Nathan Edmondson has only been writing comics professionally since 2009 when he debuted with a story in “PopGun Volume 3” followed by a miniseries called “Olympus,” but he has made quite a splash in the intervening three years. Last year saw the release of “Who Is Jake Ellis?”, a spy thriller with psychic overtones which became a huge hit, selling out and garnering heaps of critical praise. Its sequel, “Where is Jake Ellis?”, is in the works, but in the meantime Edmondson has kept busy writing “Grifter” for DC Comics as well as the ongoing “The Activity” and the upcoming “Dancer,” both for Image Comics.
Teaming up with “Viking” artist Nic Klein, Edmondson plans another espionage-type story, this time following the adventures of former assassin Alan Fisher and his ballet dancer girlfriend Quinn. Their life seems nice and normal until bullets ring out from a sniper’s rifle trying to kill Alan. As the story progresses, the reader learns as much about Alan as Quinn does, leading us down a trail of mystery and intrigue. CBR News spoke with Edmondson in advance of the new title’s release about writing pages without dialog, the literal and figurative distance between Alan and his attacker, and exactly how much ballet will be in the book.
CBR News: It’s interesting that the title of the book is “Dancer” when it seems like the main character is a former assassin dating a ballet dancer. Why did you go with that title?
Nathan Edmondson: “Dancer,” dancing and ballet is really a thematic element in the book; a motif, if you will. It’s a revelation to the main character as well as it will be to the audience the importance of the idea of dancer, of this love interest who is a dancer, but what her profession means to the story as a whole. I think it’s a little bit funny because listening to people talk about the book, people who are going to this looking for a book woven with a lot of ballet like it’s “Bourne Identity” meets “Black Swan” are going to be a little bit disappointed. There’s not a lot of ballet being portrayed. I’d be very interested in exploring that in another book, I don’t know how easy it would be to [make] a book that has a lot of ballet on the stage very readable. It’s interesting to hear people talk about it, what their expectations are and how much dancing is actually going to be in the book. Part of the point of the book is really figuring out the journey and what this dance is. We chose “Dancer” in addition to being part of the genesis of the story, we embraced the title and the character because of how important it is to the motif. The real thrust of the book is hidden until you start reading it.
Dancing is such a fluid art form while comics are static images that imply movement without actually showing it. How do those things come together in a comic.
I’d be lying if I didn’t just confess that part of it is that I’m a big fan of the ballet, a big fan of Degas’ paintings of dancers. I just think that visually the idea of what is one of the most lovely expressions of human physique is just very attractive. It adds a layer to exploring something in the spy genre that would set this book apart from others. There are going to be other things that set this book apart too, but at face value, having another art form as part of the fabric, makes the attraction of the book a little bit more rich.
When you think about it, there’s not much difference between a secret agent or a superhero and a dancer. They both spend a great deal of time training their bodies to move in very specific ways to help them accomplish their goals.
I don’t want to give too much away but those sorts of questions and recognizing that there are parallels between ballet and the art of dance and other professions is part of what’s important in this book. When it comes to art, all art is parallel to all other art in terms of discipline, execution and the elements combined to make a practice into a presentation.
Getting into the specifics of the story, the star is Alan, a retired assassin. Did he retire before meeting Quinn or did he leave the killing game for her?
We don’t go too much into Alan’s recent history, but she’s completely unaware of his background. He met her after becoming retired although I don’t think we say how long after. In a way, you get to know Alan from Quinn’s perspective which is to say you only learn small details at a time and only as much as you need. Part of the power of characters like that is that you don’t know everything about their past.
Setting up the person trying to kill Alan as a sniper is interesting because it sets so much distance between hunter and prey and makes it far more difficult to track down the attacker. Was that an aspect of the story you wanted to explore from the beginning?
As you’ll see when you start reading, it’s important two-fold. One, it sets up the dynamics of the story in a very particular way. You’re right, there’s always this tug and pull. There’s going to be a distance, but the distance can’t be too great because one is trying to kill the other while at the same time without getting so close as to be fully revealed. The fact that the battle at least begins as a sniper battle makes Quinn’s role in the story all the more important. That distance between the hunter and the hunted is bridged by Quinn.
If she’s the entry point character for the reader, does she narrate as well?
There’s no narration in the book. Starting the story, you don’t know anything more than what Quinn knows in terms of Alan’s past. As she becomes aware of certain things we do break from her limited perspective and follow Alan, but the introduction of the story is from her point of view. You can see this in the preview pages, but in the execution of the book, it was very neat to work with Nic because there were several scenes when I realized after writing the scenes that they were totally without dialog. I became concerned that those scenes would be read over too quickly or might be dull, but I spoke with Nic about it and said, ‘What do you think about doing these scenes with little-to-no dialog and letting the action tell the story?’ Nic was for the idea and then crafted the art and the panel-by-panel storytelling in such a way that the dynamism of those scenes is retained. I think the book remains just as exciting and compelling in those scenes where there’s little-to-no dialog. It’s something we did very intentionally and I think it gives a unique tone to this book.
It made me think of when I saw the movie “Haywire” recently. [Director Steven] Soderbergh had these no-music, no-dialog, elongated fight scenes where all you’re getting are very realistic sound effects of fists connecting with torsos and there was a kind of energy in those scenes because of how fresh they were and new they were. I think you’re going to see something similar in this book, which is not to say that the book is a quiet book, but there are quiet scenes. There’s the opening scene where there’s no dialog and we didn’t think any was necessary.
