Joseph McCabe meets Paul Dini, creator of Harley Quinn
An exclusive interview with Harley Quinn’s co-creator.
While no Batman foe since the Dark Knight’s golden age has had quite the cultural impact of Harley Quinn, maybe it’s a little unfair to call her a villain. The former Dr Harleen Quinzel – a psychiatrist who carried her fascination with the Joker a little too far – is really a free-spirited antihero, a loveable sprite who was led astray by her “Mistah J”.
Writer-producer Paul Dini created Harley for Batman: The Animated Series in the ’90s, and partly based her on his friend, actress and comedienne Arleen Sorkin; who voiced the character throughout the show’s run.
“I knew I wanted a henchgirl in one episode,” Dini tells SFX. “And I felt it was a character that Arleen could play really well. I had seen her play a jester character in a fantasy sequence on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. I thought, ‘That’s really funny. Maybe I’ll use some of that for the henchgirl character…’
“I told Arleen that Harley was basically a snappy blonde but kind of a bad girl. Sort of a cross between the wayward girls that would follow around the Riddler and the Joker and the Penguin in the 1966 series – the henchwomen types – and a little bit of the gum-cracking wisegirl/wiseguy type, Miss Adelaide in Guys And Dolls.”
finding a voice
Sorkin’s own voice contributed to Harley’s sassy attitude. “She has an East Coast accent,” laughs Dini. “She just pushed it a little bit. She brought a little bit of a Judy Holliday type flutter into it.”
Harley’s character breakthrough came when her creator decided she could be even funnier than the Joker…
“I really didn’t have any plans for her other than the henchgirl who was better at getting laughs out of the other gang members than the Joker was. That was sort of the start of who the character was for me. I gave her the name Harley Quinn because I thought Harley was a fun name for a girl. And a lot of Batman character names have a bit of a pun to them.”
Now that Harley is DC Comics’ most popular character after Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, Dini is thrilled to see her win more fans through her ongoing solo comic and this summer’s Suicide Squad movie, in which she’s played by Margot Robbie.
“It looks like Margot went after that interpretation with a great amount of zeal and affection,” says Dini. “She wants to do a spin-off movie, which I think is really gratifying. It appears that she went out and did a lot of research and really has embraced the character. Whatever happens with the character down the road in subsequent movies it appears that she’ll be handled with a lot of affection and intelligence.”
it appears that she’ll be handled with a lot of affection and intelligence