In October 2012, DC Comics continued expanding its digital-first publishing initiative with the cutest take on the Dark Knight yet: “Batman: Li’l Gotham.” Based on a concept by frequent collaborators Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs, the debut digital issue of “Batman: Li’l Gotham” covered the magic of Halloween as Batman attempted to teach Damien Wayne about the wonder of the holiday. Since its debut, issues of “Batman: Li’l Gotham” have placed in DC’s digital top 20, becoming one the publisher’s strongest digital-first series.
To get an idea of where the series is headed in 2013, CBR News spoke with series co-writer and artist Dustin Nguyen, who discussed the initial pitch for the series, the existence of “Li’l Gotham” as short backup stories in “Batman Annual” and “Detective Comics Annual,” the advantages of working in the digital format and the possibilities of expanding “Li’l Gotham” beyond its Gotham City borders.
CBR News: Dustin, before we kick things off and discuss the future of “Batman: Li’l Gotham,” what were your expectations for the digital-only comic prior to launching last year? Did you think it would become as big a phenomenon as it has?
Dustin Nguyen: You know, I was just excited to see it finally happen, so I didn’t give it much thought about how well it’d do sales-wise or anything. When word did come that it was getting picked up (or downloaded), we still had pretty small exceptions being they were essentially ” short stories.” From my experience, short stories — or more novelty stories, sort of just get a small time frame for attention, then its kind of over.
Obviously you and co-writer Derek Fridolfs have worked together before on “Justice League Unlimited” — and the Halloween digital-first title wasn’t your first visit to Li’l Gotham. You and Derek did “Off Rogue Racing” for “Batman Annual” #27 and “Question & Answer” in “Detective Comics Annual” #11. What made you want to come back and revisit the concept for the digital format?
Believe it or not, we’ve planned it for years. I think I pitched the idea about 6 years ago, but between “Streets of Gotham” and “Justice League Beyond,” Derek and I were always piled with deadlines after deadlines, and the time was never right. It was tough to not only find the schedule to do it, but also the right place to do it, and how to go about it. Our VP Hank [Kanalz] always has the saying, “Digital isn’t always instant” — he was right, it takes years. [Laughs]
So far, “Batman: Li’l Gotham” has covered Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Moving forward, can readers expect to see only holiday-themed installments of the series, or are you and Derek looking to expand the scope of the world?
We are definitely going to continue the theme of a fun holiday each month. Our initial pitch was called “Little Gotham’s Calendar of Small Events.” I had this crazy theory that if you can pitch a book that happens every holiday, each month — there’s no way they’ll cancel it before the year’s over! Job security. But now that DC’s given us the okay, you can expect even more adventures for the cast outside of just holidays.
“Li’l Gotham” features your signature watercolor style for some gorgeous visuals. How much effort goes in to creating an issue of “Li’l Gotham” compared to the work you did on longer comics, like when you served as ongoing artist on “Detective Comics?”
It’s a ton more work to paint a book, monthly. And for me, it all has to stay that way. I’ve toyed with the idea that I’ll go digital one day, just one issue, just to see how it looks and feels — and maybe even lessen my work load — but it’s never been satisfying to me. I started traditionally like this mostly for myself as a way to take a break from the day to day, so if I change it to make things go faster just to get more product out, I’ll start feeling like the fun’s over.
But at the same time, its a ton more fun to be able to control the art from start to finish and every detail of it — that’s the stuff that makes an artist happy usually. So it’s definitely worth the long hours and late nights.
Why do you think “Li’l Gotham” plays to the strengths of the digital format? What makes digital the ideal storytelling space for what you and Derek have planned for each story?
We originally pitched the book as just a normal book, so I think it would have worked out fine in any format we were given, but we reworked the first few plots to make it work better for the digital readers.Â Like I said, we were just happy to even get to make the book, DC Digital just gave us a fantastic place to play with it and have the space to roam.
When “Batman: Li’l Gotham” debuted with its Halloween issue, you had the opportunity to draw a lot of the Bat-universe as costumed children trick-or-treating. Is there anybody in the extended Bat-family that you haven’t had the chance to draw yet that you’d like to get your hands on?
Oh yeah, definitely. Even outside of Gotham. Derek and I have thought about what it’d be like to visit Minitropolis? Smallerville? The ocean where Aquaman swims? Sorry, no fancy name for the ocean — it’s just the ocean.
When we spoke with Bob Wayne and John Cunningham, they said to expect a lot more “Li’l Gotham” this year in the digital realm — considering the fan reaction to the series, are there plans at all to move the series from the digital realm to a monthly single-issue physical series?
Yes! I think it’s been solicited already, but our first issue in print hits newstands in April.
What else do you have coming down the line in the coming months?
I think DC’s about to make that announcement pretty soon.
The print edition of “Batman: Li’l Gotham” #1 arrives in April. Stay tuned to CBR News for more on upcoming digital episodes and Nguyen’s future projects.