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JIMMY PALMIOTTI walks us through 1970s NYC with BLONDIE: AGAINST THE ODDS

Updated: Mar 1

Andrew Irvin found the opportunity to sit down with industry veteran, Jimmy Palmiotti, to discuss their mutual fondness for Blondie and Jimmy's work on the recent Z2 release, Blondie: Against the Odds.

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Jimmy, I’d like to thank you both for joining the conversation around Blondie and this fantastic encapsulation of their contributions to the creative world. How’s 2024 been treating you both so far?



JIMMY PALMIOTTI: 2024 is going well for the both of us. After having a vacation towards the and of the year, we are ready, set, go! on all things work-wise. 



CBY: Glad to hear it! Blondie records have been part of my life since as far back as I can remember (my mom was a big fan), so the opportunity to cover Blondie: Against the Odds was met without hesitation on my part. Can you share your first experience with Blondie? What first song clicked with you, and where were you in your life when you first heard it?



JP: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York; the Midwood/east Flatbush area. When I was 16, I was going to the High School of Art and Design in New York and would stay after school and head out at night from there to run around the city. I met up with my older brother back in '77 and got to watch Blondie perform at Max’s Kansas city – a club that featured new bands and that’s when I first saw Blondie perform live. I had been listening to their record, X-offender, for a bit and wanted to see them up close and they lived up to my expectations. I loved the music and like everyone else, had an instant crush on Debbie. After that, I collected all their singles, albums and poster art as well as sported T-shirts with the band the rest of my life. Music was a big part of my life, and the scene was changing and I felt a real connections with bands like Blondie. I do remember that night a woman passed out in front of me towards the end of the gig and the security came to help and I got thrown out of the place. What happened is I JUST caught her from hitting her head on the ground and when she woke a few minutes later told security I grabbed her, and I told them I did because she was falling like a sack of potatoes, but they didn’t care. Out I went… and I listened to the rest of the gig at the bottom of the stairs outside. Fun times. 



CBY: While that would've been an enormous bummer at the time, it certainly livens up the story now! Now while I’ll admit your work hasn’t been an enduring part of my life since childhood in the way Blondie records have, you and Amanda have had a storied career in the comics industry over the past few decades, having worked on a variety of independent and Marvel/DC projects. How did you two end up signing onto this title with Z2 to encapsulate the biographical aspects of Blondie’s story?



JP: I remember talking to the fine folks at Z2 about what we would be interested in doing with them and I mentioned a couple of bands, Blondie being at the top of the list. I think the others were Madonna and Bjork. They told us that they were in talks with Blondie's managment at the time and we waited for the call back when it all came together. Being such a diehard fan, and wanting to always do something different, we were super stoked. 



CBY: Oh, I'd definitely love to see a book about Bjork and The Sugarcubes! Blondie: Against the Odds has obviously been the result of a broad collaborative effort, with various writers and artists joining the team to contribute comics for the “Songs of Blondie” section of the anthology. With over a dozen people involved in the story’s production, can you provide some insight into the working arrangements? How much back and forth dialogue took place once you’d delivered the initial script, and when did the editorial and final design process allow you both to step back? 



JP: I’d been talking on and off with Chris Stein on Twitter and when the job came along, I asked Chris if we could pick his brain to fill in details I didn’t have telling the story of how they came together. Initially. the story we were writing was going to be much bigger, but doing a story of just listing their gigs and such was not what we wanted. We talked about a lot of different things and then we pitched the beginnings of the band - the not so secret origin and how we can use the format of comic art and storytelling to build on what people already know about them. How people from different walks of life meet and form something that has a huge impact on the world is always interesting. Once we agreed on a focus, A lot of reading and research took place and at that point we were getting to work. The initial script we sent in was approved by Z2 and then they ran it by the band and their representation and all was green lit. A ton of respect was put into every single page and panel and I think they got that as we tried our best to capture a special time and place, making New York City the third main character in the story. 


CBY: Seeing how cultural impact catalyzes in specific moments is definitely always interesting. Given both of your ample experience as illustrators, what led to Montos coming on board as illustrator for your story in Blondie: Against the Odds? Was it an issue of scheduling and time commitment? What considerations went into the division of labor?



