An interview I conducted with the creators of the All Ages comic series Captain Ultimate, originally published on Analog Addiction.
With the comics industry surrounding readers with dark and brooding tales, there’s become a vacancy for optimism. Joey Esposito, Ben Bailey and Boykoesh have unleashed a ray of hope with their new all-ages series, Captain Ultimate. Published under Monkeybrain Comics, the series boasts sharp humour, adventure and joy, that are sure to make any reader smile. The series aims to bring fun back to comics, something accessible to both kids and adults. The titular character also sports one heck of a mosutache. (Here’s to Nick Offerman from Parks And Recreation playing Captiain Ultimate in the film adaptation). Analog Addiction got to speak with creators Joey, Ben and Boy, about Captain Ultimate, the storytelling of digital comics, the all-ages genre, and more.
AA: What makes Monkeybrain the suitable home for Captain Ultimate?
Joey: As far as we were concerned, it was the only home for Captain Ultimate. They were the first and only publisher we had planned on pitching it to. If they had said no, we would’ve just done it ourselves. Monkeybrain is the only place where we knew we’d have total freedom to do what we wanted. Luckily, it worked out!
Ben: We knew Captain Ultimate was going to be digital series and we knew nobody was doing digital comics better than Monkeybrain. It’s really the only place we ever considered.
Boy: I’m a big fan of Monkeybrain and their progressive approach so I was thrilled that they took Captain Ultimate in and feel that our book has found a great home there.
AA: How is it different writing for the digital platform – both in terms of storytelling and your audience?
Joey: It’s only different in that we are trying to be conscious of how people consume comics digitally. We want the panels and pages to be big, because many people read with Guided View or on a smaller screen like an iPhone. In terms of storytelling, the goal is still the same: deliver the story the best way we can, using all the aspects of the medium to our advantage.
Ben: We are definitely conscious of the digital reader. We write the story the same way we’d write anything else, but like Joey said, we shoot for bigger panels and a brighter, smoother, flow.
Boy: It adds another layer to the storytelling. The pages need to look and flow good as a page but also as individual panels. It kind of forces you to pay more attention to every panel. There’s no cheating when your small panel gets blown up to full screen. I’m not always a fan of reading in Guided View but when I read issue #1 I felt it actually enhanced the reading experience.
Joey: Ben and I talked a bit about this last week, actually. We both love what Batman ‘66, the Infinite Comics at Marvel, and Mark Waid’s Thrillbent are doing in terms of using digital for new storytelling methods. I’m not sure that it’s something we’d try with Captain Ultimate, but I think any new developments in technology in terms of telling your stories is always an exciting possibility.
Ben: It’s kinda scary and exciting. I mean, I don’t even know how you write something like that. Batman 66 is so damn well done.
Boy: It would definitely be fun to experiment with that but for now we’re keeping it a bit more traditional. That said, Batman ‘66 is probably my favorite comic at the moment so who knows.
AA: Do you think digital reaches all ages readers differently than print?
Joey: Oh, absolutely. How many all-ages comics do you typically see in your local shop? Some, probably, but not many and usually not in prime placement. Kids are tech savvy by nature, and particularly those born in the last ten years are growing up learning that the normal mode of consumption is through digital devices. They watch cartoons on iPads, read books on iPads, play games on iPads. That’s the standard for kids these days, and I think having this book be digital is the obvious route to go to get it under their noses.
Ben: My 5-year-old loves comics, he has stacks of them, but he prefers to read them digitally. Kids grow up with digital everything nowadays, so having digital comics available for them makes sense. It’s the delivery method they are more familiar with, I’d say.
Boy: Last month, I actually caught my 3-year old nephew trying to swipe the TV-screen.
Joey: I think Captain Ultimate celebrates many eras of superhero comics, but I think the most obvious inspiration is the gold and silver age. That’s where Captain Ultimate himself stems from. But for me personally, I really love the comics of the 1980s — John Byrne’s Superman in particular. I wouldn’t say there’s an era I’m not fond of, because I think most eras have their own peculiar charm, even the x-treme 90s. We poke fun at that era in issue #1, but in a loving way. That’s the era I grew up in.
Ben: I love all comic books, even the bombastic variants of the 90s. In a lot of ways, Captain Ultimate is a love letter to superheroes and comic books, not one particular era.
Boy: There’s enough cynicism and negativity out there. Captain Ultimate is all about positivity and the love of the medium.
AA: How does continuity affect the all-ages genre?
Ben: It doesn’t.
Joey: I think the best all-ages stuff doesn’t bother with it. We won’t be either, really, at least not in any complex way. You’ll see plot developments of any given issue reflected in other issues, but we’re making sure that each issue can be enjoyed without knowledge of that stuff. I just don’t think it’s all that important. Continuity-driven stories can be fun, sure, but for an all-ages book I think it’s important for every issue to be as accessible as the last.
Boy: I like planting seeds or clues in the background now and again. But like the guys said, we’re not focusing on it. You should be able to pick up any random issue of Captain Ultimate and have a great time with it.
AA: Do you think it’s possible for any character to translate into an all ages book and keep their core – for example, the Punisher?
Ben: Punisher was on the Superhero Squad cartoon series and he hated vegetables. He was obsessed with wiping them from the face of the Earth. I dunno that they captured his core character, but he was there. It’s doable.
Boy: We could make him shoot rainbows and puppies instead of bullets. That’s still in character right?
Joey: I think it’s possible to translate him in that way, it just takes some skill and the right approach. For the example of the Punisher, I think the right way to do that in an all-ages book isn’t to make him “a totally awesome badass that kills dudes” but instead present him in contrast to the hero — show why, morally and ethically, he should not be idolized. Use him to teach why killing isn’t the answer.
Joey: I think nostalgia is probably a big part of it, but also that the humor is pretty mature without being adults only. There are some jokes in there for the kids and some that will fly over their heads that the adults will enjoy. But I think it’s really just a matter of, if you’re telling a fun story with fun characters, then it can be for anything. Themes and messaging and all of that, no matter how complex, are generally universal. A lot of times the only thing that keeps kids away from some great books are f-bombs and nudity. By the same token, there are a lot of stories that use f-bombs and nudity as a placeholder for maturity, when in fact the message of the book is quite juvenile.
Ben: I like to bring up the PIxar movies, which are aimed at an all-ages audience and great for kids and adults. They’re funny, engaging and exciting, without being “adult.” Fun is fun, doesn’t matter how old you are. Hopefully, Captain Ultimate is fun for all ages.Captain Ultimate #1 is on sale now from Comixology for only $0.99!