YA Bloggers Read Gotham Academy, A Roundtable

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At the start of the year, I thought about the ways in which comics could market itself more successfully to a wider audience. More specifically, how can Marvel and DC Comics sell certain titles to an audience that isn’t already tapped into comics (or at least into their vast universes) but who would love some of their current titles?

Gotham Academy #1. Written by Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher. Art & Cover by Karl Kerschl. Coloured by GeyseR.Expanding your audience means the way you market your books should also be expanded. Big sites like EW are great but what about communities such as book bloggers? With the recent popularity of YA book to film adaptations, franchises such as The Hunger Games are smashing the box office, so why not tap into that same audience? Why not go after the young readers who love Harry Potter and who aren’t getting as many comics from the Big Two that they can enjoy? I decided that making statements on Twitter wasn’t enough so I assembled four young adult bloggers and one of WWAC’s book section writers to participate in a roundtable discussion on DC’s Gotham Academy. I gave them a month to read the first five issues of the new series and we discussed the comic itself, who would enjoy it and if they would venture further into comics after this experience.

Tell me about yourselves? Who are the panelists of this roundtable?

Angel: I’m Angel, blogger at Mermaid Vision Books and staff writer at WWAC.

Karen: My name is Karen Jensen, I have been a YA librarian for 21 years. I am a huge advocate of comic books/graphic novels but have read maybe none completely all the way through (until now). I blog at Teen Librarian Toolbox.

Giselle: I’m Giselle, a blogger and BookTuber for BO-OK NERD Canada where I read mostly YA books.

Molli: I’m Molli, NA/YA author and blogger at Books and Whimsy, and The Authorteers. Southern girl who reads way too much.

Steph: I’m Steph Sinclair and blogger at Cuddlebuggery, which focuses mainly on YA novels. I’m also an editor at YA Books Central.

Karen has already mentioned that she hasn’t really read comics before Gotham Academy. What have your past experiences been like?

Karen: For the record, I have “flipped through” comics. But not necessarily sat down and read an entire comic, graphic novel, or manga.

Steph: I used to read comics as a kid: Iron Man, Spider-Man, Super Girl. But My one true love is actually manga novels. I go through periods where I’ll binge read a bunch of those. But I don’t read comics on a regular basis.

Angel: I think I’ve read more manga than Western comics. As a kid, I read Archie and newspaper comics. Sailor Moon, Hana Yori Dango, Skip Beat, etc. are my fave manga

Molli: I’ve read a few comics and graphic novels, like some of the Firefly and Buffy ones, but it’s always been because they were based on a show I watched/etc. So I’d say I’m a casual comic reader, but if it interests me, I’ll definitely read it.

Giselle: I used to read comics as a kid too. Archie comics mostly. I’ve only flipped through the Game of Thrones graphic novel once at the store.

Molli: My mom loved the Archie comics so when I was growing up I glanced at a few, but since I was into things like Goosebumps then, they didn’t hold my interest. Yay for you guys liking the same one!

Gotham Academy #1. Written by Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher. Art & Cover by Karl Kerschl. Coloured by GeyseR.Great. We’ve got a diverse comics reading experience here! I asked you guys to read the first five issues of DC Comics’ Gotham Academy. As people who primarily read books, what was the single issue experience like? Also, what was it like to read a digital comic since you guys read it off of ComiXology?

Steph: Reading a single issue is similar to reading fan fiction and waiting for the next chapter to be put up. It’s equally brilliant and frustrating to have to wait for the next one.

Angel: The single issue experience was reminiscent of fanfiction for me. I’m used to getting chapter installments (and I am still hoping that some of my favourite Sailor Moon fics will update SOMEDAY).

Karen: For me, part of what has always been hard about reading comics is: 1) knowing how to follow the panels and 2) remembering to look at the pictures to get part of the story. I have always been very text driven. So I used the guided reader which took me from panel to panel and it dramatically changed the experience for me. I liked reading the comic online so much more then I did trying to read one in my hand.

Giselle: Every comic ended on a cliffhanger and that was brutal! I’m not good with cliffhangers at all. I also spent some more time just staring at the details of the art and graphics and loving it.

