SDCC 2014: Interview with Gotham Academy writers and the Batman group editor

When I was given a list of DC talent I could interview what I saw was a long list of people who either give too many interviews already or who would answer every question with “We can’t reveal that quite yet.” So I dismissed the whole thing and decided I wouldn’t sit down with anyone this year. At least, that was the plan until another email came in just days before the convention. In the message I was asked if I would be at all interested in speaking with Becky Clooonan and Brenden Fletcher, the authors of the brand-new series starting this October, Gotham Academy. I immediately responded, yes. Why? Because I had no idea what the heck it was about or how it fit in the Batman line.

On Friday, July 25th, I waded through the current of cosplayers and merchandise-toting fans ogling all the capes and cowls DC had on display in booth #1915 and made my way to a roped-off area where press could take refuge from the massive Batman 75 celebration that comprised most of DC’s section of the Comic-Con floor. Behind the barricades and publicists serving as sentinels were my interviewees perched in their sling-style seats (director’s chairs, basically) and with them was Mark Doyle, the editor of the entire Batman line. This caught me off guard. When I was a reviewer here at Batman News the Bat-editor at DC was Mike Marts and I never heard a peep from the man. I even went to the DC offices and his door was closed to me– literally, his was the only door that was shut– I was even able to look into Jim Lee’s office and give him a little nod, but the Bat-editor was off limits. I was taken aback at the opportunity to speak with him and impressed to see the editor stand by his team. Before I had time to think of any greater questions regarding the future of DC’s dozens of Batman titles, I was ushered inside and as I was announced, “This is Andrew Asberry of Batman News.” the loud speakers looping soundbite after soundbite of Batman material hit the famous Danny Elfman crescendo, giving me one hell of an entrance.

Mark: Did you make that happen?

Andrew:  Yes. It was very expensive. Very expensive.

Mark: Money well spent!

Andrew: So when this series was first announced, all I got in my email was a note from DC that said “Announcing Gotham Academy!” followed by a link and my first thought was, oh no… that failed cartoon? Did you ever see that thing?

Mark: No! (laughs)

Andrew: I looked it up after and found that it was actually called “Gotham High.”

Mark: Someone mentioned that to me and– No! No, let me be perfectly blunt, this has nothing to do with that, but someone did tell me about. I’m not sure if it was just a pitch or of it went to pilot or something like that, I don’t know. It was basically like younger versions of Bruce and Selina and other characters in high school. Which… no. No. This is not that.

Gotham High

Becky: I don’t ever want to see teen Penguin, that’s just something I would not be interested in. Actually, I wasn’t aware of it until after the announcement.

Brenden: Me either!

Mark: No, it’s not that. This is present day Batman continuity.

Andrew: It looks like entirely original characters.

Becky: It is.

Andrew: Good, so we’re not going to be seeing a lot of “Oh, this is the nephew of Jim Gordon” or “This is the niece of Catwoman.” Nothing like that?

Mark: There’s certainly going to be some connection to continuity and there’s certainly characters with connections to other characters, bu this team is doing an amazing job of creating totally new characters with really compelling backstories that make you fall in love with them immediately.

Andrew: Bruce Wayne’s supposed to be funding the school, isn’t he?

Brenden: Bruce Wayne has poured money into the school, but more importantly the Wayne Foundation offers a scholarship that our lead character, Olive Silverlock, is attending the school on. Bruce has been instrumental in allowing this character, who wouldn’t otherwise be able, to attend the school– But why?

Andrew: Can you elaborate on what kind of background she has?

Mark: It’s the big mystery of the series. Talk about that.


Brenden (to Becky): Do you want to talk about it a bit?

Becky shakes head

Brenden (to Becky): Do you want me to talk about it?

Mark: We can’t, no! We can’t talk about it. We can’t talk about that specifically.

Gotham Academy 02

Brenden: We can’t talk about Batman Club. The first rule of Batman Club is you do not talk about Batman club. (laughs) We can say that Olive has some unfortunate things in her past, but she had this bright spot, this great piece of luck where Bruce Wayne and the Wayne Foundation awarded her a scholarship that has allowed her to attend the most prestigious prep school in the state, Gotham Academy. She had an amazing first year. It was the best first year ever– it was perfect! But something happened during the space in time between the first and second year and summer break that has changed everything. Changed her life, changed the way she thinks about the school, she’s broken up with her boyfriend as a result, it’s affected the relationship she has with her best friend… And that mystery is really the core mystery of our series. I… can tell you– I want to tell you so much more! But I don’t want to spoil anything.

Mark: You gotta wait!

Andrew: So what’s caused Bruce Wayne to get so involved in this school? Did he go to the school himself?

Brenden: We’re going to be a bit ambiguous on how we talk about Bruce’s history with the school at this point because it will factor into later stories, but he did have some involvement with the school in his younger years.

