So, who exactly is Jake Ellis? Thanks to writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Tonci Zonjic, you’re about to find out.
Edmondson and Zonjic are the creative forces responsible for “Who Is Jake Ellis?,” a new Image Comics miniseries that debuted its first issue earlier this week. The story centers on Jon Moore, a highly sought-after espionage expert working in the European underground. Unknown to his clients — to anyone, for that matter — is the fact that he’s assisted by Jake Ellis, a seemingly all-knowing entity that nobody can see. Nobody, that is, except for Jon himself. The high-octane comic book series spans five issues and multiple European locations, providing fans with a reading experience that sits comfortably alongside the tensest thrillers the spy genre has to offer.
To mark this week’s arrival of “Who Is Jake Ellis?” #1, Edmondson and Zonjic sat down with CBR News for a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the first eight pages of their new creator-owned series.
Nathan Edmondson:Â This scene was the bit of the story I worked out in my head. I went through several revisions, each time simplifying the setup. I finally realized that the circumstances here didn’t matter — what I needed to convey was the action, and all the other stuff was just getting in the way. So here you have it: pop goes the fireworks, and you’re in the scene; you don’t really know what schematics Jon was hired to get, you don’t exactly know who these Spaniards are, but it doesn’t matter.
Tonci Zonjic: The first page of the book was the first one drawn, so it was important to get that one right. Nathan wrote it the way it visually just flows. You can see it unfolding in time, very cinematic, in the best way, and my primary goal was to keep that flow — making it look good, but not having the reader stop and admire the visuals.
Edmondson: I could see this movingÂ in my mind, each panel revolving, pulling into the next, falling fire glowing against booming fireworks. Tonci nailed it. He gives simple, discernible action, which still has the feel of chaos and fury. Jon is calm and collected, though we don’t yet understand why.
Zonjic: You have to use the strong points of comics in scenes like these — however cinematic a work might be, it is static images on a page (or a screen, nowadays). So you use the power of a static image. In the first panel, time slows to a crawl: this feeling of time compressing and expanding is behind a lot of the choices here. It works much closer to the way memory works, so it makes a stronger impression — an event put together from separate, intensive moments — bam, bam, bam.
Edmondson: The setup of this page just works. Tonci broke down my panel descriptions and divided up the action, and it works great. We had some back and forth about whether or not someone could jump from the upper deck of a cruise ship and not miss the bow, but he made it work in the angles.
Zonjic: Slow-motion was the description here, so the task was how to depict that on a page. Add more panels? Show multiple instances of a character in one panel? These things are easy to describe, but tricky to show. Ultimately, the first three panels were designed to register all at once. It’s more of that same thing with using the static image.
Edmondson: The “STOP” was in the initial script. I thought it gave the scene a bit of a Guy Ritchie feel. It was especially necessary considering the next page; it calls your attention to the gimmick.
Zonjic: The usage of the “STOP” device is interesting, especially since Nathan brought up the movie reference, and how something like that works in a comic book, because you go back and forth all the time. It’s a command to the brain of the reader, almost.
Edmondson: Now we see Jake Ellis. His presence here is exactly what I had in mind: simple, mysterious, fluid. You do feel as if he was there in the scene all along. In fact, after reading it this way, it’s hard to imagine Jake was ever not there.
Zonjic: Indeed, reading page four, one might imagine there were gaps in page one. You probably went back to page one — does it appear to be missing something now? My favorite bit is actually is a lettering no-no in panel four, with Jake’s dialogue going over the Spaniard’s faces. Literally talking over them. All this is planned from the start.
Edmondson: Tonci choreographed this page exquisitely. Great sequential storytelling; you understand this is the flashback, you understand you’ve seen it all before, but with subtle touches, opening up some and closing other panels, and Jake breaking borders and sitting subtly in the corners, it’s a whole new read. He’s managed it so that the action really ramps at the end, too, leading you up to the appropriately striking splash that comes next.
Also, the bottom panel being all black was a gutsy move, and not one I scripted, but I think it definitely leads the reader to hold his breath, unsure about Jon’s fate as he disappears into the night sky.
Zonjic: Nathan’s covered this one pretty much, and with way too many compliments! I can only add the sound analogy: a wall of noise building up, then cutting off when Jon leaps at the bottom of the page, and rushing back on the next page. Time speeding up. It might sound strange, describing a comic book by using senses that aren’t part of the physical book, but that’s what a lot of the work is, usually. You try to engage all the senses by using only one.
Edmondson: When I got this page from Tonci, it quickly became my iPhone wallpaper. I could — and I did — stare at the trailing shadows from Jon’s arms and the sinking gun. The ink-washing is wonderful, the poise dramatic, the image memorable.
Zonjic: The ink-washing here is actually all done in the color stage, one of those things you discover while working on it. When I was drawing the page, again I tried to do it as simply as possible. It’s easy to go over the top in these scenes, with crazy perspective, bubbles, color — you feel like you have to do more. This one just clicked and people really respond to it.
Edmondson: I think Tonci turned a new leaf with pages seven and eight. You can see that he came into the book fully here. This is a brief scene, but perhaps my favorite in the book. The two things about it that really stand out to me are the palette, which sets it apart, makes it memorable, makes it distinct, and the way that the shadows on Jake are tugged at the by the shadows on the bush behind him. Especially when he just appears there, maybe there, maybe not there, but almost as if he’s growing out of the scenery.
Zonjic: These pages were indeed approached differently. Some time passed between the first six and these following ones, and it shows. We also get a moment to breathe. The colors change, the brightness… it’s obviously someplace else. And the way Jake stands against that brightness, how can anyone not see him? Even his balloons are out of place in the daylight.
Time goes on steadily here, so the layout of the page settles back into a very straight, regular pattern, aiming for invisible. The script is great, and you have to let it do its work.
Edmondson: These glasses rock. I think Tonci bought the same pair the day he was drawing this page.
Zonjic: The glasses indeed are very much like the ones I got. Somewhere along these pages I thought it might be interesting to give Jon different glasses. If nothing else, I reasoned, he keeps losing them while jumping off ships, etc., and it might be difficult for him to find exactly the same kind of glasses while being on the run. New situation to consider, new glasses! Not too subtle, obviously, but hopefully not too intrusive, either. It should be a bit funny and maybe add something to the character…
Edmondson: Interestingly, I rewrote the dialogue after he drew this page, to better reflect some changes to the story, and just to make it work better overall. I realized I would have trouble on this page, because Jake isn’t visible until the last panel. Ultimately, though, it worked out for the better because Jake speaking “taillessly” adds the mystique — is he in Jon’s head only? And finally, echoing my notes about the previous page, here is Jake to whom Jon is speaking, but who has an otherwordly light about him, and who might just be a trick of shadows in the tree.
“Who Is Jake Ellis?” #1, written by Nathan Edmondson and illustrated by Tonci Zonjic, is currently available in stores. The second issue arrives on February 9, 2011.
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