Last week, the first issue of a brand new comic series, Gotham Academy, hit shelves. It’s a series set within the Bat-verse, but it focuses on the daily lives and hijinks of the students of an elite prep school. Think of it as the Gotham version of Hogwarts. To celebrate the release of this book, the creators, Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, and Karl Kerschl, decided to hit the road and party with readers in various Canadian and American cities. Thankfully (for me) one of their stops was in Toronto, and on Saturday I headed out to attend the launch party hosted by the fabulous folks of The Beguiling.
After a bit of mingling, Chris from The Beguiling joined the creators at the front of the room for a brief introduction and Q&A; starting of course with the basics – just who are the people behind Gotham Academy, and what brought them to this story?
The idea for the book started when Becky Cloonan (By Chance or Providence, True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys) began tossing around plans for a Bat-book with DC editor Mark Doyle. And throughout their talks, they kept coming back to this idea. Cloonan described it as the book she would have wanted to read when she was younger. And though she has never considered working with a co-writer before, it seemed like a good idea for what was sure to be a big project. At the time she was sharing a studio with Brenden Fletcher (Batgirl, Assassin’s Creed) in Montreal. And Fletcher had previously worked with Karl Kerschl (Teen Titans Year One) on the Assassin’s Creed comics and the Flash for Wednesday Comics. And just like that a team was born. And they’re in a kind of unique situation — it’s rare for a writer and artist to even see each other, let alone work in the same room. It’s even rarer for them to go on a crazy road trip together. They compared their time together to being in a rock band. Their work is at its best when they’re all together.
From there the conversation moved to the actual comic itself, and how it connects with the Bat-verse at large. There will be some tie ins/crossovers. Cloonan shared that they’re allowed to use every character but one (who went unnamed) which is a nice freedom. It allows them to curate what existing characters fit with the tone of the story, as well as create new characters as needed. It also means they’re able to throw in a lot of fun Easter Eggs – like a movie poster featuring Simon Trent. But despite being in continuity, Gotham Academy will exist in its own bubble, making it accessible for new and old comics fans alike.
They also spoke at length about how this comic is filling a vacuum in DC Comics, i.e., fun comics for a younger audience. Their goal is to be honest in writing about who these characters are, at the ages that they are. It’s important to also take note of the word “fun.” For a long time DC has been associated with darker, more serious comics – particularly the Batman comics. Recent history has given the death of yet another Robin, the Joker cutting off his own face, and more. Gotham Academy and the new Batgirl (which Fletcher is also writing) represent a tonal shift in the DC Universe. This could truly be the start of something new.
It wasn’t the team’s intention to change part of the comics landscape when they set out to create Gotham Academy. The feedback has been so great however that it’s opening the door for new possibilities. They believe that DC Comics is now listening and watching the sales of these series. The consensus seemed to be that if you want change in comics, now is the time to speak up and support books like this.
This would be a lot of pressure on its own, especially given that they are creating a whole world (within a world), need to make the school feel lived in, and introduce an all new set of characters. But there’s some added responsibility when it comes to Gotham Academy. There’s a good chance that this will be the first Batman comic for a lot of people. Jumping into Batman comics can seem intimidating with 75 years of history hanging overhead, but this could be a way to ease readers in. And the team is aware of that. To put it in their own words “we know all roads lead to Batman.” They admitted that they could have done a non-Batman version of this book with another publisher, but it wouldn’t have been the same. It wouldn’t have had the mythology and the history that comes with Gotham, which they hope you can feel from the first issue on.
And since all roads lead to Batman, the Q&A ended with “What’s your favourite Batman comic?” Karl Kerschl was quick to call upon Frank Miller classics The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. Brenden Fletcher also mentioned Year One as his favourite comic, but added that his most influential comic was a book-record set he had of the first appearance of Man Bat. And Becky Cloonan rounded out the picks with The Long Halloween.
It was great to meet the fabulous group behind Gotham Academy. They were extremely friendly and welcoming, and it was clear there is a lot of passion and love going into their work. And I was happy to see such an excellent and diverse turnout. It felt like a great indication of the wide appeal of this series. They’ve assured us they already have months and months of material planned, so I encourage everyone to go out and support this book so they have a chance to write it and we have a chance to read it!