Pinter: Oh, that was intense.
Palmiotti: And everybody is dead along the way and you get home, and yeah, yeah, it’s an intense scene. We took all the lettering out; we said let’s just go, let the reader follow this visual.
Pinter: The emotions do all the talking.
Palmiotti: You know how you’d feel. When you see this guy you’re just, “Oh, he’s hopeless.”
Pinter: Like, “What do I have left? Nothing.”
Palmiotti: Nothing. I always say when you’re really in love with somebody, you would really understand all of that stuff.
Pinter: There’s a mysterious doctor who puts this time bomb, time travel thing together — are we going to see him come back?
Palmiotti: I thought it was kinda obvious the way we did it, setting it up, and the city’s a little too modern for its time. It’s not a giant reveal, but it is to the characters. Like, we know Luke Skywalker is going to blow up the Death Star, but Vader doesn’t. There’s a point of view; we kinda know some of these things are going to come back up because we spent time with it, but it doesn’t stall the story. It’ll just become, “Oh, yeah, makes sense.”
Pinter: So we’ll finally get to that point and say, “Oh, yeah, of course.”
Palmiotti: Again, when you write a story like this there’s a tendency of saying, “I’ve watched a million movies and I’ve read a million books just like this,” so we tried to write sideways of that. Justin and I sit there and we know the reader is expecting this, so let’s just tilt it a little bit. So what you think exactly will be, will actually be a little more fucked up then you think it’ll be.
Pinter: Like a giant middle finger painted on the wall.
Palmiotti: And like I said, it’s time travel, but I don’t like it when someone is trying to teach me how it works.
Pinter: So we just already know.
Palmiotti: We just know it works. And again, for me to have any interest in anything I’m doing, I have to like or at least relate on some level to the characters. Even something like Power Girl.
Pinter: I got some questions about her later.
Palmiotti: It’s important to relate to these characters, otherwise why would you buy the next issue?
Pinter: I think the story itself drives the characters. You want to see them blow the shit out of a bunch of Nazis; you wanna see them save the world if they can.
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