Set in a haunting boarding school, new series Gotham Academy takes an oblique view of the city. How do the escapades of Batman and his rogues gallery effect the lives of the average citizens of Gotham? Co-writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher, along with artist Karl Kerschl, explore this perspective through the lives of two young girls, Olive Silverlock and Maps Mizoguchi. With this month’s debut issue, readers have already begun to follow the girls’ adventures as they uncover the many secrets buried in their spooky old school building. The creative trio inject elements of Scooby-Doo and Hogwarts into the Bat-mythology to produce an immediately relatable coming-of-age tale that promises to uncover some of the city’s deepest history.
If it’s true that you get out what you put in, then Gotham Academy stands to be a ton of fun, because the three creators are certainly enjoying themselves. Cloonan, Fletcher and Kerschl were at New York Comic Con to chat about what readers can expect from their new twist on Gotham City.
Paste: So tell us a little about Gotham Academy.
Brenden Fletcher: At its core, it’s a book about kids solving mysteries. Olive Silverlock is our main character. Something happened in the summer between her first and second years and it’s changed everything about her. It’s changed her relationships, it’s changed the way she is in school, and nothing is right for her anymore. That’s the central mystery, and it’s somehow connected to Batman. The other character we meet in the first issue is Maps Mizoguchi. Olive doesn’t want to be with this little girl, the little girl wants to be with Olive. What they don’t know is they really need each other and they make a perfect team.
Becky Cloonan: They’re sort of like Batman and Robin. Who knew?
Paste: So when you were creating this, what were your influences?
Cloonan: Well, the three of us I think have very similar Batman influences in general.
Karl Kerschl: Batman: The Animated Series influences pretty much anything Batman, or Gotham, we ever do.
Cloonan: I think that might be my favorite Batman stuff. That was my first exposure to Batman as a kid. So when we started dealing with this world, it kind of had the perfect mix of noir, mystery. Gotham in that series is perfect and always looming in the background.
Kerschl: We also reference a lot of actual boarding schools. For the look of the buildings, the look of the Gotham Academy, for the look of the uniforms. Anything else?
Cloonan: A lot of Macross and Robotech.
Fletcher: There won’t be any transformable planes in this.
Cloonan: No, but I mean as far as stuff that we all like… Dracula!
Kerschl: A lot of Dracula. A lot of Dungeons & Dragons.
Fletcher: If you like role playing, and you like Draculas, we got ‘em.
Paste: How will Gotham Academy fit into the larger Bat-mythos?
Fletcher: We’re adding to it. We work closely with the rest of the Bat-team, so we’re all on the same page. We’re doing little world-building things in each, and these are going to cross pollinate.
Cloonan: One of the kids in Gotham Academy has the poster on their wall of a band that’s really popular in Batgirl. Gotham Academy might exist in a bubble, and we’re telling stories that are very insular, but events that happen in the DCU can effect what happens at the school. And things that happen at the school can influence other comics, because it’s all in the same place. We’re taking a microscope, or maybe just a magnifying glass…
Fletcher: And a flashlight…
Kerschl: And a compass…
Cloonan: And a 12-sided die.
Paste: And, you seem to be referencing that “Court of Owls”-style history of the city.
Kerschl: One of the big influences was Scott Snyder’s take on Gotham. So we have mysteries unfolding in Gotham Academy that will roll out into larger mysteries in Greater Gotham. I think what you’re going to see is a lot more of Gotham’s history coming into play.
Cloonan: It’s like what Scott was doing with Gates of Gotham and “Court of Owls” kind of planted the seeds in there. Every building has a story in Gotham and we’re going to explore that.
Paste: We’ll learn that history along with the kids, then?
Cloonan: Oh yes. And there’s a lot of history.
Fletcher: A lot that the kids are going to uncover for you.
Cloonan: History 101: Welcome to Gotham Academy.
Cloonan: 201. I guess Olive’s second year, Maps is first year.
Paste: Was there a niche you were trying to fill with this series?
