Cloonan, Fletcher & Kerschl Plan "Gotham Academy's" Curriculum

A Bat-family hit that reads like an indie darling, "Gotham Academy" is exactly the kind of title Mark Doyle promised when he became DC Comics' Batman group editor last year.

Launched to much fanfare in October, the series -- written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and featuring art by Karl Kerschl -- essentially reads like a all-ages book, but possesses enough drama and tension to more than whet the appetite of long-time readers of titles like "Batman" and "Detective Comics."

The fourth issue of the new series, which debuted at #40 on the CBR's Top 100 Comics of 2014, arrives this week as Olive Silverlock and Maps Mizoguchi -- described by Fetcher as the Batman and Robin of the book -- hunt a ghost that is haunting the North Hall.

Cloonan shared the best music to listen to while reading (or writing) "Gotham Academy" and Kerschl revealed the name of the English boarding school that greatly influenced the look and feel of the series from the stone-walled campus to the trend-setting uniforms. Much time was also spent discussing the term "smooching," a word utilized in the solicitation for "Gotham Academy" #5 at Doyle's behest.

CBR News: You've managed to capture a unique style and pace in "Gotham Academy." Has your decision-making and story choices altered from past your comic book experiences, and what is your litmus test for content and story beats in what is essentially an all-ages title?

Brenden Fletcher: I don't know if it's any different than any other books that we've worked on, but definitely, every element that we pass around has to be suitable to the tone that we are trying to achieve. It's all about hitting the mark in that regard. It's usually me that brings up stuff that is too bombastic. [Laughs] I'm always trying to push the envelope, and Becky and Karl are always bringing it back and reining me in. And shooting me down. [Laughs]

Karl Kerschl: When we do that, even though it's all in the name of fun, it feels like you're potentially pandering. The last thing we want to do is talk down to anyone. We're making stories for ourselves.

Becky Cloonan: A lot of it is curating, too, because the tone is so unique. It definitely has a certain vibe. With the characters that we pull from the greater DC Universe and the original characters that we create, they all have to totally match the look and feel of the book. We're all totally on the same page about that stuff.

Kerschl: It's basically a self-correcting process between the three of us. Everything circulates between the three of us and comes out fixed in the end.

Similarly, how do you manage telling a high school dramedy with Batman and his rogues as possible campus visitors? Or a ghost in the North Hall? How can there ever be a light moment?

Fletcher: If you are trying to represent anyone's life, there is always light and dark. Nobody lives their life in the darkness 100 percent of the time. Even Bruce Wayne goes out to a party every now and again. I think it's our prerogative as authors to choose the best moments that represent the story that we're trying to tell. Some of those moments involve some levity.

I guess that's high school: There are extreme highs and lows, perhaps more than any other time in one's life.

Cloonan: It's so immediate. And those are the same feelings that we're trying to represent here. There is a manic-ness to it.

Fletcher: I think that spectrum is also represented in the history of Batman, as well. We're trying to fold in a lot of elements from different points in Batman's history. You'll see things from the '66 TV show, "Batman: The Animated Series," much, much older issues of the comics from the '60s and '70s, and those were kind of lighter times. We have Aunt Harriet in the book. [Laughs]

Cloonan: I love that. I love that we can do that.

Fletcher: That's Batman. That's totally legit.

Like Betty and Veronica, or Ginger and Mary Ann, "Gotham Academy" features two very unique central female figures. Obviously, their age is a major difference, but what makes Olive and Maps distinct individuals and young women that readers have warmly accepted?

Fletcher: In a lot of ways, they're our Batman and Robin. Olive is mopier and keeps to herself, and Maps is very excitable and younger and exuberant. We have the light and the darkness right there.

Cloonan: For the first story arc, Olive is the POV [point of view] character, so everything we do gets pretty dark. Maps is the perfect foil for her. If it ever gets too dark, Maps is there to bring it back into the light. They make a good team -- they are like Batman and Robin.

Kerschl: The cool thing about them is that neither one of them is really in the driver's seat. They both enable each other. Maps is adventurous, but she needs Olive's direction before pursuing any of her adventures. Olive tends to not to do anything unless she's motivated by Maps. They require each other to act this way.

Cloonan: They need each other to function. [Laughs]

Kerschl: One of my favorite tweets that I have seen is one that said, the person didn't know which character they wanted to be more when they grew up, Olive or Maps.

Fletcher: I feel the same way.

