This fall, writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher alongside artist Karl Kerschl give DC Comics readers an origin story — but unlike the upcoming “Gotham” television series on FOX, it’s not a prequel. In “Gotham Academy,” the creative team tells the story of Olive Silverlock, MAPS Mizoguchi and their cohorts at Gotham City’s most prestigious school. Not unlike “Harry Potter’s” Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Gotham Academy isn’t an everyday institution as many of its students have ties to some of the DCU’s greatest superheroes (and supervillains). As Cloonan told CBR News, since Gotham Academy is based in the city that is home to the world’s greatest detective, it should come as no surprise that classes offered at the school include the history of crime and crime solving.
Cloonan, Fletcher and Kerschl also shared details on how the new series is tied to the Court of Owls and Scott Snyder‘s current run on “Batman” and teased an eclectic cast of Batman characters will walk the halls of Gotham Academy, including two from the 1960s “Batman” TV series, one from “Batman: The Animated Series” and an old favorite from comic book continuity.
CBR News: I was going to ask you how this collaboration was conceived but seeing as the three of you are sitting around one phone in your Montreal studio, is the answer convenience? [Laughs]
Brenden Fletcher: [Laughs] Exactly. It’s a pretty simple answer.
Becky Cloonan: Actually when the book came up as a possibility, we all started talking about it and it all formed very organically.
And what was your pitch? Nancy Drew/Harry Potter/”Glee” comes to Gotham?
Fletcher: Almost. Minus the “Glee.”
That’s probably a good thing.
Karl Kerschl: [Laughs] Becky and I sit a few feet apart in the studio and one evening in January, [DC Comics editor] Mark Doyle called Becky and started talking to her about Batman because he had just become the new Batman Group editor.
Cloonan: He said that [DC] wanted to try some new books and get some new creators to pitch whether it was an ongoing or a single issue or a miniseries. And he threw out some ideas and after that conversation, I was like “It’s gotta be ‘Gotham Academy.'”
Kerschl: But Becky couldn’t draw it because she’s working on another graphic novel.
Cloonan: That’s right. I worked with Mark on the “American Vampire” anthology so I remember thinking, “Oh, he wants me as an artist and not as a writer.” But he actually said, “I want you to write it too.” He said he thought my mini-comics were great. And when I told him I couldn’t draw it, he said I could just write it. Mark has always been really encouraging about me jumping to the other side from artist to writer.
We don’t know much about “Gotham Academy,” so let’s start with the high concept. What’s it all about?
Cloonan: After I got Brenden onboard as a co-writer, the three of us started going back and forth and the idea just kind of grew organically of Harry Potter in Gotham. That’s the feeling we want to evoke. And it’s all new characters, which gives us a chance to bring a different flavor. We have a bunch of kids going to boarding school while moving around in this world where all of these superheroes exist.
Some of the inspiration comes from Scott Snyder’s run on “Batman.” He made this whole secret history of Gotham with the Court of Owls and there’s all this stuff about the city we don’t know. We have these kids going to this old boarding school in Gotham and there is all of this history and they can explore it and grow up and find out things about themselves and Gotham.
Kerschl: And having an all new cast of characters helps because all of the existing Batman characters have a handle on the city. It’s interesting to see these students, these really young kids, discover the city. It’s a real fresh perspective.
Cloonan: And the existing characters have already discovered themselves. And have already put on a cape and a cowl.
Kerschl: But the students are being mentored by some of these existing characters.
Cloonan: Yes, you are going to see some familiar faces but the main ones are all going to be new. It’s definitely a coming-of-age story.
Like Hogwarts, are the students at Gotham Academy “special”? Are these the sons and daughters of DCU superheroes and villains?
Fletcher: These characters definitely have secrets. And we obviously don’t want to reveal them all yet. Part of the development of this story is that we see these characters from young children to people that could be the next heroes of Gotham City. Or maybe they are going to go the other way. We don’t really know. As we dig into the mysteries of the building and the land and how they connect to the city as a whole, we’ll find out more about the backgrounds and characters of the past and how they’re connected to the city and the heroes and possibly villains of Gotham. And Batman.
Sorry for being so evasive. We’re not trying to be evasive. We actually want to tell you all about it but we don’t want to show all of the cards just yet. [Laughs] We just want to give you a sense of what it’s all about. The first few issues with these new characters are going to play out like “Nancy Drew Mysteries” in a “Harry Potter”-like boarding school. But all of these stories lead to Gotham and lead to Batman.
