This past weekend at Special Edition: NYC 2015, I had the supreme honor to spend some time with 2/3 of DC Comics Gotham Academy creative team, co-writer Becky Cloonan and artist Karl Kerschl. Over the course of our conversation, we discussed the creative process that goes into Gotham Academy, the book’s standout Endgame issue, and what we can expect when the books makes its return Post-Convergence.

  • How are you guys enjoying the show so far?

Cloonan: It is bedlam here, it is crazy. I didn’t know what to expect because I’ve never done a Special Edition: NYC before, but it’s been like non-stop here.

Kerschl: Yeah, I said to someone when I came in the door that it almost feels like an old-school Chicago-Con from 1995. It’s all comics, which is amazing.

Cloonan: It’s really good. The great thing about it is that it’s crowded and it’s been non-stop for us behind the table, but it doesn’t feel crowded. You can walk around pretty easily.

Kerschl: And you can hear everybody as well.

  • Glad you’re enjoying it. Moving on to Gotham Academy, overall the series is not a typical DC series, and it’s bringing in a lot of readers who don’t read said typical comic books. Was that a goal of yours all along, or was it more a bye-product of simply writing the series you wanted to write?comics-gotham-academy

Cloonan: That was always the goal. At least when Mark (Doyle, DC Editor) came to me and I said Gotham Academy, the idea was to do something totally different. To bring a YA kind of feel, but still make it all-ages and something anyone can enjoy. Harry Potter was a big touchstone for that, obviously a lot of kids read it. I love Harry Potter, and to make something with that kind of appeal and that kind of reach is pure fun. I remember really vividly my first comic. My dad bought a comic home, a Silver Surfer book when I was eight years old. I remember reading it, and from then on I was hooked. To think that I’m drawing comics now, and to think that this might be some young girl or boy’s first comic and that one day they may be drawing comics or making books is something that’s always in the front of my mind when I’m working on this book.

Kerschl: I think we expected to reach a slightly different audience, and I’m still surprised by how vast that reach has been. Talking to people here, I’ve talked to a bunch of kids who’ve picked it up as their first comic book which is really incredible.

Cloonan: A lot of people. And also a lot of people coming up and saying my wife doesn’t read comics, and this is the one that instead of asking “Why are you buying so many?” she asks “When are you buying the next one?” It’s nice to hear that people are sharing. It’s a book that you can give to someone who doesn’t read comics, or who doesn’t read DC Comics and people really respond to it.

Kerschl: Even men coming up and saying their friends were making fun of them for reading this teen girl book, but they don’t care because they love it. There’s something there for everyone.

Cloonan: Yeah. There’s something there for everybody. We are coming at it from a place of pure Gotham love. We honestly love the stories, and to be able to take the lore and weave it into a new tapestry for either younger readers, or people who love Batman but want to hear a new story.

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  • I wanted to ask about the creative process that goes into the book. Becky, you cut your teeth as an artist, and Karl you’ve been around the industry as an artist a long time, and obviously Brenden (Fletcher, the series co-writer) as well. Karl, does Becky’s artistic background make for an interesting dynamic, to know that one of the writers is an artist herself, whereas normally that’s not the case? On the same note, Becky do you feel like you have visual ideas expressed in your scripts that maybe someone whose just a writer might not express the same way? Has that had an effect on the art of the book? It has a very different look than anything else that’s on stands, at least in the mainstream right now.

Kerschl: It is completely, 100% a product of collaboration. A collaboration that comes from implicit trust in each other.

Cloonan: Agreed. Visually, the book is 100% Karl. From the character designs, to the layouts, everything. We have really different methods of story telling, I think. We achieve similar goals, and we have the same goals for what we want the book to emotionally achieve. As far as story goes, we always want to hit the right beats, and we do. Every once in a while I’ll be like “Insert Panel” or like “three small panels.” Sometimes I’ll see something in my head and I’ll just write it down because it’s instinctively what I feel, and Karl can take it or leave it. Generally the scripts are pretty loose in terms of visual cues. As an artist it gives me kind of an edge, as I know exactly how much or how little I can put on a page.

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Kerschl: And you probably already have a good idea of what going to be a close-up intuitively, or what’s going to be an establishing shot, There’s a really organic process to it. Also, I’ve worked with Brenden forever to, so there’s a short answer. I almost don’t need a script. Like we just hang around and talk, and the scripts are really just for the editors.

Cloonan: Sometimes our editor will give us notes. Once they wanted us to edit down the end of one of the issues, it was just a two page sequence and a few things needed to get shuffled around. Karl and I talked about it and we were on the same page. My actual re-writing of the ending was mostly for for the editor, actually only for the editor. Like you (Karl) knew what we were going to do anyway, and then we re-scripted the dialogue based on what you draw. We’re all in the same studio, we’re all in the same city. It’s really funny, when I go in and do those edits, I’m doing them so the editor can see them. I’m not doing them so Karl can see them. You can look at them if you like, the new script is uploaded on the Dropbox, but I don’t know if you’ll ever see it.

