Denver Comic Con and The DC Comics Interviews: Becky Cloonan

DC Collage

I had a brilliant time at Denver Comic Con this year, but one of the COOLEST parts of the convention was getting the opportunity to interview some amazing writers from DC Comics. There are some truly exciting things coming down the pike with DC Comics, and I am so excited to get to dish with you, my shiny readers! I was able to sit down with Becky Cloonan (Gotham Academy), Jim Palmiotti and Amanda Conner (Harley Quinn, Power Girl, Starfire), and Marguerite Bennet (Earth 2, Bombshells), but I’m gonna start with telling you guys about my interview with the one and only, Ms. Becky Cloonan. Check it out:

Spoiler alert, I kinda fangirl in all of my interviews. 

Gotham Academy

Kendall: Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me. I am a huge fan of Gotham Academy–huge! The first issue came out right around the same time that Thor became a woman, so that was just a really exciting time to be a woman in comics.

B: Yeah! There are so many good books out there right now.

K: There really are. So did you grow up reading comics?

B: I did. My first comic was Silver Surfer Annual #1, in 1988, so at eight years old I was incredibly invested in things like the Kree Skull War. I was probably the only kid in my school that could talk about this kinda stuff, but it was because my dad really liked comics. So sometimes when he’d go to the grocery store, he’d go and buy one, but it’s a weird thing because we weren’t able to get the books on a monthly basis. Sometimes you’d go a few months and you’d skip something, or I’d pick it up and I’d be like, “Oh Mantis is back!” But then I wouldn’t know how she came back. The comic would just say “see this issue”, and I’d be like, “I can’t find it! I’m, like, nine years old and I have no car! My dad won’t buy me comics every week!” And who knows if the grocery store would even get it. So a lot of my time was spent thinking about the stories that happened in between the stories that I read. And then when I’d actually go back and re-read the stuff, I’d be like, “I think the stories that I made up were actually better than the actual comic!” Or, they were more satisfying, I think. They were much more detailed, maybe? I think that’s part of why I like making comics. From a very young age I was trained to think of what happens between the panels. And just having that vocabulary probably did something to me.

K: So because you grew up reading, is that kind of why you wanted to make your heroines these young women as opposed to, like, a thirtysomething superhero?

B: Yeah, yeah. When Mark Doyle approached me, he was like, “What do you want to do?” and I said Gotham Academy. He’s like, “What’s that?” and I said, “It’s like, a girl going to a prep school at an academy in Gotham, and how her life is affected by Batman. That’s it.” And he’s like, “Sounds good. Pitch it, write me a pitch.” So I called together Brendan and Carl and I was like, “You guys wanna help me with this book?” And that’s the short version of the story. But to me, the main character was always Olive. She’s a young girl, and then Maps, her best friend, was her foil. A lot of it’s based on–not exactly based on, of course–but one of my old friends growing up, her name’s Jen and we met when we were like, eleven or twelve. We were best friends right away. So a lot of their relationship is based on me and Jen’s relationship growing up, and focusing on how that friendship effects your life. How does that friendship change you? You know, in the hard things that happened in your life, how is it easier to overcome them with a friend, and sometimes, how is it more difficult because you have to, you know, worry about someone else, you end up getting in fights, or whatever else. You know, there are all these things that I remember, and trying to translate that into this scenario in Gotham. So I wouldn’t say that anything that happens to them is  what happened to us. It’s not like I’m one and she [Jen] is the other one. It’s just like, not necessarily events that happened, it’s just the ideas and themes and the memories of it. A lot of that is going into it. I mean, I like grizzled thirty year-olds as well, I like writing those kinda dudes, too. But in this comic, it was always about Olive and Maps.

K: And I think it’s a really important story to get out there. There’s a place for all of those types of stories, but I think there was a gap, and I think you filled it with a really great story in Gotham Academy

B: Thank you, yeah, I agree that there was a gap there, too. I just, I didn’t even think about it, because I don’t do YA stuff, really. I mean, maybe a little, but not…actually, no, not really. I don’t think I’ve ever done YA before! This [Gotham Academy] might be the first one! So, it’s changed a lot of how I’ve thought about stuff. Like, now I consider that it’s a YA book, and every time I go to write one or think of the next story arc, that’s always in my head. It’s like, this is someone’s first comic, and I think about the kids that I’ve met that have read it or kids that I know–one of my friend’s daughter is a big Gotham Academy fan–so I’m always thinking about her when I write it.

K: I’ve heard people actually say that Gotham Academy sort of fills the Harry Potter void. Did you, I mean, it’s a totally different story from Harry Potter, but were you kind of hoping to have this big, dynamic world like J.K. Rowling? 

B: Of course! Because I love Harry Potter! I love it! I’m obsessed with Harry Potter. So this obviously, Harry Potter was definitely a touchstone. When you think about boarding school, it’s all very gothic and maybe it’s less magical and there’s no wizards in the stories, but that’s a touchstone. Batman animated series is a touchstone for us visually as well. It’s noir, it’s got that dark but still goofiness of a sixties show. It’s like the perfect marriage of that, so we thought about that a lot. Scooby Doo is another one, so we all think that’s a touchstone for it. So we have a lot of inspirations for Gotham Academy, and we have a lot of things that we use for a reference, just stylistically or taking the feeling of it. You know, I’m trying to infuse what we’re trying to do with Gotham Academy with the good feelings we got from these other stories.

K: I love talking on my blog about women in the geek world, so of course Gotham Academy has got these awesome female protagonists. And even with a lot of other comics publishers we’re seeing that change to kind of include more women and racial minorities as well. How do you feel about that change and that you’re actively a part of it? 