Fletcher: For me, when this project came up, it was just exciting to work on it. I’m not thinking about it in terms of DC’s publication schedule. It’s just this is the book we want to make. This is what we would have done anyway, and I think it just happened to fill a niche.
Cloonan: It came about really organically. We all have the same vision. When we’re writing scripts we don’t even have to explain what we want because Kerschl sees it in his head. I already know how Kerschl’s going to draw it.
Fletcher: It actually says that in the script a lot of the time, like ‘Blah blah, whatever, Kerschl’s going to make it awesome.’ The work that’s gone into the design of the building, the look of this book, is as integral as anything else, maybe even more so. You can flip through the pages and get a real sense of what this place is and why it should matter to you.
Kerschl: I think the double-page spread showing the campus and where the kids are on it, and how all the people fit into it, is sort of thematically our whole series. All this stuff is happening within these walls, and the school is as big a character as anything else.
Cloonan: I’m basically making the book that I always wanted to read as a kid, if I had this book when I was 12-years-old. When we get the proofs back, I’m chuckling to myself. I love reading it now and I would have loved reading it then.
Paste: If there’s going to be a lot of coming-of-age stuff, how do you plan on weaving that with the adventures?
Kerschl: It all happens at the same time.
Cloonan: It’s not going to be like “This is a Coming of Age story. This is an adventure story.”
Kerschl: Stop the adventure, I’m coming of age!
Cloonan: It’s like real life. A lot of the things we are dealing with are feelings that I’ve had growing up. I’m sure it’s the same with you guys. We’re drawing on these feelings because that’s what we know, and making these characters as real as possible for us makes them real for other people.
Paste: What else can we expect?
Kerschl: I think our second issue is better than our first.
Fletcher: More mystery, more intrigue.
Cloonan: Issue three, also amazing. Even better than issue two.
Kerschl: Wait! I haven’t drawn issue three yet.
Cloonan: There’s a scene where they go to a dock by a river; it’s heart wrenching.
Paste: You guys all work together in the same room right?
Kerschl: Yeah. We work together, we drive together, we share a lot of hotel rooms…
Fletcher: We eat pizza together. We sing Journey in the car together. “Separate Ways,” the most epic song ever.
Kerschl: We shared a studio together in Montreal. Cloonan and I were sitting four feet away from each other.
Cloonan: Yeah, I stared at the right side of Kerschl’s head.
Kerschl: She can’t work now if she isn’t staring at the right side of my head.
Paste: How do you think that affects your process?
Cloonan: I feel like everyone should find someone close by to collaborate with. It’s amazing. Actually sitting down in a room and going back and forth, we get through things really quickly. I’m on the road a little bit right now, but we facetime.
Fletcher: And it works, but it’s not as good as when we’re all together. When we’re all together, this is like magic. This is not work at all. Add [assistant editor] Matt Humphreys to that, and it’s double magic.
Cloonan: And add [Batman group editor] Mark Doyle on top of that and it’s like a big Gotham Academy sandwich. Having that group supporting us, it feels like magic. I got an email the other day and it was Matt being like, ‘I saw you wrote one of the characters reading a Tennyson book. I love poetry!’ Our whole team is on the same page. Mark Doyle used to be a tennis star in his youth.
Kerschl: That’s why we have a tennis character in Gotham Academy.
Fletcher: And now it’s out there for the world to read about. You’re welcome, Mark.
Kerschl: There are probably pictures of him out there somewhere in a tennis outfit.
Paste: In terms of taking a different view on Gotham City, have you been watching Gotham?
Fletcher: I haven’t seen it yet.
Cloonan: I haven’t seen it.
Kerschl: I still haven’t seen it.
Cloonan: We did seven book signings before this.
Fletcher: What would be really interesting would be if Gotham Academy turns up in the Gotham TV show, and maybe Bruce Wayne has to attend it for a while, and maybe Headmaster Hammer is there.
Cloonan: Who knows?
Kerschl: That would be amazing.
Cloonan: We live in hope.