Last week, we posted our first Get Pop-Cultured month article featuring Brian K. Vaughan, the creative mind behind the Saga series. This week, we’re back with double the excitement – we got the chance to chat with Brenden Fletcher, co-writer of DC Comics’ Batgirl and Gotham Academy, AND Karl Kerschl, the artistic force behind Gotham Academy! They shared with us their thoughts on a more modern Gotham City, their excitement regarding such strong female protagonists, and their advice for students today.
Q: From GOTHAM ACADEMY, to BATGIRL and BLACK CANARY, you’ve got quite the repertoire, Brenden! Can you tell us a little about how you got to where you are today, and if this was where you always saw yourself?
B: Karl Kerschl (below) and I, my artist on GOTHAM ACADEMY, grew up together. We’ve been telling stories as a team for a few decades now (GULP! We’re THAT old?!). From the time we were young kids, we always imagined having the good fortune to play in the Gotham City sandbox together and now, after all these years, our dreams have come true!
I have a feeling I’m somewhat responsible for Karl working in mainstream comics, as I was always pushing DC and Marvel books on him when we were young (I can’t take any credit for his monstrous skills as an illustrator or storyteller though!). I can say, with great certainty, that he’s 100% responsible for where I am today. He dragged me kicking and screaming into working on the Flash story for WEDNESDAY COMICS some years ago, which kick-started this whole career in the medium for me.
Q: And Karl, you are the artist behind the critically acclaimed GOTHAM ACADEMY (among many other things) as Brenden mentioned above – can you tell us how you got to where you are and, at what point, did you decide on illustration as a career?
K: I started drawing comics when I was 18 years old after getting hooked on books like Elfquest, X-Men and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. When I finished high school I devoted all of my time to drawing sample pages and then showing them to editors and other artists at comic conventions and I was lucky enough to be given a chance at a very young age.
Q: One of our favorite things about the BATGIRL reboot is how anchored in reality the story is. When Batgirl comes to save the day, bystanders are often saying “get a picture!” How did you come to the decision to place Barbara Gordon in a Gotham that’s so familiar to your millennial readers?
B: Part of the authenticity of any story is the believable nature of its characters and environments. Even the most alien world has to be approached from the standpoint of its “reality” in writing. The characters have to exist in a palpable world that lives and breathes around them.
When my BATGIRL co-writer, Cameron Stewart, and I were crafting the world of our BATGIRL arc, we had to build her new home, the Gotham City borough of Burnside, from scratch. That necessitated creating an entire arm of the city’s culture we’d not yet seen, including how its inhabitants would react to a young hero in their midst. Batgirl is a 21-year-old woman—a millennial herself—who often finds herself interacting with characters of like-age. As such, the tapestry of story we sew month in and out often revolves around aspects of this new city culture that people in their early-to-mid-twenties can relate to.
Q: Batgirl is a modern millennial character navigating the world of college, parties, dating and roommates. Do you think this will resonate with current readers and, perhaps, attract a wider and more diverse audience in the future?
B: Cameron and I try our best to write Batgirl as a real woman in a real world. And though she’s certainly a superhero, there’s much more to her life than chasing criminals, kicking them in the teeth and tossing them in the slammer. We certainly hope that digging into her real life outside the cape and cowl will help readers understand and greater empathize with what it takes to be a hero.
Q: Although GOTHAM ACADEMY is similar in its setting (Gotham City) to BATGIRL, it’s still a bit different than the Gotham that Batgirl lives in. How do you juggle the two “realities” when you’re writing?
B: Each series requires its own “headspace” to write, so I try to space out my duties on BATGIRL and GOTHAM ACADEMY accordingly. While both books exist in the same “universe,” supposedly taking place mere miles away from one another in the same fictional city, their respective tones couldn’t be farther apart. GOTHAM ACADEMY is set in a dark old boarding school that’s full of mysteries that unspool slowly over many issues while BATGIRL takes place in a bustling young neighborhood with bright new super-villains popping up every month.
The beauty of the DC universe—particularly the Bat-family corner over in Gotham—is that this multitude of series striking various tones can co-exist, sharing a world and sharing characters. Batgirl won’t feel out of place exploring mysteries at Gotham Academy just as Maps and Olive will fit right in shopping in downtown Burnside.
