Nathan Edmondson was only vaguely familiar with the antihero Grifter when DC Comics asked him to reintroduce the character to the world.
The 26-year-old comic book writer was never an ardent reader of mainstream superheroes. An art history major from Mercer University, Edmondson shows more enthusiasm for Goya and Velasquez than Batman and Robin. But even the most obsessed fanboys might only have a sketchy awareness of Grifter, aka Cole Cash, a confidence man and former Black Ops soldier behind his signature red mask.
DC brought both the writer and the character to the big time with the decision to make Grifter part of "The New 52." In September, the company's risky, highly publicized relaunch of its entire superhero line renumbered all of its books starting at #1, including 80-year-old titles such as Action Comics and Detective Comics. "It's an exciting thing. We're making history," says Edmondson.
As a fresh talent gaining access to a much larger audience, Edmondson's work on Grifter might resemble a rookie baseball player finally brought up to the big leagues. Edmondson dislikes the comparison, however. "True, comics used to be dominated by the big-time publishers, but that's changed enormously," he says.
Edmondson released his first books through independent comics publisher Image, and the propulsive, Bourne Identity-esque action of his Jake Ellis attracted DC's attention for Grifter.
A young, confident man with a little of Ryan Gosling's clean-cut swagger, Edmondson didn't grow up reading comics and aspiring to pen his own adventures of the Justice League of America. Instead, the aspiring novelist met established comic book artists, including Mark Millar (Wanted, Kick-Ass), while living in Macon and discovered the vitality and flexibility of comics for the kinds of stories he wanted to tell.
"Seeing the art come in is absolutely thrilling," says Edmonson. "I have a degree in art history, and having art created out of something out of my mind is great," he says.
In Grifter, one-named artist CAFU brings appropriately propulsive quality to action scenes. Brett Weldele's gritty illustrations for The Light makes ominous use of empty spaces, implying the unknown right in front of you.
Having researched the history of American con artistry, Edmondson can't wait to inject three-card monte and other confidence games into his comics. "One of the things we knew going into the series is that we wanted him to grift," says Edmondson. "He didn't do much in the old series, and it's going to become more important in the new one."
During a photo shoot, Edmonson toys with the idea of his heroic hustler drawing his distinctive mask onto the king's face in a deck of cards: "Maybe he could use it as a calling card. Or, he could use it to signal a friend of his at a card game. The friend picks up his cards, notices the Grifter card in his hand and says, 'I've gotta go!'"
Edmondson admits that, "At the end of the day, even though I can make Grifter my own, he's still not my character. He belongs to DC Comics. It's a different mentality than writing a character I came up with on a long country drive. I think the comics I've created will be more important to me."
And even though Edmondson didn't create Grifter, he appreciates that thanks to the con man, he can now play the comics game for higher stakes.
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