At New York Comic-Con, I had the privilege of speaking with the creative team behind the new DC Comics series Gotham Academy, which depicts the adventures of teenagers at a boarding school that just happens to be located in Gotham City. Co-writers Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan, along with artist Karl Kerschl, were happy to tell me more about what’s coming up, and here are the things I learned.
The first issue features a lovingly rendered waffle bar in the school cafeteria, and there’s more to come. Says Fletcher: “We’ve got two cafeteria scenes [in the first issue]... we promise to our readers, the next time we write a cafeteria scene, it will involve pizza.” Kerschl says his shots of food were his favorite thing in the first issue.
Hunky Bruce Wayne
Cloonan describes “Bruce Wayne’s boring speech” as her favorite thing in the first issue, but it ended up packing a surprising amount of sex appeal. Says Fletcher: “The hunkiness was not in the script. We just wrote Bruce Wayne, and then Karl was, like, I need to make Bruce Wayne pretty... I don’t remember seeing Bruce Wayne in a V-neck [before].” In fact, the team is so enamored of Kerschl’s Wayne that they’ve had to make some tough decisions: a Bruce Wayne scene in #3 was cut for space.
Building a World Within Gotham
Boarding school fiction has a rich history, both in and out of comics, as do teen superhero books. But a book about ordinary teenagers at boarding school in a superhero universe? That’s a new thing. How does the team find inspiration?
Cloonan says she’s inspired by “all the shojo manga I used to read growing up... I’m inspired by my experiences growing up, and looking at that throuigh a Gotham lens... Hopefully making these characters more real to us will make them more real to the readers.”
Says Fletcher: “The names bring with it a certain context. There’s a lot of Gothic mystery suggested before you even open the book.”
Adds Kerschl: “When you think about what to do with the superhero genre that hasn’t been done before... this is a unique opportunity to take a,look at superheroes through the lens of kids who live with the bat-signal day in and day out. It’s like the moon to them.” To the protagonists, Bruce Wayne is just “a boring old guy who speaks at the school. The Bat-signal and these things that are so special to Batman fans are just a daily occurrence to these students. It’s a new perspective. It’s a lot of fun to play with.”
From protagonists Olive Silverlock and Maps Mizoguchi to mean-girl Pomeline Fritch, the names for GA’s characters are decidedly eccentric. How does the team come up with them? Fletcher says he was inspired by some real-world acquaintances, including a girl named Pomeline: “We really wanted to use Pomeline, we really wanted to use Maps... it’s just a matter of finding names that match up.” To the team, it’s just part of the series’ world-building.
Also, despite her vaguely similar appearance and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song “Maps,” the character of Maps Mizoguchi is disappointingly not based on that band's lead singer Karen O, but Fletcher does think she resembles “Karl’s wife.”
Multiple LGBT Characters!
Says Kerschl of the inclusion of LGBT characters in the series: “You’ve already seen them... more than one.”
Cloonan added enthusiastically: “These characters develop organically... As we explore their relationships, you’ll find things out about the characters that you totally weren’t expecting, and hopefully these things are going to surprise a lot of people... It’s just like getting to know real people. Oh, I’m so excited... I wish I could tell you everything. You’re going to love it.”
Digging Deep into Bat-History
Bat-Mite will sadly not appear, but Cloonan says: “We’ve been able to really curate and cherry-pick characters that we want to use, and most of them are D- or F-list characters.” Aunt Harriet from the Adam West TV series is in the book, and there are 8 or 9 references in the first issue alone to other characters. Fletcher referenced one easter egg in #1 so well-hidden that he doubts any readers will pick up on it.
Adds Cloonan: “You’ll see stuff outside of current continuity,” including characters from the Adam West series and beyond. In issue 2, “you’ll see a character show up that I don’t think has ever appeared in a comic before.” (Kerschl thinks this character almost steals the entire issue.)
The Benefits of Good Editors
Gotham Academy is just part of a new wave of more creatively diverse Bat-titles, including the new Batgirl and Catwoman creative teams, the supernatural Gotham After Midnight, and Arkham Manor (in which Wayne Manor becomes the new Arkham Asylum). The creative team agrees that credit goes to Bat-editor Mark Doyle. Says Fletcher: Mark is “out there, finding the people who will make the books fill up the line in the way they see fit... that just happens to jive with the current stories we want to tell.” Cloonan further hints at possible interconnection between Academy and Batgirl (which share Fletcher as a co-writer).
They’re just getting started
Fletcher says in a final comment: “It only gets more mysterious, it only gets better. This is just the beginning.”