As notorious gunslinger Jonah Hex hits theaters in June, writers of the monthly Jonah Hex comic are making sure fans of the film can keep enjoying the character's adventures.
Jonah Hex #56, being released on June 2nd, reiterates Jonah's origin story while also telling new adventures about the Western anti-hero by the book's co-writers, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.
The two writers launched the comic back in 2005, surprising readers with its gritty yet compelling stories of the harsh realities of the Old West. And in an age when most DC comic books that aren't about superheroes live short lives – particularly one in an unusual genre like Western – this Jonah Hex series is approaching five years of continuous, monthly publication.
And the series shows no signs of stopping its record, as it continues to attract top level artists and earn rave reviews.
The series will likely receive even more attention after June 18th, when Warner Bros. releases the Jonah Hex film starring Josh Brolin as the title character, with Megan Fox and John Malkovich.
And Jonah Hex gets even more love in July when Batman: Under the Hood comes out on DVD with an animated short featuring the Western character, a story that is based on a story Palmiotti and Gray wrote for the comic series.
Newsarama spoke with Palmiotti and Gray about the comic, the animated DVD story, and the movie and what comes next for Jonah.
Newsarama: Justin and Jimmy, the Jonah Hex #56 solicitation tells the character's origin story again. Is the hope to have this be a jumping-on point for people who see the movie and want to grab the comic?
Jimmy Palmiotti: At first it was going to be an oversized issue, then that got changed on us and we figured we'd have some fun with the issue and format anyway…so we got Darwyn Cooke to do the cover and we did two eleven page stories on the inside. One is illustrated by Phil Winslade and the other by C.P. Smith. Overall, there is a lot in this single issue and I think, yes, it’s as a good jumping-on point as any. We try to treat all the issues this way all the time. Fifty-four issues in and we are still trying to hook the casual reader.
Justin Gray: We have a pair of short stories and one of them takes place right after Hex’s father abandons him in the custody of the Apache while he continues on in search of gold. It shows the progression of Hex’s teenage years as a slave and a strange ritual that earns him the respect of the tribe. It also earns the ire of Noh Tante, the chief’s son who hates him.
Palmiotti: The other is about an elderly woman who hires Jonah to protect her in case some people buying her land get out of hand. The story itself deals with some historical legends in a way and makes for another interesting tale.
Nrama: You guys used to do a lot of done-in-ones with the comic, but have also been building upon recurring characters and stories lately. Will that trend continue?
Gray: Yes, we tend to loop back to threads we started in past issues, but the idea is to continue making these one issue tales and weave them together rather than following a traditional serialized format. I think it keeps the book open and accessible, but gives long time readers a sense of cohesiveness in the book.
Palmiotti: On some level, the readers like some familiar characters to show up from time to time, like Tallulah and Starman and such and we like to give the readers what they want. There are issues where we see they have some connection to issues that came before them, but we're careful not to confuse a new reader, so we make sure it's easy to grasp on all levels first.
Nrama: You're coming up on the five-year anniversary of when you two started writing Jonah Hex. Did you ever think the comic would last this long and influence a major film release?
Palmiotti: Nope… no way… never in a million years!
I still remember bugging Dan DiDio about the property and honest, until Hex, we never wrote a series that got past the 12-issue mark. So that was one thing.
Another was that for 54 months, the title has never shipped late and never not shipped outside the first week of the month – something that’s been done with Countdown and 52, but we are at the 54-week mark and we are proud of it.
As far as influencing the film, we are happy about that, but honest, it’s a character created by John Albano and Tony Dezuniga and not us, so we are proud to continue the tradition, leave our mark and such, and yes, happy to put it back to the spotlight to get picked up as a feature. But our legacy will be the characters we created along the way like Tallulah Black and Starman. We hope to be given a chance to do more with those characters down the line.
Gray: That’s always been the joke. We didn’t expect the book to last 12 issues, and since then, we’ve been doing the seemingly impossible by keeping a Western rolling along. It's very exciting that there’s a film. We both hope it does well not only for Jonah Hex, but for everyone involved and the Western film genre.
Nrama: Looking back at the last five years of stories, what has stood out to you about the stories you've told? Have you done what you thought you'd do with the comic, or has it kind of taken on a life of its own?
Palmiotti: It totally has taken on a life of its own, and that’s awesome. At one point when starting, I kept thinking if the book goes on for a while, what would we do story wise? And now that’s a joke. We have so many stories to tell about our favorite bounty hunter that we actually almost work a year in advance of publication. I never imagine I would have 6 trade books on the shelve with Jonah Hex , featuring our writing. It is a dream come true and as always, I thank D.C. entertainment for making it happen.
Gray: What stands out initially is the great artists we’ve had the pleasure of working with, very talented people with wildly varying styles, which happens to be another phenomena with Hex. All we set out to do was deliver a quality comic on time every month. You know, keep our heads down, do the work, tell interesting stories and love the job.