Kerschl: Well the other thing to is our scripts are all shared on Dropbox or Google Drive, and like I’ll edit stuff to that you guys (Fletcher and Cloonan) never see. I’ll edit dialogue or whatever.

Cloonan: Yeah, it totally works.

Kerschl: It’s hard to delineate who does what.

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Cloonan: And we’re all so invested. When it comes time to do dialogue, we’ll all be sitting around together jamming and we’ll make each other burst out laughing because we come up with a really dumb line and we’ll be like “that has to go in the script.” It’s usually like some quip or a throwaway line of dialogue that makes us laugh a lot. And because we’re laughing we know it’s probably the right thing, or we’re just tired (laughs).

Kerschl: That stuff makes the series feel grounded, and like those characters have history.

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  • I wanted to bring up one specific issue, namely the Endgame tie-in one shot, which I thought was fascinating. Anyone whose been a comic fan for any length of time knows that a book like Gotham Academy being tied into the larger Batman franchise is going to get caught up in crossovers from time to time. I personally thought it was one of the best of those that I’ve ever read, as it didn’t force an unnecessary situation on the characters or one that felt out of place in the book. It really wasn’t even very involved in Endgame on the ground level, but more on a psychological level. I was just wondering where that came from, and how that issue came together?

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Cloonan: Well we were all in New York for New York Comic Con, and we were sitting in Mark Doyle’s office, whose the Batman group editor. He’s pretty much responsible for us getting this book off the ground in the first place, he championed the book and was really supportive of it. He was like “Hey guys, we’re doing this Endgame thing. If you want to do a tie-in, cool. If not, don’t worry about it. If you can think of something cool that works do it, if not don’t force it.”

Kerschl: Literally like 10 seconds in, Brenden said “I know what to do.”

Cloonan: Yeah, Brenden was like “I’ve got it. They’re all hanging out telling ghost stories about the Joker” and it’s like perfect. And I think for someone who doesn’t read the Endgame stuff, maybe to some of our younger readers, it might be a little bit confusing to grasp the situation, but I just think the situation is secondary to all the ghost stories. So we were able to kind of circumnavigate the Endgame situation. It was great because we got to collaborate with Joy Ang, Clio Chang, and Vera Brosgol  (who crafted the three ghost stories) These three artists, and Jeff Stokley (who did the art for the book’s wraparound segments) as well, they’re some of my favorite people and favorite artists, so it was really cool to get them involved.

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Kerschl: And have them tell their ghost stories.

Cloonan: And we had some small.. Like McPherson’s has to be a folkie one, or Olive’s has to be really creepy because it’s a story her mother tells her. So we had a little back and forth with that, but that was all Joy, Vera, and Cleo doing that. They’re all heavy hitters, and having them work on this book was really fun. And that’s what we want this book to be, really fun.

  • Before we move on from Gotham Academy, what can you tell us about the book’s future as it makes it’s post-Convergence return on June 10th?

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Cloonan: Well issue 7 is kind of special, as Damian (Wayne) is now enrolled as a student at Gotham Academy. Mingjue Helen Chen is doing the art for it, and she is phenomenal. I can’t believe we got Helen Chen, she’s so good. She did a lot of artwork for Big Hero 6, and she is like a heavy hitter. The book is a lot of fun. A lot of people are wondering how Damian fits in, and that’s the thing; he doesn’t. Issue 7 is more about how now it’s Damian’s turn to figure out how he fits into this dynamic and how does the son of Batman actually fit in at school. Can he even lead a normal life? I don’t know. After that with issue 8 we jump right back into Olive’s story. If anyone’s seen the cover, it’s a darker issue. It’s serious, there’s a lot of gravitas.

Kerschl: It definitely starts out that way, it’s pretty heavy for the first five pages.

Cloonan: Fans of Kyle Mizoguchi are gonna really like issue 8. We see a lot more of the handsome star of the Gotham Academy tennis team.

Kerschl: Not only that, but there are scenes of Kyle and Maps just with their parents. That’s my favorite shot from that book, just the Mizoguchi family.

Cloonan: We’re gonna try and pitch a Christmas with the Mizoguchis holiday special.

Kerschl: If we talk about it enough, it will happen.

Cloonan: It’s the law of the universe, the laws of attraction. If we talk about it enough, it’ll eventually happen (laughs).

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And on that cosmic note, we’re going to end Part One of this interview. Stay tuned for Part Two next week, when Becky and Karl discuss some other projects, working together and living in close proximity in Montreal, Comic-Con culture, and writing for young characters.

Click here for more from Special Edition: NYC 2015!
For more from Brian, click here!

                                                                                                 

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