It always helps to have someone on your side; but what if they’re only in your head?
That’s the conceit in the spy thriller Who Is Jake Ellis?, coming in January 2011 from Image Comics. The question that forms the series’ title is a question everyone is asking, as Jake Ellis is a man that only spy-for-hire Jon Moore knows. Moore has been hiding in Europe for the past five years – a former desk jockey in the spy game who became a superstar field operative thanks to the unlikely help of Jake Ellis, a man only he can hear, see and ultimately – learn from.
Who is Jake Ellis? comes from entrepreneurial writer Nathan Edmondson (Olympus, The Light) and rising star artist Tonci Zonjic (Iron Fist, Daredevil, Marvel Divas). Announced recently at New York Comic Con, the miniseries’ first issue is scheduled for release January 5th.
Newsarama: In the press release, you describe this as new kind of psychological thriller. Tell us about it.
Nathan Edmondson: It's the story about a spy-for-hire, an American on the European underground whose sole advantage over the men that chase him is someone who, as far as our spy knows, is only in his mind.
It is both psychological and action packed. On every page, in almost every panel, we see simultaneously what is happening in reality, and what is in someone's mind. The approach is unique, the exposition is fun--and the mystery, complex.
Nrama: Although Jake Ellis is the man in the title, this series follows more a spy named Jon Moore. Can you tell us about these two and how their worlds relate?
Edmondson: Jon may be the character occupying a physical space in the book, but we follow both Jon and Jake nearly equally--in part because wherever Jon goes, so must Jake go also. They are tethered, they are one. For better or for worse.
Nrama: Who’s after Jon, and why?
Edmondson: Jon's been "off the grid" for some time, an uncatchable thief and spy-for-hire. His crimes, however, have not gone unnoticed, and when one op goes bad, and he suddenly pops up, he becomes Europe's Most Wanted--by both EUROPOL and the criminals he's pissed off.
And yet, there seems to be someone else after him...someone connected with what happened to him four years ago.
Nrama: This is arguably the greatest idea for a buddy cop movie ever. How do these two relate with one another?
Edmondson: Let's put it this way: if Jon and Jake were Facebook friends, their relationship status would be "it's complicated." The dynamics of their friendship--or whatever you might call it--are complex. On one hand, they have no choice but to get along, and both accept the idea that they are one and the same--more or less. On the other, Jake has his own identity, his own consciousness, and while Jon is sleeping around with random women, or showering, or using the toilet, whatever, Jake is just standing by. As you can imagine, this leads to some tension.
So their interaction is primarily business, guide-and-the-guided. And yet, there is humor, like a good buddy cop movie.
Nrama: How did Jon get to be a spy-for-hire?
Edmondson: I can't reveal too much at this point, but four years ago something happened to Jon, and he went into the European underground. Before that, he was a CIA nobody--an analyst, a paper pusher. He didn't have field skills. But Jake Ellis does.
Nrama: How does Jake show up in Jon’s world?
Edmondson: What happened to Jon four years ago was also what produced Jake. Again, you'll need to read for more...
Nrama: How do you go about making a spy book like this with a character who might be imaginary seem real? What kind research did you to do get the tech, the style – and more importantly – the tone, right?
Edmondson: What's most important is the relationship. Get that right, and everything falls into place. That means getting into the characters' heads and understanding how they relate to one another.
There are two other aspects to making Jon and Jake's world real. One is the setting: too many books and films that I've seen feel like they could be in any "foreign" city. Tonci and I made a decision from the get-go to use real settings, real backgrounds, real locations. That Tonci is in Croatia and that I've lived and spent time in many of the story's locations helps us to make that work.
Second is the tech and the tactics. As I mentioned in a previous interview, I'm developing another series that deals significantly with the military, special forces, spycraft, and intelligence. I've conducted my research face-to-face and by the book, and all of that is playing in to Jon and Jake's world.
Nrama: Spies cross over into the world of politics and the military quite often – and I read that your grandfather worked with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Can you tell us about this and how it might affect your depiction of the military and these types of top tier government work?
Edmondson: In Who Is Jake Ellis? specifically, I'm not handling the halls of the Pentagon, nor walking the corridors of Capitol Hill. In another book, certainly; and ever since my time living in D.C. I've had a desire to do so.
But in general, my history and background lend me to want to depict both politics and the military as accurately as possible. I have a fascination for both worlds and a desire to show the mechanics accurately.
Nrama: This follow-ups up two previous miniseries, Olympus and The Light, and couldn’t be any more different. How’d you come up with the idea for Who Is Jake Ellis??
Edmondson: On a long drive on a Georgia road. I was thinking about things I was reading, books about special ops and spycraft, and about how people in the field on operations have to rely upon the work of others--whether as directly as the man covering them with protective gunfire, or by way of intelligence passed down from spy satellites. Somehow this idea sprang up.
That, and there is a road in Augusta, Georgia called "JAKE ELLIS." Every time I've driven past it I've thought about how I could use that name.
Nrama: Crossing continents from Georgia to Croatia, and that's where the artist Tonci Zonjic hails from. For each of your series you’ve roped in some phenomenal talent, which can be hard for someone who’s new to comics. How’d you and Tonci connect for this series?
Edmondson: I searched for a long time before I connected with Tonci. I was getting tired of looking for someone when I followed Jason Latour's sage advice: don't look for exactly what you want, find someone who shares your passion for the story. It was nothing short of a blessing that the person with the passion turned out to be a better artist than I'd had in mind all along.What do you think of the premise to this new book?