According to the creators of Gotham Academy, the comic is something "that was missing in the Batman universe" — a mystery told from the perspective of young people that's like a mix of Harry Potter and Batman: The Animated Series.
For many critics and fans, anticipation for the October-launching comic is only heightened by the list of veterans on the creative team. Written by indie darlings Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher, the comic will feature pencils by fan-favorite artist Karl Kerschl, who's working with French colorist Romain Gaschet to create an almost animated style on Gotham Academy.
The comic, as its name implies, is set within a prestigious, private boarding school in Gotham City, one which not only has Bruce Wayne among its benefactors, but has a long history within the city — one that is filled with mysteries that tie into the Batman universe.
Newsarama talked to Cloonan, Fletcher and Kerschl to find out more about why the book makes sense in the Batman universe, and what readers can expect from the art, the story and the ghosts that haunt the halls of Gotham Academy.
Newsarama: Becky and Brenden, let's start with the first question that comes to mind — what exactly is Gotham Academy? It's part of the Batman universe, but it sounds very different from what we'd normally see from a Batman book. How would you describe the book?
Brenden Fletcher: It's a different kind of book for the Bat-universe. While it's really about solving mysteries — just like any other Bat-book, in a way — it's from the perspective of young people growing up in Gotham.
It takes place in a boarding school, which has on its campus some of the oldest buildings in Gotham City. And as we follow this diverse cast of young women around the campus, exploring these old buildings, exploring these creaky corners of Gotham Academy, we are going to discover connections to things in the Batman universe that you would never expect.
And the way that spirals back into the characters are the plot beats that we're looking forward to hitting the most. It's going to be such a great payoff.
Nrama: Is Olive Silverlock the main character?
Becky Cloonan: She's the main character we'll be following for the first six issues. We jump into her story in her second year as a student at Gotham Academy — she's got a bunch of friends, and there are a lot of other characters that come into play, but she's the main character that we're focusing on.
Now, something happens to Olive over the summer. We can't say here what that is. But it has changed her, a little bit for the worse — she's withdrawn now, and she's having trouble with her boyfriend. So we pick up the story, trying to figure out what happened to Olive, and how her friends deal with this, and how she deals with it.
Fletcher: The other most important character in our first issue is Maps Mizoguchi, who is the little sister of Olive's boyfriend, Kyle. Maps doesn't know that there's any rift between her brother and Olive.
So for her, coming to Gotham Academy is something that she's been looking forward to for years, since her brother started. This is the most exciting time for her, and she looks to Olive as an older sister. So she just wants to hang out with Olive and have fun.
But that's a point of conflict now, because Olive knows what's going on with Maps' brother, and maybe she doesn't want to spend so much time with her ex-boyfriend's little sister.
But they're thrown together, and Maps is precocious, and Olive is withdrawn…
… and then there's a mystery.
We have a lot more characters than that — we have such a broad cast in this book — but our focus for the first issue are those two characters.
In the second issue, there's a lot more weight given to a girl that you'll meet briefly in the first issue. Her name is Pomeline Fritch. Issue #2 will focus on the conflict between Olive and Pomeline.
Nrama: Yeah, we've got this character sketch of Pomeline, and we've been seeing some of the art, and the covers. Karl, how would you describe what you're doing for the visuals on this book? How did you come up with the style and approach you're using?
Karl Kerschl: It's a culmination of a lot of things, for me. Brenden and I have been working together for quite awhile, and we've known each other for probably, I guess, close to 30 years. And we've worked on a lot of things over the years. I think I've been drawing comics professionally for almost 20 years.
But this is the first time I've really been able to play fully to my strengths, I think. I usually try to infuse a lot of comedy and lighter tones into my work. It's not always appropriate for the superhero stories that I'm hired to do.
So in that sense, it's kind of ideal, because I think the films we grew up watching, and the stories we grew up loving and being inspired by — stuff like Macross and Elfquest and all the Miyazaki films — they walk this line between melancholy, sometimes creepy and really funny.
I think that blend of influences plays perfectly into what we're doing in Gotham Academy.
I'm using a style on this that I've been working on for a few years, that I experimented with in The Flash and on Teen Titans Year One, which is trying to emulate an animated style.
I requested Romain Gaschet, who's a French colorist — he's amazing; he helped us on Teen Titans Year One — to color this book. And he's painting over all my pencils for the backgrounds, and he's coloring all the characters in a flat, cell-shaded, animated style.
If all goes well, and so far, it's exceeding my expectations, the book will look like a series of stills from an animated movie.
Nrama: From the way you guys describe the visuals and the story, it sounds like something that really stands alone within the Batman universe, but it's in continuity, right?
Becky Cloonan: It's in continuity. So things that happen in other books will affect our book. But it also stands apart as we kind of create our own universe within Gotham.
Fletcher: You can look to Batman Eternal to inform some of what you'll see in Gotham Academy, but it's definitely not necessary to read the other books.
