Exclusive: Writer of Batman and Harley Quinn Talks New Comic Series About Minimum Wage Superheroes

Saturday, 09 January 2016 - 1:42PM
DC Comics
Saturday, 09 January 2016 - 1:42PM
Exclusive: Writer of Batman and Harley Quinn Talks New Comic Series About Minimum Wage Superheroes
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James Patrick is a guy whose had the chance to write some pretty big characters over his career as a comic book author. He told the tale of Harley Quinn making a Valentine's Day breakout from Arkham Asylum to spend the most romantic day of the year with her puddin' in 'Joker's Asylum: Harley Quinn.' He went back to Batman's roots as a detective with his one shot story in 'Batman Confidential.' He also wrote some of the very last issues of 'Green Arrow' before the New 52 reboot in 2011. Basically all of his work has been very positively reviewed, and so when news hits that he's started up a brand new publishing company and is working on a brand new line of books, comic fans should definitely listen up.

Patrick recently met up with us to give us the scoop on how his company, 21 Pulp, began as well as details about his brand new critically acclaimed series, Hero Hourly - a story about a college graduate who can't find a job in today's market, thus being forced to take a minimum wage job as a superhero. He also talks a bit about his past experience writing for DC as well as his feelings on some upcoming comic book films, like Deadpool and Suicide Squad. Check it out:  

When exactly did you start 21 Pulp?

21 Pulp started, I would say, a year and a half ago? Maybe two years ago? But it started off as just an idea at Buffalo Wild Wings. We had some people who were interested in making comic books, and they asked me if I would be interested in starting a comic book company. And I told them, 'I don't know if I want to start a company, I'm a writer more so than anything else.' But, you know, we ended up doing a few things and it evolved and now I run the company. But I don't own the company, so to speak, by myself. There's a group of us and we've been slowly building it into what it is now.  

You have a bit of experience in the comic industry.

Yeah, yeah. I've written Batman, I've written Green Arrow, I've written Harley Quinn, I've written Angel, I've written Star Trek. I did a book called 'Death Comes to Dillinger' which did really well and broke me into the industry. I did 'Hero by Night' with D.J. Coffman, which was a fairly popular book for a while. And, you know, I've worked for Kevin Smith on some things. He had something called Movie Poop Shoot, and my first real gig was working there providing content for that website. So, you know, I've been doing this a while and I've had some experience, yes.

Are the other writers and artists for 21 Pulp going to be people who've worked in the industry before as well?

Yeah, you know it's other people's stuff that we like. We'll slowly integrate them in. Right now we have enough material just to get a feel for the market - and that's what we're doing more than anything is just getting a feel for the market. Because, it's an animal, you know? We're learning how to do sales, we're learning how to do marketing. It's one thing to go out and write a comic - it's another thing to go out and market, sales, and there's distribution and there's all this stuff you have to learn. I have a lot of experience in a lot of that stuff, but it's a lot to shoulder. We want to learn what we're doing first, and we're having a slow roll out right now.

Is Hero Hourly pretty much the first big publication 21 Pulp has done?

We had a book about six, seven months ago, it's called 'The Monsters of Jimmy Crumb.' It did OK, and it was like our test - we learned a lot. Hero Hourly was our first book though that we marketed correctly and did sales correctly. It appeared in subscription boxes, and it appeared in Diamond and comixology. 'Monsters of Jimmy Crumb' did too, but it wasn't in as many places. But we learned what we were doing, we learned sales and things like that. We got it to more people - and you know, it's done really well for us.  

It sold out of Previews and got a staff pick, right?

We sold out of Previews the first run, and the trade was just in Previews as a staff pick. It's got a lot of great reviews and stuff, and we couldn't be happier. But you know - and I always say this - that's what we're supposed to be doing, and that's the plan. We're not supposed to go out there and not make an impact, we're supposed to go out there and make an impact. Because if we go out there and we don't make an impact, then why are we doing this?

So you came in kind of expecting for Hero Hourly to do well.

Expecting is a strong word, because you never know. But it's planned, and I'm not going to celebrate when things go well and when things go according to plan, I'm gonna be disappointed when they don't go according to plan. But I'm not going to throw my hands up when they go according to plan. But no, it wasn't a surprise either. I mean, I've had some success. 'Death Comes to Dillinger' was optioned for film, some of my stuff is pretty well received critically. So, that's why those people picked me and if I don't live up to that, if I don't know what I'm doing, then I'm failing. So there is a level of expectation that's brought upon me and I welcome it. I'm not going to celebrate when we do things we're supposed to do though.

When was your first comic published?

I think 1999 or 2000? I did a little self published book called 'Crackers.' I was like 'I'm gonna try this out and see how it goes.' It did well review wise. Like it did really well review wise, and that gave me confidence. From that, I went in to do some work for a friend called 'Superhero Happy Hour.' It was a famous book for a while. I did that, and then I went into IDW for a little bit and did some Star Trek and Angel. And like one thing led to another, and then I did 'Death Comes to Dillinger,' and that got me into DC. That's when I did Batman, Green Arrow, stuff like that. It's been years, but it's all led through.

What was your favorite DC book to work on?

The one Batman story that I did. It was really well received - I got emails from some big name creators on it. It got me to do the other stuff. It was Batman Confidential #49 - it's a one shot - and it takes place in Batman's head (well, it doesn't take place in his head, but I mean there's an internal monologue) and he figures out clues so it's like Sherlock Holmes. He's basically running the crime through his head and he figures out the crime, it's like real time. I consider it to probably be one of my best pieces of work and it's been really well received - it still pops up on lists of essential Batman reading and stuff like that. So I'm pretty proud of that.