I'm happy you mentioned social media there, as I think the way the three of you have engaged with readers, and each other, via Twitter and other social media tools has really played a big part in the book's success. It must be extra special when readers are tweeting photos to you of them cosplaying as Olive or Maps, or of fan-created art.

Cloonan: I love fan art. That's exactly what I was doing when I was starting. Actually, I still draw fan art. That was such a big part of my life growing up, drawing my favorite comic book characters and my favorite video game characters, so to see people draw depictions of characters that we created, it gives me heart flutters.

Fletcher: It's so genuinely moving. I will never forget being at Thought Bubble in November and a family -- a mother and two daughters -- showed up as our three main female characters. I was legitimately choked up. There were no words. I just wanted to hug them all.

Kerschl: And it's amazing that it's happened in such a relatively short time too. We're only three issues into the book, so it's an indicator to us that the characters are resonating with people, and we're on the right track in the way that we are depicting them.

Karl, can you talk about the look and feel of "Gotham Academy," specifically Olive and Maps, and how you landed on their unique styles?

Kerschl: We all participated in that process. When we were putting together the descriptions for the characters, we started collecting a lot of reference material online of different private schools and different boarding schools and school uniforms and the schools themselves. Radley College was one of the ones that we really looked at because there was a fantastic documentary about it.

Aesthetically, it's kind of a cross between a traditional boarding school uniform with suits and skirts and fashionable rugby attire. The goal was to create different silhouettes for all of the characters to make them distinct, despite the fact that they would all be wearing basically the same thing. While they all have a grey jacket and black or brown pants, I tried to give them all different hairstyles, different heights, different weights, different skin colors and different eye colors. And accessories, just to make sure they stood out.

I didn't go to a school that required a uniform, but I know a lot of kids who did, and accessorizing those uniforms is a pretty important part of everyday school life. You want to make yourself as unique as possible. That was a lot of fun to do.

It's interesting that you mention "only three issues." With DC's line-wide event "Convergence" only a few months away, how will that impact the story you are telling in "Gotham Academy"?

Fletcher: "Convergence" is its own thing, and it's going to be fantastic. It comes right after the end of our first story arc. We just pop right back in June with the next issue.

Becky, you said that Olive is the POV character in this first arc. Will Maps be the POV character for the next arc?

Cloonan: Wow. You picked up on that. [Laughs] You'll see. We have so many characters, and we want to move the point of view around. That's something we talked about doing from the very beginning. I don't want to give anything away just yet, but you'll be exposed to other characters' point of view.

Fletcher: You'll definitely get to spend time with characters that you might feel have been shortchanged in our first arc. We'll flesh out the world further in our second arc.

This week, the hunt for the Ghost of Gotham Academy begins. Should we be scared, as if we were watching "Doctor Who" from behind the sofa?

Cloonan: Light some candles and play the John Williams' score from "Dracula" in the background. I listen to it when I'm writing "Gotham Academy."

Kerschl: There are actually some pretty on-the-nose references to "Dracula" in "Gotham Academy" #4. [Laughs]

Fletcher: Wojciech Kilar's "Dracula" score works too.

You need to release a soundtrack.

Fletcher: It would be songs from Dracula movies, and songs about Dracula.

Based on the solicitations for "Gotham Academy" #5, it looks like there is going to be some "smooching," too.

Cloonan: God, smooching.

Fletcher: The cover image really only shows almost smooching. [Laughs]

Cloonan: Exactly. Is there smooching? As you can see, it's almost smooching.

Fletcher: It's close. [Laughs] There's smooching potential. That could be the title of your biography, Becky.

Cloonan: That could be the story of my life. [Laughs]

Fletcher: All of Becky's comics are about smooching potential. Actually, that's right from the solicitation copy so, cough, cough, Mark Doyle. He's the real architect of this book, he's always pushing for more smooching.

Cloonan: And he knows that I don't do smooching. I only do almost smooching.

We haven't seen a whole lot of Batman yet, but he's certainly a presence. What is his role in the series, and will we be seeing more of him in future issues?

Fletcher: As we stated back in the first issue, Olive is indelibly tied to Batman in a lot of ways. We haven't been specific about it, and it remains one of the main mysteries of the book, but you can see that she's affected by the Bat signal. And she thinks she sees Batman. There is a story there to tell, so we are obviously going to be dealing with the Dark Knight in some capacity -- but we're maybe not going to deal with it in the way that everyone is expecting.

Cloonan: A lot of it is his effect on Gotham and the people who live there. His presence might not be there in the physical sense, but his shadow looms large over Gotham.

"Gotham Academy" #4 by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl arrives January 28.

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