Angel: I read the first issue twice, once without the guided view and once with it. I really enjoyed the guided view. Part of the reason might be because I’m more used to manga and had to reorient myself to read left to right.

Karen: I did like being able to read all five issues at once; because of the cliffhangers, having to wait would have been more frustrating.

Molli: I’m the type to read a good portion of a book when I sit down to read, so I was afraid reading one issue at a time would bother me, but it actually didn’t. It made me patient, and sort of forced me to slow down (I’m a fast reader). It was really neat, because I’d catch myself anticipating the next issue, but I made myself take it all in. Then when I went to the next issue, I was super intrigued and excited.

Steph: I’ve read a lot of manga online so the ComiXology app was really great and I was really surprised at how well it took on my iPhone.

Giselle: Oh, exactly Karen, I could imagine being so impatient if all five issues weren’t available in one go.

Molli: Giselle, those cliffhangers WERE brutal!

Steph: I loved how fluid it was when you swiped to the next page.

Molli: And reading it online didn’t bother me at all, really. I’m used to reading on my Nook, so this wasn’t much different. It took a bit to get used to, but I liked it.

Karen: The guided reader was my new favorite thing. I could see myself reading more comics/graphic novels now.

Giselle: I really loved that guided reader too! It worked so well on my iPad.

Steph: I really loved how it just flowed to each individual panel in the order that it was supposed to go in. I usually have to zoom in and that can be annoying when you are reading an entire comic.

Karen: Steph, yes, I also liked that it made it bigger and easier to read and see the image details.

Angel: Yes, I totally agree.

Molli: That was awesome, yes!

Steph: Cliffhangers are the terrible, especially issue #5. T_T

Molli: YASS that one was the WORST.

Steph: Molli, right?! I got all excited and then there were no more pages left. I’m an instant gratification reader so I usually don’t like to start long series unless I know most of the story is done or will be by the time I’m caught up.

Angel: Issue #5 just made me want to subscribe to the series.

Giselle: AGREED.

**SPOILER ALERT: THE FIRST FIVE ISSUES OF GOTHAM ACADEMY ARE DISCUSSED**

Issue #3. Gotham Academy. Written Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher. Art by Karl Kerschl. Colouring by MSASSYK and Serge Lapointe. DC Comics. December 2014. I’m glad that you all had a great experience with digital comics reading.

Steph: Yes, I was for the most part very “meh” about Gotham Academy story-wise, but issue #5 has me tempted to continue.

Molli: Yeah, I’d say it was an awesome experience. 🙂

Angel: I was already intrigued by Olive’s lost memories, and I loved her interactions with MAPS, so I was willing to go where Gotham Academy led me.

Molli: I was too, Angel.

Steph: I really enjoyed the artwork, most of all. I love the use of shadows. It gave it a very mysterious feel.

Karen: The lost memories, the forbidden hall…there were lots of little morsels that made it clear something more was going on and made me want to keep reading to find out what.

Giselle mentioned the art and visual details earlier. That’s one glaringly different aspect of comics compared to books. What did you guys think of the art (the panel placement/shapes, colours etc)?

Molli: Oh man, the artwork drew me in just as much as the plotline. There were times that I’d be done with a page or an issue, but I’d spend a little more time looking at the art. It was gorgeous, and I think it went hand-in-hand with the pacing to set the atmosphere, and lift it all off the pages.

Steph: I really loved how it’s entirely in color. That was so new to me as a manga reader.

Karen: I feel that I am the least qualified to talk about the artwork. I have nothing really to compare it to. But it was interesting. Steph, having it be in color really helped me get more into it I think.

Giselle: To be honest, I was kind of confused at some parts as to which panel to look at next but I figured it out afterwards. I love the artistic style and how dark some panels were. It tied in well with Olive’s story. It’s definitely darker than the Archie comics I’m used to.

Angel: The neon greens were definitely giving me Harry Potter vibes.

Steph: The darkness reminds me of Vampire Knight, but way less confusing.

Angel: I’m also remembering this one scene where Olive was at the bleachers watching Kyle, and I thought the warm colours were just fantastic. Like, I could feel her yearning and the connection they had and the distance between them in that scene.

