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Jake Ellis Saw Everything: On Tour with Nathan Edmondson

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Writer Nathan Edmondson describes his recent promotional tour for the hit spy series with a twist, Who Is Jake Ellis? Take it away Nathan.

Earlier this year I completed a cross-country driving tour to promote my recent multiple-sellout title from Image Comics, Who Is Jake Ellis? The tour was not just a fun and exciting adventure, but it’s also a testament to the immense way in which Image Comics will get behind its books, and an example perhaps to other creators of the seemingly endless ways in which they can promote their material.  To that end, I've been asked by Broken Frontier to "journal" about the tour while noting particularly the mechanics of the marketing involved, and what of the tour did (and maybe didn't) seem to benefit the book. 

The idea of the tour was proposed to me early last fall by then-PR Director Betsy Gomez.  It was a nice idea, but not until December did it become a distinct possibility and while she and Image worked to arrange the phenomenally complicated undertaking, and not until a week before I departed for my Christmas holidays - from which I was to begin the tour directly - did I completely commit to the idea.

The original proposal was for something a bit smaller, but if you're going to get wet, you might as well go swimming.  This was my philosophy with no regard to my health. I began with a week in Los Angeles where I held meetings for some of my titles, and where I spent time with such talented comic folks as David Atchinson as well as my good friends at Universal Studios.  I signed first at Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, one of two stores owned by Carr D'Angelo and Geoff Johns.  While rush hour in Los Angeles (lasting from approximately 9 am to 11 pm) makes getting anywhere into the Valley difficult, we enjoyed a great kick-off event with friends, fans and several stars of stage and screen.  

From Los Angeles I made my way in the dark of pre-dawn to Las Vegas (Pre-dawn was a theme on this adventure) where I crashed briefly on the strip (Derrick of Comics Oasis in LV put me initially in the MGM Grand, but a last minute schedule change moved me to the equally-grand strip hotel Tropicana).  I enjoyed a tour of Las Vegas, looking for "all the parts you'd never see in a movie" while I snapped dozens of photos for reference for a new comic I'm writing that will be based there.  

The Comics Oasis store staff and owner were fantastic, as was the signing itself.  I picked up some beer for the fans inclined to stand around and chat, and many did.  A comics-decorated food bus pulls up twice a week in front of the shop and it's not to be missed.

              

In the morning I enjoyed the dark at the Hoover Dam for a few minutes, well before sunrise.  I was the only one there.  The stillness was palpable and absolute, the place frozen in time.  That was, until my wife called and reminded me that Phoenix is in a different time zone.  I therefore rushed through the Golden Valley, over the border, through the town of Surprise (I expected that place) and finally to Atomic Comics. Atomic is a chain of five stores in the Phoenix area, and its success is no surprise to me having seen and experienced the quality, friendliness and expertise of its staff and decency of its owner, Mike Malve.  The only details I'll note here: there are more malls per square mile in Chander, Arizona than anywhere else in the world, and Jon Layman stood me up (not really).  You hear me, Jon.  

From Phoenix I crossed the canyons of the Arizona border to frenetic pink and orange clouds ignited by a sun rising over valleys and plateaus.  I came into the Malpais, a valley of volcanic terrain and titanic white cliffs, then into wide hilly grasslands cut across by sheer winds and upwards I climbed into New Mexico, forests and the only snow I would see on the trip.  I came eventually to Albuquerque, rolling over the hill to the magnificent vista that greets the city's westward arrivals: a city at the base of a valley flanked by a sheer wall of bare and jagged mountains.  It reminded me of Minas Tirith a bit.  

Astro-Zombies in Albuquerque is hard to miss; its brick facade is a wraparound mural of superhero graffiti.  I discovered an error in our schedule, unfortunately: this was the weekend of a Con in Albuquerque, the first annual.  Luckily, many departing the Con made a point to come straight to their favorite store to check me out and buy some books.  I drew on the ceiling in that store (look for Jake Ellis up there), I walked the Tron-like neon tunnels under the downtown bridge, evaded a crazy guy who walked like, groaned like and tried to bite me like a zombie, and headed on early the next morning for the longest stretch of my tour, the eleven hour drive to Arlington/Dallas TX. 

               

I stayed in the shadow of the parked-UFO that is the Cowboys Stadium, and took a brief walk the night before to Sherlock's Pub around the corner--a Texas chain I highly recommend to pub-lovers and 19th century detective aficionados alike.  

Lonestar Comics is an impressive operation.  With an enormous warehouse shipping a thousand books a day and seven locations, they have a clench on Texas comics business, and the sharp, professional look of their stores reflect their clearly very profitable business model.  Two managers there took me out and then I signed at two locations the same day.  I will say this of both stores: no other locations made such attractive signs for me.  I arrived to find one wonderful employee cutting letters out of construction paper for a giant speech balloon advertising my signing.  These locations were fun, as was a fruit and cheese plate and many great brews at Trinity Pub that evening--another literature-themed hotspot.