JP: Out of the gate, Amanda told the crew that she is terrible at doing likenesses and we thought it would be better to have us focus on the writing and let someone else illustrate the story. Amanda nailed a beautiful cover for the book that everyone loved so we did get that out of her. Our first choice for drawing the story had to bow out after coming down with Covid that kicked his ass for a long while…much longer than most, so we were off to find someone else. Z2 presented some of the work of Montos to us to see if we thought he would be a good fit. The guy is just amazing and knows how to use the references we included in our crazy script and as the pages came in, we were blown away. He did an amazing job that is a stand-out for the book. He is super creative, followed the script to perfection, and took the visuals to a place that would make the 70’s proud. He had just the right look and grit to make it sing and he did. In my opinion, he was the perfect artist for the job. 



CBY: Given the formation of Blondie around the relationship between Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, it seems like it would be hard to find a more appropriate analogue in the comics industry than the two of you, who have deep ties to NYC and have worked together professionally for decades. Stein and Harry may have romantically separated beyond their roles in Blondie, but the two of you are successfully matrimonious. As a husband who occasionally collaborates with my wife on work, I’m curious, what sort of perspective are you able to share around work-life balance and the ways in which you partition your professional and personal lives?



JP: Amanda and I are in love. We like a lot of the same things for different reasons and really enjoy our job and people. We both are outgoing and have learned over the years how to communicate better and better with others and especially between us. The key is speaking up in both good and bad times and making sure the other person understands when issues arise and deal with them together. Amanda and I are really different people in so many ways, but that only makes the actual work unique. We challenge each other a lot and it only make what we do better and better. We were fascinated with Chris and Debbie and what the attraction was and it was a lot of the same things…music and art and a need to entertain people. We totally get that and although not on their massive level, we hope - with the art we do - we can make people’s lives a tiny bit better with our work. For Amanda and me, time together having fun and exploring always comes before the actual gig. When we were writing Harley Quinn for years for DC and it became a monster and took over our lives, we had to stop at some point because we saw it was going nowhere good.  Realizing this ahead of a breakdown is super important. Any relationship is a balance, but between artists it takes extra care. 



CBY: Thanks for sharing some of the personal details - it's all very astute and useful advice to take into account in my own life, for sure. Blondie was groundbreaking in a variety of ways, genre-busting, creating a space where Debbie Harry was able to reshape expectations around punk, pop, rap, and achieve a level of commercial/cultural break-through to the mainstream that contemporaries like Siouxsie and the Banshees, X-Ray Spex, Lydia Lunch, and other female-fronted punk bands weren’t quite able to match. In examining their history while researching this project, what did you discover that set them apart from the rest of the crowd, and what lessons from Blondie have proven relevant to your perspective on the creative industries since writing this story?



JP: Everyone you mentioned at one point could have just tried to do other things - safer things - but the music scene was evolving and demanded artists experiment and try new things and new ways to communicate their message across…and it was fucking contagious. There were times I would go to CBGB’s and watch six different bands a night that had crazy names and a wild sound. Music that was nothing like any other, inspired by their own childhoods and it was great! I would ‘discover” new music and talk to the bands after, buy them drinks, buy their singles and cassettes and t-shirts and get their Xerox gig lists of where they will be playing next. The music and the bands themselves were accessible…you were able to talk to them, pick their brains and would feel their music connect with you. I was at the right age where I wanted to get drunk, smoke weed, listen to loud music, hook up with girls and have wild sex… and I did. Life felt more dangerous, and I wanted music that understood my needs and wanted to give my life and adventures a soundtrack and the punk rock/new wave scene gave me exactly that in so many ways. 


Blondie started with a 50’s rock n' roll vibe and kept changing with each and every recording, and I was there for the ride. They wore their influences on their sleeves and for guys like me, I would love every minute. So much attitude, so much aggression, and those hard driving beats sucked everyone right in. Watching the band up there nail every beat and then Debbie the goddess work the audience was like nothing I have seen before or since. Writing their story opened my eyes to the fact that their secret origins were a lot like mine and the need to get out of the life I was living for something bigger, something more exciting and creative and to go for my dreams. I relate to so much of their story and it doesn’t hurt the surroundings were the same. I grew up minutes away from where Chris enjoyed his insane childhood and when we spoke, we had a blast reminiscing about familiar people and places. In the end, it was like telling the story of two people I knew personally in my circle, and Amanda and I had a blast doing it. 



CBY: You and Amanda have contributed in significant ways over your careers to strengthening depictions of women in comic media (Painkiller Jane, Harley Quinn, Captain Marvel, Vampirella, etc.), but unlike the figures you’d tackled previously, Debbie Harry is a living, breathing icon, and Blondie has a multi-platinum intellectual property brand of its own - what was the experience like ensuring depiction of their history fit within the legacy they wanted to share with the world? How did you two, Z2, and the band’s representation work through the process of focusing on the moments that mattered most? How did Harry’s memoir, Face It, and other reference material come into play?



