Interview: Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads Take Us Through ‘The Activity’

This December sees the release of The Activity from Image Comics, the latest espionage series from Who Is Jake Ellis? and Grifter writer Nathan Edmondson, joined by artist Mitch Gerads(Doctor Who, Stan Lee’s Starborn). The duo has teamed up to tell a tale of ultra-skilled government spooks who handle the United States’ dirty work while no one is looking.

Here’s the official solicitation for this December release:

The evolution of global warfare necessitates the evolution of special forces to rise and meet the call. The U.S Army has therefore looked to its last secret special operations tribe, the INTELLIGENCE SUPPORT ACTIVITY, or Gray Fox. Within Gray Fox is a team of elite men and women whose mission is flexible, whose technology is bleeding edge, and whose execution is precise and lethal. They are Team Omaha, and they serve THE ACTIVITY.

Mr. Gerads and Edmondson were kind enough to answer a few questions by e-mail about the new series, and creating a team of ultra-competent badasses while keeping the story grounded.

MTV Geek: How did you guys come together for this project? And Mitch, what drew you to this particular story?

Nathan Edmondson: I came up with the story and found Mitch on about the same day. It’s certainly one of those instances where the stars seemed to have aligned.

Mitch Gerads: Military thrillers are my jam. I’ve always been fascinated with special forces fiction and definitely non-fiction. These men and women are real-world Batmen. They’ve trained to be the absolute tip of the spear in human efficiency when it comes to tactical operations. When Nathan called and pitched the idea as The Unit-meets-Mission Impossible, I was sold pretty quickly.

Geek: Mitch, could you speak a little about some of the thinking that went into the look of the team? Any points of cinematic reference for these characters?

Gerads: Switchfoot definitely has some Simon Baker (The Mentalist) influence going on, haha. There were a few things that went into the look of our team. Nathan had some short descriptions about background, race, nationality, etc. about each of them, but I also took into consideration some research about people in the various Special Forces and intelligence backgrounds that each character came from before joining the team. You’ll notice no one on the team is a big hulk of a man or a bruiser. Most Special Forces guys are pretty lean and athletic so I took that into consideration. I shoot a lot of my friends, and myself, for posing reference so I’m sure some of them/me seep through into the looks of the characters.

Geek: Along the same lines, for both of you: what are some of your favorite bits of spy/espionage fiction? Have any of them worked their way into the book?

Gerads: My favorite authors are all military thriller writers; Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, and Tom Clancy. There is no other genre in TV or movies that floats my boat as much as this stuff. Shawn Ryan’s The Unit was an AMAZING show and most recently I’ve been absolutely obsessed with Strike Back on Cinemax. The list goes on, but all of that has definitely seeped into The Activity in one way or another.

Edmondson: Certainly all spy and military stories I’ve red have fertilized the ground for The Activity. Whether it’s Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down, Call of Duty on the XBOX, They Spy Who Came in from the Cold, or shows like Mission: Impossible and The Unit, it all comes to bear in The Activity. But to build the story I look primarily into nonfiction, doing hard research in titles like Not A Good Day to Die, Killer Elite, and Spycraft, among many, many other books, journals and articles.

Gerads: Also, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games. It’s almost embarrassing how enthralled I get in these types of stories, so getting to play that Special Forces role in those games hits me in all the right places. Speaking of Call of Duty, sometime after the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Nathan and I plan on hosting some The Activity meet-ups on Xbox Live to talk and play some multiplayer with fans. So stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter accounts if you want in on some of that action.

Geek: Tell us a little about the team. They seem ultra-professional and they seem to operate without a lot of flash (for lack of a better phrase).

Edmondson: Team Omaha are just that; pros, not showmen. They are called in to do things quietly, to clean up carefully, and they execute their missions with subtlety by necessity. When first conceiving the story, I explained to Mitch, “These are nerds, not jocks.” Which isn’t to say they can’t raise a rifle, but they work as a far smaller component than the rangers, in a manner different than the brawn of DELTA FORCE, often using tech unavailable to other organizations. The team is mixed-gender, too, and we draw from reality to show how women serve integral roles in Special Forces, a topic in the headlines right now. The women on our team—Leslie and Zoe—often enable Omaha to get into places, and to do things that a DELTA team would be unable to.

Geek: What kind of research did you do for the book in terms of the alphabet soup of government organizations and functions?

Edmondson: Beyond the books mentioned earlier, I tried going to the source. I flew to Washington, D.C. and interviewed colonels and captains and a general face to face, gleaning what info I could. I’ve had the scripts reviewed by individuals from the Pentagon and JSOC; we have a regular advisor from both spaces. Often it was a matter of those advisors directing me and us to specific reading material, or simply telling us, “no, that doesn’t make sense.” At some point though, we have to dispense with the research, and tell a bad ass tale. I think we figured out where that line is.

Geek: Mitch, to what degree were you and Nathan attempting to keep the action grounded in terms of staging and execution? Were you ever finding yourself reining the action in?

Gerads: Nathan and I have been hugely collaborative on all parts of the book, but he mentioned from the get-go how grounded he wanted it to be. So visually we’re trying not to do any blatant sound effects, motion lines, etc. Some issues are really action heavy and some are all cerebral. We’re trying to play it out very cinematically and really get people into the weight of what these guys, and gals, are doing with everything their job entails.

Geek: Also, I found the lettering interesting, particularly the vertical titles for the locations. Where did that come from?

Gerads: I really do feel like our book is unique and unlike anything else out there so I wanted that to reflect in the art. I consider lettering part of the art, so I just wanted to put a unique spin on how that information was presented. By throwing it on there vertically, you read it almost separately and you can continue the narrative whilst almost sub-consciously knowing where you are globally.
Luckily we have the AMAZING Jeff Powell taking over lettering as of The Activity #2, so I’m sure we’ll see him bring all his experience and creativity to that aspect of the book. I really am working with a dream team here.


Geek: How would you say the tone here is different from Who Is Jake Ellis?

Edmondson: In every way, except that a) it’s written by me, and b) the art is equally as impressive (while very different). The Activity is a team book, it’s episodic and ongoing, and it’s not sci-fi—though it sure will feel like it at times.

Geek: Five words or less: could you both tease out a favorite moment from one of the upcoming issues?

Edmondson: “Blinding the basement enemy.”

Gerads: How about a few moments? Afghanistan. Amsterdam. China. Africa. Globe.

The Activity will be available from Image Comics on December 21st.

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