Many, many moons ago as I was just getting my feet wet in comic book journalism, I got an email out of the blue from an established industry journalist asking me if a story I had written used something from a similar piece he had written unattributed. I explained I didn’t; he accepted my answer and a 10+ year partnership and what would become this very website was born.
Matt Brady hasn’t graced the virtual halls of Newsarama for a few years now. He’s too busy writing these comic books these days like Dynamite's Warlord of Mars. And he’s got a new one coming up from BOOM! Studios called The Big Con Job (Palmiotti and Brady's The Big Con Job officially. Hint: it’s a play on words). So yeah, some dude named Jimmy Palmiotti is co-writing and it’ll be illustrated by Dominike "Domo" Stanton.
In a weird circle of life sorta thing, I recently interviewed Brady and Palmiotti about their new series...
Newsarama: Matt, Jimmy – normally I'd introduce the concept in an intro but since I know Matt has done this literally thousands of times for this very site, I'm going to give him the honors. Explain what The Big Con Job is…
Matt Brady: It’s a story about a last shot. One last adventure. How pop culture has become so disposable as the machine churns on and hungers for the next new thing. It’s about conventions. It’s about respect, or rather, the lack of it. It’s about how much people can take before they’re pushed to do something that they would otherwise think of as insane. It’s…well, I’ll hand it over to Jimmy for something more specific….
Jimmy Palmiotti: This is a story about a bunch of the “b” actors doing the con circuit that realize their star is not shining as bright as it used to and they are finding it harder to make it day-to-day on signing autographs at conventions. An offer comes to them that promises to change their life for the better and this offer is to involve them in a caper to rip off the biggest convention in the world. Now, with anything like this, its all about the trip these characters take to get to the point where they feel a crime would be okay. The story is an emotional rollercoaster ride that I think just about anyone can relate to on some level…and in the end, a fun story to tell.
Nrama: Any interesting twists and turns along the way?
Palmiotti: Absolutely. We tried not to get too crazy and tried not to confuse the reader so the actual story itself is pretty linear in its presentation. When writing a bunch of interesting characters, their lives and how they act are all completely different, as are their experiences, so that alone sets a level of unpredictability up out of the gate.
Nrama: So I'm somewhat at an advantage because Matt, you and I use to IM each other 10 hours a day Monday through Friday, so I remember this concept goes back a few years in origin.
So for comic readers who think ideas are born and then are published as comics a few months later, can you give them some insight into the gestation of this project?
Brady: I’ve lost track of when the idea first came up and started being fleshed out. I know I was still a road warrior of the con scene, so that makes it at least nine years ago? Jimmy knew about it from the early, early days, and was a big supporter of it. But—like a lot of things, the time wasn’t quite right, so it went on the back burner for a while, which ultimately was good. I think the audience for a story about a convention grew larger as comic cons have grown from niche entertainment into these big pop culture events. There’s still some mystery about them to the average person on the street, but there’s a greater acceptance of the idea that these are kind of weird and fantastic places where stars are out in the crowd, people are in costumes, and just about anything could happen.
Nrama: Given the profile of the San Diego Comic-Con in Hollywood and the growth of the comic/genre con phenomena around the world in general, this concept seems ready-made for a movie adaptation.
Palmiotti: It used to be we would write about things so fantastic in comics that there was no way a film could ever be made, then came CGI and it changes the entire world. For this book, we do not need any CGI, or effects, so yeah, if someone was willing to make a film out of this, I think it would be easy, as is any character-driven novel or book. For us, all that matters right now is that it works for the comic book format, gets the reader involved enough to come back for more and at the end of the day they feel for the characters. All that other stuff is in someone else’s hands.
Brady: Yeah, as the noob-ish guy on this, I have to admit that I did go into it with grand ideas, and perhaps a few stars in my eyes about our story. And I know, I’ve been on the other side of this asking the question, thinking, “You’re going to say something about how the only thing that counts is the comic, blah, blah, blah…” But to be 100% honest, that’s true. Jimmy and I have talked about, laughed with, and fallen in love with these characters. These are our guys—this is where we can tell the story we want to tell with them. Like Jimmy said, everything else is in someone else’s hands. I’m not going to say things like that don’t cross my mind now and then, but those are the things you go nuts worrying about. Better to spend the energy and brain time writing the story you want to write.
