Those who have been paying attention to the comic book scene for the past few years will recognize the name Mitch Gerads. Drawing for books like Doctor Who, The Punisher, and Planet of the Apes, Gerads has brought his obsessive detail, heavy shadow, and muted-color style to plenty of notable comics over the past five years or so. His newest book, Vertigo Comic’s The Sheriff of Babylon, marks Gerads’ most gritty work and a story tied closely to its writer, Tom King. I got a chance to talk to Mitch about the book, his career, and the finer points of getting government clearance to make a comic book.
Nerdist: The Activity, Punisher, and The Sheriff of Babylon may all vary in storytelling style, but are all military fiction at their heart. What would you say draws you to telling military stories?
Mitch Gerads: It’s the real-world-Batman angle. These are men and women who have trained their minds and their bodies to protect, defend, and act in an effort to accomplish a goal. It’s a corny sentiment, and so many military guys I know roll their eyes when I say this, but it’s just like Superman or Captain America; I’m just telling stories about heroes. It’s a world I’ve been fascinated in my whole life and I consider it a great treat and a tremendous honor that I have made a career out of telling stories in this space.
N: The series’ original title was The Sheriff of Baghdad. What led to the title change?
MG: It turned out there was already someone in another field using The Sheriff of Baghdad, so the team had a quick back and forth, and we actually became super excited to change it to Babylon. Babylon being the ancient name for where Baghdad lies. It seemed more own-able. The change just felt right and also keep in mind all of this happened well before the first issue was even solicited. So it was actually pretty fortuitous.
“I do keep asking Jamie [Rich] if we can get a “CIA APPROVED” stamp on the covers.”
[IMAGE: Vertigo Comics]
N: With parts of Babylon being based on Tom’s actual experiences over in Iraq, did the story have to undergo any kind of screening process from the FBI or the DOD in case it touched on things they may not want it to?
MG: Because of Tom’s previous career, and this being his first time directly writing about the war he saw as a CIA counter-terrorism officer, every issue must be submitted to, and approved by, the CIA before publication. Tom’s very aware and respectful of OPSEC (Operational Security) so we’re never really worried about it, but I do keep asking Jamie [Rich, editor] if we can get a “CIA APPROVED” stamp on the covers. [Laughs]
N: How did you first meet Tom, and how did the story for Sheriff of Babylon come along once you were involved?
MG: As I understand it, Tom had pitched the book awhile ago and it was approved but without an artist. They tried a few different names out but it just never clicked and it sat there for awhile. After Punisher ended I was getting REAL picky about what I wanted to do next. Jamie called me and pitched me a couple different books from the new big Vertigo line push and he got about half a sentence into pitching me Sheriff and I cut him off with an “I’m in. Stop pitching. You got me.” I’ve also heard Tom tell a great little story that I was the only person that drew an Iraqi style tea-cup and not an English style tea-cup. [Laughs]
N: You actually struck a deal with military outfitter Crye Precision to feature their gear, by name, in your Punisher run. Was that something you sought or had they seek to outfit everyone’s favorite vigilante?
MG: No real “deal” was struck or made. We just got to be really good friends with some of the guys at Crye Precision and they were equally excited about the kinds of books Nathan and I were doing. Just as professional courtesy they started sending me stuff because I am kind of a gear nut and it just made so much sense to outfit Frank in the best stuff the Special Operations world has to offer. They were as surprised and excited by it as we were and we had a lot of fun with it. And now I have the coolest closet in the world.
“It’s a corny sentiment… but it’s just like Superman or Captain America; I’m just telling stories about heroes.”
[IMAGE: Marvel Comics]
N: There has been word that your book with Nathan Edmondson, The Activity, is in talks for a film adaptation. Is there anything you can tell us about that, and what kind of involvement you and Nathan may have?
MG: Heck yeah! The Activity has been picked up by Paramount Pictures with a script by Ken Nolan, the screenwriter of Black Hawk Down. I’ve read it and it’s pretty damn rad. It’s both very different from the comic but also somehow Ken has fit all 16 issues into one movie in a completely smart way. Super excited to see how it progresses!
N: Do you and Scott Dillion ever plan to re-launch your indie, sci-fi series Johnny Recon?
MG: I sure hope so! We’re both really busy right now with what we each have going on, but I would love to return to some retro-raygun adventuring someday with Scott!
[IMAGE: Pop Gun Pulp Comics]
N: Would you say your Buffalo Wild Wings work, or your Nabisco work prepared you better for comic book art?
MG: [Laughs] You’d be surprised how much that job prepared me for comics. In both a creative sense and in a business sense. If you want to get technical, Sheriff isn’t my first time working for DC. I once did a Justice League Teddy Grahams package line years ago!
N: What is the highest number of books or projects you have worked on at one time?
MG: Two? And if so, it was by accident and probably nearly killed me. I do pencils/inks/colors on all my work so doing 1 monthly book is a full-time all-the-time gig.
N: What book so far has been the most fun, and which would you say was the most rewarding?
MG: I’ve really enjoyed every project I’ve been a part of, but I will say that I am immensely proud of The Sheriff of Babylon. It’s not often that a comic book feels important in the large sense. This one does to me. I want everyone to read it, and not for that sweet sweet royalty money, but because I do think it’s an important story. It’s fiction, but it’s surrounded by non-fiction. Both Tom and I have painstakingly made sure everything in the book is authentic. I’m exhaustive about my research. I spend hours on the littlest things. Every building, every street corner, everything is a real place from 2004 Baghdad. This is the war Tom witnessed.
Featured Image: Mod Cabin