After weeks of teasers and subterfuge, Image has declassified its next major ongoing series, The Activity. Described as a black ops squad built to handle the 21st century definition of warfare, The Activity is a two-man outfit comprised of writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Mitch Gerads.Edmondson is no stranger to covert ops after launching the two sell-out series Grifter as part of DC Comics’ “New 52” and Who Is Jake Ellis? at Image, but this December-debuting series sees him take it on as Special Forces operatives working under orders from the U.S. Government. The Activity is named after a undisclosed black ops outfit of the U.S. Army called the Intelligence Support Activity (ISA), who are called in not for their brute force but for their expertise at defusing explosive situations (both figuratively and literally). The specific team this book centers around is called Team Omaha, comprised of a five-man squad with diverse backgrounds from across the Armed Forces spectrum.
With the curtain pulled back, Edmondson and Gerads shared exclusive new art from the series and spoke in-depth with Newsarama about this group of highly-trained soldiers and the battles they fight.
Newsarama: Before this book had its official name, you were calling it by a codename: 'Project Omaha.' Now that the real title is revealed, what does that title mean to the series?
Nathan Edmondson: It refers to the team in the series, Team Omaha. They are the specific group we focus on in the ISA. We needed a secret codename that still somehow hinted to the core of the book – we just wanted to fuel the intrigue.
Nrama: And what can you tell us about this team of operatives inside The Activity?Edmondson: Team Omaha is composed of five men and women from various military and intelligence backgrounds; some are National Guard to CIA types, others soldiers, rangers, Airborne. But each was handpicked and invited to apply to the Activity. They have code names and distinct personalities but together they make a lethal and precise force. They also share some laughs here and there.
Nrama: With two of the agents being female, are you going to explore the idea of females in the military – especially special forces?
Edmondson: We are twisting the truth ever so slightly in some areas but we've done our research to learn in which ways women do make it onto the battlefield. Leslie and Zoe, our two female leads, give Omaha a tactical advantage but they also make for a dynamic not often explored in real-military stories. Women aren't permitted on the front lines, of course, but in the Special Forces community they do serve integral roles. We bring all of that front and center. And any marksman will tell you: women are always better shots.
Nrama: What kind of missions will they be tackling?
Where more cleverness is required than brute-force, where subtlety and precision are needed over the bomb and bullet, Team Omaha is called. They clean up the CIA's messes, they wield the gadgets. Which is not to say Team Omaha isn't comfortable with rocket launchers, C4 and sniper rifles – they are. And if they need a little extra oomph, they'll go in with Delta and the Rangers. This is a team whose mission is flexible, whose abilities are wide-ranging, a team that can adapt and learn. They are as comfortable trekking jungles with machine guns as they are in Armani suits in hotels with syringes and cameras.
Nrama: Mitch, you're coming into your first ongoing doing pencils, inks and colors. What led you to do this and not enlist someone to help, and what's that make your workload like?Mitch Gerads: It's definitely a control thing, but I think it's mostly because I have such a clear vision of my art as a process. Doing all three steps (pencils/inks/colors) allows me to alter how I do each of those steps. I can pencil looser because I know how I am going to ink a certain panel, and I'll ink much differently if I know I'm coloring because then I can plan ahead for color holds, etc. If I gave up any step in that process to someone else, I think it would actually be more work for me in the end.
I do have a little team of color flatters though, Kyle Latino and Jordan Gibson, who I give credit to in The Activity as "color assistants." For the most part, I got my start in the comics biz as a colorist and I know firsthand how much work, and how important, color is. Flatters might not have the most glamorous job in the process but it is most definitely work and I want to make sure they get some sort of recognition. One of the benefits of doing a creator owned book at Image is we can make sure everyone gets proper credit.
The monthly ongoing is terrifying. We're going to be about 6 books ahead by the time issue 1 releases on December 21st, so that helps a ton, but eventually that will catch up and the grueling schedule will be hot on my heels. I am definitely getting faster though, out of necessity... but mostly out of fear, ha.
Nrama: Nathan, you've told me that you actually spoke with real military sources to ensure realism for the series. Can you tell us about meeting this people and getting the truth about things?Edmondson: I'm just back from a trip to Los Angeles where among other meetings I was able to sit down with our primary advisor on the book, a special forces officer now heading up the Army Entertainment liaison office. He has been immensely helpful and continues to be. Additionally we had our first scripts reviewed by and drew a great deal of info from an air force officer at the Pentagon; I've spoken and worked with a former SAS officer, been connected with a high-ranking DELTA operative and drawn from a few other sources here and there. Mitch and I both pursued all sorts of literature and historical accounts. We let all of this settle and then we stepped outside of it and had our team take aim and kick ass.
Nrama: This advising - did it go just into the planning of the series, or did you show them the comic and ask for their input there as well?Edmondson: Both. One example: after showing issue 1, lettered, to the above mentioned advisor, he suggested we change the background of the lead character Leslie. We initially had it that she had served in support for the Rangers, but our advisor recommended we base her instead in Civil Affairs--a component of the Special Forces tribes where women do see action, and are put into combat situations. So we learned about Civil Affairs, and made it part of her back-story.
Nrama: The military genre has a long and harrowed history inside the comics medium, from WW2 on forward. Looking up all that's come before, did you have in mind a list of do's and don't when it came to doing this right?
Gerads: You bet!
Edmondson: Don't get too tedious. Do be respectful and pro-military. Don't be political. Do have tons of fun with the action. Don't wing it when it comes to ranks and military structure. Do your research.
Gerads: Nathan has done so much amazing research and has really gone above and beyond. We've actually been working with the same office of the military that supplies information and research for movies and TV. The least I can do as an artist is make sure I get things as close to right as possible. Uniforms, gear, insignias, firearm posture, etc. It's pretty obvious in a movie when the people on screen have had no proper training with a firearm. The exact same thing applies to comics and I want to make sure people know our characters are perceived as accurate, trained, smart, and lethal. Less Rambo, more The Unit.
Nrama: Mitch, Nathan found you through art you posted on ComicTwart.com. Showcasing your art online like this - was it the goal to get gigs out of it like this?
Gerads: I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping for it. The guys and I started ComicTWART.com right around the time I was hungry for comics work, so it was all just kismet. I got to draw incredibly fun things alongside my friends, and it also served as a sort of high profile online portfolio. I can't praise Twitter, ComicTWART.com (Twitter+Art), or even Facebook enough. Social networking is absolutely, without a doubt, vital to the success in my career. It's cultivated me jobs, contacts, and even industry and fan friendships. Any artist who tells you Twitter is a waste of time, is doing it wrong.
Nrama: Nathan – how’d you know he was the guy? Until this I only knew him as an inker and some independent work.Edmondson: Based on the conversation alone I knew he was the guy. At the time, the only art of his I'd seen was his Johnny Recon stuff, which I didn't think was the right style for this book--but I knew he had the chops. He was passionate about the story, though, and within a day of calling him I had some art samples, and each thing he's drawn for The Activity since then has been better than the last.
Nrama: Joining you two on this book will be some guest artists doing back-up stories. Can you tell us about these stories, and who the artists are?
Edmondson: These will be separate announcements and each one exciting. But we can say that at first we'll be learning some of the character's back-stories through these back up issues, and that they will connect together and fuel the main story, so they aren't just standalones.