Harley Quinn is everywhere right now. From her upcoming animated series on DC Universe to her live-action appearance alongside the Birds of Prey early next year, this unrepentant Clown Princess of Crime is experiencing something of a resurgence right now. At New York Comic Con this year, DC Comics announced that writer/artist Amanda Conner and writer Jimmy Palmiotti will be teaming up on a return to the character for a brand-new miniseries called Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey, which will be released through DC's Black Label — meaning there will be slightly more adult stories within the pages.
At NYCC, SYFY FANGRRLS had the chance to sit down with Conner in person at the DC Universe Headquarters' pop-up museum (dedicated to Quinn in all her bad girl glory) to talk about Conner's history with the character, how she personally contributed to the upcoming Harley Quinn animated series, and what she thought of that Birds of Prey trailer.
As a creator, you and Harley Quinn are named in the same sentence a lot of the time. Like when people are talking about the character, you're one of the names that pops up. And now you're preparing to launch the mini-series, which is super exciting.
I'm so excited. Very, very excited.
What do you think it is about her, as a character, that has been such a repetitive draw for you over the years, to come back to over and over again?
I think the draw of Harley is, and this is [for] Jimmy [Palmiotti] also, is that we get to get away with a lot of stuff in that book. You know, Harley's a character who lends herself to naughtiness. So if you don't try and push the envelope and get away with stuff with that character, it doesn't work. And you have to do that with Harley.
That kind of leads into my next question, because we know this is going to be Black Label. A little more adult.
Yes, yes. We get to use naughty words.
What are you, as a creator, hoping to do with this mini-series that you might have had to toe the line a little bit with in previous runs? Are there any story arcs, plots that you're looking to touch on specifically?
Yeah, there were things that we weren't allowed to do, that we tried to do, that we weren't allowed to do, and we're just going to go ahead and try and do that in this book. Of course, swearing is allowed in a Black Label, but the good side of not being allowed to swear [in previous books] is that you need to be super creative and make up words. A lot of the words that I made up actually sounded dirtier than swear words that they were trying to replace.
So my challenges then were just to create something that just sounded so wrong, sounded filthier than maybe it actually was? [But] I don't want to lose that creative edge. Also there are storylines that we were always trying to sneak in or get away with ... and I understand because when we were doing it for regular DC, it's all-ages. But this, it's for adults. I was asking my editor, I was like, "Nipples no good, butt crack OK?"
I don't know if he was pulling my leg, but apparently there is a list of dos and don'ts for Black Label. So I have to find out what that is.
Right, you still have to figure out what those boundaries are.
And it's good to have parameters, because it does force you to be more creative when you have parameters.
I feel like this is a character that we've seen such a huge resurgence with, not just in comics but movies, and we're getting the new animated show. With fandom, especially, there was a year when literally you couldn't walk two feet without bumping into someone cosplaying as Harley, man or woman. Why do you think that she's experiencing this now?
I think her time has come, right? We've been saying that people identify with her because she wears her heart and her emotions on her sleeve, which a lot of superheroes aren't allowed to do. She's allowed to do it. And I think it just resonates with most people because they understand how she's feeling, you know? And when she has those feelings, she does it in such a spectacular way.
But I think having her break up with the Joker too, it really was a toxic relationship. It was a bad relationship, and he was so mean to her. And having her bust out on her own is just something that makes people feel really good.
From an illustrating perspective, were there ever any real-life inspirations that you looked at when you were designing her look? She is very much her own character, but were there ever any influences that you kind of looked at and wanted to incorporate into her aesthetic?
It happened by accident, mostly. When we got ahold of the character, she was in the New 52 Suicide Squad, and she was in the blue and red costume, and I wanted to take her back to the black and red costume, because that's my personal favorite. So I was like, "OK, I want to do something with this color combination." I want to make it less superhero-y and a little bit more rough-and-tumble-looking and sort of a little obnoxious, but a little cute, at the same time.
And I was just playing around with it, and I started putting shoulder pads and knee pads on it, and I was like, "She looks like a roller derby girl." And then the idea hit me: "Oh, she has to join a roller derby team." And that's where that came from. That whole storyline happened by accident when I was playing around with her costume. So yeah, inspirations come from really weird places.
I feel like I have to talk to you about the Birds of Prey trailer, because it had your girl front and center. What were your thoughts on that?
It just made me excited and really want to see it. I don't know much, so I'm just really looking forward to it. And it feels like they're really wanting to stay true to the comic. So that makes me excited. That makes me really excited.
With the animated series, what are you looking forward to out of that as a fan?
Same thing. I want to see Harley the way she is in the comic. I like it. It always seems to work when people stay true to the source material. It always makes me really like animation and movies, when they know where the source material comes from, they're like, "Yeah, this is what people like about it." And that's why it's inspiring to see the comic book come to life. The animated series had me do some of the scenes on it. And some of the character designs and the character turnarounds ... which is really, really flattering.
It's nice that they're going to creators who have had a foothold in this character for a long time and being mindful of that.
And it's nice when they ask somebody who had a hand in doing the book, they're like, "Oh, you did this really well, can you do this?" Sure, absolutely, I'd love to!
Changing gears a little bit, I know you've also worked on Watchmen comics, so what are your thoughts on that show that's about to come out?
I'm really embarrassed, I haven't seen it yet! You know what it is? We've been working so much, and we have a backlog of shows to watch that we have not watched yet. I'm embarrassed to say that I have not watched it yet. This is, I think, our last big convention for a long time, so it'll be TV time for a while.
This interview has been edited and condensed.