From Dallas I was on to Austin.  Two things were immediately apparent to me upon arriving in Austin: one, the town in fact smells like barbecue (not a bad thing), and two, Austin residents believe fiercely that they live in the best city in the world. They may not be wrong.  I didn't get the opportunity to see enough of Austin, but I did follow the advice of many residents by driving out to to the middle of the woods outside of town to engorge in the best barbecue in the world at the world-famous BYOB Salt Lick, a restaurant built around an enormous smoking pit where all manner of marinated meat is tossed.  Without a doubt, the best meal of the trip was had here.  In fact, I'm returning to Austin in November for a convention and it's at least in part just for the opportunity to eat there again.  

If you use the restroom there at Austin Books & Comics, you'll be greeted by a near-life size, very bad sketch of Jake Ellis holding the toilet paper for you. Think of me.

San Antonio was not on the official route map, but a store there had contacted me, very excited about the book, and though I couldn't fit them in for a signing, I detoured a few hours and signed some books for the employees, which was fortuitous because I was able to enjoy a coffee and pastry at the "#1 Bakery in San Antonio, Voted 11 Years in a Row."  Or something to that effect.

And then to Houston, where silver halo-like rings hang above intersections (those are cool) and I saw the first drops of rain of the entire tour. Bedrock City offered me a fun evening signing and the staff and I danced together to tracks from The Killers which we blasted through the new store's speakers, in part because I was, at this point, delirious from the tour and in part because, due to my fatigue, I had discovered 5 Hour Energy shots.  

The next morning to New Orleans was one of my easier drives; I slept in until about nine (which was substantial at this point in the tour) and still had time to explore a small section of the city after my arrival.  My favorite souvenir came from a florist's shop on Magazine Street - a vase with all the New Orleans streets named for muses stamped into it.  It hosts flowers for my wife (my own muse) now atop our mantle.  

Crescent City Comics did the signing in a way I wish was a bit more common.  Two kegs, free beer, loud music, and no sitting.  I signed along with the far-more-talented-than-I Image Comics creators Kody Chamberlain and Rob Guillory.  They drew more of a crowd, I'm sure, than I ever would have, but either way every minute of the evening was enjoyable and the atmosphere was relaxed.

I departed New Orleans just as a muted tangerine sun cut through morning smog over the skyline, and I was crossing the bridges over the swamps and into Florida where factories steamed white clouds and finally to Pensacola as the sun hit the water and the beaches.  

Few comic store owners I've ever met are as eager, friendly, and fun as the owners of TBS Comics.  I signed first at the Fort Walton and then at the Pensacola locations.  If TBS ever gets an event or a Con going, they will have a flood of creators clamoring for a Con along the sunny beachfront, I suspect, with fruity drinks, Gulf breezes and seafood easily available.  On this Saturday the stores were filled to the windows with gamers and readers and fans and the staff were fun and engaging.  Unfortunately, with my doorstep nearly in sight, my fatigue overtaking me, and some sickness perhaps brewing in my sinuses, I dashed the seven hours straight back home that night, where I fell and rested for two days before going on to my final signing at the ever-welcoming Criminal Records in Atlanta, GA.

I consider Criminal Records my "home store."  They hosted my first signing and they are now dear friends who've helped me out in a pinch more than once.  I highly recommend dropping by it if you're near Little Five Points in Atlanta.  Half their store is records, music and movies and the other half is a great selection of comics.  Zano is in charge of everything printed on pulp there, so seek him out. 

That ended the tour, save for speaking about writing at an Atlanta high school the next evening. By the time I made it back to my bed, fatigue and sickness had overcome me in my great-cross country race.  I delivered my rental car and attached myself to my couch for the next twenty four hours. 

I should mention a few things about the value of signings and a tour like this.  Not every event was a big one, not every signing heavily attended.  Considering some signings were on Tuesday and Sunday, this was no real surprise.  But the value of each signing is threefold, I think, beyond simply the books sold and cash pocketed.  For one thing, the widespread press of a tour is valuable.  My Google presence increased, and my notoriety grew due to the undertaking.  For another, I developed relationships with retailers, demonstrating to them my dedication and just, well, becoming acquainted with them.  I consider most of them now friends and I will always keep them abreast of my various projects.  Finally, and most importantly, I networked and had the opportunity for face time with readers I might otherwise never have had the chance to meet. Several have already written me and we've started up dialogues. The stores benefit, too, beyond whatever sales they take in.  A store that hosts a signing, particularly one that's part of a tour like this, strengthens or develops its reputation as a "store that does events in the area."  For those who do not, or cannot attend, or who forget the dates and miss the signing, hearing about the signing later will draw them back to the store as a reader or for the next event.  And the stores and store managers have the opportunity to talk with me, a professional, sharing their needs as a store, explaining to me how to better benefit them with what I do.  

All of this came about at each location.  I'm not inclined to do it again without company, but the trip was valuable, memorable, and I did it because of how much I believe in what Tonci Zonjic and I are doing.  You could say without being too far off that I did it for him.  The amount of work he's put into this book is monumental compared to the pittance I've contributed.  In other words, I had to drive more than 3,500 miles just to be on par with his hard work!

I'm glad I saw those of you that I did, and for the rest - there will be a next time.  I hope to see you then!

Who Is Jake Ellis? #3 is out now from Image Comics by Edmondson and artist Tonci Zonjic. You can follow both Nathan Edmondson and Tonci Zonjic on Twitter.

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