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HARLEEN’s STJEPAN SEJIC On His Fascination with HARLEY QUINN’s ‘Self-Destructive’ Nature

"Harleen #2" preview
Credit: Stjepan Šejić (DC/Black Label)

Stjepan Šejic’s DC Black Label series Harleen is complete and now out in a special hardcover, but as the author tells Newsarama the story is far from over. And he doesn’t just mean for Harley Quinn.

After Harleen‘s hardcover release February 5 (coinciding with Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)), Newsarama caught up with the Croatian writer/artist to look back on the four-year journey to make this limited series, and look ahead to what’s next – including sequels, and even a spin-off with Harley’s BFF/GF, Poison Ivy.

Credit: Stjepan Sejic (DC/Black Label)

Newsarama: Stjepan, the completed, collected Harleen is on stands now – in a nice hardcover, no less. As someone who follows your DeviantArt, I know this has been a journey of at least four years. How does it feel to have it all done, printed, and in hardcover?

Stjepan Šejic: Surreal.

My creative process for actual books was always the same as my creative process for fanart. I start off with doodles. Give them a voice, let them speak, I make some jokes and usually it runs its course and it feels like I’ve had my fun. However, every now and then the voices that started speaking refuse to shut up. These are the ones I know I need to keep working on.

Harleen was an odd concept from the get-go. A sort of a life story of Harleen Quinzel told through three major storyarcs.

Credit: Stjepan Šejic (DC/Black Label)

I pitched it on the day my editor, Andy Khouri, asked me if I would be interested to pitch something akin to Sunstone for the Vertigo line of books. Not as sexually explicit, mind you, but emotionally involved. I had nothing on my mind, but on a whim I suggested this idea that was bugging me for over a year at that point. Honestly, I never really thought it would happen but here we are.

Nrama: So from that point to now, how has your take on Harleen evolved? You’ve been living with this for years.

Šejic: Minor story details have evolved in the same way a painting evolves by applying layers of unexpected colors and you realize that it works for the better. But general concepts and story direction had remained unchanged since the early pitch level.

Credit: Stjepan Šejic (DC/Black Label)

Nrama: Why do you think you were so drawn to Harley, initially?

Šejic: Simple. She is a psychiatrist who can identify her condition and is unable to take actions to change her circumstances. It is almost a body horror. Seeing yourself rebel against your own better instincts. Recognizing your wrong choices but like a gambler on a losing streak you keep hoping that next roll of the dice will get you out of that hole.

This self-destructive thread is what makes her feel so incredibly human and it makes her an immensely flawed yet interesting character to write.

Nrama: Your story here ends with Harleen fully transforming to Harley Quinn and in a relationship with the Joker. Comics and film fans know she eventually moves past that. Do you have ideas for how the end of their relationship goes in your continuity here?

Šejic: The plan has always been for 9 issues.

The first story arc ends with the Arkham arc. The second story arc I have shorthanded as ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ and it shows her becoming Harley Quinn. The training, the mindset, everything all the way until she hits the rock bottom, and also will answer some very big questions left by the end of the first arc. 

Credit: Stjepan Šejic (DC/Black Label)

Third arc I have work-titled as ‘Thelma & Louise‘ and it goes through the strengthening friendship of Harley and Ivy all the way to her breakup with Mr. J. As you may imagine, things will get intense.

Concept art

Concept art

Credit: Stjepan Šejic

Nrama: With this first volume now done, will you dive straight into the ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ arc or will it be something else like the Poison Ivy series Isley you’ve teased online?

Šejic: My plan is to produce Isley before the second Harleen story arc. My reasoning is two-fold. 

First, I have a very cool story to tell about Harleen’s version of Poison Ivy. A truly epic tale that will be both a visual and a narrative joy. If Harleen was more of a psychological thriller. this one will be more of a blockbuster with a lot of heart.

The second reason is, I want people to truly understand the actual glorious mess that Poison Ivy is. It plays into her evolving relationship with Harley and really fleshes out her motivations.

Nrama: You’ve done work as an artist for other writers, as well as both writing and illustrating on your own. After the success of Harleen, do you see yourself primarily writing your own material to draw or would you be open to collaborating with other writers, or is this a transition away from that like Sean Murphy has done?

Šejic: If the story is strong enough to inspire me, of course. However, with four comics and a novel in development at this point, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

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