Becky: And it’s kind of way to just give back to the community. You know? Offering a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school to kids who might not have been so fortunate.

Brenden: Tax breaks.

Becky: Tax breaks.

Mark: Because if you think about Batman, Batman is all about making Gotham City a better place and most of the time we focus on how he does that by wearing the cape and cowl and being Batman, but people forget that the Waynes are an important family in Gotham and have been doing things to try and make it a better place with the money and philanthropic stuff that they can do. And that’s a legacy that Bruce carries from his parents. Gotham Academy is maybe one project that he’s involved in when there are many other things he does too. Next we’ll be doing a hospital drama I guess. (laughs, as do Becky and Brenden)

Andrew: It does seem like Batman is micromanaging Gotham now, I mean with the announcement of Arkham Manor as well. Now he’s getting really involved in this school and decided to turn his home into an asylum?

Mark: Well… Yeah, I can’t– I can’t talk too much about Arkham Manor, but I will say that the thinking behind that, again, is actually very much coming from a legacy-thing from his father. His father was a doctor and wanted to help people and take care of people and heal the sick– and that includes mentally ill people, too. So that’s sort of Bruce’s thinking about this, it’s like… I can’t reveal why he does it, but there’s a reason why he does it.

Andrew: You were joking about a hospital drama, but it doesn’t seem like much more of a stretch than these. Alfred was a field medic and surgeon.

Mark: Someone send me a pitch!

Andrew: Back to the school, there are a lot of Batman villains who have a doctorate or are professors themselves or at least have “Doctor” in their villain name–

Becky: Well, they’re all working at Gotham Academy right now so… (laughs)

Brenden: We split them between Gotham Academy and the hospital. If you have “Doctor” in your name you go to the hospital.

Andrew: How did the idea for this comic come about?

Brenden: These two! Mark and Becky colluding.

Becky: Yeah, I think it was back in January.

Mark: Yeah.

Becky: Mark called me up– or I think you warned me that you were going to call me up. Like, “I’m going to call you on Friday.” and I was like, Oh my God! So I was waiting– two days waiting, just biting my nails. He calls me up and we started talking and he explains that he wanted me to pitch something and– wanted me to write something! Which is incredible because I’ve mostly just worked with writers for the majority of my career so that was really cool. He mentions doing a story about kids living in Gotham under the shadow of the bat. Like, what’s it like to live in Gotham as a kid growing up here. We just started spit-balling ideas. Then we got off the phone and I immediately called up Karl, who works right across from me, Karl Kerschl, and Brenden and was like, You’re working with me on this! We gotta figure out a story!

Brenden: We were not given a choice in the matter.

Becky: There was no choice.

Andrew: With it being a story about a school you get to thinking about other stories like it, like Harry Potter where each book was a year at the school. Do you have a plan for each year of the comic being a year at the school? Because how would you balance that out with what’s happening in the rest of Batman comics when characters don’t really age much. If at all. Will the kids move up in grades?

Becky: Yes. They do, but it’s not exactly one year of real-time equals one year of Gotham Academy time. There is advancement in the school. There are going to be holidays and there’s going to be–

Mark: I’m glad you mentioned Harry Potter though, because that’s going to be a huge influence on this series.

Becky: Definitely.

Brenden: For sure, absolutely.

Andrew: Is there also an idea to cycle out the cast? With it being about an entire school there are even more kids to check in on or kids moving to Gotham–

Becky: You know… We’re talking in the future. Let’s just stick to the first story arc.

Mark: After the first issue sells a million copies and we know we’re doing it for ten years then yes, we’ll be talking about all that stuff.

Becky: Yes, but it is an ongoing and Brenden and I have stories for years and that includes a bunch of new characters.

Andrew: So it’s definitely not a finite concept with an endgame in mind.

Becky: This is the long game. The longest game.

Brenden: It’s going to have a great payoff and once you start reading you will pray we never cycle these characters out. You’re going to fall in love with them, they’re great characters.

Becky: Especially Karl Kerschl, who has been drawing the hell out of these characters. The first time I saw pictures of them it was just like… if I didn’t immediately love those characters then, I love them now! They are so charming.

Mark: He gives them so much life.

Brenden: Yeah, we can provide all the backstory we want, but really when Karl puts it on the page, that’s it. These characters are alive and you want to be a part of their story.

Gotham Academy 01

If you want to see more pictures from the San Diego Comic-Con, check out my Twitter @AndrewBatReview.

Brenden Fletcher will also be taking over as writer for Batgirl, but I wasn’t able to ask about any crossover between it and Gotham Academy due to my time being cut 2 minutes short due to earlier interviews running long. You can learn more about him at his official website or follow him on twitter @brendenfletcher. Becky Cloonan (@beckycloonan) has an upcoming series for Image coming out later this year as well titled Southern Cross and she also has an official website with updates about her current projects.