An Interview with Mitch Gerads

It’s funny how the world works. A few years ago Mitch Gerads was a new voice in comics from my vantage, teaming up with Nathan Edmondson making a name for himself with their creator-owned comic The Activity. We met briefly at Heroes Con years ago but merely as acquaintances. Fast forward a few years and Mitch has fostered another artistic partnership with our good friend — and my choice for the best writer in comics this year — Tom King. Right now they’re knee deep in a profoundly entertaining and artistically inspiring run on Mister Miracle. Mitch was kind enough to sit down with me in between managing a newborn baby, a wife, and a blisteringly hot career. Enjoy!

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Mitch. How have you been?

Tired! My wife and I just had our first child and babies are hard! I thought I kept weird hours.

Congrats! We’re long past the baby stage, but I still remember the long nights. Let’s roll back the clock to a time before you weren’t a tired, old parent. Tell me your origin story. You were a commercial illustrator after college, but were comics always in your blood? When did you discover comics as a fan, and when did becoming a comic artist become a goal?

No hyperbole. The only thing I ever wanted to be was a comic book artist, from before I could even read them. I have two older brothers, 13 and 14 years older, who loved comic books, so I grew up surrounded by superheroes and my brothers and I were spaced apart far enough where we didn’t fight, and I just idolized them. So I was surrounded by comics, toys, posters, etc. from birth.

BUT I’ve always been very honest with myself, and I knew from years and years of reading WIZARD magazine that the comics field was TOUGH to break into and I was excited to start my professional life, so I decided to get a BFA in graphic design instead. I got a job at a design firm right out of college and worked as a designer/concept artist/illustrator. Long story short, five years into that job I was a casualty of mass layoffs. I could either search for another graphic design job or give my dream an actual shot. After some very lean, tough years, it worked!

Your first credited comics work were two issues of Johnny Recon, a creator-owned science fiction book you published through Kickstarter. Although Kickstarter is ubiquitous now, back in 2009 (when you launched your campaign), it was a much less established avenue. How did you come to use Kickstarter and how was your experience?

Johnny Recon was one of, if not the first, comic book on Kickstarter. I’m such a trendsetter! A friend told us about Kickstarter while we were developing the book and I 100% thought it was a scam, but we gave it a shot anyway, and it got funded. For MUCH less than what we needed to fulfill everything, haha. Johnny Recon was a very expensive resume at a time when there was no money coming in but damned if it didn’t work out in the end.

Although you’re known by most for your brilliant illustrations, some of your earliest work was as a colorist – in particular for Starborn with our mutual buddy Khary Randolph. How did you end up doing colors, and was that always with an eye toward transitioning into illustration?

Comic Twart Examples by Mitch Gerads

Bryce Carlson over at BOOM! knew my work from (a popular sketch blog from a few years ago) and liked my crazy, sci-fi color schemes from my Johnny Recon pieces and asked if I wanted to color Khary Randolph on their new Stan Lee sci-fi series. It was so much fun! I had the best time on that book with Khary and Chris [Roberson]. My eye was always on full illustration. In fact, before I even started coloring that book they had me do a variant cover for the series. That eventually led to a couple of Doctor Who stories at IDW, then onto The Activity at Image. That’s when my career really started going.

A Rockwell Original

Let’s talk about Norman Rockwell. You’ve frequently acknowledged his influence on your work – which stands out because he’s not someone you hear mentioned by most comic artists. What is it about Rockwell that inspires your approach?

Rockwell is often overlooked by young artists because they rebel against that picturesque wholesome small-town Americana thing, but I LOVE that world. Rockwell is the most amazing illustrator. Every single image tells an entire story. I’ve seen all his paintings and drawings a million times, and I’m still in awe every time I look at one. I really look to him when it comes to storytelling. Every panel should be important and the characters should be telling the story with all their little nuances. I care far more about that little-upturned smile at the end of a scowl or that slightly elevated eyebrow far more than I care about “that big dynamic punch.” Characters tell stories, not action poses.

Partnerships. From my vantage, you’ve found two fantastic collaborators already in your relatively young career – Nathan Edmondson and Tom King. I first discovered your work when you and Nathan launched The Activity. You two had a multi-year run doing creator-owned before making the jump to Marvel to work on The Punisher. How did you and Nathan become collaborators? Was it a tough decision moving from creator-owned work to a Marvel book, and did that impact your process in any way?