Nrama: Is a big or small screen adaptation baked into the concept?
Palmiotti: I guess by the nature of the subject matter it is, but it’s not something we worry about when writing it. We tell the story exactly as we see it. Comics are a visual medium, so it makes sense people think this of any comic book.
Brady: Right. Like I said, going down that road leads to madness. My dream right now…well, to set it up: Our gang are washed-up stars of many different media properties over the years. So, in our story, we’ve had to show them in these old properties that we’ve created. They’re pastiches/satires/goofs on properties we all know and love. That’s what I’ve fallen in love with—I would kill to do a series of one-shots of our gang in their original series that made them famous, showing them in character and behind the scenes, too.
I keep going back to this I know, but anything else…right now, meh. I would love to be able to spend more time with them and seeing what they did before we “met” them.
Nrama: Most people who know what a modern comic book convention is probably can get a general idea who your main characters are based on, but if you're intimately familiar with the con circuit as we all and a lot of Newsarama readers are, you can't help but try to guess who their specific inspiration is.
Are you guys willing to name names?
Palmiotti: Never ask an Italian that. What I will say is they all have a familiar feel to them, right out of the gate, not only because of their career, but because we are adding human elements to the characters that anyone can relate to. They are in pain, feel loose, enjoy a drink and conversation, and are regular people that have had, at one time, extraordinary lives. They are types, but honestly, we aren’t saying who they are modeled after; I would rather the readers do that.
Brady: There was one “seed inspiration” that really got the ball rolling years and years ago, but that’s only known to me and a very small handful of people. And I’m never telling!
Nrama: If not, can you run down the characters and give readers a general sense of the archetype each character represents?
Brady: We had to be logical about who our characters were, otherwise our whole story wouldn’t work out. For example, we couldn’t use the A-listers of big properties, because if you think of those types in our world, they’re still doing okay. We had to use archetypes of the B-listers—so there’s the bombshell who’s still got it, the “logical guy” whose personal life is a mess, the practical effects guy who’s seen his work and craft move to CGI, a “costume guy,” and a couple of others, including a young hot star who’s going to be playing one of our guys in the upcoming big-screen relaunch of the property.
We’re not pointing at anyone specifically, but making amalgams that readers will find familiar.
Nrama: Who's each of your favorite character to write, and why?
Palmiotti: Hendrix, the fx guy, is a lot of fun. The guy is a bit of a nut and a flirt and I can see some of myself in him. I also feel for Blaze, because I know someone like her and can feel for someone that might have made a bad decision that never goes away, even with time.
Brady: I gotta say that I love Hendrix, too. He’s feisty, and probably our loosest cannon. He lost his right middle finger in a SFX accident years back, and holds his fist up at people when they annoy him, flipping them off with his “ghost finger.”
Nrama: Did you guys learn anything new and interesting about con circuit celebrities and the circuit in general while creating this concept?
Palmiotti: I have a few close friends that I have spent time with at conventions as their movie and TV guests, and I see a lot of what they do is not too far from what the comic people do, but they are treated much, much better…until they are not hot on the circuit anymore.
Brady: Having covered cons, I saw the side that the public didn’t really see, and I thought that was most of the full story, but Jimmy’s brought more into the story from his and his friends’ experiences that got me to raise my eyebrows. Cons are fun, but sometimes, you see that celebrity sitting at the table that never has a line…and your mind can start connecting some dots that draw a kind of not-so-happy picture.
Nrama: Jimmy, as a long-time and frequent convention goer, and Matt, as a former journalist who covered cons extensively, how much research went into this concept about cons in general? Were you guys able to get a true sense of how much cash gets exchanged on the floor during a 4 day period in like San Diego, for example?
Palmiotti: No, we did a lot of guessing and created some stuff that works in the story. We are making up the way they handle money and so on because we are not writing a “how to” book, we are writing a piece of fiction. That said, we have a blueprint of a fake layout we follow for the heist and have worked out the tech and so on, but knowing all this we don't go crazy with it, because this kind of stuff can drag a story down way too quick. We are here to entertain.
