The students of Gotham Academy are a lively, eclectic bunch that still manage to come together as a family and team. It’s fitting, then, that the creators of the series can be described in pretty much the same way. With GOTHAM ACADEMY #7 hitting stands tomorrow, and with a number of similarly young-skewing new DC titles releasing this month, we thought it was the perfect time to sit down with writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl (who will return to the book with July’s issue #8) to discuss how the idea for this dynamic new series came together, what the creative process is like and how they really feel about all of those Harry Potter comparisons.
When I look at Gotham Academy, I see manga influences. I see interesting, youthful heroes, and creepy boarding schools. Were these things you were all interested in?
Karl Kerschl: Yeah, to varying degrees. We all share similar interests.
Brenden Fletcher: We’re easily united as a team because we are all interested in the same things.
Becky Cloonan: We have a lot of the same interests. We have a lot of the same favorite comics. We all watched tons of Robotech growing up. We’ve all known each other as friends for years before we even started working on the book.
How did this come together? Whose idea was it? Was it from wanting to work together?
Becky: Last year, Mark Doyle called me. This was when he just got promoted to Batman Group Editor. They had a lot of new books and he wanted me to do one. He basically gave me carte blanch. I could do anything, any character. He mentioned Batgirl, and he had a bunch of other characters he was talking about. It could’ve been an ongoing monthly, a limited series or a one shot.
And I was like, “Well, I know what I want to do. It’s Gotham Academy, and Karl’s going to draw it.”
Karl: We shared a studio.
Becky: Yeah, we shared a studio! He was four feet away from me at the time and Karl looks up, like “What?!” And I’m like, “Shh… It’s okay, shh.” Brenden was there too, probably eating our cookies, you know, whatever Brenden does.
Brenden: Yeah, I had a mouthful of cookies, and from the other side of the studio I heard, “Brenden!” And I have a cookie hanging out of my mouth, I’m scampering over to Becky going, “What is it?! I’m eating cookies!”
Becky: So, I told Mark, “This is the team, and Brenden is going to help me by co-writing because I don’t know if I could do an ongoing on my own and I’ve never written a book of this magnitude for someone else before. And Karl will draw it.” I feel like we all had the same creative vision almost from day one. Pretty much.
Becky: You guys wanted to do a Batman book?
Karl: Well, when someone like Mark Doyle calls you up and says, “Do any Batman book you want,” your mind goes to the iconic Batman stories you’ve always wanted to tell. We were on board the Gotham Academy train pretty quickly. After that, it was several weeks of us hanging out, drinking beer and talking about different characters.
Becky: Yeah, a lot of brunches. It just came together. The story we’re telling right now, the first story arc, we pretty much stuck to stuff in our pitch that we came up with in February or March.
Brenden: I actually looked back at our original documents for some Issue #6 clarification, about the meaning of the magical symbol, just to see what we had put in the notes. We held, with the exception of what we wanted to do with Issue #5, to that original document pretty solidly.
Becky: That’s pretty amazing.
Brenden: It is. We’ve added a few extra elements, and we’ve changed some small details, but the core structure of those six issues is almost identical to what we put together.
Becky: We had a really strong vision from the outset. As a team, the three of us created this from the ground up, all of these new characters and everything, and we’ve got a long term plan for it. So it’s not like this is something that we thought of and we’re flying by the seat of our pants. Everything that we’ve done has been carefully crafted and executed in a way that’s going to build on what we’ve done, for the next, I don’t know, ten years? What would you guys say?
With these new titles that were just announced, there’s clearly a push to become more diverse and try to reach other audiences. But that wasn’t really the case when Gotham Academy was first announced. Were you surprised when Mark said you could do this?
Becky: A little bit. But having worked with Mark before, I knew he wouldn’t have asked me if it wasn’t serious. Sometimes I’m surprised by the things we get away with.
Brenden: Yeah, especially with Gotham Academy. I’m on three books now, and really Gotham Academy is the one that can get away with just about anything.
Becky: I think it helps having all new characters.
Brenden: New characters, new situations.
Becky. We’re not inheriting a legacy. We’re creating it right now.
Brenden: Nobody, from the fans to editorial, knows what to expect from these characters. Really, the three of us and Mark are the only ones who know what’s going to happen.
