Discovering Jake Ellis with Nathan Edmondson

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It’s hard to believe that just over 18 months ago writer Nathan Edmondson was a newcomer to comics. After the release of his first dazzling miniseries, Olympus, with artist Christian Ward, readers began to take notice of his genre-bending talents. With his next series, The Light, with The Surrogates artist Brett Weldele, Edmondson revealed his entertaining consistency with a tale of an estranged father and daughter racing to survive a mysterious virus.

Going for the hat trick, his new series reveals the connection between spy Jon Moore and an ally that only he can see named Jake Ellis. Mixing high stakes antics with a mysterious twist, the Image series launches from the minds of Edmondson and artist Tonci Zonjic (Daredevil, Iron Fist). With the first enthralling issue out now, readers will be sure to ponder, who exactly is Jake Ellis?

BROKEN FRONTIER: The storytelling approach in some scenes is rather bold, with the interaction between Moore and Ellis, and the time jumping too, but it seems quite natural and easy to read. Was it difficult to break that down during scripting, or did it ever prove to be an idea too unwieldy?

NATHAN EDMONDSON: The only real trick I had to work around was keeping the action simple enough that it didn't compete with the storytelling devices.  I redrafted the opening scene four or five times before settling on what you can read now, having realized that I didn't need to explain all the details of this deal that Jon is discussing on the cruise-liner rooftop; I just needed to show him getting out of a tricky situation.  You'll discover some other devices in future issues we play with and in those cases I felt I needed to be sure I wasn't sacrificing the clarity of the storytelling overall to these fun twists. 

BF: I believe the name of the series has an unusual origin, right?

EDMONDSON: In Augusta, Georgia, where I grew up, there is a street, "Jake Ellis Ln," and I always thought it was a cool name.  It was the name of a Masters golfer (the Masters, for those who don't know, is held annually in Augusta, and not very far from the sign).  I thought once of naming a band I was in "Jake Ellis," but more recently I drove by it each time thinking it would make for a good story character—somehow.  Someone singular, mysterious.  And I found myself asking well, in the story, who is Jake Ellis? Thus I had the title, and it was on a drive back from Augusta a few months ago I came up with the story to put behind it. 

BF: Did you have an invisible friend growing up?

EDMONDSON: Not that I can recall, though I imagined all sorts of things.  I was known in elementary school for making jet and tank and gun sounds to myself whilst drawing battle scenes on my math tests.  Things like that.  I had a good friend who lived behind me for a while and he and I would hop fences and imagine all kinds of things in the backyards.  I remember those scenarios being quite real.  Armies marching into the neighborhood, we being the only defense.  Beasts lurking in undergrowth, aliens behind curtains in the neighbor's windows.  I did live in the Calvin & Hobbes world, but I never really had a Hobbes.

BF: Was there much discussion between you and Tonci on the actual look of the character of Jake Ellis as well as the world these characters inhabit?

EDMONDSON: As for the world, I knew I wanted to use a number of real locations I've lived and walked in, evoking, I hope(d) an elevated sense of realism and back-alley feel.  Tonci was more than onboard—he did not want to draw any generic city scenes, no Googling "European bus stop" or something.  Being from Croatia, he knows enough of Europe to know the distinct flavors of each country and that's something we both wanted in the pages of the book.  I make rough suggestions, sometimes, sometimes even sending my personal photos.

Jake was more Tonci.  I had some ideas about Jake's look, but really it was Tonci who came up with him as you see him now, his heavily shadowed form, his suit and tie.  Tonci also works hard to differentiate the character with strange light sources and slightly muted colors.  All of that was from his mind, and it's spot on for the story.

BF: There’s a great mash up of genres in all your work—spy and supernatural, mythology and action, and thriller and family drama. Is that diversity the hook for you as a writer to get you invested in a project?

EDMONDSON: Yes, it is, but I'm not at all opposed to exploring the same vein twice.  My next big series, an ongoing, in fact, will see me returning a bit to one of these three worlds, though certainly in a different way than I did it before. 

BF: Did you watch any spy films or read any books for inspiration?

EDMONDSON: Yes.  John le Carre's The Spy Who Came In From the Cold was a good one; I read Spycraft by Robert Wallace and a number of others. Movies: Charade, the Bourne films, and The Sting to name a few.

BF: What’s your new novel about?

EDMONDSON: It's a 1910s Arizona story about a young boy with violent tendencies. 

BF: Is it a different mindset writing prose rather than comics?

EDMONDSON: A more patient one, to be sure.

BF: I know Jake Ellis has his own Facebook page and countdown website. Are you as much of a promoter as a writer these days and how do you make books without superheroes that sometimes may fly under the radar get noticed?

EDMONDSON: I consider making creator-owned comics an enterprising venture, in almost every respect like a small-business startup.  So I consider that as much as all the other efforts my blood, sweat, and tears; I need to make the comic visible in a sea of CMYK color.  Even the best books by the biggest creators need PR.  PR should convince, too, as much as inform. 

This book has been a bit different than my others.  The response has been overwhelmingly positive and the word has spread quickly.  One online retailer wrote me to say that one of their customers was printing up posters for the book to go out in every Nov/December order. (Wow!) Another retailer offered issue #1 for $1.99.  No excuse for those on the fence not to commit at that price. 

That's all, of course, from people who have seen only five pages.  From those that are getting the full issue for review, the reviews are coming back, so far, strong and positive.  So we'll see if it all continues like this, but while often times marketing a title can feel like an uphill battle, this process has felt more akin to setting a paper boat afloat on a stream, and watching the current carry it on. 

BF: You've done signings and tours on your previous books, so will you try something like that with Jake Ellis too?

EDMONDSON: We are in the process right now of setting up a January coast-to-coast tour where I'll start in Los Angeles and drive back to Macon, hitting Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Florida, and Georgia on the way.  Lots of details still to plan out, but this will be a big deal, and I hope lots of folks show at the locations when Image announces them, assuming we get all the logistics squared away.

BF: If you were a spy, would you be a James Bond or a Maxwell Smart?

EDMONDSON: Agent Cody Banks.

Who Is Jake Ellis? #1 is available now from writer Nathan Edmodnson and artist Tonci Zonjic, and published by Image Comics. Trades of Edmondson’s previous series', Olympus and The Light are also available now.

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