Karen: Hearing you guys talk about the artwork makes me want to go back and look at it all again.

Molli: Ooh yes, I remember that scene, too. I thought it was very well done, and yes, the different coloring there really connected to her emotions, I think.

Steph: I really like that the characters are diverse.

Karen: Yes!

Molli: Steph, YES. That kept going through my mind as I was reading, and I was so pleased.

Giselle: Oh yes, Steph, agreed! The diverse characters were so nice to see.

Steph: Such a great mix. And none of them feel like they are stereotyped.

Molli: They really didn’t. It just seemed very natural.

Steph: I’m wondering (maybe it was mentioned and I missed it), where does this story take place timeline wise with Batman?

It’s a standalone story. It exists in the Batman world but it’s not bound by what happens outside of it. So I guess relatively timeless (like Batman).

Steph: Ah, gotcha.

Karen: I have been watching the show Gotham so it was easy for me to slot this into that world. Though clearly, in Gotham Academy, Batman is established.

Molli: Ahh, I was wondering that, too. That explanation makes sense.

Steph: I’m curious to see if more of the Batman characters will make cameos.

Molli: Ooh Karen, I’ve been wanting to watch Gotham. I was excited to read these issues because I’m a huge Batman fan, at least up until now, as far as the movies and such go.

It was designed to be accessible to readers new to comics. Do you think they succeeded?

Steph: I think so. You don’t need to know anything about Batman to be able to enjoy Gotham Academy. As long as you’ve heard of Gotham, you’d be good to go.

Angel: Absolutely. It establishes itself without Batman, so even readers who might be leery/intimidated by the superhero comics will find it easy to start

Molli: Hmmm, well taking into account how little I really know about comics, I’d say in terms of how easy it was for me to follow, they succeeded. The storyline was great, pacing great, and it didn’t depend on you knowing a lot about the world.

Karen: I thought it was very accessible. In part because people know who Batman is and understand the basic tones, I would say, of Gotham. The pallor that hangs over it. The darkness and corruption.

Steph: I do find it interesting how Olive doesn’t seem to care about Batman though!

Angel: To be honest, I don’t think you’d even need to know that much about Gotham.

Molli: Angel, I think you’re right. If you’ve heard/seen anything about Batman, you have that prior knowledge, but if not, I think the way it was framed and written is more like the style of a companion novel instead of a sequel in a book series.

Steph: Yeah, that’s true, Angel. I guess you wouldn’t really need much knowledge of Gotham to read Gotham Academy.

Giselle: I was super excited to see Bruce in it. Made it even more interesting.

Angel: It’s Olive and MAPS and the other kids who are the centre of the story.

Karen: I loved MAPS and I loved that her nickname was MAPS.

Karen: I loved her too Karen! She was this huge bundle of energy compared to Olive. I guess that’s what the writers were trying to do

Molli: I loved her too! She was super fun.Issue #3. Gotham Academy. Written Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher. Art by Karl Kerschl. Colouring by MSASSYK and Serge Lapointe. DC Comics. December 2014.

Maps is a fan favourite and it’s easy to see why (she’s awesome). What did you think of Olive and these characters that surround her?

Angel: Olive reminded me a lot of Sarah Dessen’s heroines. She was open, but something happened and she’s since closed herself off. But there’s a group of friends/a boy who likes her who slowly draw her out of her shell again.

Steph: I liked Olive, but I don’t feel like I know as much about her right now. She’s a contrast to MAPS who wears her heart on her sleeve. So she’s definitely multi-dimensional. I’m curious to see what happened between Olive and MAPS’ brother.

Karen: Yeah Olive was very closed off/distant. And haunted by the events that we slowly are starting to learn about. A bit of a mystery.

Steph: The only thing I don’t love about MAPS are some of the weird phrases she uses. “Oh my crap!” made my eye twitch.

Giselle: Wasn’t surprised to see she and Pomeline, who bullied her in the beginning, slowly became “friends.” Right off the bat, I wanted to know more about Olive’s history. Especially why she’s not with Kyle anymore.

