GOTHAM ACADEMY creators talk Dungeons & Dragons and how annoying the Bat Signal is

GOTHAM ACADEMY isn”t your typical Batman comic, but Olive Silverlock isn”t your typical Batman protagonist. After a perplexing mystery incident over summer break, Olive returns to school with a wicked case of amnesia, an attitude that oscillates from apathy to hostility, and a brand-new unexplained phobia of bats.

But all that drama takes a back seat with Olive is assigned to mentor new student Mia Mizoguchi – Maps to her friends. The spunky little sister of Olive”s ex-boyfriend is determined to solve the mystery of the Gotham Academy ghost…and the strange secret society meeting in the school”s ancient cemetery. Is the prestigious private school REALLY haunted or is something even stranger going on?

With GOTHAM ACADEMY VOLUME 1: WELCOME TO GOTHAM ACADEMY on shelves now, Hitfix Harpy spoke with co-writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl about bringing this spooky new corner of Gotham to life!

Image Credit: DC Entertainment. Art by Karl Kerschl

HITFIX HARPY:   Gotham Academy just finished up its first story arc.  How did you guys pitch this as a Batman story? It seems almost kind of Harry Potter-ish.  

Becky Cloonan:   A little over a year ago when Mark Doyle became Batman group editor he – I worked with him before at Vertigo so we had a really good relationship.  He asked me if I wanted to pitch something.  And, you know, it”s easy to see that there”s a little bit of a hole I think in the books that he produces. There weren”t any books for teens so right on the phone with him on the first conversation we had I was like “Gotham Academy” and he was like “What is that?” [laughs] It”s Hogwarts in Gotham! 

I was actually in the same room as Brenden and Karl at the time and I just looked over and I said Karl can draw it and Brenden can help me write it. The book came together really organically and I think the three of us being in the same place really helped.  

Karl are you a fan of anime?  Did you mean to accidentally turn Olive into a bad ass by giving her white hair? Because that is the rule of anime.

Karl Kerschl:   I definitely am well-steeped in the world of animation but weirdly I was trying to – I was thinking about this the other day.  Any time I create like video game characters they”re all end up with white hair…and sometimes red eyes. I never know why! So when we were doing the Olive designs that was one of the first things that came up.  Becky did an initial sketch- which I actually kept her initial sketch of Olive – it”s in the back of the GOTHAM ACADEMY trade right now with a bunch of other early sketches and concepts and design work.

Becky drew the mole on her cheek which I kept and everything else kind of changed.

Becky:   Yeah I think the mole is the only thing that made it.

Karl:   But if there”s a connection between that and anime I was unaware of it!

Now who here plays Dungeons and Dragons?

Karl:   Oh boy.  

Becky:   [laughs]

Brenden Fletcher:   Everybody.

Image Credit: DC Entertainment

Heck yeah! Can I buy Maps “Crit Please” shirt somewhere? Is that a thing DC is going to make at some point?

Becky:   Oh I hope so.

As soon as I saw her wearing it I was just what? Where? Shut up and take my money! I”m just so excited to see girls that are into Dungeons and Dragons in the comic, albeit as “Serpents and Spells.” What edition of S&S are they on right now? Is it fourth edition?

Becky:   I think Maps would love fourth edition because of the grid system and all the mapping that has to be done. But she doesn”t like 5th edition.

Brenden:   It”s a bit of a spoiler but Maps” arc through the next few years will take her to a place where she”s designing the sixth edition of Serpents and Spells. [laughs] Spoiler alert!

Well I look forward to seeing what the prestige classes are when she becomes the Grand Dungeonmaster! When you guys set out to write Gotham Academy did you do it with intent to have mostly female characters? Because – as you said – this started over a year ago and that was slightly before comics had reached this watershed moment where women are practically demanding to have more characters.

Brenden:   Oh not at all. It just happened organically. I mean when Becky and I sat down to start the brainstorming process Olive just kind of emerged as a character fully formed. Her character is integral to the plot. They kind of go hand in hand. And when the supporting cast got built up is was again just this organic outgrowth of who Olive was. Who was she hanging around with? Who are the people in her life? And it just became a group of young women. It wasn”t something I think we set out to do. But it”s something that certainly felt right. And I think if you look back at what Karl and I have tried to do together over the years it”s something where we have gravitated towards. We”ve always gravitated toward writing stories for both young women. And I think Becky you have too, right?

Becky:   Yeah. It just felt right I think. It didn”t really occur to me like “We need to obviously put more girls in there.”  It was more she has Maps and Pomeline and they”re kind of hanging out with a girl gang now.

Who named Pomeline and where did that come from?

Becky:    Brenden.

Brenden:   It came from an email that I received around the time we were putting this together. It was like a LinkedIn connection, some bizarre kind of spammy email that I got and the sender”s first name was Pomeline and I just took note of it. That is an incredible first name that I wanted to use for something. And we were putting Gotham Academy together and it just felt correct for that character.

Becky:   Brenden”s kind of a name wizard.

Speaking of wizards, there seems to be actual magic happening somewhere at Gotham Academy. Is it all going to turn into a Scooby Doo mystery thing where in the end it”s a case of pulling the mask off to reveal it was old man Weathers the whole time?

Becky:   Gotham”s kind of a magical place and I think a lot of things you can take it or leave it.  You know I have a friend that believes in ghosts and swears he”s seen them. But do I believe in ghosts? I”m not sure. It”s the idea of being able to look at something and see two different things. Everyone”s going to experience it differently. Some of our characters are going to have a more supernatural experience than others.  

Image Credit: DC Entertainment

So what”s up with Professor is it McPherson?  Very suspicious, all out smoking cigarettes while her dog clearly found a human femur. That never seemed to come up again.

Karl:   [laughs] I don”t think McPherson takes note of most of what the dog digs up.

Brenden:   It”s best not to ask too many questions about things that get dug up around Gotham Academy. Professor McPherson has a history with both Bruce Wayne and Batman and that”s something that we”ll touch on in coming issues.  

She”s not the only one. Batman and Bruce Wayne have some interesting history with Olive. Is that going to start unraveling soon or is it more of a long term story?

Becky:   Batman has a direct influence on Olive from when she was younger.  And that”s – you kind of figure that out during the first story arc. She definitely has a different relationship with Bruce Wayne. She”s attending the Academy on a Wayne scholarship. These things have both impacted her life in positive and negative ways and her story arc is directly tied to both of those characters.

Gotham Academy readers recently got to see a softer side of Killer Croc. Are we going to see more alternative sides to villains as the story progresses? When they”re fighting Batman they”re clearly bad guys but they”re also people most of them. Well, people-ish.

Karl:   People-ish would be a great description of Batman villains.

Becky:   I think you”ll see a lot of the teachers in Gotham Academy are people that have popped up before. There”s a lot of Easter Egg cameos by Batman characters, including some villains!

Can I just say that I really enjoy how annoyed everyone seems by the Bat signal.  Everyone”s just “Oh that again.”

Becky:   Imagine the light pollution! How annoying would that be? You”re sleeping and all of a sudden like through the windows you see these bright lights.

Karl:   It probably also usually pointed in the same direction, so it”s affecting real estate values. Like if you”ve got a window facing the bat signal you”re probably going to get as much when you sell your house.  

Brenden:   Unless that”s” coveted, you know? You get people moving from the west coast just for that bat signal view. Batman enthusiasts.

Image Credit: DC Entertainment

GOTHAM ACADEMY VOLUME 1: WELCOME TO GOTHAM ACADEMY is available at comic book shops now and in bookstores everywhere on June 23, 2015.