Jimmy Palmiotti: The Outlaw Jonah Hex

By Darren Schroeder

For a character with such an ill-fated name, Jonah Hex has fared better than most western comics characters. Appearing first in short contributions to DC's western anthology All Star Western in 1972, the character has had his own continuing series, found himself in the 23rd century, fought zombies, vampires and other dead folk, and even taken possession of a super model. Now writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti with artist Luke Ross are bring him back after half a decades absence. SBC's resident Hex fanatic Darren Schroeder bushwhacked several other reporters to get a chance to chat with Jimmy Palmiotti about just who, what and when Hex might end up in his new series.

Darren Schroeder: In other interviews you've stated this was a character you had been wanting to get a chance to write for quite a while. What made Hex so appealing for you?

Jimmy Palmiotti: I love westerns... always have since I was a kid. I remember seeing The Outlaw Josey Wales in the movie theatre and going back the next weekend to see it again. It was my star wars... there is something so wonderfully basic with the themes of westerns that I really find appealing... the sense that people knew right from wrong and there was less of a gray line between them. Around the same time I started buying comics, the superhero stuff had become really done to death for me and I was looking for alternative reading... and found hex among titles like Conan and Master of Kung Fu. The genre stuff really appealed to me and with Hex, I loved that this guy had it so visually bad with the scar on his face, yet deep down he really was a fair person... he just had his way of handling business. I wanted to be that guy... but on the streets of Brooklyn.

DS: Were DC looking for creators interested in Jonah, or did you and Justin raise the idea?

JP: Actually, I have been asking for the character for a while, over and over, like a broken record. At the time, it was promised to another creator. When he decided he did not want to do anything with it, it became fair game again and I pitched again with Justin and we got the gig based on what we thought would be a good idea on how to handle the series.

DS: The comic reading audience seem to have greeted the news of a Hex series very positively, was that a surprise?

JP: Not really, because when you hang out with a lot of comic people, inevitably the subject of Jonah Hex comes up and the retailers I know also have a great love for the character. I knew it would get attention, but the real interest to me is if, in this day and age, an old fashioned western will have any staying power with the people buying comics now. Good stories told with great art will always sell... no matter what genre they happen to be. I think we will have an audience that will start out decently and grow as the book goes on. One look at Luke's art will have most people buying it monthly.

DS: Hex is one of the few western comic characters to succeed in the long term, what do you think the other characters lacked?

JP: I think that Hex is a fun character that isn't afraid of a fight... that and the scar make him stand out over other western characters. I personally love him because he is a nasty, mean son of a bitch that does the right thing in the most wrong way.

DS: How much of Jonah's back story are you and Justin inclined to stick with? Are things like his time travel experience (from 'Hex') and the more supernatural adventures from the vertigo stories worth tipping a hat to?

JP: Nothing from those will turn up in the book. The time travel thing was a horrible mistake in my eyes... and something that was done to get a new audience. The vertigo stuff, done by Joe Lansdale, a fantastic writer whom I am a big fan of, was tremendous, but that was his take on the character and I think it should stay that way. What Justin and I are doing is a more traditional western with horrific people doing some bad things to each other. The zombies and supernatural horror themes are going to be saved for another book maybe, but for the time being, its good old lead slinging. This book is being written the way we see it fit.

DS: What you think of the suggestion that Jonah is the Punisher without Kevlar.

JP: Lol... that was in our pitch... so I think it worked and got us the job.

DS: Whose artwork do you see in your minds eye I when you think of Hex?

JP: In my mind I see film, not artwork... but take one good look at Luke Ross and Jason Keith's work and tell me that isn't the most beautiful rendition of the west you have ever seen. We couldn't be more happy with Luke and Jason's work on this book

DS: Any chance of you doing some inking on this book?

JP: While we have Luke and Jason on the book, well... who needs an inker. I would love to draw a story down the line, but wanting and getting are two different things. I am just so happy to be writing this with Justin that I really am not thinking of anything else.

DS: Will there be any Hawkman references in the new title?

JP: There will be vultures where ever a dead body will be, that's about it. I think for now you will see other western characters but no superheroes.

DS: What sort of influence will the spaghetti westerns have on the series?

JP: How could they not have an influence... look at once upon a time in the west... one of my favorite movies and you see every classic theme... lost love, revenge and so on. They are a part of our culture so it's unavoidable... and that's a good thing. Really... all we care about is telling a good story and making the reader care about the characters.

DS: I saw in Telling Stories: The Comic Book Creators that you have buying up books on the west for research purposes. Which have you found most useful?

JP: Probably the time life series of hard covers called the old west... it's a collection of over 24 books that covers each and every fact about those times. We try to inject as much history in the stories that we can, especially the stuff no one remembers or ever heard about. I also bought a series of books and letters written between soldiers during the civil war to study the language as well... we are trying not to make the dialogue bad western clichés.

DS: If an actor was to play your Jonah Hex, who would you suggest for the role and why?

JP: Well, it’s obvious that Clint Eastwood comes to mind, but really, a perfect choice would be an unknown actor that can make the part his own... someone we have never seen before.

DS: Whose idea was it to have the very obvious Clint look to the Hex art for the series?

JP: I am guessing Luke's idea, but probably somewhere in the back of everyone's mind; the image of client has always been associated with the look and feel of the Jonah Hex series.

DS: Were any of DC's lawyers worried Clint might come gunning for the company?

JP: No idea really. Is the Ultimate Avengers line worried about Sam Jackson? Is Wanted worried about Eminem? I can do this for an hour... lol. I don't think this is a realistic problem.

DS: What's your opinion of the work Michael Fleischer did with Jonah Hex.