Brady: Right. We did start to play with some ideas that would work out, 100% in reality, but man, that just stopped being fun, like Jimmy said. It’s the same with a lot of stories: You need to take a break from strict reality, and tell a good story. And we were also walking a line—we want this to be happening in a world that’s recognizable to many fans, but at the same time, we don’t want to imply any kind of impropriety about cons, or, like Jimmy said, give anyone a “how-to-rob-a-con” manual.
Nrama: Your script is comedic and satirical and some of your potential readers might recognize themselves in this. Does the The Big Con Job require comic book readers/con goers to have a sense of humor about themselves?
Palmiotti: Everything I write asks you to stop taking yourself so serious at some point, because even under the worst stress, humor is a good thing to include in a story. It opens up the human and vulnerable side of a character. It’s like when I post horrible reviews of my work at times…I understand it has entertainment value on some level. The only thing the book asks is that you relax, enjoy, and read it.
Brady: Yeah, I think we’re being very respectful of the fans. Our gang isn’t blaming fans at all for how things are, and so we’re not looking to scapegoat them. But still, we all can get nutty in our fandom. Amanda’s cover with the cosplayers captures that perfectly.
Nrama: Jimmy, let me take a little detour for one sec to ask your opinion on the evolution of the modern, giant con. What are your thoughts on the marginalization of comic books at comic cons the last decade, especially at San Diego.
Palmiotti: It’s only natural as superheroes make their way into a bigger market with toys, TV, and movies. The conventions are catering to the fan base and it has amplified and cross-pollenated over the years and now these huge conventions are more multimedia cons and less about comics and in a way, I think it’s just fine. We have to find a new audience for comics all the time and the more people researching the source material, the more chance we can increase our readership. I think the cosplay and the interaction is just spectacular and we should embrace and make available our books while we have the attention. When cons get this big, we will see specific conventions following specific genres start appearing all over again and I think it’s all good. Sit back and let it ride, and do your best to take advantage of it.
Nrama: So is what's happened just the natural order of things, or can/should something be done to try to hold onto something?
Palmiotti: Hold on to what, specifically? I think change is a natural thing. Conventions have a commitment to offer up all kinds of things. As long as comic guests bring in people, they will invite them.
Nrama: I've given it some thought, and caper stories aren't really too common to graphic fiction (unless I'm missing something). Any reason you think the structure/conceit is uncommon for comic books.
Palmiotti: I think because they are a little difficult to tell. Without a time frame, the music and all that, the tension is harder for a writer to get across than any other medium. If you make it too complicated, you lose the reader. It’s all about balance and that's why I think it’s easier for other mediums to show.
Brady: Yup. When you think of capers, there’s a lot of information that you need the audience to know. I’m not saying that comics limit how well you can tell capers, but there were some times where I was wishing I had the open expanse of blank pages to fill with text to explain what was going on and how things were being set up.
Nrama: How'd you guys find translated the story to panel format? Was it a natural fit?
Brady: Once we outlined the story, I think both Jimmy and I found that the characters kind of took it and ran. I thought our problem was going to be finding enough story to fill the pages, but as Jimmy can tell you, these guys want to live and breathe on the page, and they just took the story and ran. Things got so weird, I outlined a whole issue that we didn’t need, because they were carrying the story along. That was a fun e-mail to send: “Hey Jimmy, I’m an idiot.”
Nrama: Okay then, here's where you get to make your last pitch. Make readers out of the people reading this interview – GO!
Palmiotti: Beautiful art, fun storytelling, and something you can read over and over make The Big Con Job a must-have for fans of the graphic medium. This is something different on a number of levels, so if you need a break from the usual two grown men in spandex flirting with each other by fighting, give The Big Con Job a shot.
Brady: Domo kills the art, that’s a fact. It’s a fun story that’s a fun underdog story while being set squarely in the world of fandom. It’s got characters that are real and fun, and it a recommended break from “everything else” that’s out there.
Wait…the fighting is really flirting? Oh, my….