You've had the chance to write characters like Batman, Harley Quinn, and the Joker. From the perspective of someone who's actually gotten to write these characters, what's your thoughts on the upcoming DC film, Suicide Squad?

I love it! I can't wait to see it. Because, you know, the comic book movies are awesome, but we've had so many - and I don't mean straightforward [comic book movies], because Marvel, they dissect their comic movies into different sub-genres. Like Ant-Man is a heist film and all this stuff, so we get all these layers and all these different things with Marvel movies. But you're seeing these anti-superhero comic book movies come out like Deadpool and Suicide Squad - and the timing is right, there's a reason for that, but the timing is right, and when that happens, I just think it's gonna hit well. I really do. I think Kick-Ass was like 5 years ahead of its time, and I think if Kick-Ass was coming out, it'd do much better now, because it's like this cause and effect. We've had these comic movies for a while, and now we're going to get these anti-superhero comic movies, like Deadpool and stuff. And the world is just gonna fall in love with Harley Quinn. They're already in love with Harley Quinn! They're gonna fall in love with her more.

With Hero Hourly, there's a bit of social commentary going on - a university student graduates but can't find a job with his college degree. Is this social commentary something that's integral to the book, or is it just a fun starting point that people can relate to?

I had an initial spark for a story, and it was like 'what if being a superhero was a minimum wage job?' OK, so that's the spark, that's the concept, that's what they might call the hook. But the story is, what happens when everyone in your whole life tells you you're awesome, you're wonderful, and you go through life believing that? You get good grades or whatever and you're entitled and you're told 'Ah, you're wonderful!' Maybe your parents are rich and they send you to college and all this stuff and then…Boom! You find out you're not special. That's what made me write the book, you know? The hook is cool, but it's the story that makes you really want to read the book. The hook gets you in the door, and then the story hopefully does the rest. And the interesting thing about Hero Hourly is if there's a sequel, there'll be another story, there'll be another thing like that. It won't be about entitlement, but maybe it'll be about taking responsibility for your actions or something else. There's a difference between the hook and the story.

So Hero Hourly could end up being more of an ongoing thing?  

Yeah, we did really well, and right now we're going to see if there's a sequel. Reviews, response, and sales went well, and again these subscription boxes are really helping us right now to get a starting point for us. We managed to get some nice ones, and so we've seen success on different levels as a young company, and that's one level that's in right now. If we can sustain those things, I think there will be a sequel for Hero Hourly.

So what about your upcoming book Imposter? Where did the idea for that come from?

There was an idea that I had a long time ago and it was called 'Pulp City.' I think I had the idea after seeing Dark City. Just imagine if [the way things are in] comic books was every day life, and you've got this adventure character and he's in there at the bar, and they just all live in this city. Somehow it crawled into Imposter - and Imposter is so far from that, but still there were some seeds in there, there were some details about Pulp City that ended up growing into Imposter. What if there was one guy that was every single hero who ever existed and something happened to him and a different guy had to take over? Again, that's the hook. But what sold me on the book was, what would that many lies, that many illusions, and that much deceit do to a person to maintain all those ruses? If you had to maintain all that, think of the relationships you would burn, all that stuff. That's what we're going to be writing about. That's Imposter. On the surface, one man is every single hero who ever existed. Underneath it? What kind of destruction does that do to a person and to their relationships and everything around them?

There's a bit of passing of the torch - a Batman to Dick Grayson sort of thing - but this character's not just getting one new role, he's getting every superhero role there ever was put on him at the exact same time.

Exactly, exactly. I almost spoiled it! I forgot we were having an interview - I was about to be like "Yeah, and then when he -" OK, nevermind. Haha!

 You also have a book lined up called 'The TV Dinner Assassinations.'

David Chapman assassinated John Lennon. Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated JFK. If you look at these guys, they're not sane. They hear voices. So TV Dinner Assassinations is about what if you went along with one of these people on an assassination and what if the stuff that they heard - the little people in their head or the fact that they thought they were getting their orders from the back of a TV dinner - what if it was all true? What if there was a secret organization out there sending signals through TV dinners, like on the back, in the ingredients and stuff like that? And the framework, of course, is that they go on an assassination. It's somebody that discovers this world.

If you had the chance to take another shot at another DC or Marvel story sometime in the future, would you take it?

I'm getting caught up on a lot of stuff right now, and right now I am going back and doing some work for hire. I was at the comic shop today picking up some stuff do some research. So we'll see, you know. I haven't been at some of the companies for a while, but they've been pretty receptive.

There's a lot of readers out there who stick only to the big name brands like DC or Marvel. If you were able to tell them one thing to convince them that indie work like Hero Hourly was really worth the read, what would you say?

I'd give them the hooks. And the hook [for Hero Hourly] is 'imagine if superheroes got paid minimum wage.' And hopefully we've made a strong enough product that that gets them in the door. Our number #1's aren't coming with 20 years of continuity. When people have read our books so far, they've been pretty happy.

So there you have it! Everything that 21 Pulp has put out so far has been fantastic and it definitely has a real tendency to make readers want to pick up the next issue as soon as they can. Hero Hourly #2, which is every bit as brilliant as issue #1, comes out this week. Likewise, Imposter is due out in early February with another great title, Jetpack Jump, following sometime after. There's a whole lot more that 21 Pulp has in store, though, so make sure to check in at their website to keep up with their upcoming titles as well as to snag a copy of Hero Hourly. 

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