Things are heating up at Gotham Academy this week—quite literally. Olive Silverlock has become possessed by the fiery spirit of her ancestor, Amity Arkham, and she wants nothing less than to turn all of Gotham to ash and dust. You can find out why in the just released GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #8, but be prepared. The truth about Olive is only one of the shocks to be found in issue #8, as we also discovered that the next storyline, “The Ballad of Olive Silverlock” will be the series’ last.
But don’t fret, Gotham Academy fans. This final storyline is the one the book’s three writers always intended to go out on, and they promise it’ll address any unanswered questions that readers may have, including a few that stretch all the way back to the first issue. In a recent conversation with Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl, the trio discussed how it feels to finally be wrapping up the series they started over two years ago, which characters they’re most pleased with, and what well known DC super-villain was originally supposed to be Gotham Academy’s groundskeeper.
With the end of Second Semester, we’ve learned the truth about Olive Silverlock and her connection with the Arkhams. Did you always know we were heading for this? Has this been the plan for her from the start?
Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl [together]: Yes.
Brenden: One word answer, Tim. That’s all you get. One word from all of us!
Well, did you know that you would be getting to it at this point in the series?
Brenden: That’s an interesting question. We started off just telling the nicest chunk of the story that we could, knowing that we had a guarantee to get at least the first story arc. Then the book found an audience and we were allowed to chart out the rest of the story. When did we do that, guys?
Karl: I think it was a couple of years ago. There was no guaranteed future for this book or these characters. We didn’t know what the response would be or how successful it would be, and because we had that idea in mind from the get-go, we asked ourselves, “Should we rush this?”
This was some really good character stuff and we were wondering if we had to rush it just to get it out there. Mark [Doyle] and [editor Rebecca Taylor] at the time said no. They said that it was really good and we should just tell our story at our own pace, and have some faith in it. Which we did, and I’m so glad we did.
Becky: We even got some time to support the other characters in the “Yearbook” chapters. It’s been a crazy few years for this story.
Brenden: If you look at it within the story’s timeline, this is the second semester, so this has only been a year in their lives. There’s so much more! They’re going to be attending the academy for many more years after this.
Well, that’s if the academy survives…
Brenden: It’s true. We could totally “Hogwarts it” at the end of the story. [laughs]
So what happens next? What can we expect from “The Ballad of Olive Silverlock”?
Brenden: Well, she fights Voldemort in issue #12. [laughs]
Actually, she is Voldemort.
Becky: Yeah, this is basically Voldemort’s origin story.
Brenden: It kind of is in a way!
The big thing about this story is that if you’ve been reading the book, these are the answers that you’ve always wanted. If you stopped reading Gotham Academy at some point, come back for the last few issues because this will answer questions that you had in the first few issues. It all ties together. It’s all very important for the overall larger story.
Becky: We’ve been seeding this whole story since we started. So if you go back to the first and second story arcs, there are things in there that hint at what’s going on now. It all makes a surprising amount of sense.
Karl: The thing I look forward to is that not only is it the “Ballad of Olive Silverlock,” but it’s also, as a result, a huge deal for Maps Mizuguchi. It’s a major turning point in Maps’ life. We don’t talk about it as much, but it’s something we’ve been planning and looking forward to along with everything else.
Brenden: We talked about the ending of this story when we were putting together the beginning, and the ending was always about Olive and Maps. Though we’ve shifted some of the beats in the story along the way and made a few subtle changes, the thing that we do with Olive and Maps, the dynamic we’ve created for them and how we change it into the ending, is exactly what we always wanted from the beginning. It’s what you want to come out to see.
The relationship between Olive and Maps is obviously the heart of the series, but it was also interesting learning about the connection that the Fritches have with the Arkhams. What will that mean for Pomeline and Olive in this final storyline?
Brenden: Pomeline’s always been one of my favorite characters. I’ve always said that if I had to choose one character to write a standalone miniseries about, it would be Pomeline, and it would be a dark, gothy, broody miniseries—and it would be illustrated by Becky Cloonan.
Becky: I think Pomeline’s interesting because she starts out the series as such a bad guy. She is like the typical bad girl of Gotham Academy. But by the end, we turn that on its head and she’s really so much more than that. She’s really the antithesis of what we introduced her as.
Brenden: The biggest connection in the story is between Maps and Olive, but in terms of finding a hero for the ages, it’s kind of Pomeline. We illustrate how she’s the descendent of people who acted heroically to try to preserve Olive’s family over the years.
So I have to ask…what happened to Heathcliff?
Brenden: Spoiler alert! Heathcliff is coming back in some fashion. You’ll see Heathcliff in issue #12. Even if it’s just a panel, you’ll see him.
How does it feel to be working on what you know is going to be your last adventure—for now, at least—with these characters? Is there any extra pressure?
Brenden: Yes. It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s so worth it. How many teams get to tell a long story like this with a definitive sort of ending? It’s so rare to be able to do long-form serial storytelling and have an arc with a beginning, middle and end, and we get to do that. It’s bittersweet. It’s a long time coming, but man, it’s really special. And yes, I think we’re all really nervous about getting it right.
But we also feel very humbled that we are creating a YA book within the DC Universe. It’s such a special thing. There’s such a broad audience out there for this type of material, and I think we need more of it. We’ve got to see more YA stuff out there in a bunch of different formats, and I hope we’ll see more of the adventures of the Detective Club in the future.
Looking at the series as a whole now, is there a character you’re most pleased with from a character development standpoint? Who has developed in the most exciting way for you?
Brenden: Coach Humphries! I never thought he would be a werewolf. [laughs]
Karl: We never thought he’d show up in more than one issue.
Brenden: It’s true. He was intended as sort of a background character for a couple of panels, and then we turned him into a werewolf later.
