DC Comics Amanda Conner Talks About Her Work, Fantasy-Casting Power Girl, and Being a 'Woman in Comics'
Conner has worked on everything from Archie to Before Watchmen
Amanda Conner has had a long and fruitful career working in comics. She’s been a part of titles ranging from Archie to Power Girl, and has tackled iconic characters like Watchmen‘s Silk Spectre (for the prequel series Before Watchmen) and Batman villain Harley Quinn along the way. Conner‘s latest, Harley Quinn Annual #1, will be hitting shelves October 29. PEOPLE sat down with Conner to talk about her career, who she’d want to play Power Girl in a film adaptation, and what it’s like to constantly be a “woman in comics.”
What was your first illustration job?
My first illustration job was in 1988 with Marvel Comics, a small, 11-page backup story. Then I actually moved into advertising work after that before returning to comics. Both of my parents are artists. My dad had actually wanted to do comics when he grew up, but that was sort of frowned upon when he was a kid, and he went into advertising. So I ended up going sort of sideways from comics to ad work and back.
You’ve named Joe Kubert and Frank Miller as inspirations. Who else did you like growing up?
One of my favorites was Wendy Pini. She’s the illustrator and creator of Elf Quest, and I remember when I was growing up, when I was in class, I would just read Elf Quest books instead of paying attention. Chuck Jones is another one of my heroes, and also Hilary Knight, who illustrated Eloise.
You worked on Archie a little bit as well. What did you think about their recent decision to have the character die?
Victor [Gorelick, Editor-in-Chief of Archie Comics], who I used to work with when I worked on the title, gave me one of the books recently, and it wasn’t the death of Archie book, but it was the zombie one and it was just so weird! Because it was so different from the Archie I grew up with. But I haven’t seen the death of Archie one yet, because – and this is kind of a bummer – I’ve been so busy working that I hardly ever get time to read anything anymore. I have this giant stack of comics just sitting there going, “Read me” while I work.
Between Power Girl, Harley Quinn and Watchmen, you’ve come to a lot of characters with big, built-in, very vocal fanbases. Is that daunting? How do you cope with it?
I just try to show the characters a lot of love. Each character has their own very distinct voice, and I try and work with that and amp that up. I think when you read a character and really know a character before you start working on it, you get a feel for it. And that’s sort of how I approach things.
Comic book fans can be touchy about their favorites.
I can relate to it, though. I grew up reading comics, and you develop an idea of the character’s voice and personality when you read. So as a creator, you want to play up that and enhance it.
You wrote in the foreword of Before Watchmen that it “turned me into an a––hole.” How was it a difficult title to make?
That book was really fun, but it was also really grueling. There were people that were angry I said yes to the job, and I also sunk myself really deeply into the title. I remember getting really obsessive with it, and sometimes obsession makes for good work, but it doesn’t make for a good person. I remember about midway through that title, my husband, Jimmy Palmiotti, said, “I feel like I don’t have a girlfriend anymore, I just have a roommate.” So the lesson I took from that was to try and be a little more balanced now.
There’s a character in Harley Quinn that’s obviously Glenn Danzig, and there’s a Frank Sinatra-type villain in Before Watchmen. Do you try and put referential characters like that in every title?
Sometimes I do like to match up characters with friends of mine or characters from pop culture or real people, mostly because it’s fun. And it’s a good way to get a character’s voice. It’s a good way to jump-start that process.
Your locations are rendered very vividly, with 1960s-era San Francisco in Before Watchmen and Coney Island in Harley Quinn.
Jimmy and I used to live in Brooklyn, and that’s why Coney Island is so detailed in that book, because we used to go there every week and get hot dogs at Nathan’s. Jimmy actually grew up in Brooklyn – born and bred – so he has the area indelibly burned into his brain. I’ve been to San Francisco a lot, because I have family there, and when I was drawing the book, I was able to call two of my aunts who moved there in 1973 and just pick their brains about what it was like.
You also draw a great acid trip.
That’s ironic, because I’ve never done acid myself!
What dream character would you like to write or draw for next?
That’s tough. There’s so many. I haven’t done Catwoman yet, and I think she would be a blast. But I would also love to do some of my creator-owned titles, too. I’m lucky in that I’ve gotten a lot of work, but it does keep you from your own stuff.
Which DC character would you most want to see on the big screen?
I would love to see Power Girl go to the big screen! And I don’t know how much I’m supposed to talk about this, but I think that Kaley Cuoco would make a great Power Girl. If you look at her facial expressions in Big Bang Theory, I think she looks just like Power Girl! It’s great.
In interviews, you’re very matter-of-fact about being a “woman in comics”. Do you ever feel pressure to act as a kind of spokeswoman or role model?
I don’t know if it’s pressure, as much as it’s … I wish I had a dollar every time I got asked to do a “women in comics” panel or appearance. I’m always like, “Why does it necessarily have to be separate?” Though I guess right now, I guess it does have to be separate, because it’s still not as common as, say, women in banking, or women in banking. But I’m sure that 10 years down the line, it’s not gonna be “men or women in comics.” It’s just going to be, “Here are people who you love who do comics.”
I guess my attitude mostly comes just my parents bringing me up like, “Yeah, you can do that! Sure.” They never really said, “You might have a tough time because you’re a girl,” they just said, “Okay, you wanna do that? Do that. ”
What’s it like working so much with your husband?
Well, we get to spend a lot of time together! And my husband says all the time, “Writing is not when you sit down at the keyboard and start typing. It’s done throughout the day, when you see something that grabs your imagination, that makes you think of a story.” And he’s really good at getting me out of the house – because I end up being a little bit work-obsessed – he’ll come up and go, “Okay, it’s time for lunch.” And we’ll get out and start talking, and I end up taking notes, and that’s what leads to the best work. It’s worked really well, because we get to spend more time together now.