Q: We love the juxtaposition of the spooky backdrop of GOTHAM ACADEMY with the innocent school uniforms and the ways the girls change them up to make them their own—where do you find your inspiration for the illustrations?
K: I’ve always wanted to evoke the feeling of hand-drawn animation on a comic book page. To achieve this, I draw very detailed backgrounds which are fully painted by our amazing colorist, Michele, and then I draw the characters in a much simpler style with exaggerated expressions to give them some vibrancy and life against the gloom of Gotham. Much of the setting and the uniforms are based on photos of existing boarding schools.
Q: GOTHAM ACADEMY is closely intertwined with Batman’s story. Did you feel any pressure with regards to how you depicted Gotham City and Bruce Wayne when he appeared in the comics?
K: There’s some pressure, yes, mostly to live up to my younger self’s expectations. But Batman and Gotham have always benefited from a long history of unique visions. My own depiction owes a lot to Batman: The Animated Series—still my favorite take on the Batman mythos.
Q: What other comics or books do you read? Are there any out there that have inspired your work for GOTHAM ACADEMY or BATGIRL?
B: There’s never been a better time to be a comic book reader and fan. We’re spoiled with a more diverse selection of styles and voices than ever before.
GOTHAM ACADEMY and BATGIRL are both inspired by novels, television and films more than other comics. But my eternal go-to books and creators are Hayao Miyazaki (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind), Jaime Hernandez (Locas – Love and Rockets) and Mike Mignola (Hellboy).
K: My favorite comics of the last few years have been Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s books Skim and This One Summer, both of which inspire my depictions of the girls in GOTHAM ACADEMY. I also recently read and loved Galore by Michael Crummey and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt.
Q: Let’s talk about the strong female protagonists in both of these comics—we think they’re awesome. What’s it like for you to be pioneering comic books that feature not only strong female characters, but also young ones that are learning to navigate the world around them, in addition to saving it?
B: What a wonderful privilege to be given the ability to play with some of the most incredible characters in DC’s pantheon of heroes! I feel very lucky to have not only worked on established characters like Batgirl but to have been given the opportunity to add playful young characters like Olive and Maps from GOTHAM ACADEMY to the Bat-universe.
But as wonderful as it is to create them, the true joy comes in experiencing the response to the characters. It’s very humbling to see people young and old cosplaying characters I’ve had a hand in creating and shaping. I sometimes find myself at a loss for words when confronted with a young person dressed as Olive, Maps or Pomeline. Still waiting for the day I meet my first Frankie Charles cosplayer!
K: Brenden and I grew up together and we’ve been making up stories for 30 years and they all feature female protagonists. I’m not sure why that is; I think I’ve always felt that women have a sense of depth and mystery to them that is not always evident on the surface, which makes them immediately interesting as dramatic characters in fiction. Olive Silverlock certainly doesn’t let on half of what she’s feeling to her friends!
Q: In the world of comics and graphic novels, we’re seeing more and more diversity among the main characters. Are there any other big changes you’ve seen taking place?
K: The biggest change for me is the increased diversity in the creative field! More gender, racial and cultural representation means more points of view and better stories.
Q: As you know, our focus here is on students, can you offer any advice for any aspiring writers or students who want to break into the comic book business or have a story they want to tell?
K: I don’t really think that there’s anything to “break into” anymore. Aspiring illustrators, authors, musicians, etc. have other avenues of monetization available to them. I always recommend that people just do the work they love and put it online. If it’s good, it will find its audience.
B: Passion goes a long way. If you want something badly, if you’re passionate enough and are willing to work at honing your craft and being the best you can be, you can achieve anything.
But being a fantastic artist or writer is only the first step to finding success in comics. People skills are your secret weapon of choice. Be a great creator, yes, but be a compassionate, kind and understanding person first. You’ll find that goes a long way in business as well as in the rest of your life.
Get Pop-Cultured with us all month long! Stay tuned for more articles with some of today’s most creative minds. Plus, check out our recent article with Image Comics’ Brian K. Vaughan here.
Keep up with Brenden & Karl on Twitter!