Becky: That’s true of a lot of the background characters that we started developing. They might not be the meat and potatoes of the book, but they all add so much flavor. Getting to play around with not only characters like Simon Trent and Clayface, but also adding to that. It adds so much to the story and the tapestry of Gotham Academy.
Brenden: How about Katherine Karlo?
Karl: For the small part that she plays, Katherine Karlo feels like one of the more major contributions to the Batman mythology that this book made.
Becky: I love her. She’s so much fun.
Karl: I’m proudest of Olive. I’m so connected to that character. They all feel like our kids, but Olive is such a special character to me. I was most surprised, though, by Colton. When we first came up with these characters we were just rounding out this ensemble cast and Becky threw this Colton character in there. No one knew what the heck he was. She just kept saying the name “Colton” and drawing pictures of him.
Brenden: We went out to breakfast and she just kept saying, “We need a science guy. My cousin’s name is Colton.”
It wasn’t connected to the larger story in any way and I was like, “Yeah, he’s fine, but I don’t know what we’re going to do with him.” But you’re right, he ended up being one of the more compelling members of the supporting cast.
Karl: I remember the moment that character clicked for me and then I just wanted to see him all the time.
Brenden: You had the hardest time for the design for him, right?
Karl: No, there was just a definite turning point. Becky and I would each draw versions of him and we’d take bits and pieces of those drawings. I think I was watching The Bling Ring, and something about that movie clicked for me and suddenly I knew exactly who Colton was and his backstory. The key to success when it comes to creating compelling characters is to just intimately know who they are, back to front. Once you get to that point, I think they’re fully formed and you could do anything, and I remember feeling that way about Colton.
Becky: With a lot of the backgrounds we gave the secondary characters from Gotham Academy, I think you can take them out and they’re strong enough that we could go and just write a full story arc based solely on them.
Brenden: It’s true. Part of what makes me sad about closing out the Olive story is that I feel like we could ramble on with stories about the supporting cast. I could write this book forever. There’s so much to say about Tristan, Katherine and Coach Humphries. I’ll write a Coach Humphries book and it’s going to be awesome.
Karl: I’m going to sell “Kyle is Not a Victim” t-shirts.
You’ve mentioned Katherine Karlo a few times. I’ve enjoyed the non-traditional way you’ve incorporated some of Batman’s villains into the book, such as giving Clayface a daughter. Where did those ideas come from, and is there a villain you would have liked to have used that you didn’t get to?
Brenden: Solomon Grundy was meant to be the Gotham Academy groundskeeper. It was the only “no” we got.
Karl: Can I just divulge something to you guys now that we’re nearing the end of Olive’s story? I was never really into the idea of Solomon Grundy as a groundskeeper. [laughs]
Brenden: Don’t lie to the people!
Karl: I’m sorry! It just never really worked for me.
Brenden: That’s because you didn’t draw him. The first time you drew him with a rake fixing some flowers in the garden, you would’ve fallen in love with him.
Becky: Oh yeah, imagine him trimming some hedges.
So where did the idea of Katherine come from?
Brenden: It was just a story. It wasn’t supposed to be an ongoing thing. We had set up in the first issue that Clayface would show up. There was a poster in Olive’s room for a film that Basil Karlo had starred in with Simon Trent’s wife. We’d created this background love triangle, and we’d set up that Simon Trent would be the drama teacher. So there was a reason for Basil Karlo to hate Simon Trent, and the idea was that he had planted a part of himself in the school to sabotage Simon Trent. The idea of making that part of himself Maps’ roommate came afterwards because we thought it was cute. But that part of Clayface was always intended to join back in with him. We would do the big Simon Trent vs. Clayface Shakespeare-Off, and then that would be it. It was our editor, Rebecca Taylor, who wanted to keep Katherine around, and Becky, Karl and I thought that sounded like fun.
Karl: It’s super fun, but it’s a little problematic at times because we’re telling the story of what are basically normal kids at this school, and the fact that one of the students is a Clayface is kind of a wild card.
Brendan: What it became was that within this school filled with normal kids, we actually built a monster squad. We have a Clayface, a werewolf, a bat-kid… Hammer’s kind of like a vampire.
I spoke with all of you way back at the beginning of the series, which feels like so long ago now. If you could go back in time and tell those versions of yourselves one thing about writing and drawing this series, what would it be?
Becky: I would probably go back and tell myself, “Don’t worry. You’ll get to tell the whole story.” There were a lot of times at the beginning where we just weren’t sure how long we’d have on the book. We wrote the first six issues not knowing if we’d have a seventh issue. So I’d probably just go back and take away a lot of that stress.
Brenden: For me, I’d tell myself not to sweat the Damian Wayne factor so much because it ended up being a lot of fun. We had a lot of stress about it. We didn’t want to put Damian in because we felt like it was going to take away from the main characters. You put Damian in the middle of our characters and we feared they were going to disappear, but it turns out that Damian and Maps make a great combo and we had a lot of fun with it. And it’s something that we might revisit in the next few issues…
Karl: I think I’d tell myself just to have faith in the process. This book has been unique in every imaginable way, but the process of creating it on the page particularly stands out because it requires a lot of people. Our writing team is three people. Our art team has gotten up to five or six people. There were times early on when it just felt like it was impossible to get done.
Becky: There were a few times when I was doing flats for the colors.
Brenden: You were drawing backgrounds, Becky.
Karl: Becky drew some amazing stuff. All that stuff in Hammer’s “reliquarim”…
Becky: Well, I have a background in art, so it’s kind of nice to have that flexibility and it turned out to be really handy in the end.
Karl: And Rob Haynes, Adam Archer and Msassyk are still doing an amazing job every month. It’s an incredible workload and they knock it out of the park every time.