Gerads Art from The Activity and The Punisher

Nathan cold-called me one day after, again, finding me on ComicTwart. We just kind of talked about things we were into, and we both found we shared a love of militaria. Specifically, the CBS show, The Unit. “We should do that!” —That’s basically the boiled down version of how The Activity started. We were wrapping up The Activity when Marvel called and basically said, “Hey, we love what you’re doing with The Activity come do that with our military guy!” — and BLAM! Punisher!

I have never noticed a huge difference between creator-owned work and work-for-hire. I’ve been VERY blessed in that all my work-for-hire editors have been very hands off and let us steer the ship the way we want to. Jamie Rich, my editor on Sheriff of Babylon, Batman and Mister Miracle, is a perfect example of this. The guy is amazing. He’s there to support us and make the books the best they can be, but he never grabs the wheel, so to speak.

As you know, Tom King is a buddy, and I have to admit it’s still weird to think of him as “Batman’s Tom King” with massive lines at conventions after years of seeing him bust his ass in relative obscurity honing his craft. How did you and Tom decide to work together, and why Sheriff of Babylon? [Which I think is fantastic, by the way.]

Interior Art from Issue 2 of The Sheriff of Babylon

Jamie put us together! I was just wrapping my long run on Punisher and Jamie, newly minted at Vertigo, called to pitch me some books. He got to Sheriff and I was 100% in after about two sentences. Tom and I very quickly discovered we were long-lost brothers. He’s truly one of my favorite people, and I’m his biggest fan. It’s hard not to sound hyperbolic, or like the marketing machine, when I talk about how much I enjoy working with Tom, but the bromance is real.

After working together on Sheriff, and then Batman earlier this year, you two are back in the cultural zeitgeist with Mister Miracle. First, let me say that two issues in and it’s ASTOUNDING work. Congratulations. Let’s talk about the experience so far? Were you a fan of the New Gods before taking the gig?

It’s funny; I had two dream books in comics. Batman and Mister Miracle. Don’t ask me how I got so lucky because I have no idea. Mister Miracle was one of the big stand-out books that my brother hooked me on when I was a kid. So I have a very personal and fond connection to Scott Free and everyone in his world.

How Mister Miracle came to be is kind of crazy. Tom and I pitched The War of Jokes and Riddles as a new Batman maxi-series. Our Long Halloween. DC loved it, greenlit it, and we were gold! Then DC re-read it and REALLY loved it. They decided to make the story part of the main Batman title instead of its own series. As a result, Mikel Janin, the regular artist on Batman, got to draw the story. Dan Didio recognized that meant we were now left without a book we were planning on and offered us whatever we wanted to do. Tom excels at being given assignments, instead of requesting them, so Dan gave him a couple of options.

Tom wrote me telling me the bad news. I was crushed. My Bat dreams dashed! Tom knew I was crushed and shyly asked if I was at all interested in doing a different character. My response was “Man; I had my heart set on Batman. The only other character I even care to do would be Mister Miracle. There was a pause. “Dude, that’s literally what I was calling to pitch you.”

See, Tom and I get each other.

Is there added pressure to perform on a book with as much hype as Mister Miracle

It’s been wild! I knew it was special and it’s been AMAZING seeing everyone else think so too. Tom and I really strive to make real works of meaningful art, whether we’re successful or not remains to be seen but seeing readers grab onto it as much as we do making it has been very invigorating and inspiring.

Let’s talk about the TAPE. I cannot get enough of the pieces of Scotch tape in Issue 1. How did you do that, and what was the purpose?

Mister Miracle #1, Page 4 — Notice THE TAPE!!!

The Tape! Ha, the tape is literally just that. Scotch tape yellowed out in the Arizona sun and scanned in. There’s meaning behind it, but that’s for the reader to interpret. There are some things I’m doing in this book that have overt hidden meaning, but there’s also a lot that’s done for the reader to interpret in their own way. Like a good song, everyone should leave with their own experience and what it means to them. I don’t want to take away from anyone’s personal experience by forcing my will onto them. That’s a total Darkseid move.

No doubt.

Regarding process, do you and Tom work “Marvel Method” or is he providing full scripts? Do you ever have to slap him upside the head to keep him in check?

