|Cover artist: John Paul Leon|
The 72-minute interview is full of technical and personal insights. Flanagan, King, and Gerads are long-time acquaintances, and the conversational vibe is relaxed and candid. The interview stands as a must-hear primer in military- and comics-writing how-to. Podcast listeners can access "Talksplode No. 67" via iTunes and Stitcher, as well as directly via the iFanboy website here.
Set in 2004 Iraq, "Sheriff of Babylon" is a wartime crime drama published monthly DC Comics' Vertigo imprint. A 160-page trade paperback collecting the first 6 issues is scheduled to be released July 19, 2016. The volume will also be available digitally on Comixology and Kindle. The series is currently scheduled for 12 or more issues.
The story is loosely based on writer King's experiences as a former operations officer for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The series is located in a very specific time and place, King told Flanagan:
I try to describe everything in the book as someplace that I've actually been or [...] seen. The book nicely gets approved by CIA, so I know I'm not going to get […] arrested. Part of this is just me, having gone through that, and working those issues out. Which is what I think all good comics should be: It should be bleeding onto the page, and putting your hopes and fears into it.In news releases earlier this year, DC Comics has announced that King and Gerads were each signed as creatives working exclusively for that company. King is slated to take over writing duties at DC's flagship "Batman" title. Although Vertigo titles are not strictly "creator owned," as briefly covered in the interview, King and Gerads apparently each have a partial ownership stake in "Sheriff" as intellectual property,
I should caveat, however: I feel that some of our audience is people who have served in Iraq, and served there for years. I was there for […] five months, in the spring and summer of 2004. So I only write about the exact time I was there […] It felt like you were in a weird, Casablanca place, like the normal rules of human society don't apply here, but we're all trying to apply them here, so it's this weird double-standard. Like, "We don't have laws, but we kind of have fake laws. How real are those laws"? That's why it's called "Sheriff of Babylon," because there is no sheriff. There is no law there. And how can you have a crime story where there is no law? There's no government. There's no one there to tell you not to do things.
King's first novel, "A Once Crowded Sky," was a literary book-length story about superheroes published in 2012. In an iFanboy exclusive, King revealed to Flanagan that "Sheriff of Babylon" had been written first as a literary novel, which remains yet unpublished. He typically does not write from an outline, he said, but the novel's manuscript provides him the structure for the comic's first narrative arc.
"I sort of had a choice, whether to publish it as a novel or as a comic book. I chose comic book," King said. "The outline for the first 12 issues is a novel I've already written. So that makes it both easier and harder to write. It's a bizarre transcription, with me deciding what to leave and leave out, of me editing myself."
Originally from Minneapolis, artist Gerads is celebrated for his realistic depiction of military action and equipment—in the interview, King called him the greatest military artist working in modern comics. While he has never served in the military, he notes he does have immediate family members who have served in the U.S. Army and Air Force. Nobody in his family was Rambo, he said, and he doesn't consider himself a military brat. Still, he takes the responsibility of telling military-themed stories very seriously.
Along with writer Nathan Edmondson, for example, he was co-creator of the 2011-2015 Image Comics series "The Activity." In early 2015, the series, which focuses on U.S. special operations forces, was reportedly being adapted into a screenplay. Gerads is also well-known for his 2014-2015 run on "The Punisher," which focuses on a paramilitary vigilante character in the Marvel Comics universe.
"Originally, when 'The Activity' started out, it was going to be way more science-fictiony," Gerads told Flanagan ...
It was going to be more "Mission Impossible"-esque. We were going to come up with all of these crazy gadgets. In issue 2 or 3, we had some sort of crazy gadget where a guy was driving a little drone-thing with an Xbox controller. We just thought that would be cool. We got an e-mail from someone in some branch of the military, saying "Hey, super cool—that was my job when I was over there." We sat down and realized […] the reality is so much more interesting than the stuff we were coming up with in our heads."However cutting-edge, the stories in "The Activity" became more non-fiction. "The challenge then was to keep it as real as I could, while also keeping it as entertaining as I could. And that's still the rule, through 'Punisher' and into 'Sheriff.'"
Gerads compared "The Activity" and "Punisher" to producing big, bombastic action movies. However, he said, "Sheriff" demands more nuanced story-telling: "Giving respect to the characters, and giving respect to the fact that this is […] a 'real' story, a time and place that actually happened." Gerads has to infuse the characters found in King's scripts with unique physical identities and facial expressions. He gives each character "some little trait so that you remember them, even if it's subliminal," he said.
King said that the team's ultimate objective is to deliver a compelling story without value judgments. "I think people feel that's it's going to be preachy, that it's just going to be 'War is Hell,' 'War sucks,' or it's just going to be 'Republicans suck' or 'liberals suck.' I don't want a message in my comics. It's not about the politics. It's not about the [Weapons of Mass Destruction] or 'Mission Accomplished' or anything like that. It's just about the day-to-day of what it was like. It's not about winners and losers. It's about a good story."
Gerads and Edmondson's "The Activity" has been previously mentioned on the Red Bull Rising blog here and here.