Clearwater couple brings Harley Quinn to life in DC comics

Clearwater residents and Harley Quinn co-writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner at the Suicide Squad premiere in New York on  August 1.
Clearwater residents and Harley Quinn co-writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner at the Suicide Squad premiere in New York on August 1.
Published Aug. 3, 2016

There's was a match made between the pages of comic books.

Jimmy Palmiotti, the boy from Brooklyn, and Amanda Conner, the girl "from everywhere," met and fell in love starting with their work on Marvel's Gargoyles comics.

Some 20 years later, now married, the two give DC's Clown Princess of Crime a new hometown in Clearwater, where they live and create DC's Harley Quinn series.

The couple has created the version of Harley Quinn closest to what fans will see on the big screen when Suicide Squad opens Friday. And at this year's Tampa Bay Comic Con in Tampa, the duo join Emerald City Comics at the store's booth on Saturday and Sunday.

RELATED: From sidekick to 'Suicide Squad': The evolution of Harley Quinn (w/video)

The couple co-write the comic, with Conner creating the covers. Both have decades of writing and illustrating experience in the comic book industry.

"This is the first main book we've written together," Conner said. "Nobody expected it to be this big, I was sure surprised."

Conner grew up gushing over Wonder Woman, John Byrne's X-Men in the 1970s and Frank Miller's Daredevil in the '80s. Palmiotti, 54, was a huge fan of science fiction, horror and all the Conan comics. He would sit on the stoop with friends and swap comics.

"With the Wild West comics, that was as far-fetched as you could get for a kid from Brooklyn," he said.

Both have been loving comics ever since.

"It's in our blood," Palmiotti said. "It's storytelling."

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When Palmiotti was called to ink a cover Conner had drawn for Gargoyles #1, they hit if off right away. The two stayed friends and worked together on dozens more comics for years before they started dating. Who wouldn't fall in love creating outer space vampires and bringing stone monsters to life?

"It is rare for someone to find a soulmate, but she really is mine," Palmiotti said.

It was during an annual comic book retailers meeting in 2013 with DC that Conner and Palmiotti were first asked to write a new Harley Quinn series. Harley had been a supporting character for the Joker and the Suicide Squad for years and even had her own series.

But they wanted to take her in a new direction. The two agreed on one condition: Let them take Harley away from Gotham.

Six months later, Harley Quinn #1 debuted.

Originally created for the Batman animated series in 1992, Harley showed up in comic book pages the following year as a former Arkham Asylum psychiatrist. Her work and love interest with the Joker broke her sanity.

HARLEY'S HISTORY: From sidekick to Suicide Squad, the evoultion of Harley Quinn

In DC's New 52 collection, Conner and Palmiotti took Harley away from the abusive relationship with the Joker. They created a world just for Harley, full of lovable, quirky characters and far from her insane "Puddin'."

"Harley had been defined by the Joker," Palmiotti said. "We wanted to empower the character, not just make her a victim or someone else's side character."

She still has her token "silly craziness" and dark humor. But in Conner and Palmiotti's hands, Harley evolved away from the mayhem of Batman and Joker's world.

"It's nice to write a female hero/anti-hero who's not the victim," Conner said. "The fun thing about Harley is that you never know what you're going to get with her."

When Conner and Palmiotti aren't creating adventures for the hammer-wielding Harley, they're collaborating on other projects for DC and Marvel. Palmiotti is now a full-time writer, but used to do illustration, inking some of Conner's work like Vampirella, Tomoe and Powergirl.

The two have lived in Tampa Bay for the past 10 years. Palmiotti calls it "the sixth borough of New York."

"I've been a fan of the beach since I was a little kid, going to Coney Island, Rockaway and Jones Beach in New York almost every season with my family," he said. "It was only a matter of time before I moved somewhere like here."

They've developed personal and working relationships with local fans and comic book stores. Palmiotti even has an office at Emerald City Comics in Clearwater.

"Jimmy and Amanda are very special people to the store and the community," Emerald City owner Neil Johnson said. "They're always coming in to sign books for fans."

Connor created an exclusive Harley Quinn Rebirth #1 variant cover for the store, featuring Harley and her pals Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Powergirl on the Yellow Brick Road in Oz.

"I think Harley has come to the forefront because of Jimmy and Amanda," Johnson said. "They've made her more popular and we're happy to see more women in comics."

Just a few days ago, Conner and Palmiotti were able to see their Harley come to life at the premiere of Suicide Squad, with Margot Robbie playing Daddy's Little Monster. They both loved it.

READ BEFORE YOU SEE: 'Suicide Squad,' the comic

"She looks like a mix of video game Harley, our Harley and the original," Palmiotti said. "She sort of steals the trailers."

Conner and Palmiotti didn't create Harley Quinn. That credit goes to Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. But they shape her and her stories for a new generation of comic book fans.

"We are just building on what they created," Palmiotti said. "You're always on an adventure with Harley."

Contact Chelsea Tatham at Follow @chelseatatham.