Karl: Sometimes the scripts just get approved. Becky just goes, “Here you go, Mark, you’re going love this.” And he just approves it!
Talking to you, you guys are clearly all really close. Do you get actual written scripts that you just draw from? Or are you much more involved earlier on? How does that work on your side, Karl?
Karl: I think the reason this book has the energy it does is because we’ve completely blurred the lines and the roles between writer and artist. Everyone’s kind of involved in everything, from writing to story to design to tone. We’re all on the same page with it. To answer your question, yeah, Becky and Brenden write a full script, but there’s a ton of leeway.
Brenden: I don’t know if we would write a full script if there wasn’t an editorial process there. If I just work with Karl on my own, there’s usually nothing written, we just talk about it. We’ve worked on projects before where we just talk each page through. [But on Gotham Academy] we need to do it for the editorial process.
Becky: We really need to make sure that everything works from page one. It’s a very limited amount of pages we get and we have to make use of all of them, so to have the script written out helps. With the Issue #6 script, I was going through and reading it, and I just called you a few times really late at night. We always talk to each other at, like, midnight.
Karl: It’s a problem.
Becky: It’s ridiculous. I’ll be in bed, lights out and be like, “So, what do you think about this page?”
It’s one of those things where writing a full script has a definite advantage, because you start to realize, “Well, what if we move these around?”
Brenden: We have great flexibility with each other and with Karl. At every stage of story development, Karl brings so much to the table. If he sees something in the layout, even before we get scripting, we make changes based upon his input or suggestions. Sometimes, we’ve done the finished script and he’ll figure out a better way to do the page, and draw a page that doesn’t reflect the script directly, but it’s ultimately a better product for it.
Becky: It hits all the beats, but it’s done in a different way. That’s the great thing about him. Karl’s a fantastic writer as well as an artist. To have someone like that on the team, we basically go through all the steps together.
Brenden: Also to speak to the flexibility, Becky’s a fantastic artist as well as a writer. She can bring a lot of visual handiwork to the project as well.
Karl: Yeah, and assistance in drawing.
Is there going to be a Becky Cloonan guest issue?
Karl: She keeps fighting it.
Becky: Yeah, I mean, I’m on other books too, so it’s a matter of just not having the time to draw a full issue right now. Maybe next year? Maybe.
But it’s fun helping out sometimes. “Hey, you need a background drawn? I have two hours to kill.”
How important is it, do you think, that there are books like this out? Traditionally with mainstream super hero books, there’s always been this somewhat narrow focus and appeal. Now we’re seeing it broadened. How important is that for the industry and for the fans?
Becky: I think it’s so important. I grew up reading comics when I was kid, and to have something like Gotham Academy, which could potentially be someone’s first comic and could get them into reading comic books, maybe writing, drawing, even editing—who knows? Just knowing that this book could potentially be someone’s first comic book is the most important thing to me.
Brenden: I feel that it sort of defies categorization. It’s categorized often as young adult, but I think it’s actually for everyone. It has broad appeal, and I don’t think it’s for any one thing. It’s quite complex.
Becky: People always come up to me and compare it to Harry Potter, and I do too. I love Harry Potter. But that’s a great example of a book that can reach younger readers, but also entrance older readers as well. With Gotham Academy, we’re really conscious that we’re telling a story that is all ages, and that is in the broadest sense of the word. Anyone could get into it and read it, and there are so many Easter eggs for Batman fans. The book is really like a love letter to Gotham. But at the same time, you’re not beholden to any of those facts, and a kid who’s never read any DC book before or any comic book in general, could pick it up and get just as much out of it without having any of that information.
Well, hopefully there will be a theme park attraction for Gotham Academy in twenty years.
Brenden: A cartoon in a couple years? Or a live action CW show?
Becky: I want patches and like…letterman jackets.
Karl: I’d just like a series of little statues.
People sort themselves into houses in Hogwarts, you’ve got to do the equivalent for Gotham Academy.
Becky: Actually, when we first started people were asking us about houses! But that’s the thing, we might love Harry Potter, but this is really nothing like Harry Potter, except for the fact that they’re in a boarding school and they solve mysteries. It’s a totally different book and I think as creators, we have to recognize that. We’re not retelling anything. It’s a new book with new characters.