Sean Murphy drew Gotham City Hall as a near-replica of Portland City Hall for the new Batman series. Illustration by Sean Murphy / Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Holy municipal government! Is that Portland City Hall on the pages of the new Batman comic book?

Almost, old chum. It’s actually Gotham City Hall, where city fathers base their battles against The Joker, The Penguin and assorted super-villains. But it looks just like that place where Portland officials battle each other over waterfront views and school renovations.

The spitting image of Portland City Hall will appear in the DC Comics publication “Batman: White Knight #1,” which goes on sale Oct. 4. The comic book’s artist and writer, Sean Murphy, moved to Portland about a year ago from Brooklyn and finds that its Victorian vibe is perfect for his personal vision of Gotham City.

While other Batman comics and movies feature sleek modern architecture as a backdrop for mayhem and mystery, Murphy used the Old Port’s cobblestone streets, the waterfront’s weathered wharfs and downtown’s ornate red-brick commercial blocks as models for the locales in his Gotham. Besides drawing Gotham City Hall as a near-replica of the 1912 Portland City Hall, Murphy also used the H.H. Hay building at Congress and Free streets, which dates to the mid-1800s, as the model for a building on a future issue’s cover.

“I hadn’t seen another artist do Gotham with Victorian or Edwardian architecture, with cobblestone streets and iron gates,” said Murphy, 37, who lives in the West End. “I like the idea of seeing the Batmobile drive down streets that look like Jack the Ripper might be there.”

The series will have eight issues, and the first issue has sold about 90,000 pre-ordered copies, local comic dealers say. DC Comics said “Batman: White Knight” already is one of the top three best-selling comic books for October. Murphy will sign copies of the issue on Oct. 14 at Coast City Comics on Congress Street.

Even before Murphy moved to Portland, the city was inspiring his artwork. He came here for a few days in 2006 with a former girlfriend and ended up using some locations in a comic book called “Joe the Barbarian.” There’s a cemetery in that comic that looks a lot like the Eastern Cemetery, with its sweeping views of the waterfront.

“It just feels like this perfect foggy New England town. There’s something very Stephen King-y in the air,” Murphy said.

Sean Murphy works in his studio at home in Portland. Murphy said he used the city as the model for some scenes because “it just feels like this perfect foggy New England town.”

RARE TREAT FOR LOCAL COMIC FANS

“Batman: White Knight” will be a rare treat for locals, because there likely aren’t any other mass-produced superhero comic books with easy-to-recognize Portland scenes, according to the owners of two Portland comic shops: Tristan Gallagher at Coast City Comics and Rick Lowell at Casablanca Comics.

It’s also somewhat rare, they say, that a comic book artist is allowed by a major publisher, such as DC Comics, to do both the art and writing for a comic book – especially one as well-known as Batman, which began in 1940 and has spawned TV shows, movies and thousands of comic book series. About 100 comic book issues starring Batman come out each year.

Lowell called Murphy “one of the few superstar comic creators working in the industry,” and said comic book fans are eager to see his interpretations of Batman and Gotham City.

An email sent by the DC Comics public relations office, in response to questions for this story, said DC’s management “loved the White Knight” when Murphy pitched the idea to them and “jumped at the opportunity” to have Murphy produce it.

STARTING YOUNG, TRYING HOLLYWOOD

Artist Sean Murphy of Portland used the flat iron-style H.H. Hay building at Congress and Free streets, which dates to the mid-1800s, as the model for a building, left, to appear on a future cover of the comic book series “Batman: White Knight.” The image will be printed in color. Artwork copyright DC Comics 2017

DC also allowed Murphy to create a new character for the “White Knight” series, although he can’t say anything about that yet. He can say that the story he wrote centers on The Joker, who after being beaten nearly to death by Batman and forced to take medicine for his insanity, becomes a charming and likable fellow. He runs for city council and becomes a popular figure, and in a clever media campaign he publicly blames Batman and Gotham officials for the city’s constant state of crime.

Murphy said he got some inspiration for the story line from President Trump’s campaign and election, especially his use of media to win over voters.

Murphy has been working as an artist for DC for about eight years. He’s done the art for parts of Batman comics before, but never a whole series. Some of his comic book artwork for DC has included “Hellblazer” and “The Wake.” He wrote and illustrated a comic book series for DC called “Punk Rock Jesus,” about a clone of Jesus created for a reality TV show who eventually quits the show and starts a punk rock band.

Murphy grew up in Meredith, New Hampshire. He credits teachers with recognizing and fostering his talent for art, at one point putting him in a fifth-grade art class when he was in third grade. He remembers a friend showing him a Spider-Man comic, and he immediately had to draw his own.

Murphy attended the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia and after graduating moved to Los Angeles, hoping to work as an artist creating story boards for movies and television.

While in Hollywood, he read about how to write a screenplay, and decided it was a lot like writing a comic book. You have to get maximum punch from a minimum of dialogue.

Murphy struggled to make a living doing comics for several years – and even slept in a dumpster one night – before getting more steady employment and eventually being courted by major publishers. He views the opportunity to be the writer and artist for a Batman comic as just about the best job he could get.

“I think this is the top of the mountain for comics, to get paid what you’re worth and to be left alone to some degree. I don’t think there’s a better gig,” he said. “Working on Spider-Man and X-Men is cool, but it doesn’t pay as well as Batman.”

MORE PORTLAND SCENES TO COME?

Murphy and his wife, writer Colleen Katana, started coming to Portland a few years ago, drawn partially by restaurants and comparatively low real estate prices. They began spending summers in the city in 2013. Then as Brooklyn prices continued to climb, they moved to Portland permanently about a year ago.

After he’s finished with “Batman: White Knight,” Murphy will do another Batman series for DC. He’ll create the art for it and comic book writer Scott Snyder will handle the story.

Now that Murphy is living in Portland full time, will more city scenes show up in his comics? In “Batman: White Knight,” Murphy didn’t just use the city’s old buildings or quaint cobblestone streets in his drawings. He needed a lobby of a youth club in Gotham City, so he sketched out one based on the lobby of the YMCA on High Street, where he often has worked out.

“I like the idea of putting my city into a comic book,” he said.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 210-1183 or at:

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Twitter: @RayRouthier