Home Publishers DC NYCC ’14: Gerry Duggan on karaoke, mental illness and ‘Arkham Manor’

NYCC ’14: Gerry Duggan on karaoke, mental illness and ‘Arkham Manor’

Art by Shawn Crystal and Dave McCaig. Courtesy of DC Comics

Batman fans have a lot of reasons to be excited for in the month of October. With the latest Batgirl creative team and new Gotham Academy series debuting, there’s a new series starting at the end of the month: “Arkham Manor. “ Gerry Duggan (Deadpool, Nova) is currently writing this comic and collaborating with Shawn Crystal (Deadpool) Dave Mccaig (X-Men, Star Wars, Superman) on the upcoming Batman spin-off.

Duggan was kind enough to conduct this interview during the last hour of the New York Comic Con. We discussed our passion for the Caped Crusader, karaoke and some touchy subjects like mental illness. Here are excerpts from the interview.

Henry Barajas: Thanks for skipping on performing some karaoke so we can do this interview.

Gerry Duggan: It’s tough by the time Sunday rolls around because  usually my voice is shot. So, I’m really trying to take care of it. I was even doing old vocal exercises I learned from my old acting class to make sure my voice was okay for these interviews and panels.

Barajas: What’s your karaoke song of choice if I may ask?

Duggan: I usually do a heavy metal “Gambler” of all things weird. It’s not very enjoyed, but I have fun doing it.

Barajas: I was at Barnes and Noble for the Ron Perlman book reading on Tuesday of Super Week. I started flipping through Batman history book, and I didn’t realize how much Bat-history there is.

Duggan: It’s really incredible. In Batman’s history you have almost all of comics history. There’s so much richness there that the Bat offices are almost its own comic company. Obviously, as a guy who grew up reading Batman comics —loving them— and watching the Bat television shows. My son is picking up on that, too. I’m not forcing it on him, but he’s really a fan. I’m not unaware how lucky I am to be telling Batman stories in the 75th year. It’s such a special moment for me, and I sometimes can’t believe it’s real.

Barajas: It’s like you go through puberty, grow facial hair, and learn about Batman.

Duggan: (Laughs.) Exactly. My favorite comics growing up were stories like “The Killing Joke” and “Arkahm Asylum” by (Grant) Morrison and (Dave) McKean. “Arkham Manor” was a unique opportunity that presented out of some of the events from “Batman Eternal.” Mark Doyle, his assistant Matt, Scott Snyder and all the Batman writers have been very accommodating by slowly moving pieces around that we will need to be able to start “Arkham Manor.” It’s a bit of a masquerade for Halloween. The Manor has transformed. Batman has a new mask he’s wearing inside of the manor. He’s had Matches Malone which has been his mask to observe the criminal underworld, and now we have a new persona where he can observe the criminally insane of Gotham. So, it’s a very much a perfect time to launch the book. Even the cover sends a chill down my spine. We have some autumn leaves and a cold wind blowing. I hope everyone shows up and enjoys this murder mystery.

Barajas: How does it feel to be the first Arkham Manor writer and this series could be passed on for different generations to enjoy?

Duggan: It doesn’t seem fair that I’m the guy that gets to do this.

Barajas: I think it’s fair.

Duggan: I’m very lucky to be able to contribute in that way. One of the things that we’re really excited about in this book is not just looking at the 75 years that preceded us but what’s down the road. We are leaving new toys in the toy box. Nobody wants to play the hits. I think we have a couple of what I hope will be significant contributions, but in the end, I will promise you will be surprised to see how things play out. It’s not a great idea to put the criminally insane of Arkham into Wayne Manor. It was very far down the depth chart, but Gotham doesn’t have a lot of great choices. This was the least worst choice of all the choices.

Barajas: It makes sense considering our current crop of elected officials don’t really make smart decisions.

Duggan: But on the other side there is Batman and Bruce Wayne and what is he prepared to do for Gotham. If he’s willing to go out at night and risk his life to save Gotham; well, he’s certainly then going to be willing to share his home. The other neat thing that is happening in this book is history repeated itself, where the original Arkham asylum was the Amadeus Arkham’s mansion. Now Bruce Wayne is transforming the Manor into the mental institution. We hope it has a better outcome than it did for Amadeus.

