By Harper W. Harris
The Fletcher-Verse: this is what superfans like to call the little corner of the DC Universe that’s penned (or co-penned) by Brenden Fletcher, including Batgirl, Gotham Academy, and the new Black Canary series. I got a chance to sit down with Brenden to discuss his inspirations, approach, and general disregard for continuity in Gotham Academy and Black Canary.
Harper W. Harris: I’ve heard that Miyazaki is a big influence on what you’re doing with Gotham Academy. What parts or aspects of those movies did you want to bring into Gotham Academy and the tone?
Brenden Fletcher: I wouldn’t say that my love of Miyazaki is something that I’m trying to put on the page of Gotham Academy, or of any of my books. But discovering Miyazaki at a young age and his Studio Ghibli films really transformed my view of what it meant to tell a story, and how to approach character and drama. I think that’s what I’m trying to bring to all of this, I’m just trying to be mindful of his approach. These books are completely different from anything he’s done. So I’m hoping that when people are examining what we’re doing with that in mind, they’re not trying to look for specific elements or anything. I will say this however: I believe that what we have in common more than anything is the fact that we seem to be drawn to tell stories about female protagonists. If you look at most of Miyazaki films…[A saxophone plays in the distance] I’m sorry, that’s “Careless Whisper” on the saxophone being played at San Diego Comic Con. You don’t expect Wham on a Friday morning.
HH: No, it’s a little early for that!
BF: But yeah, I think I haven’t really figured out why it is I’m drawn to telling stories with female protagonists, but this has always been the case. Since I started writing, every story that I’ve felt connected to has had a female protagonist. I don’t do it on purpose, it’s just what interests me.
HH: So switching over to Black Canary for a second, that obviously draws from a very different creative pool than Gotham Academy, one that you have some personal experience with. How does your experience as a rock musician inform the way you write that book and formed that character?
BF: Yeah I’ve been playing music all my life. I’m primarily a singer; I went to school for music, studied voice and classical singing. I ended up doing musical theater for years, and on the side I was always playing in bands. At one point in my life I decided I didn’t like the formal aspect so much, so I wanted to get out of classical. I wasn’t really into the musical theater scene; I liked the jobs, but it wasn’t really me. So I spent more time writing music and playing music, and working on being a better instrumentalist and that turned into some touring and getting involved in the business of music. This was never something that I could make a living out of, I didn’t become a world famous musician, but I experienced enough of the life to inform this new world I’m building for Dinah Lance in the new Black Canary book.
HH: With Gotham Academy you’re co-writing with Becky Cloonan. With co-writing, I’m always curious about the process–what is the process like writing with Becky?
BF: It’s interesting: I think we could talk about it in terms of how Becky and I work, but this is a full team effort and Karl [Kerschl] is in on the story building at every phase of the project. We start usually by going out for a coffee–I’ve got some ideas, Becky’s got some ideas, Karl’s got some ideas. We turn that into a look at where the story should be going, and at that point Becky and I create a breakdown of the issue, what the twenty pages will roughly look like. We give that to Karl, he tells us we’re wrong and we have to back and retool it until he’s happy with it. From there we give it to the editors who sometimes tell us we’re wrong. Eventually we get to scripting, and that’s another stage where Karl will fix things or tell us things are wrong–or sometimes he just doesn’t, and I’m not even kidding you, he’ll just change things on the page, just draw where he thinks it should go, and 100% of the time he’s right. Karl is an extremely gifted storyteller, great writer, an Eisner award winning writer/artist. What we have is this incredible merging of visions–actually I think we share a vision, but we merge our talents and abilities and our individual ideas to become this wonderful thing that’s Gotham Academy.
HH: It sounds like Gotham Academy is a really collaborative effort, that’s great. So when you’re writing a script for different artists, so for example writing for Annie Wu on Black Canary, how is your scripting style different?
BF: Totally different. The only reason I’m writing full scripts for Gotham Academy is because I’m collaborating with Becky and because the office requires it–they like to see a full script. With Karl, we can pretty much get on the phone and say, yeah, page twenty looks like this, and he’ll deliver it and it’ll be perfect. Annie and I had a talk early on about how she likes to approach things, and she had been working with Matt Fraction on Hawkeye for a while and wanted a script that was closer to what Matt was doing. So this is the first time that I’ve written closer to what is known as the Marvel Style. Annie wants a looser breakdown of what the pages looks like with some script beats in there. She can push and pull those things as she wants, she adds beats, moves beats, but ultimately the core of the story I’m trying to get across, the core of the movement of the characters is all there on the page.
HH: When you first started out with Black Canary, were you able to pick and choose what aspects of her past you wanted to use? Given that it’s not your average superhero story, have you found it challenging to tell the story you want to tell within the confines of continuity?
BF: I have a relatively clean approach to continuity, which is just that I ignore everything that I don’t like. I will never contradict it to the best of my ability, but if something feels off to me I’ll try my best to avoid it. I am playing into a lot of the New 52 continuity for Dinah Lance, but using it for very specific reasons which you’ll see over this first arc. I’m trying to bring it all together and make it make sense in a way that makes Dinah feel like the iconic version of the character that we know and love.
HH: She’s a welcome member to the ever-growing Fletcher-verse!
Black Canary #1 and Gotham Academy #8 are on shelves now, with new issues coming in the next few weeks!