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[Interview] Brenden Fletcher Talks Gotham Academy, Monsters, and More!

Secrets dwell in the walls of Gotham Academy and it’s up to our boarding school adventurers to solve the mysteries in-between classes. Issue nine released on 8/12/15 starts off a new arc of DC’s hit Gotham Academy, aptly named “Calamity.”  Co-written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher accompanied by Karl Kerschl’s and Mingjue Helen Chen’s captivating artwork, Gotham Academy is made complete with the ethereal swirling colors throughout the series by Serge LaPointe, and Msassyk (Michele Assarasakorn).

While there are a plethora of Batman comics on the shelves of our local comic shops, Gotham Academy stands out as one of the few DC titles that can be enjoyed by younger audiences. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been reading Batman your whole life or are just picking out your first comic, this amazing title reaches out to engage readers in the nostalgia and love of the Batman the Animated Series, the classic Universal Monsters, and Nancy Drew and Scooby Doo mysteries. It’s no surprise that Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher are also working on the Batgirl and Black Canary series, which both also focus on female leads. In the past two years, comics have finally figured out that there must be representation of womxn in comics. It’s much larger than saying “no more refrigeration” and being done with it, instead this is a continual process of inclusivity and respect. Gotham Academy is the perfect example of doing things right in representation because we have a diverse cast without tokenizing any character, genuine emotions and complex trauma, and a solid story for everyone to enjoy.

Recently, J.K. Rowling tweeted, “All these people saying they never got their Hogwarts letter: you got the letter. You went to Hogwarts. We were all there together.” To those who grew up with Hermione, Ron, and Harry, this statement speaks to the larger idea of immersion of reading. In Gotham Academy, the reader is enrolled in the same crazy classes as Olive Silverlock, Mia “Maps” Mizoguchi, Pomeline Fritch, and Kyle Mizoguchi. Instead of the Chamber of Secrets, we dive into a Gotham where magic and science clash, werewolves roam, and more monsters lurk in the shadows. Maps takes us into the walls to find ghosts, Pom inducts us into cult-life, all while we watch Olive come face to face with her mother’s past at Arkham Asylum. “Calamity” is Olive’s origin and now we’ll find out if she can reconcile her past with her future.

Brenden Fletcher was kind enough to time out of his busy schedule to Bloody Disgusting about the exciting new arc of Gotham Academy, his love for classic monsters, and everything and everyone that makes this book truly unique.

Bloody Disgusting: How did you and Becky Cloonan pitch Gotham Academy?

Brenden Fletcher: Becky had known Mark Doyle — who now runs the bat office — for quite some time, and had worked with him at Vertigo. When he took over Batman, he gave her a call and threw a few ideas out at her for titles that he was looking for fresh voices on. She said she’d rather do something else, more interested in doing something in this realm, and she threw out the name Gotham Academy. He said, “Go on…” Becky said it would be a like Hogwarts in Gotham. Mark was so interested, but Becky had some projects ongoing and couldn’t take it all on herself, so she asked him if she could be a co-writer. She asked Karl Kerschl, the artist, and I just happened to be in the room, so I was a convenient co-writer. We’re all together here in Montreal, so it’s very easy for us to collaborate. Very quickly, Karl, Becky, and I were able to flesh out what the core of the Gotham Academy narrative would be. That involved a central mystery revolving around the Academy building, and that’s connected to the Batman mythos in a very direct way. That’s also connected to our main character, Olive Silverlock. As her personal mystery unfolds over the course of the series, you see how it’s more and more connected to the history of the school, and of course, Batman and Gotham City itself.

BD: It seems like there’s a very strong connection to Arkham Manor, The Court of Owls and Night of Owls arcs from the beginning of the new 52 Batman series. The attention to architecture is amazing. What really stands out with this book since is that you’re constructing a world that is separate from the main titles. How is it to build something new and how are you working that into the main Batworld?

BF: It’s really a privilege to be able to flesh out this sort of unforeseen corner, a previously unseen corner, of Gotham City. The name “Gotham Academy” has been around for a while, the school as it actually showed up in the Young Justice cartoon has been mentioning Gotham Academy for years, but we’ve never actually seen it in the comics. We don’t know what it’s like, what the buildings are like, what the relevance would be. So our team is relishing this opportunity to really bring our influences to the floor with it. Scott Snyder has been working on these last number of years and he’s been fleshing out gotham city itself. That’s something that we’re also doing, we’re fleshing out this corner of Gotham City in order to show how it’s connected to the 75 years worth of batman stories. we’ve got a lot of surprises in store. Fun stuff! Seriously, we understand the privilege to actually contribute to the batman mythos, the Batman universe, and Gotham City itself, it’s wild we’re very lucky.

BD: This is definitely something we’ve never seen before, like you mentioned, the name Gotham Academy has been around for quite a while, but it’s like something that’s haunted and been ignored because of that. What kind of influences outside of the Batman mythos contributed to the spookiness that we’re seeing now in this new arc starting with issue nine?