Barajas: This comic touches on a very sensitive subject: mental illness. Comics have always been a device to open up the dialogue on these kinds of sensitive subjects. Growing up, I remember reading a Spider-Man that discussed the overcrowded prison system in the 1970’s. This could be a good way to raise awareness around this issue.

Duggan: I’m glad you mentioned that because of the tone and history in my work which is a lot of comedy, and we are treating that very respectfully. When you see the group dynamic that we have, there is a real attempt. Doctor Arkham isn’t doing what he’s doing to make a quick buck, like Bruce Wayne and Batman, are trying to attempt to save Gotham in their own way. This is a real issue. Even Batman in the mask that he adopts he’s adopting the mask of a mentally ill veteran which is a very serious issue.

He’s doing it because it’s a good disguise, but he’s doing it because unfortunately it’s a very good disguise meaning there is a lot of that problem. My father was a veteran, and I see these homeless vets and it breaks my heart. But having that out there and dealing with it in a fictitious way I hope will sort of help raise awareness because we have some real problems with how we deal with the mentally ill. I feel like we are reminded of this whenever there is a mass shooting in this country. We don’t ever deal with the root substance of the issue, we sort of wait until there is an acute problem. I wish we had a better system to deal with our mentally ill.

“Arkham Manor’ #2 cover art. Art by Shawn Crystal and Dave McCaig. Courtesy of DC Comics

Barajas: I agree. You’re Deadpool writer. Shawn Crystal is a former Deadpool artist. You’re making this leap to DC and working on the Batman universe. You’re known for working with some of the best in the industry, how’s working with Shawn?

Duggan: I have always been lucky working with collaborators. This is a visual medium. I have worked with Tony Moore, Mike Hawthorne, Scott Koblish, and so many more wonder artist. These guys are all tremendous. Shawn Crystal was a great artist before he got the Arkham Manor assignment. Not to take anything away from him; however, there’s something about getting Batman I think where there is a lot of love, inky, dark goodness in these pages that is striking. He and Dave McCaig together have really formed a quick super team. The art in the first issue is astonishing because it looks like the year ten of this relationship when in fact this is their first issue. We were all blown away on how great it looks. I’m so excited that everyone gets to see what these guys have accomplished, and I really do feel like I’m riding their coat tails.

Barajas: Obviously, this is a horror comic. Is there any horror comics, music or film that you have been inspired by while writing Arkham Manor?

Duggan: We have had a few things mentioned internally as things we might want to look at. But for me, I love the Ken Kesey Coo Coo’s Nest vibe, but it’s also a psychological thriller. Some of the new toys we are playing are not maybe classic inspiration. There’s some John Carpenter play at here. I don’t want to get too specific, but there’s a reveal at the end of the first issue that is great, I hope. There’s a very surprising reveal at the end of the second issue that I’m pretty fond of, but the reveal at the end of the third issue is just bananas. It’s one of those things where you ask if you can do it—you have a back up– and when the answer is yes you’re like god bless Mark Doyle, Scott Snyder and everyone that has helped make this happen because it’s a true joy to be able to do.

Barajas: I’m a big Batman fan. I grew up reading the comics, enjoying the Batman Animated series and watching the movies. Is there particular incarnation that you’re drawing from or something that has really inspired you

Duggan: The animated series is one of the great takes on Batman and Gotham to have ever hit fandom. The thing I’m really enjoying is being able to play with some of the classic characters. Mr. Freeze as a character I didn’t fall in love with until TAS, and then now that I’m getting to write about Freeze it’s been a little of a revelation for me not just in terms of being a pressure valve but also the emotional core of what he is and why he’s there. That’s been very fun for me to explore He’s got two entrances and great arch. I hope any fan of Batman will show up and give us a shot because I think you’re going be really surprised.

“Arkham Manor” #1 is expected to hit comic stands on Wednesday, Oct. 22.

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