Smash Pages Q&A: Jimmy Palmiotti and Dave Johnson

The two-award-winning creators discuss their latest project together, the second issue of ‘Pop Kill’ from Paperfilms.

Dave Johnson is the award-winning cover artist of 100 Bullets, Punisher, Deadpool, Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, The Butcher of Paris and many other comics. Jimmy Palmiotti began his career as an inker, but quickly became a writer and editor, co-creating comics like Ash, 21 Down and The Monolith. In recent years, Palmiotti has continued to work with his wife, the great Amanda Conner, on a variety of projects, but much of his work has been writing and co-writing creator-owned graphic novels including Killing Time in America, Retrovirus and Random Acts of Violence, which was adapted into a film just released on video-on-demand, in addition to continuing the story of his characters Painkiller Jane and The Monolith.

Many of those projects, like Pop Kill, which is currently being kickstarted, are collaborations with artist Juan Santacruz. This time they’re joined by co-writer Dave Johnson on a series that’s violent, sexy, very absurd, and they were kind enough to take a few minutes out to talk about the second issue of the series, and continuing the absurd tale of violence, sex, and corporate espionage.

​To start, how did you come to comics?

Palmiotti: You mean get into the business? Same way everyone else did, read them as a kid, tastes changed and started to read Heavy Metal, which opened up the world of comic art to me, and been loving them ever since. As far as working in them, went to school for art, worked as another artist’s assistant ’til I started getting my own work and have been plugging away ever since, mostly these days with my own characters and publishing with Paperfilms

Johnson: I really got into them via toys. I started buying Micronauts as a kid, then one day at the drug store there was a copy of Marvel’s Micronauts No. 4. It blew my mind and I became hooked on everything Marvel – plus a huge Michael Golden fan.

So where did the idea for Pop Kill come from?

Palmiotti: I will let Dave answer this because it spilled out of his brain mostly. I was just called up to analyze it and clean the spill in aisle 3. 

Johnson: I’ve actually had the idea about “Cola Wars” for years. It always struck me as a funny concept being what if Coke and Pepsi being such a wholesome product, but secretly going after each other using extreme tactics. What’s not to love? Then a while back the rest of the story started to form and that’s when I decided I had to see it through. So I called up Jimmy and pitched him basically what you see in the story. Jimmy brought the humanity to it and the skill to make it way better.

Dave, anyone who’s seen your covers can see that you have a lot of ideas, that you’re often thinking about narrative, in how elements play off against each other. It’s a very different thing to write a comic, though. You wrote and drew a story for Batman: Black and White a few years ago, but have you written other comics? Or had much interest in it?

Johnson: Yeah, I’ve got quite a few story ideas in the vault that I’d like to see come to life. Some for TV, movies and comics. It is a different muscle though, one I’m not sure is fully developed yet. Plus I really dig collaborating with partners. Not sure if I’m a solo writer just yet.

We’ve seen the idea of battling companies or fights over soda before. As you two talked about this idea, what did you want to write, how did this idea develop?

Palmiotti: For me, the simple rule is you have to care about the main characters because no matter how fun and out there the idea is, if you do not relate to the leads, the book is dead in the water. The competing companies are only part of the big picture, as you will learn in issue 2. We are world building a place where spies and counter intelligence are mixed in with the world of soda pop. Dave had this idea and as we work on each issue, the idea grows and takes the reader in some wild directions along the way. 

Johnson: Agreed. What I brought to Jimmy was big picture stuff, and he brought the humanity.

Jimmy, you’ve run a number of Kickstarter campaigns for different graphic novels. Why did you decide to serialize the comic this way? 

Palmiotti: A couple of reasons. We knew we were going to be way over 120 pages with the story, so it made sense to do it in sections – or books – of four so we can pay everyone besides ourselves along the way. The other thing is a lot of comic fans like the episodic nature of the books, and the format. We decided to try it this way and see if we have any success. Most of the people have received the first Kickstarter books and have been super happy. With the second one running now, we hope to see how that influences this campaign. 

Jimmy, you’ve worked with Juan Santa Cruz a number of times over the years on different projects. Besides being just a talented artist, why do you like working with him, and what made him a good collaborator for this project specifically

Palmiotti: Juan is a fantastic storyteller that does not have a lazy bone in his body. He understands pacing, how important it is to build up the world around the characters, and does not shy away from reference and detail. He is everything I always want on a book at all times, but is hard as hell to find. Last, his artwork is beautiful – something you see in each panel. 

Johnson: Juan kicked ass.

The book is, on the one hand, very absurd and over the top and unrealistic, and it’s also very adult in different ways, and those two things don’t always go together. What interested you as creators in using those two extremes and playing with that contrast?

Palmiotti: Dave developed this idea for the story and had a decent structure put in place. When collaborating on stories like this, sometimes those things just jump out as a way to make the story pop a bit more (pun intended). Sometimes it works, other times, it might not. The fun is in the process of seeing where it might go with the story.

I think adult material should be all those things and more. Look, the big comic companies put out their rotation comics weekly – same characters fighting the same bad guys with creators each putting their own slant on the same characters over and over. They are done taking risks and are happier making their licensing generate money than the content in their books. They try, but restrictions are there. With something like Pop Kill, we do not have any of those boundaries to worry about and we push wherever we feel we would like to as we move the story and characters along. A reader has no expectations with our work other than quality and a good time, and I like to think we all deliver that. We are making comics for the people that are not 12, that have grown up and have sex, violence, love and humor in their lives, and want to see it in their reading material. 

What else are you working on now?

Palmiotti: We now have Pop Kill 2 on Kickstarter so I ask everyone please check it out. As well we are finally seeing Random Acts of Violence hit the small screen in video on demand, and we released a special edition of the book limited to 400 available at Last we have a 10-page story coming for Harley Quinn: Black, White and Red, coming soon from DC. 

Johnson: I am working on more writing projects that I can’t talk about yet. And I’m developing a new prime-time animated comedy show pitch. It’s a long shot, but it doesn’t hurt to try. And of course, more cover work where I can get it.

So just to close, what is the elevator pitch for Pop Kill

Palmiotti: Imagine a world where the two dominant and competing cola companies, each worth billions, are owned by former Siamese twins who are now separated and have grown to hate each other so much they hire assassins, saboteurs and espionage personnel to meddle with each other on a daily basis. This is the story about brotherly love run afoul, and the people they enlist to do their dirty work.

Johnson: Cola companies, espionage, assassins, fratricide and a love story.

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