Writer/artist Becky Cloonan joined CBR TV’s Kiel Phegley during Comic-Con International in San Diego on the CBR Yacht for some day drinking and discussion about her very busy schedule. They discuss her transition from artist and occasional writer/artist to writer of two ongoing series at DC Comics and Image, respectively, whether that experience is nerve wracking and her approach to collaboration. Things then move into the hotly-anticipated “Gotham Academy,” how she came to work with the Batman office and her hive mind relationship with artist and studio mate Karl Kerschl and their self-publishing ethos. Things then wrap up with a tease of her Image series “Southern Cross,” how long she’s wanted to do something with the creator-owned publisher and her (almost) encounter with “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin.
On whether it’s nerve-wracking to write for others after so many years of drawing and writing mainly for herself: The writing part is a bit weird ’cause I’m really comfortable with art but with writing I’m still — I don’t want to say still learning, but I guess you’re always still learning, no matter what. [Laughs] Forever and ever. It’s great because I don’t have to worry about the art chores of it. I’m working with Karl Kerschl on “Gotham Academy” and he’s phenomenal so I don’t have to worry. The book is in great hands. And then with “Southern Cross” for Image, Andy Belanger is drawing it and he’s amazing, too. We’ve wanted to work together for a while so it just kind of happened and it’s nice to be working with people that, even though I might have an idea of how I’d do it, I know they might handle it in a completely different way but I know it’ll be great. I’m not worried.
On not being too precious and being open to what her collaborators bring to the table: I’ve worked with writers and I think the big part of collaborating is you have to trust the other person that you’re working with. Having been trusted so many times myself with Gerard [Way] and Shaun [Simon] on “Killjoys” and Brian [Wood] with “Demo” and however many other books we’ve collaborated on, I’ve always been shown that kind of trust. So I feel like even if I may say, “Here’s how I picture it, you don’t have to follow what I do.”
On the comic book touchstones that inform the creation of “Gotham Academy” and her journey to Batman: “Silver Surfer” was my first comic book I ever read, “Silver Surfer Annual” #1 from 1988, and I remember it very clearly. Super Skrull was on the cover, and then Silver Surfer and some other blind guy was back over here. After that, Jim Lee’s “X-Men” came out and then “Excalibur,” Chris Claremont’s run, and these were all books that I loved so much growing up. And then I got into manga, so I started reading “Ranma 1/2,” you know, just having those books as a kid I think is really important. I didn’t get into Batman until later, actually. It’s a little weird.
I think I was like 12 when the animated series came out, so that was like my introduction to Batman was this animation. It’s still kind of like when I think about Batman that’s my touchstone. When I finally read “The Dark Knight Returns,” I think it was in college, it was like — I think it was the right time for me. I wouldn’t have been able to read that book at 12. So with “Gotham Academy” that’s what we’re trying to do. If you have a younger sibling, they’re too young to read “Dark Knight Returns,” or even too young for the New 52, Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s run [on “Batman”] ’cause there’s some pretty heavy stuff in there. But I feel like this is a book you could give a kid, it’s an all-ages book; it’s definitely young adult, but it’s a lot of fun.
On why the story begins with Olive’s sophomore year, rather than the more traditional start of high school: My instinct was to go freshman. I was like, “We should start freshman year.” It’s so stereotypical, but it’s also the way it’s always been done for a reason. But then Brenden Fletcher, he’s my co-writer on it — he lives up in Montreal and then Karl Kerschl, he’s the artist on the book — Brenden was like, “We should start it when she’s a sophomore, because the stuff that happens to her freshmen year is unimportant. There’s something that happened to her over the summer that changed her and we’re interested in the Olive who she is now, not who she was. And so she’s starting her sophomore year and we’re kind of thrown into all this. I think readers are smart enough to figure out and pick it up. You don’t need to dumb it down just to — you don’t want to assume your readers aren’t smart. If we’re talking the kids, they’re smarter than we always think they are. To hit the ground running and to keep that pace, it’s gonna make a really fun book.
On “Southern Cross,” her new Image Comics series: We kept that totally under wraps. It’s funny because Andy has been working on this for like a very long time. He’s been trying to get — right now he’s finishing up “Kill Shakespeare” for IDW, and we’ve been trying to work together for a while but we’ve never managed to get something — both of us really, our timing’s always off, neither of us are really happy with [the story] — I think it was earlier this year (later last year?), kind of around the December-January frame, he’s like, “Hey, do you want to write a book for me? I really want to do a horror comic that’s set in outer space.” And I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do that. I have some ideas.” And he just wanted me to write it.
I’m doing covers for it, it’s great, he’s super talented. We went with Image — I’ve been talking to Eric [Stephenson] for such a long time that, like, nothing’s ever lined up either. It just seemed like [on this project] everything just was in the right place, right time. He’s very persistent. He’s told me multiple times that the door is always open, no matter what, and for this book it seems like the perfect — and they announced how many series? And they were all, like 90% of them, were science fiction. [Laughs] It seems like the zeitgeist right now is sci-fi stuff.