BF: I think the obvious thing that’s on the surface is that we’re drawing a little from harry potter, kids in boarding schools, and it is within the Warner products, so that’s totally cool [laughs].  we all like that side, that’s a story about a boy wizard, and we’re clearly not doing that, but there’s something in the tone of those books that really plays well with younger people while still being fit for adults. There is something similar there, but we’re also drawing from other influences like its very Nancy Drew in the way that its young ladies exploring mysteries, picking up clues to find some answers. There’s some Scooby Doo thrown in there, we get goofy, too. There’s a lot of fun unmasking villains — you thought it’s something supernatural, but it’s really scientific and it’s just a guy in a mask. We delight in that Scooby Doo tone. in fact carl draws from the Scooby Doo art style the way that the backgrounds were painted initially in the Scooby Doo Where Are You series from the 60s, so you can see that in the art, too. The other thing is, now this is a big one, we’re all big universal monsters fans. When you go through, there are a lot of references to Dracula and to the Wolf Man. I’m a big Bela Lugosi fan. I love the Draculas through the ages like Christopher Lee, and Frank Langella from the 1979 Dracula is a big favorite of mine. You’ll see lots of little influences peppered. Becky pulls a lot from Lovecraft, a big influence. For me, the Universal Monsters have always been an important part of my life, so to be able to work on a book where I can infuse it with those elements is a dream come true. Just take a look at our Headmaster, he’s essentially a fusion of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Frank Mangela.

BD: As soon as I saw Headmaster Hammer, I thought Vincent Price.

BF: Or Vincent Price!

BD: How does incorporating all of the dark elements affect your writing?

BF: It’s one of the most challenging things about this book and one of the most satisfying things. The tone is a very specific tone and it requires a balancing act. We want it to be dark and spooky, but we don’t want it to be terrifyingly dark and too spooky. My eight year old niece needs to be able to read this book, but it also has to feel like it has some gravitas to it. The dark and spooky stuff still needs to be effective. That stuff’s tough to achieve, I don’t think we could do it without Karl’s deft hand pulling it all together in the artwork stage. He really knows how to strike that balance perfectly. Our colorists, ah! The colorists on this book really deliver that final punch. We’ve got Michelle () doing these beautiful painted backgrounds over Karl’s lines and Serge LaPointe here in Montreal does all of the character colors and fuses everything together on the page. Again, I am so lucky, I’ve got an incredible art team.

BD: It’s so interesting to see Gotham Academy right next to Gotham By Midnight on the shelves because both books are exploring the mysterious undertones, but in such different ways.

BF: Ray Fawks is one of our best friends, and I don’t mean that just as a group, we’re all individually really, really good friends. We were actually in discussions for our intentions for our respective series before we even launched Gotham Academy and Gotham By Midnight. You’ll see peppered throughout little influences from that book creeping in. I can tell you one, in issue eight there’s a shot where Kyle is looking out through Olive’s window and you can see some of the black flowers from Gotham by Midnight creeping on the wall. It’s not something we talk about, but it’s a bit of a clue. It’s a clue that comes from Gotham by Midnight.

BD: It’s all the in-between the lines, finding those inner pathways and exploring with all these characters, especially Olive’s story and her evolution. She started as completely repressed and now finally remembering her mother, like she’s going through the stages of trauma.  Will this next arc reveal more about her past?

BF: Yes, absolutely. In this new arc she comes face to face with some unexpected details about her mother’s life. These details and revelations of who Sybil Silverlock has been throughout her life will change the way Olive processes everything in her own life moving forward. This next bunch of issues is all about these major revelations and all about the next turn in Olive’s journey. I think the end of this arc is going to be really surprising to all our readers.

BD: We’ve already been introduced to some very hidden creatures like Killer Crock and now we’re seeing Dr. Kirk Langstrom (Man-Bat), which just adds more connection to Batman. She’s got this hatred for Batman and now Damian has shown up. Will Damian play a role in the next arc?

BF: Damian’s got his own series right now, called Robin: Son of Batman, and he’s off exploring some of his own personal mysteries. He was expelled, spoiler alert, at the end of issue seven. But with the announcement of “Robin War” in December that touches on Gotham Academy, it’s safe to say that the kids will come in contact with one another yet again.

BD: We are Robin? Maybe everyone is Robin?

BF: Everyone is Robin!

BD: What are you most excited about with the release of this next arc?

BF: I’m really excited for people to pick up issue nine, it has some great revelations, again, about her mother. We also see the monster that attacks Tristan in issue eight and why there’s a monster on campus. There’s this whole secret that we dropped in issue eight that no one really picked up on that we come back to again and see if any Batman fans can spot it in issue nine. It’s both exciting and super creepy. It’s going to lead to issue ten, which is probably the most fun issue we’ve done so far.

BD: We’re all so excited to see what happens next. Thank you so much for talking to Bloody Disgusting today, Brenden!

BF: It’s a pleasure, I’ve been a really big fan for ages and I’m just chuffed that Bloody Disgusting wants to talk to me about Gotham Academy, which is the book I’m working on inspired by all the monster movies that mean so much to me.

Gotham Academy #9 is now available at your local comic shop and online at comixology. Be sure to pick up Fletcher’s other current titles he’s working on, Black Canary and Batgirl, and find some back-issues of Wednesday Comics, too! 

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