Nrama: You guys have certainly attracted a lot of top-level artists. Why do you think so many artists are drawn toward Hex?
Palmiotti: Well first, they owe me some favors. Others, we have photos. And last, a lot of artists need a break from the same old superhero routine and really get a thrill in digging in for an issue and getting to illustrate a good, classic, Western comic. It never ceases to amaze me the level of talent we get approached by asking to do an issue.
Gray: Everyone has different reasons for joining us on the book. For some artists, it's a chance to stretch their muscles and work in a completely different genre. Some love the character. Some are crazy enough to enjoy working with us.
Nrama: What artists are coming up next in the comic?
Palmiotti: As you may know, Jordi Bernet is our go-to guy. We get as many books as he can illustrate a year, and we are blessed to have someone with his talent aboard. Issue #54 out now was Jordi featuring Starman. Issue #55 features the art of classic Jonah Hex artist Vincent Alcazar and it's just beautiful. And that cover features the work of my good friend Walt Simonson.
Issue #56 sports a Darwyn Cooke cover with stories by C.P. Smith and Phil Winslate. Issue 57 is by Jordi once again and features an all-star line up of DC classic Western characters.
After that we have a Brian Stelfreeze issue, a special issue by Nelson Decastro – one of my favorite people in the world – and have a bunch of guest spots we are not allowed to speak about yet.
Nrama: How involved were the two of you with the film? Are you being made aware of the premise or anything about the screenplay? And is there anything you can tell us about what you know (even if it's only to calm fears of Hollywood ruining a beloved comic character)?
Palmiotti: Not a lot. We visited the set for one day and saw them shoot two scenes that were fun to watch. We also had a few calls from the director and the producers asking about the history of the character and certain details that we hope are going to be used in the film.
Once or twice we sent them some comics as well, as reference to a scene or idea. We also got to read the original screenplay, but since then, it has gone through changes and additions and such, which is common in Hollywood.
At this point, when we watch the trailer and the film, we're going to be like the rest of you. It will be the first time. We've heard the film is different than the comic for sure. It’s a bit more fantastic, has some supernatural aspects and it pushes in places exclusive to the film. What I can say is I think Josh Brolin is a great pick.
Gray: Yea, Josh is amazing as Hex and has the swagger, grit and complexity to pull it off.
Like Jimmy said, we flew down to the set in April of '09 and met Jimmy Hayward, Josh Brolin and John Malkovich. We watched them shoot a few scenes and had some fun observing the process of a night shoot. They're all great guys.
Josh was concerned about how he looked as Hex and if we felt he was the right for the role, which is the sign of an actor that truly cares about representing a character. The crew was also amazing and embraced us with a real affection for our run on the book, and in particular, they loved issues #16 and #17.
With regard to the negative connotation that Hollywood ruins books or comics or whatever, that depends on the perspective and what you’re trying to achieve. There’s a tremendously supportive and loyal but admittedly small fan base that has embraced what we’ve done, and believe me, we love those fans and everyone who supports our run on Jonah Hex. Sadly, there’s a hell of a lot of people that have no idea the book or character exists. For a majority of moviegoers this will be their first exposure to Jonah Hex, and it is most likely designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
As Jimmy said, we haven’t seen it, but we know it is action-packed and there are great people working on it, so I while I have high expectations, I also want to go into it with a fresh set of eyes.
Nrama: Have you seen the Jonah Hex animated short on the Batman: Under the Hood DVD? Anything you can tell us about it?
Palmiotti: We are very excited about the animated short. It's written by the brilliant Joe Landsdale and loosely based on our issue of Jonah Hex #19 that was illustrated by Phil Noto. I can’t wait to see what Joe and the crew at Warner animation has done to the story, and overall, I am really excited about the idea of these shorts. I cross my fingers that they do one on Power Girl and use Amanda on it. How cool would that be?
Gray: That would be very cool. As far as I’m concerned, there cant be enough attention directed at Jonah Hex because it will hopefully translate into comic sales and that’s where we do our work in growing the mythology of the coolest western comic character ever created. I love Landsdale’s writing and I’m a huge fan of Bubba Ho-Tep.
Nrama: What's coming up next in the Jonah Hex comic? And what will we see after Issue #56? Any new characters or new stories that people might want to look out for?
Palmiotti: This is the year of Jonah Hex – I say that every year – and with that, we have a lot of exciting guest starts showing up in the book – and on the book – that we think will bring the readers back for the book each time. Honestly, we do our best day-in and day-out to bring excitement to the title and keep the talent pool full of not only the top artists, but to experiment a bit as well with the medium.
Gray: Tony Harris has us flexing our creative muscles for his issue I can tell you that we’ve had some fun exchanges about the story he’s illustrating, and it should be a lot of fun to read.