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Swoonin’ For Cloonan: Becky Cloonan Talks Writing and Teases GOTHAM ACADEMY

Becky Cloonan is fantastic to talk with, and I can’t wait to get another opportunity to pick her brain on a variety of topics. For those of you unfamiliar with her work she is an artist and a writer, and after beginning with several mini-comics, Cloonan quickly graduated to collaborating guys like Brian Wood (Demo), and Steven T. Seagle for his American Virgin. She just finished providing art for The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (written by Gerard Way) for Dark Horse Comics, a comic that serves as a sequel to the My Chemical Romance concept album, Danger Days. We sat down at San Diego Comic-Con to talk about some of her early influences, and hear a tease about her not-to-distant future project.

Nerdist: You’ve had a slew of work recently and it’s all dynamically different, but it seems like you’ve mostly avoided the big team books and gravitated to creator-owned work.

Becky Cloonan: I grew up reading X-Men and Silver Surfer. I think I have some stories in me that I would love to tell. But I know for a fact that I’m not cut out to draw a team book, like X-Men. It’s not my thing, but I love reading them. It’s like, if someone asked you to sing in your favorite band, you’d be like, “No. I don’t want to ruin it.”

N: You can love something and not necessarily want to be part of the creative process, just enjoy it as a fan.

BC: Exactly. I have so many stories that I want to tell, and I think it’s a matter of finding these stories and honing them out. I’m really into the craft of it. The technical aspects of story telling. My mini-comics allowed me to do that. I got to try out new things in each story. I got to play with narration and time.

N: So then you take the things you played with in each of your minis and use those skills together on a larger project?

BC: Yeah. I wouldn’t use the same gimmick for a whole book or graphic novel but to be like, here’s a short story and lets see how this works, then I use what I learn on the next thing. Short-form stories helped me learn how to tell a complete story; a beginning, a middle, and an end. It taught me to learn how to write, and that’s a hard thing to do, to tell a full story concisely.

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N: What are some of your non-comic influences?

BC: Almost everything I learned about my visual storytelling comes from German Expressionist films, like Fritz Lang. I sometimes joke that everything I learned about inking, I just steal from Fritz Lang. His sense of black and white, and his sense of storytelling is just… it’s beautiful. Some of it, I think, is the quality of film back then. You don’t get the subtle grays, so it’s all very contrasty.

N: It’s never as good when you see the remastered versions.

BC: Right. Exactly. But, yeah, whenever I’m stuck on something, I’ll just throw one of those movies. I also think Joseph Clement Coll was a big influences, from a visual standpoint.

N: What entertains you the most?

BC: I love mysteries. I’m a fiend for a good mystery.

N: Me too. I love mystery novels.

BC: Oh. See and I love fantasy novels. It’s what I really fell in love with growing up. I was reading Terry Brooks when I was like in fourth grade.

N: Piers Anthony.

BC: Of course, all those crazy centaurs.

N: Did you read his Incarnations of Immortality series?

BC: Oh my god, yes, for sure. It’s funny too because he did a bunch of sci-fi books, as well, and I never liked that as much. Although I did read all of [Douglas] Adams’ series [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy]. When I was a kid, I would go to church and I was reading a book with a chick on the cover and she’s scantily clad and summoning a demon… I remember reading that in church and my Mom was like, “You can read any book you want,” and I was like, “Sweet!”

N: When did you get into comics?

BC: My dad is who got me in. He was reading me Silver Surfers when I was a kid. I remember Silver Surfer Annual #1 in like 1988, was the first comic I ever owned. I was eight years old and I remember reading it over and over and over.

N: Is your Dad still into comics?

BC: I don’t know actually. Plus we didn’t get very many. I’m gonna date myself here but when I bought comics it was off of spinner racks in the supermarket.

N: Me too.

BC: Right, and so I wouldn’t get every issue. I’d miss a few months and pick up an annual or something and it would say, “Editor’s Note: See issue #172″. I would be like, “I don’t have that issue!”

N: Now you could just Google it.

BC: I know, I know, but see, I think a lot of what got me into comics and wanting to write and draw comics is because I had these gaps in my head, and always had to fill in what’s going on between. You know, if I was going to psychoanalyze myself, I feel like that was a big part of me wanting to learn comics. ‘What happens between issues five and ten…’ and then I’ve got four issues to make up.

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N: And often what’s in your head is better than what was on those pages. Now you’re getting those stories out there, and that’s got to be exciting. So, what’s next? What’s the next thing you’re most excited to release?

BC: Well, I’m writing Gotham Academy for DC. Brendan Fletcher is my co-writer on that, and Karl Kerschl is doing the art. It’s about a prestgious prep school in Gotham. It’s in continuity, so like Bruce Wayne is a benefactor to the school. He shows up in the first issue. It’s about living in Gotham as a kid. There’s a little Harry Potter feel, a little bit of everything I like really. It’s also kind of Nancy Drew. We’re just trying to do something really fun. It’s all ages. If you’re a fan of Batman, and your little sister is too young to read Dark Knight Returns without it messing her up, this is the perfect way to get her into comics.

N: Wow. That is awesome. When does it come out?

BC: October.

That was all the time I had with Becky, but holy crap am I excited for Gotham Academy! If you haven’t already checked out The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys you should do so, it’s great and all six issues are collected in a trade on shelves now. Thoughts on Becky, Gotham Academy, or anything else can we communicated to me via Twitter or the comments section below.

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