Full scripts. I only work with full scripts. Every shot I compose is based on getting all the facts. I actually have no clue how anyone works “Marvel Method” and I really have no clue how any artist deals with writers who turn in just a few pages at a time. Every bit of dialogue and every line of stage suggestion influences my illustration choices.

Years ago, you were an unabashed sci-fi aficionado, but it seems over the last few years you’ve become known for more realistic settings featuring military overtures. Has it been fun getting back to a bit of the science-fiction/fantasy in Mister Miracle? 

Definitely! Mister Miracle has scratched those itches rather nicely! I’m big on making stories relatable. Anything I can do to make the reader recognize themselves in that world whether that world is our Earth or New Genesis.

Do you work traditionally or digitally these days, or do you combine the two?

I’m all digital. I think issue 12 of Punisher was my first all-digital book and I haven’t looked back since. Yes, I am sure I have left plenty of original art money on the table, but the freedom and time that being digital grants me are far more precious than extra funds.

You’re killing me smalls! One thing I’m struck by in your work is the intensely realistic settings, instrumentation, vehicles, weaponry. Suffice to say you spend a lot of time researching as part of your artistic process, right?

I easily spend 2-3 times longer researching than I do actually illustrating. Again, I want to make my stories relatable and if I can learn something new along the way and teach some people some things I am all about that!

Where else do you draw inspiration from beyond Rockwell?

Fuchs, Briggs, McGinnis, Parker Examples (in that order)

For this book [Mister Miracle] especially, I’ve been really mining my love of classic commercial illustration of the 50’s – 70’s. Guys like Austin Briggs, Al Parker, Bernie Fuchs, and Robert McGinnis. This is the art that really grabs me and I’m having an absolute blast bringing elements of these masters into a modern setting.

With Batman and Mister Miracle scratched off the professional bucket list, what other characters are you yearning to work on?

When we’re done with Scott Free I’d love to get a return ticket to Gotham. I’ve got a Batman Magnum Opus I still need to tell. I really want to get my mitts on The Flash too. I think that character has a lot of untapped artistic potential. There’s so many unique things you could do with speed and perception of the eye.

As you know, I love collecting original art and am proud to have some of your work. Do you enjoy doing commissions at conventions and, if so, what’s the best way for fans to get in touch about arranging art requests?

Honest answer: I do not (haha). I am a creature of habit. I want my desk, ability to shoot photo ref, American Pickers on the TV, etc. I can’t do that at a show, so I get flustered. But in the last couple years, I have switched to head-shots only, and I do them very messy with mixed media. I can be fast, and sloppy, and have a bit of fun. I also don’t like doing big commissions/sketches at shows because I love talking to fans. I don’t want to bury my head behind the table. I want to talk with you and sell you a book.

I got into this business to tell stories and sell stories. Not just my art. I’m far more interested in getting someone to try one of my books and developing a personal connection than I am of drawing them a Toxic Avenger.

That’s fair, I’m sure everyone appreciates the candor. But American Pickers? Mitch, really? What else do you do to pass the time?

I’m still trying to sell my wife on Mike and Frank being co-Godfathers of our child! I have TV on CONSTANTLY in my house. Usually nothing super amazing. If it’s too good of a show then I pay too much attention to it. Things like American Pickers, Pawn Stars, Ghost Adventures, all that stuff doesn’t require your rapt attention.

What advice would you give to young creators looking to break into the business? We know there’s no singular path, but if you could impart one pearl of wisdom upon an up-and-comer, what would it be?

Be honest with yourself. Are you really ready for what you want to do? If not, take the time to work on it. It’s super cool that you can draw Batman swinging into a plethora of bad guys, but can you draw Bruce Wayne sitting on an office chair at a board meeting? Comics is incredibly demanding. Make sure you can meet those demands before you go all in.

Well said. I imagine you’re nearly wrapped up with conventions for the year, right? What’s the best way for our readers to keep apprised of your work online?

The only show I have left in 2017 is the Rhode Island Comic Con in November. I’m keeping it very light because of the new kid.

Twitter is the best way to see what I’m up to @mitchgerads and my Facebook fan page:

Great, well listen my friend, it’s been a treat watching your career evolve over the last few years. You’ve definitely hit a new creative peak with Mister Miracle. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I can hardly wait for the rest of the series to hit store shelves. Thanks a ton for taking some time to chat!

Thank you, man!