When you work on fight scenes like that, do you go into great detail in the script, talk them over with Nic, or just let him run with a basic description?
With Nic and I there’s a little bit of a tango, a little step forward, a little step back. Nic is a headstrong, very sharp and very intelligent storyteller. My scripts tend to be fairly description-light. I like to find artists whom I can trust to exercise their own talent in the storytelling so I don’t have to over-explain things. Nic is certainly a very strong artist in that regards. There were times when he would look at my storytelling and either say, “That’s not clear to me,” or, “I think I have a better way to do it,” and we might talk about it a little bit, but ultimately, I trust him. However he wanted to break down the page was going to be as good if not better than I could have.
He’s working on #3 right now and we continue to have a daily dialog about it, but really there are times when Nic just executed the action on his own, out of his own mind or out of some sort back and forth between us and we’d work something out. When he turns in pages and those action scenes are complete, they look far more dynamic, perfectly set up and very precisely [done], he’s working very precisely on this book. The execution of the pages is more exciting than I envisioned when I was writing the page. I’ve been very fortunate in pretty much everything I’ve worked on for it to be the case where every page is like a gift. He says it’s going to be his perfect execution of a book and thinks it’s some of the best work of his career to date. Just in terms of the covers, when you see issue #2 and #3, it will jump right off the stands. He’s risen to a whole new level of artistry with this one, I believe. Again, I know I’m biased, but that’s my opinion.
How did you and Nic meet and what made his style the right choice for “Dancer?”
I’ve been a fan of Nic’s work for a long time and we’ve been in dialog. The first time we interacted was when he did a variant cover for “Olympus.” He and [“Olympus” artist] Christian Ward knew one another then and know one another now. I knew he had a gap in his schedule and we were working on a short graphic novel, kind of an extended one-shot, and I knew that he said he had time to do that and was very excited about the story, and I had this idea for “Dancer.” I knew I’d love for Nic to do it, but based on the conversations I was having with him, I didn’t think he was going to be available so I started approaching other artists. It was Christian Ward who said, “No, you really need to bring this to Nic. I’ve talked to Nic, I know he’s looking for this kind of book.” So, despite my reservations about Nic’s schedule, I went with Christian’s advice and brought it to Nic and after our conversation we said we were going to find a way to do this together one way or the other. We were both so excited about one another’s ideas for it.
In addition to “Dancer” you also have “The Activity” coming out as an ongoing. What do you have planned for that series moving forward into 2012?
The first thing we can say that’s pretty exciting is that issue #7 is an issue we had plotted with actual Navy SEALs. We can’t talk about their names or exactly what they do, but we spoke with one of our advisors where we said, “We’ve got this issue where there’s going to be an assault on a boat, how would a special forces group go about doing this?” They put us in touch with the Navy SEALs who took our three or four sentence description of what we wanted to have happen with this boat and they gave us about five pages of notes down to exactly what these guys would do. It’s very exciting for us that we have an issue co-plotted with the SEALs.
Issue #7, which is the first issue after the trade comes out in June, is going to start to open the story to slightly [larger arcs] — it’s a two-part story. You’re going to see a little more while we’re going to maintain a very episodic nature, we’re going to get into a little bit more meta-arc storytelling. We’ve been dropping seeds in issues all along for things and you’re going to see those seeds we planted start to bloom and become more important as the series moves forward. You can look forward to more globe-trotting, we’re going to be in the South China Sea, we’re going to be in Uzbekistan, Somalia, the U.S., Latin America again. It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’ve got a lot of realism and a lot of exciting reality-based things that we’ve gotten from our advisors coming into play.
You’re going to meet some new characters and get to know the old characters. As part of getting to know the team, issue #6 [includes] the first of five back-up stories we’re going to have from guest artist Marc Laming running in all the issues that will focus on the history of one of the characters. We’re going to see the things they were involved in. The first follows Leslie Ryan, [then] Zoey and her background in the CIA. We’re going to see what makes some of these characters who they are, but we’re going to avoid being too soap opera-y. The series is not saturated with drama, it’s about this realistic, action-based storytelling. What you can really look forward to is some really kick ass art from Mitch [Gerads] and Mark.
I know that the follow up to “Who Is Jake Ellis?”, “Where Is Jake Ellis?”, has been announced. Where is that project at right now?
All I can really say is that it is coming. Part of the reason is that — I don’t want to get too much into it — I think that there’s going to be another announcement before that announcement. It’s funny because, going into the beginning of this year, I had a number of projects in the works and it was a question, not because any artist was running late or was unreliable, but there was a question of which book would be most proven or come down the pike first, so how do I stack these books? I think there’s going to be something else solicited before that.
Also, to be honest, I think “Dancer” is such an exciting book and I think it’s going to get people excited in the same way that “Jake Ellis” did once they get to the end of issue #1 and they realize that this book has more of a hook than you can read in the solicitations. I’m really looking forward to that making as big of a splash as possible.
“Dancer” from Nathan Edmondson and Nic Klein drops on May 16th while “The Activity” continues to come out monthly, both from Image Comics.