JP:  Debbie’s memoir really helped frame her state of mind and how she viewed the world so much and talking to Chris helped us also understand where he was coming from and the roots of both their childhoods and what caused them to go the way they did to hunt down the artistic part of their souls. Chris and I grew up in the same neighborhood, myself years later, both absorbing a steady diet of movies, TV and comic books and same with Debbie, where comics were important escapes…so much so, later in life their adventures were represented in a comic book format in their Mutant Monster Beach Party comics in Punk magazine with stories told in comic panels using Photos that Chris took. That wonderful man has an amazing eye.  

When we write and at times create female characters in comics like Painkiller Jane or Triggergirl and The Pro, we are coming from a place where women are the heroes, simple as that. All the women in my life are strong and I live in a world where women are take control badasses. A very big part of that is having control over their sexuality and not being ashamed to ask for what they want. People like Debbie Harry were totally the inspiration for so many of our characters…and how could she not be? Just look at Harley Quinn's outfits - totally inspired by Debbie’s look. Painkiller Jane's attitude is all her…and so on. Getting to write about them was a true gift and also nailed down to us that yeah, they had a huge influence on us and pop culture and what better way to celebrate than to put together this story for the crew at Z2. What we did with the story is try to find the key moments that defined the people and the drive of their art. In the end, I hope we nailed it. Only Chris and Debbie could tell us for sure. 



CBY: So with Blondie: Against the Odds on the shelves, what else are both of you working on? I know you have Paper Films, where projects are underway. Anything you’d like our readers to keep an eye out for in the coming months? Is there further collaboration with Z2 or other publishers to watch for in 2024? 



JP: I have a new Kickstarter we put together called FANTASIMA that is live - a 3-issue story about a brother and sister separated by a disaster at a young age. It’s a jungle girl type of story happening in South America and its epic in every way. I do about three campaigns a year and this book took me and the artist Pier Brito about two years to finish. Here is the link if anyone wants to learn more: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/creatorownedheroes/fantasima

Other than that, Amanda is working on a creator-owned book and a wall of covers while I am writing a series that comes out in fall for Todd McFarlane called Deadly Tales of the Gunslinger that takes place in the 1860s. Other than that, I am working on a screenplay and some other fun things I cannot talk about yet, but it’s always a revolving door of stuff at our home. We love what we do. 


CBY: It shows! Thanks for letting us know what we have to look forward to in the coming months. Having seen the industry evolve since the late 80’s/early 90’s, where would you like to see things go in the decades to come? How would your advice to those starting in the comics industry now differ based upon the ways it has shifted in your midst?



JP: I want to see fewer companies and more creators doing their own thing. Creator-owned over company-owned is the future, and as the audience matures, I would like to see the material keep up a bit better. My war cry has always been Sex and Violence and Rock n' Roll, and I think the industry needs a bit more of that these days and to try their best to ignore the world around them and just write what you feel and draw what you want. I hope for an industry that also celebrates the artists and writers that are still with us and rather than turning their backs on them, to go out of their way to embrace them. I would also like to see the industry as a whole grow up and treat their talent like adults and not look at it as paying people to continue their hobby. Respect is a word that comes to mind. I have a lot more to say about the field, but honestly, I spend my time controlling what I do and try to lead by example.  



CBY: All helpful perspective to take into further work! And now, unrelated to Blondie, what should our readers check out that has been catching your attention lately? What other comics (or music, film, art, etc.) should everyone make sure they check out?



JP: I buy a lot of music, mostly trying things others recommend. On my play list is Jain, The Pretenders, Burt Bacharach, Harry Styles, Lana Del Ray, Cocteau Twins, John Dokes, Die Antwoord, and a lot of movie soundtracks because I listen to them when I write. My tastes for music are all over the place. TV and film - I cannot recommend enough Poor Things and FARGO the series - any season, but start at the first. I am also enjoying Festival of the Living Dead by the Soska Twins, this should be out soon. As far as comics go…my pull list is all first issues… I give it all a try. Since my office is in a comic shop, I really stay on top of things. I back a lot of crowdfunding books, so I am averaging about one a week these days on that front. 


CBY: Thank you, Jimmy, for making time to discuss this wonderful encapsulation of the tale of one the bands I remember most fondly from my childhood. Beyond the Z2 page where readers may purchase the graphic novel, please let us know any other publication, portfolio, or social media links you’d like everyone to check out!



JP: For Amanda and I - PAPERFILMS.COM


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