Also, our book is for all ages, so you can be a young reader and only read Gotham Academy and get the full story.
Nrama: The solicitations indicate that Bruce Wayne is a benefactor for the school. So I assume we'll see well-known characters from Gotham show up in the book?
Fletcher: That is correct, but not in the way that you would expect.
Cloonan: There are a lot of Easter eggs too, for fans of Batman. We've had a lot of fun going back through some of our favorite Batman stories and cherry-picking some of our favorites to put in there.
Kerschl: It actually draws on the entire history of diverse Batman lore, from the darkest stuff to the absolute lightest stuff, and it's all sort of thrown in there.
Nrama: With the ghost in the North Hall that's teased in solicitations, and the word "spooky" thrown into the descriptions of this story — is this mystery you're talking about kind of creepy, in the midst of the humor and fun you're having with the characters?
Cloonan: Yeah, yeah.
Nrama: Because the issue #2 cover with the Order of the Bats looks pretty spooky.
Fletcher: It is!
Cloonan: There's some spooky stuff.
The ghost of Gotham Academy, that is part of the main mystery we're solving in the first story arc.
Fletcher: And the moment you see on the cover kind of deepens the mystery, but also, maybe provides a few answers, early answers, about the ghost.
Ahhh!! It's so hard! I want to tell you everything, but it's just going to spoil the story!
Nrama: Don't do that. But let's back up a second, Becky, because this book is so different for DC and the Bat-universe — how did this come about? Was this an idea you had, or did you develop it with DC?
Cloonan: I think it was about February, when [Batman editor] Mark Doyle called me up, and he said he was looking for new pitches. We kind of batted a few ideas around over the phone, and it seems like this kind of story was just something that was missing in the Batman universe — something all ages, a little more fun, you know, a mystery story.
So when I hung up the phone, I immediately turned to Karl and Brenden and was like, alright, you guys are on this book with me. Let's get started.
Fletcher: She gave us no choice.
Cloonan: Yeah, there was no choice. I didn't give them a chance to say no.
Nrama: Brenden, when you got involved, what did you think of the idea behind it, and how did you and Becky work together on the story?
Fletcher: When she came to me with it, I was like, no, let's do Batman! Let's do a Batman book! Because I've always wanted to write a Batman book. [Laughs] And Becky was like, uh… no, we're going to do Gotham Academy.
But, immediately after that, we started firing on all cylinders. I mean, Becky, Karl and I have so many of the same influences. Most of the time we just sit around and talk about movies and books and toys and video games that we're all in love with, and this is a way to harmonize a lot of our influences.
It's almost like a book that's been gestating, for all of us, in some fashion, for years. And we're finally getting the opportunity to do it, and we're getting to do it through the Bat-universe, which is crazy!
It's such a personal book. It's so personal to all of us. It's not like just being hired to write a random superhero. This is something that we created, with the guidance of the amazing Mark Doyle, of course, but we created this. And our working relationship is the best. We're three really good friends, and we can just jam on ideas, back and forth.
Nrama: I want to talk about something you said earlier, Brenden, and maybe you can address this too, Becky. You said you're following a "diverse cast of young women." We've heard some outcry from the comics community in recent years about a need for more female focused comics, and with this being all ages, it feels like it's even appropriate for young female readers. Was that something that you did on purpose, or was it just the way the story evolved?
Fletcher: I think it just kind of happened that way.
Cloonan: Yeah, we're focusing on Olive, and the story came out from that. I mean, it takes place in a boarding school, and you have a boys dorm and a girls dorm, and with the main character being a girl, and with Maps being part of it, we spend a lot of time in the girls dorm. Olive's roommate is also a girl.
So it just kind of happened that way.
Fletcher: There was definitely no agenda. All the characters were just born out of a need to tell this story, and that's who they were.
Nrama: And you mentioned that Olive is the main character in the first arc. Does that mean the focus might switch to someone else in the Academy in future issues?
Cloonan: Yeah. Who knows who we're going to be focusing on in the future? The great thing about this idea is that whenever the three of us sit down and talk about ideas, we can have, like, three years of material already just in our head.
Fletcher: At least. When we sit down, we just riff and jam on all these great ideas for the future.
Kerschl: But you know, a lot of it is already incorporated, because having those conversations informs the way those characters behave, even in the first issue, and the expressions that are on their faces.
We're playing a real long game, in terms of how this story's being told, and the seeds are planted very early on, as early as page 1 or 2.
You know, we're just so excited about this. No one gets an opportunity like this, to have this sort of book handed to you and to be told to just do whatever you want, and make it fun, and create a whole new cast of characters in a universe you love.
I think we're all just grateful for that and excited to be playing in that sandbox.
Fletcher: And to be able to add to the depths and richness of Gotham's history in a way that will actually directly affect he way you perceive Batman.