by Britt Aamodt
An unidentified terrorist group has planted a bomb in Minneapolis. The authorities know when the bomb will detonate, just not where. Who will save Minneapolis from becoming Ground Zero-Midwest?
The Intelligence Support Activity.
“This may sound corny but they’re the blackest of the black ops,” says Mitch Gerads, a 2000 graduate of Elk River High School and the co-creator of “THE ACTIVITY,” a monthly comic book that imagines life on the inside of a special ops team.
Gerads illustrates the book scripted by Nathan Edmondson based on a real-world organization.
“What they do a lot of the time, or mostly, is set up operations for other special forces,” says Gerads. “They go in ahead of time and make sure everything’s going to be ready for these guys when they pull off the operation.”
The monthly book is a vindication, says the artist, of all those doodles he scrawled in the margins of his schoolwork. He wasn’t just woolgathering. He was practicing his craft.
After high school, Gerads pursued a degree in graphic design and then applied those skills at General Mills illustrating cereal box covers.
It was a good career, up until the bottom fell out of the economy in 2009.
“It was kind of an abrupt thing,” he says, recalling that memorable day at the office. “Everyone was slipping away during the day. Then I got the call.”
He was being let go. The victim of one of those recession-era stories that could either break the spirit or challenge the daring to try something new.
For Gerads, the decision was easy.
“I had already been talking to a friend about doing a comic. So when I was let go, I was optimistic,” he says.
The friend was Scott Dillon, another Elk Riverite whom Gerads had known since elementary school. The comic they co-created was “Johnny Recon,” a fast-paced science fiction adventure tale with a nostalgic tip of the hat to the pulp era.
Gerads marketed the comic on his website, popgunpulp.com, and he and Dillon made the circuit of comic book conventions.
The comics world took notice. Gerads was hired to work on “Dr. Who” and Stan Lee’s “Starborn.” And Nathan Edmondson, a comics writer out of Macon, Ga., cold-called Gerads and asked if maybe he’d like to collaborate on a special ops comic?
Image Comics launched THE ACTIVITY Dec. 21, 2011, with a first issue that packed a wallop. In Mexico City, a smoke grenade is tossed in the middle of a restaurant. Sprinklers come on, and bodyguards surround a distinguished gentleman whose dinner has been interrupted.
In a matter of seconds, the gentleman is separated from his guards, injected with a hypodermic needle and packed in a van heading to the desert.
“Compliments of the United States Government,” says an agent, still dressed in waiter’s uniform, as he hands the criminal over to authorities.
The agent won’t reveal which organization of the government he works for, but readers are soon swept into the super-secretive world of the Intelligence Support Activity. For 10 issues the Activity globetrotted everywhere from Rome to Afghanistan. So the co-creators decided with issue 11 to locate the threat on U.S. soil.
“The easiest way for me to do that was to pick Minneapolis, because I can walk out my front door and snap some pictures,” explains Gerads, who makes the city his home. “Minnesota has never been thought of as a target, but it’s that Mall of America sitting there. It’s such a symbol.”
The issue treats Minnesotans to a tour of well-loved landmarks: the Mall, Target Field, Foshay Tower, the skyway system, and all of them crawling with agents of the Activity, racing to locate the bomb set to detonate in six hours.
THE ACTIVITY is the biggest book of Gerads’ comics career—so far.
“It’s literally my dream book. And that’s not a sound bite,” says Gerads. “If I was 10 years into my career and they asked me what kind of book I’d want to do, I’d want to do a realistic military thriller, which is exactly what we’re doing.”