B: It’s awesome! Seeing from even, like, ten years ago, seeing the diversity of creators, even the diversity you see just walking around a con floor like this. Because of that, you’re seeing a lot of different kind of stories from different perspectives, and then you’re going to get more people reading it from different perspectives and different backgrounds. And then, they’re gonna start making more comics. So it’s only going to make a healthier industry. This industry came from a place that was a really small group of people creating and reading it, and it was very insular–maybe a little incestuous–it just fed into itself. Now with people taking inspiration from outside of comics, or people from non-comics backgrounds getting into comics, you’re going to start seeing a wider readership with people who are less obsessed with comics–more casual readers, less obsessive fans. Which, there is a place for that, but for a healthy industry, you want to be able to just walk into someone’s house and see they have a few books on the table, and oh, hey! there’s a comic book, too. It should be normal, and sometimes you find that, culturally, comics are shoved to the back and put in a corner and kind of ignored as a low art form or something that’s dismissed because it’s for kids. And, yes, comics should be for kids, but comics should also be for everybody, and there should be comics for everyone to read. I think we’re in a–I don’t know if its an adolescence, maybe that was the 90s–but I wonder if right now comics is going through that phase like when you’re right out of college and you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. That’s comics right now. So there might be some butting heads, but I really think that everything’s moving in a positive direction. Aside from some of the negativity that you hear, but that’s just squeaky wheels. People just need to catch up.

K: There’s always going to be negativity. 

B: Yeah, some of the gears are going to grind a little bit, but that’s part of, it’s just growing pains. I have a good feeling about everything.

K: DC is doing some awesome stuff, moving its comic characters into TV. So if you saw Gotham Academy as a TV show, have you ever envisioned actors that you’d like to see? 

B: I always see it as something that’s animated, but that might just be because of the format. But sometimes we see Tristan, the handsome kind of mystery man, mystery boy, Olive’s kind of interested–is she interested? She might be kind of interested. He’s kind of the Jordan Catalano of Gotham Academy. So, definitely, if we had a young Jared Leto kind of in mind. Maybe like a blonde Jared Leto. I was just kind of like, “We need a Jordan Catalano!” So, when we were making this tapestry of characters, we were trying not to make them too stereotypical, but you have to put a Jordan Catalano in there.

Jordan Catalano

K: It’s necessary, for sure. 

B: So every once and a while I think that Carl looks at, there’s like some people that were inspirations for the some of the characters. Like, when he was designing the characters he’d look at actresses or models, or like for Kyle there was a guy in a Korean boyband or something, like Super Juniors or something that we were looking at, as something stylistically with like the visor and the tracksuits.

K: Why did you decide on setting the story in a boarding school rather than a traditional high school? Was it just what you envisioned? 

B: I think it was a nice place to put a lot of characters and keep them there, you know? And then the story really becomes about the girls and the girls dorm, so having that one place to put the characters and you don’t really have to deal with parents. And you don’t have to deal with what happens at home, and splitting the time. So it becomes, the whole thing, always about the school and always about these kids, and we keep the story focused on them by keeping them at school. And, you know, who doesn’t love old, creepy boarding schools?

K: It also hearkens back to that Harry Potter thing, too. 

B: It does, and also it’s great for Olive. Well, it’s great for her character, it’s not necessarily great for Olive. She’s at this school, one of the most prestigious, expensive boarding schools in Gotham, and she’s there on a Wayne scholarship. So she shouldn’t even be there, so she’s got, who knows maybe she’s got impostor syndrome. You know, kids tease her, “oh, you’re a scholarship kid, you’re gonna lose that scholarship, you’re outta here.” So it puts yet another wedge between her and the students there.

K: One thing I love about Gotham, especially with Batman–and he’s got a huge presence in the story–is that he doesn’t have superpowers. He’s a regular guy. 

B: He’s a dude.

K: Yeah, he’s just a dude. Just a normal dude. But I think that kind of has a big impact on all the characters in Gotham Academy. He’s not like Superman, who came from another planet, he’s just a guy. So how do you think that kind of a role model impacts the kids? 

B: Well, it’s great because you have these, every kid is going to think of it differently. When you see that Bat Signal, what’s your reaction? Some people are probably like, “Oh, that’s so sweet, how cool is this that we live in a city where there’s a Bat Signal?” And some people are like, “Oh, it’s so bright. It’s annoying. How gaudy. Who does he think he is?” Then Olive hates him. She hates him. She’s all pissed off. So every kid probably has a different reaction to it. And also it can also be a reminder of what a crappy city you live in. You know, that you need a Bat Signal, that it’s gotten to that point. Like, if I lived in a place that had a Bat Signal I’d be like, “Oh no. Something’s really going wrong tonight.”

K: Is there anything that you can tell us of what to expect to come up in the future? Without major spoilers, what can you tell us to expect in Gotham Academy

B: Well, issue seven is going to be a lot of fun. Damien is coming to Gotham Academy, and they’re going to go on a crazy little adventure. And then issue eight, we pick up kind of where we left off. There’s been a little bit of time between issue six and issue eight, but something’s happened, and it’s something that Olive has to deal with, and it changes everything. So that’s kind of where we start, and it’s kind of a heavy issue, actually. We start dealing with a very heavy topic. It’s about how the team gathers around and, of course there is a bit more mystery. You know, monsters running around on campus, more poetry maybe.

Thanks so much to the amazing Becky Cloonan for taking time to chat with me. Be sure to check out Gotham Academy if you haven’t already (issue 7 releases June 10), and follow Becky on Twitter as well! Have you read Gotham Academy? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

6 thoughts on “Denver Comic Con and The DC Comics Interviews: Becky Cloonan

  1. kaycreate says:

    I can’t wait to get my hands on Gotham Academy!! Waiting for the trade since I don’t have a way to regularly get issues. I love Becky Cloonan’s work; great interview!

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