Talking Comics with Tim | Nathan Edmondson

This Wednesday marks the launch of writer Nathan Edmondson's quirky spy thriller five-issue miniseries for Image: Who Is Jake Ellis? The core concept is defined as follows: "Jon Moore is the most sought after spy-for-hire in Europe's criminal world. This is because of Jake Ellis, a psychic man who is invisible to everyone except Moore. When a deal goes bad, the only one who can protect Moore from Europe's most dangerous criminals is Jake Ellis. No one but Moore can see Jake Ellis. But Jake Ellis can see everything." There's clearly a great deal of advance interest in the series. According to Edmondson: "HeavyInk.com, one of the internet’s foremost comics retailers, reports that WHO IS JAKE ELLIS? #1 is the 3rd highest pre-ordered book for January–just below THE WALKING DEAD and BRIGHTEST DAY." In addition to discussing Who Is Jake Ellis?, Edmondson (author of Olympus) and I also discuss the recent release of The Light TPB. In addition, HeavyInk offers a five-page preview of the first issue.

Tim O'Shea: What prompted you to go the psychological thriller route with Who Is Jake Ellis?

Nathan Edmondson: Part of what sparked Who Is Jake Ellis? was my interest in the idea that covert and special forces operatives put complete trust in those working for and alongside them. Those in the field or undercover rely 100% on the intel and action and defense of others. They're comfortable doing this because they know exactly what those people are capable of and how well they are trained. I mean, it's no easy task to turn your back to gunfire and trust the person at your back to defend you. And many operatives do that very thing. So that was one psychological dynamic that's fascinated me.

The other theme is one of friendship, and more specifically, taking a friend for granted. I've done it and I know many people have and that's something Jon has to consider in the story.

O'Shea: How much research is demanded of a writer when he sets tackles a tale of a "mercenary spy operating in the European underground"?

Edmondson: In the spy genre, it's very possible to get away with doing little research and floating on fun ideas alone. I won't say this is the most accurate spy book out there, but I did make efforts to go beyond the usual faire. For example, it may be easy enough to have your spy steal a car and get away, but you might ask: how is he protecting himself from traffic cameras? Has he considered that the tires may have RFID chips? Has he disabled the GPS? What about satellites surveillance?

Or, there are a myriad of simple questions which you can't efficiently research specifically but, given a good substrate of reading, you can work out pretty well. For example, if this is a CIA agent, would he report to Langley, his field handler, or a local bureau? What's the CIA's AWOL protocol? Stuff like that.

Unfortunately, we've got a pretty packed story in WIJE? and so often times, where I'd want to show a three-page scene of Jon being prosthetically altering his chin and eyebrow to evade face recognition software, or sweeping every room he goes into for bugs, we had to just nod at those things as best we could and focus on the through-line.

O'Shea: With the character of Jake Ellis, how much did you and artist Tonci Zonjic go back and forth debating how the look for Jake?

Edmondson: Not very much. I made a vague suggestion and Tonci took and ran with that. At first Jake was a bit more ordinary--just a guy in the pages others don't notice--but Tonci added heavy shadows, the suit, and also plays with things like giving Jake a different light source than anything else on the page. You'll find out later, as you might have suspected, that all of these simple elements are significant. And of course, time consuming for the artist.

O'Shea: Was it tough at first scripting dialogue between two characters, when one of the characters is potentially in the other's head?

Edmondson: It was easy to start out, but the more I looked at it the more I had to tailor specific speech patterns and avoid certain things. I'd have to be careful with phrases like "I think," for instance, and ask myself, is it a) accurate to the character in this case and b) appropriate to Jake's "background"? Without giving too much away, I had a set of rules to maintain.

It was certainly easy to take and run with Jake as a character, but the more I got to know him and understand his place in the story the more I had to corral his dialogue.

O'Shea: You're making great efforts to give the story an interactive aspect to it. Can you talk about how the Google Maps idea came about?

Edmondson: The geography is fairly important to the story. Jon and Jake's course is a bit like a treasure map, and seeing their every stop might lead you to guess where the treasure is--and what it might be. Considering we're very much embracing real locations, both visually, geographically and functionally (that is, we're not only using real backgrounds but in most of these cases, I'm familiar with the cities and can therefore describe specific places in them for the characters to interact with), it seemed natural to try to draw the reader or the advance crowd into the story as a real world event. Something actually happening. Images like this one [at right] are indicative of the mystique Tonci and I both had in mind.

O'Shea: What kind, if any, supporting cast will the series sport?

Edmondson: Not much, by necessity of both plot and space. There's so much to explore between Jake and Jon there's literally not much room for the distraction of other characters, and also, they have purposefully avoided associating themselves with any "long-term relationships" of any sort for several years now as merc spies. So it's not like they would have, you know, a bridge club they get together with on weekend nights (though, come to think of it, Jon would kick ass playing bridge or poker. Might have to throw in a scene like that somewhere).

O'Shea: Anything you'd like to discuss that I did not ask you about?

Edmondson: Tonci has done not just a yeoman's job putting his heart into this book, but he's told me time and again he wants this to be "something a long time remembered." I think he's already there with the art. The guy is dedicated and very, very talented and those two are a recipe for something worth picking up--if only for the art. My point is--get on twitter and tell you're favorite Croatian artist what you think: @tozozozo.

O'Shea: Do you have a favorite scene so far that Tonci has rendered?

Edmondson: The next one to come! But if I had to choose, I think the cafe scene (pages 7 & 8) where the EU Parliament building sits in the background. I could stare at those two pages all day. His palette especially is attractive.

O'Shea: What's the pricing for the single issues?

Edmondson: The price is in fact 2.99. I know there's some confusion over this. It's available at HeavyInk.com for 1.99 and TFAW for 2.39.

O'Shea: With the release of The Light TPB, are there any extras included or tweaks you made to the story for this version?

Edmondson: We have pinups from Mitch Gerads, Matthew Southworth, Christian Ward and Christopher Mitten, a special afterword and a beautiful design from the ever-talented Jeff Powell.

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