Molli: I like that even though she was secretive, that wasn’t all there was to her. She seemed afraid of being vulnerable, but I wanted to know more about her. And I especially liked that she didn’t want to hurt Kyle, and that she let herself get closer to MAPS and some of the others.

Gotham Academy #6. Written by Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher. Art by Karl Kerschl. DC Comics. March 2015. Variant Cover by Babs Starr.Steph: I was very happy that Olive and Pomeline became friends, Giselle. It’s nice that Gotham Academy didn’t fall into the “Mean Girl” trope.

Giselle: I know Steph, I loved it

Karen: I do have to say, I thought the headmaster of the school was a bit of a stereotype/trope. As was the seemingly secret society part.

Yes Steph, I too thought that having the character who started out seeming like a mean girl evolved into something more, as did their relationship.

Molli: I liked that they became friends, too! I was worried Pomeline would just be this mean girl/bully the whole series, so that character growth was nice.

Angel: I liked that shift, but I thought it happened a little too quickly. I would have expected it maybe in issue 8 or 9.

Steph: Am I the only one who immediately thought of Alfred when I saw the headmaster?

Ha. Agreed, Angel. For me, it does feel like the events happen quickly, but I think it might just be me used to book vs. issue format.

Molli: I noticed that too, but it didn’t bother me, because I thought of everything as more like a novella pacing, where things happen quickly sometimes, but still organically.

That’s an interesting thing to take into account in terms of a story being affected by the format it’s told in.

Steph: Ah, novellas are hard for me just for that reason. I find it harder to connect with the characters.
The good thing with comics is the artwork to help cushion that gap.

Good point on the art, Stephanie.

Steph: What do you ladies think of Croc?

Karen: Is Croc the guy hiding in the wall? It’s bad, probably, that I’m not sure if that’s who you are asking about.

Steph: Yup! (Though, is he a guy? He was a little odd!)

Giselle: Wait was he human? I thought he was a monster

Karen: Monster — but a guy seeming monster. Guyish.

Steph: Yeah, he’s the one who knows her mom. I was surprised that his appearance didn’t seem to alarm Olive, but then I remembered this is Gotham.

Molli: Hmm, I think he was maybe the only weak point for me…It seemed a little too convenient that he was a tie to Olive’s mom. Other than that, he seemed pretty benevolent.

Karen: What Mollie said, but also, “loveable but seemingly misunderstood big scary monster” trope.

Giselle: Ahhh okay. Yeah it was weird she didn’t react to him as much.

Angel: I don’t feel one way or another for Croc at the moment, but I did wonder why Olive wasn’t too concerned about him.

Karen: I too just assumed — it’s Gotham, they are used to weird things happening

Steph: She seems to take a lot of strange things in stride.

Molli: Right, I wondered that too, then figured like you guys, they must have been used to odd things and people happening.

Steph: A little random: Olive’s silver hair and her last name “Silverlock” O_o

Molli: I’d definitely want to read the next one. The cliffhangers at the end of each one kept me on the edge of my seat and I think were a great intro to the series.

Steph: I’m tempted to, but also unsure. It does leave a good amount of intrigue, however.

Giselle: Yes, I would definitely keep reading. I’m with Molli on this one. The cliffhangers are what made me keep reading

Karen: So as for the “does this belong in libraries:” definitely. I don’t see why it wouldn’t. I have never worked at a library that bought individual comics, but we buy the compendiums and I think this would be a great addition. Great for this summer’s hero-themed summer reading program.

Issue #4. Gotham Academy. Written Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher. Art by Karl Kerschl. Colouring by MSASSYK and Serge Lapointe. DC Comics. January 2014.

As people who read YA books, work in libraries, blog about it and even write some, would you think this is a comic that would be successful in the community?

Steph: I think it’d be great for teen readers. It has the perfect tone and the characters are relatable. It’ll especially appeal to readers who love a good boarding school mystery.

Molli: Oh yes, I definitely think it would. It has so many elements you see in YA, especially in relation to the friendships and relationships. Plus the atmosphere of it was just awesome, and I think like Steph said, mystery fans would love it.

Giselle: And the boarding school setting, which I love.

