The Tom King and Mitch Gerads interview
Dan: Tom King, your previous career as a former operative for the CIA has become the stuff of legend among the Comic Book Community. Has SHERIFF OF BABYLON – a book about post-Saddam Husain Iraq – always been a book you’ve wanted to write? Or is it a case of art imitating life?
Tom King: In all honesty, I didn’t really want to write directly about my CIA stuff. I don’t know, it felt a little cheap somehow and maybe I also kind of didn’t want to spend time in that world for all those PTSD guilt reasons. But, Vertigo had come to me asking for a crime series and this setting just seemed to fit; there was so much to explore here, which is the point of crime stories: the investigation of a world that needs investigating. It had been ten years, and I thought I’d try it and see if I could keep going. Then I kept going.
D: Mitch Gerads, your style is fully rooted in realism, yet it stands apart from many of the other “photo-realistic” artists. How would you describe your style, and whom do you credit as your influences?
Mitch Gerads: My biggest influence, the artist that drives me, is probably not super obvious in my work, but Norman Rockwell. The way he can tell such elaborate stories in a single image really pushes me as an illustrator to do that on every single panel. I’m so much more concerned with storytelling than style. I don’t believe I am ever aware of a style while I work, it’s just a natural progression. That said, I wear a lot of my influences on my sleeve; John Paul Leon, Mazzucchelli, Toth.
D: Mitch, I can honestly say that for me, I was hooked on the book from the dramatic opening pages of issue #1. The widescreen cinematic feel made me feel the heat and sand of the wide open desert. What is your process for laying down the Iraqi landscape? Is it a combination of your AZ backyard and Google maps?
MG: Haha, you used my joke! The way I illustrate Iraq is all from research. I try not to make a single thing up. Then with the colors I kind of enhance the reality of it and crank up the colors, to crank up those visceral “feels.”
D: Tom and Mitch, one thing that has stuck out to me in the short time the book has been on the shelf, is the level of restraint the book has. For a story told in the war-torn Mideast, one would expect the violence shown in the book to be widespread, but that’s not so because the book is character driven. When violence does occur, we get the BANG panels, and the power of this effect is amazing. How did this simple, yet unique, effect come to be?
MG: The “Bang.” motif was in Tom’s script, but it was kind of nebulously worded. I think this is a perfect example of how well Tom and I get each other because I knew exactly what he meant right out of the gate. Our editor, Jamie Rich, and our original letterer took a little longer to get there (laughs).
TK: Yeah, I had put something vague and pretentious in and Mitch perfected and grounded it, which is what he does with every issue. Violence in Iraq, to me, was not an everyday thing. It erupted at times, unpredictable times. For me, this wasn’t the battle of the bulge; it was weeks of waiting and preparing for a few seconds of terror. I try to put that feeling into the story. (See pretentious and vague. It’s kind of my thing.)
D: Tom & Mitch, Mitch’s past book, THE ACTIVITY, was recognized by the United States Armed Forces for its positive and accurate portrayal of the armed services. Has there been a similar response with SHERIFF OF BABYLON?
MG: The response I’ve gotten from people who know far better than I about these things have been amazing, both members of our armed forces and even some Iraqi citizens. Vulture just wrote a piece citing SHERIFF as “The most comprehensive war fiction of our generation.” Which is one hell of a compliment.
TK: The service people I talk to seem to recognize what we’re doing, which is the greatest reward we can have. I really feel that those men and women saved the world, continue to save the world, and we have a responsibility to be as true as we can to their experience.
D: Tom & Mitch, SHERIFF is slated to have multiple volumes. Was this story crafted to have a set ending? Or will the storylines change up with different protagonists and different cases, along the lines Law and Order?
MG: Each “season” will be a complete story from front to back with everything tied up. Any other information would just be spoiling! We know what season 2 is and it’s going to be really, really damn cool.
TK: Yeah, it’s called Sheriff of Babylon not Sheriff of Baghdad. I served in some other places in this odd war we’re in, and I want to talk about those as well. So we’ll see some of that in the upcoming seasons. But these characters, Nassir, Chris, Sofia, if they live, will continue to live in further volumes.
D: Tom & Mitch, you gentlemen have clearly created something special. Can we expect more projects for King & Gerads?
I’ve said too much!
TK: Mitch! You’ve said too much! NOOO!!!!