JP: My opinion is that I loved each and every issue and am glad that DC is going to collect them for the people that were not lucky enough to enjoy them the first time they came out. I have a ton of respect for the man, as well as being a huge fan of his work.

DS: What is the dynamic of the working relationship between you and Justin - do you sit around throwing ideas off each other or work on ideas separately and then merge them?

JP: We meet, talk, and take notes... write, call, instant message, and then bounce things back and forth. We really have a great synchronicity that enables us to get some great work done in a decent time frame because comics are monthly. Justin is really the brain behind the two of us... I'm more the general idea guy... we each have our own strengths and to tell the truth, I really enjoy the idea of working with someone else, since comics can be such an isolated job at times.

DS: How much do the stories develop in that exchange of ideas?

JP: A lot develops and a whole bunch of new ideas come out of our conversations as well... we have a lot of "what if" scenarios thrown about when we are together.

DS: So are there typical Justin moments and Jimmy moments in the work you collaborate on ?

DS: I guess Justin moments are unusual facts and knowledge about things and mine are the story structure and emotional things....we are both visual as hell, but I'm more of a color and mood guy... also, Justin has a terminator work ethic... he digs in and gets it done. I admire that.

DS: Recent events in the DC universe have brought the idea of continuity to the fore. As a creator trying to come up with entertaining comics, what is you view on how far a creator can go with pre-existing characters?

JP: Read Hawkman right now and it's as far as we want to go... I think it's harder to write pre-existing characters because of it. DC and Marvel are so wrapped up in it right now and the fans love it. They dictate what the books have in them almost every time. They have the deciding vote.

DS: Ever ridden a horse or fired a pistol?

JP: I have ridden horses... and go to a dude ranch twice a year... and I have fired all sorts of guns, mostly at targets and when I was younger, in the basement of a mobster I knew basement. That was the first place I fired a 357 magnum and a sawed off shotgun. Long story there, trust me... it's a graphic novel in the making.

DS: I live in a country (New Zealand) where gun ownership is very limited. Do you think that's a good thing or not, and why?

JP: I think there should be regulation on who gets guns and why they are getting them. I am really mixed on this subject because being American, I feel it is our right to bare arms, but at the same time, maybe an IQ test should be given or at the very least a training coarse to people who would like to purchase weapons. Either way, it has to be regulated. I am more afraid, on a daily basis, of all the ass holes and frustrated people driving S.U.V's and cars. That's a 2000 pound bullet they got by proving when they were 16 that they can park and read a red light. I am more afraid of bad drivers over guns any day of the week.

DS: Where do you look on the internet for news about what you're doing in the world of comics?

JP: About what I'm doing? Lol... I already know. I go daily to Paperfilms.com to check on events of the day. It is a sight featuring Justin, Amanda Conner and my work, as well as message boards. After that I hit a number of places including silver bullet... but they need to review my books more.

DS: We try! Do you read many reviews? Are they ever useful to a writer?

JP: Only when they are written by someone that does not bring their own personal baggage into the review and they are reviewing the individual book and not a whole run. I see many times the reviewer reviews the person and not the product. The other problem with reviewers is we cannot usually see their credentials... I think the literacy education online site has a great outline for reviewing books... Leo St Cloudstate, Book Review I suggest every writer creating reviews follow this outline closely.

DS: Message boards for fans: forums for intelligent discussions or an open invitation for uninformed babble?

JP: Both and both fun to read or get into the mix of. I mostly only post on our boards at Paperfilms.com. you wanna do either, come on by... Justin and I will answer almost anything thrown at us.

DS: How did you get into the comic business?

JP: Went to art school and wanted to write and draw comics... after 10 years of advertising, I got into comics doing backgrounds and worked my way up. It took a long time and I got in by doing good work and getting it in on time and not being a dick. It's the quality of the work that keeps you in this business.

DS: How's it treated you? Is it fun or a daily grind?

JP: The fans are fantastic, even the few that want me to die entertain me somewhat... the actual business is 20% work and 80% fun. Really... It's the best job in the world and I love doing it. Funny thing, just today I ran into a friend I have not seen since I was 14, and first thing he asked me was if I ever got to work in comics. Man, I consider myself really lucky to be working in a field like this. I knew what I wanted even back then.

DS: Can someone learn to be a writer, or is it all natural talent?

JP: Interesting... I think things can be learned, but along comes something like natural talent and that usually kicks learned talents ass. It has to come from within... and a good writer has to learn to listen, travel and have empathy by the truckloads. A natural talent just "does" his or her thing.

DS: Will folks be able to see you and Justin at any conventions in the near future?

JP: I will be at Megacon and hopefully wizard world la next... I am hoping to bribe Justin to take the trip with me... he only does one or two cons a year... which makes his fans nuts.

DS: Jonah Hex seems to have a pretty miserable life - people double cross him, his wife left him, his girlfriends get shot. What keeps him going in the face of all that?

JP: He likes to eat, drink, screw and kill. Each day ends with the sunset and I think Jonah starts each new day fresh... although he has that scar to remind him of his past. People back then did not act the same way people act now... I think Jonah is not the suicide or crybaby type. He deals with his problems and life like a real man should. When he feels real low, I guess he just goes out and kills less that day.

DS: Jonah Hex and the Lone ranger in a fist fight: who would win?

JP: Please... add Tonto and Jonah will still walk away holding a bottle and a smoking gun. Probably Jonah might get hurt from laughing at the Lone Ranger's costume... he may bust a rib.

DS: Thanks for taking the time to chat, much appreciated. Jonah Hex #1 ships to a comic store near you November 2, 2005, as does a telephone-book format collection reprinting 528 pages of Jonah's earliest appearances; Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex Vol. 1