It’s an all ages comic, so definitely younger readers are welcomed.

Molli: Yes! To me, it would be a great transition read from middle grade to YA for someone just looking to get into YA…but I could equally see readers of various ages liking it too, since we all found something to enjoy in it.

Karen: Comics/GNs are so popular with the middle grade set. So popular. This would definitely work great for them.

Has Gotham Academy influenced you to wade into comics more? DC and Marvel or others? Basically, is this a great gateway drug into comics?

Steph: Yes, I feel like I do want to dive back into comics more now, especially with a handy app like Comixology.

Karen: I too would be interested in looking at some more with the Comixology guided reader thingy. (Thingy is totally a word.)

Giselle: Yes, I would definitely look at comics/graphic novels more now that I know there’s so much variety. I agree that the app is super convenient

I kind of want to explore that a bit, Giselle. Variety in the sense of non-superhero? What was your view of comics in terms of the content before Gotham Academy? You guys can jump in on this too

Steph: I don’t think I’ve ever read a comic that wasn’t superhero-based. This was very new for me. When I think of comics, I automatically think of superhero, so this has helped broaden my horizon a bit.

Karen: My tween daughter really likes the Raina Telgemeier books. We are all in my family into superheroes and sci fi so I can see those being of interest.

Giselle: Yesss non-superhero! I usually just glossed over comics because I thought they were all superhero ones. Or they’re grossly violent (which I can’t stomach), so reading Gotham Academy was fun.

Molli: I would say it’s a great introduction to comics, and it’s actually sort of renewed my interest in them. I’d love to start seeing what’s out there, both in DC, Marvel, and beyond.

Angel: I’ve been easing into the world of superhero comics, and Gotham Academy has definitely encouraged me to keep going. I do think that I’m more interested in female protagonists though, so I would keep reading Gotham Academy and Ms. Marvel and start Spider-Gwen.

Steph: I’m very interested in Ms. Marvel, myself. Is that one out yet? I’ve never even heard of Spider-Gwen!

Karen: Oh I really want to read Ms. Marvel. I’m at a new library and I have ordered it. Waiting for it to come in.

Angel: I’ve got the first trade of Ms. Marvel (Issues #1-5) and I really loved it. I read Bitch Planet and Saga recently, and will be starting Lumberjanes soon.

First trade of Ms. Marvel: No Normal came out this past October.

Steph: Pretty sure I’ll be signing up for Comixology now.

It seems like the digital aspect has made your entry into comics pretty smooth and entertaining.

Final Question: Would you ever venture into a comic shop?

Molli: I’d absolutely go into a comic shop. A cousin of mine used to own one, and even though I didn’t know much about the comics, it was a lot of fun hanging out there — and now I’d love to visit one now that I feel more ready to read actual comics, so I could hold them in my hand.

Issue #6. Gotham Academy. Written Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher. Art by Karl Kerschl. Colouring by MSASSYK and Serge Lapointe. DC Comics. March 2015.Giselle: I would go into a comic shop. I’d love to see what other kinds of comics they have and will probably pick up the ones you recommend to see if I like it.

Angel: I would definitely go into a comic shop. I’ve really only been to one before, Silver Snail, but was a little intimidated by the experience. It wasn’t that the staff made me feel unwelcome, but more I just didn’t know where to even start looking for interesting reads. Now, however, I’m much more confident and I think I’d enjoy browsing now that I’ve read some on my own and recs from friends.

Steph: I’d love to go into a comic shop. I know of one not far from me. My dad used to take my brother and I to one every weekend for new comics and I LOVED it.

Karen: I have been very lucky to work with local comic shops at several libraries I have worked at to do Free Comic Book Day. They were awesome people, their shops were awesome, and I have done a lot for Free Comic Book Day for many, many years.

Thank you so much ladies for participating in this roundtable! Gotham Academy #6 is out today. The first volume is out June 23rd, 2015 and is available for pre-order.

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About Author

Former senior editor for WWAC. Part-time contributor. BA in criminals (a minor in daydreams). Batman seeks her advice constantly. Bylines at Book Riot, Teen Vogue, Slate, Quill & Quire and Hyperallergic.

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