Kerschl: Much like the first “Harry Potter” started out as an innocent boarding school mystery story and then spiraled into a richer exploration of Hogwarts and the wizarding world. And it also got a lot darker. We’re definitely following a similar path.
What’s the curriculum like for Gotham Academy? Do the students take crimefighting or math and science? Or maybe Flight 101?
Fletcher: They are taking classes that fit within a regular boarding school but also within the Batman universe. There are characters that can fly, sure, but if you think about what makes sense for a Batman story, it’s more things that have to do with mysteries, crime and crime solving.
Cloonan: And imagine going to science class and your teacher is Professor Milo. There is going to be some fun stuff like that.
Fletcher: We have some lesser-used characters from the Batman mythology showing up here.
Kerschl: We have two characters from the old 1960s TV show, we have a character from “Batman: The Animated Series,” we have a character from the comics. And it’s exciting because I think it’s the first time some of these characters have appeared in regular DC Comics’ continuity.
Bruce Wayne is a benefactor for Gotham Academy. Does he play a role in the series? And what about his alter ego, Batman?
Cloonan: We’ll see Bruce Wayne in “Gotham Academy” #1.
Kerschl: I keep asking for more Batman panel time and Becky keeps saying, “No!” [Laughs] I’m working on her though.
Are the two characters featured on the cover the main characters of the series?
Fletcher: Those are definitely our two main characters. That’s Olive Silverlock and MAPS Mizoguchi. Her name’s Mia really but kids call her MAPS. They’re our two leads but we have a large cast of characters. And in the first issue, we’ll really be focusing on those two and their relationship. And their relationship to the school.
This is Olive’s second year at Gotham Academy. Her first year was a pretty average freshman year for a student at Gotham Academy but something happened to her before the second year and it’s changed everything. Through her first year, she was dating MAPS’ brother Kyle and they had a perfect relationship. He’s the tennis star of Gotham Academy. He’s A+ student and then whatever happened in the summer pulled them apart and now MAPS’ doesn’t understand. She’s a freshman. She’s excited to be starting Gotham Academy. But she doesn’t know why this girl that she looked up to as a sister is suddenly distant to her.
And the two of them are thrown together and it’s a bit painful for them and they have to figure out some personal melodrama in addition to the mysteries that are creeping up.
With the younger characters and certainly by the look and feel of the teased cover, this looks like a series that I could share with my eight-year old daughter.
Cloonan: Absolutely. We like to think of it as an all-ages book. You can get definitely share this with your young kids or your younger sister or brother. I think people of all ages will get a kick out of it. I think it’s a lot of fun. It’s the kind of book that I wish I had when I was a kid. And now I get a chance to write it, which is pretty exciting.
Will you be telling a long-form story or are these done-in-one adventures?
Fletcher: Every issue has a really solid beat that makes it feel like a solid 20 pages but there we’ll definitely be dealing with arcs. This first arc is about six issues. And then we have a bunch of stories that could be done completely in one issue — some little, fun gag stories. But there is definitely a larger arc that we’re playing. And we hope we get to do the book for a long, long time and play it out.
Cloonan: I think we will. [Laughs]
Karl, what was the development process like for the look and feel of the series? The teased cover is not so doom and gloom, which is often the case with a Bat book.
Kerschl: It’s absolutely something that I’ve been working towards for a long time. It’s sort of an animated style for comics. I did it to some measure of personal success [Laughs] in “Teen Titans: Year One,” which was released back in 2008. I am drawing all of the characters and I’m inking all of the characters and they’ll be colored with a flat style. And the backgrounds, I’m doing with a looser pencil and they are intended to be painted over digitally. Very much in style of animation, there will be painted backgrounds with cell-shaded characters over top of it. We did that in “Teen Titans: Year One” and I was really happy with it. It worked out and I’m trying to emulate that style now and upping my game a little bit too to make it more sophisticated. We’ll see how it turns out. We haven’t done any color tests yet. But I’m excited to see what happens with that. I colored the cover myself and I’m working on the second issue cover now.
And you’re right. They’re definitely brighter in tone. A lot of the challenge is to portray these characters in a way that’s appropriate for who they are while still suggesting that it set some where in Gotham and Batman’s world. There’s a bit of a mystery/darkness to it while at the same time being light and fun.
Readers can enroll in “Gotham Academy” #1 in October.