An 'ultimate' superhero is waging the ultimate Kickstarter campaign — and you can join his adventures.
Published digitally by MonkeyBrain Comics in 2013, Captain Ultimate is a story about boyhood dreams realized, superheroes without cynicism, and the most mighty mustache in comic books. Created by Ben Bailey, Joey Esposito and Boy Akkerman, Captain Ultimate centers on Milo, a youngster whose life is turned upside-down when a giant alien robot attacks the city — inspiring the hero known as Captain Ultimate to make his long-awaited return.
Given the book’s positive reception from readers — not to mention stories for a second volume in the pipeline — Esposito, Bailey and Akkerman are pursuing crowdfunding to produce a print collection of the series’ first six issues, with rewards including original artwork, script reviews, and even the chance to join the Captain Ultimate universe as a recurring hero — or as a dastardly supervillain. The trio have even released the first issue online to for free.
With the Captain Ultimate Kickstarter approaching its final week, Newsarama spoke with Bailey and Esposito to discuss their writing process, their belief in superheroes as a literary tool, and the best fan letter they ever received.
Newsarama: So Joey, I 'mustache' you a question… who is Captain Ultimate, and where did this idea come from?
Joey Esposito: Probably from puns like that! For real though, the way I remember it is basically talking with Ben about taking a pre-existing public domain superhero like Black Terror or Miss Masque or something and doing our take on them. But then we thought it might be better if we just make up our own would-be Golden Age hero and went from there.
Ben Bailey: Joey remembers correctly. That is exactly what happened.
Nrama: There’s a real sense of affection for Golden Age superheroism to this book — was this a response to the general broodiness and cynicism that’s defined superhero books for the past three decades?
Esposito: Yeah, definitely. I know we both love that stuff as much as anyone, but it felt like maybe we as a culture had gone too far in the “comics aren’t just for kids anymore!” direction. It felt like there were no superhero comics for kids that weren’t based off Cartoon Network shows. So we definitely wanted to challenge that and satirize it in a way that wasn’t disapproving of it or anything, just a reminder that superheroes can be — and should be — more. It’s gotten a lot better since we started doing this book, but still a long way to go.
Bailey: I think having kids — I have three, with one more on the way — really influenced my desire to write a book like this. We wanted to create something that everyone could enjoy, kids and adults.
Nrama: When your story begins, Captain Ultimate’s come back to the public eye after a lengthy absence… any hints you want to give prospective new readers as to why this hirsute hero has made his return?
Bailey: The story of Captain Ultimate is ultimately — nailed it — a story about inspiration and the courage to do the right thing. His return to the modern world is directly related to that. That, and a bit of big, epic, craziness that only works in comic books.
Esposito: There’s this overarching story of the why and how he disappeared and came back that we tease here and there and will eventually reveal, but the most important thing is that it’s our main character, Milo, that ultimately wills Captain Ultimate to come back. He’s a kid that’s good hearted but lives in a world where antiheroes are held up as icons, and he believes there can be something better. His belief brings Cap back.
Nrama: Captain Ultimate has a real versatility in terms of its stories — you’ve got meat-and-potatoes action and origin stories, but also detours like Halloween and Christmas-themed issues. What made you guys pursue these types of big, crazy stories?
Bailey: We mapped out the issues early on, and they are all connected, but a lot of it is just about writing what entertains us in the moment.
Esposito: Yeah, we wanted it to feel like it felt reading comics when we were kids. Where it could go from huge cataclysmic insanity to a story about a kid and his dog. The idea that you can pick up a comic book and genuinely not know what you’re in for was one of the things that hooked me as a kid, so I think those sensibilities are at play here.
Nrama: Now, I know there's plenty of superhero comic books on the stands, but you guys have gotten some pretty touching responses to the original digital run on Captain Ultimate. Can you tell us about some of the reaction you've received so far?
Bailey: It’s been amazing. We’ve received lots of letters from parents tell us that their kids love Captain Ultimate and a lot of support from the comics community. We’ve shared one letter in particular a lot, from the father of an autistic boy. He told us that Captain Ultimate was the first comic book they read together, and that his son became interested in superheroes because of it. Stuff like that means a lot.
Esposito: I can’t even express how awesome that sort of thing is. Like we’re certainly not a best-selling book, we don’t have any illusions that we’re going to be the next big Saturday morning cartoon or something, and yet we’re still having an impact on those that do get their hands on our book. That’s why we turned to Kickstarter to get the book into print, so we can get more stories like that.
Nrama: Every writing duo has their own system, whether it means diving plotting and scripting duties, or each writer taking a pass on the other one’s work… what’s you two’s system like?
Bailey: Our system is to maximize the fun of writing each issue. We basically come up with issue together, outline together, then divide the pages up, write our own scripts, and come back and combine them. Our goal is usually just to make each other laugh. If I can write something that makes Joey laugh out loud, I know I’m headed in the right direction.
Esposito: And I tend to make things overly complicated in the plotting phase and Ben is the one to rein it in and be like, “that doesn’t work.” It’s a blast writing together. And Boy is a huge part too, since when it comes to an action sequence or dance battle (Issue #8), then we basically just say, “knock yourself out.”
Nrama: Let’s talk a bit about your artist, Boy Akkerman. Where did you guys find him, and how has he contributed to the overall design and tone of Captain Ultimate?
Bailey: Like Joey said, Boy is really the third writer of Captain Ultimate. He has input on every single aspect of the book and we really let him cut loose on the designs. A lot of the tone of Captain Ultimate is conveyed through the art and storytelling, and that is all Boy. He’s absolutely amazing. Nobody’s comics look as fun as Boy’s. The dude has a gift.
Esposito: Boy was a blessing. We knew him just from the comics community and Twitter and such. I brought him on to do a story for an anthology I edited for Northwest Press and GLAAD. We loved his work, and it happened to be around the time Ben and I were kicking around what to do with Captain Ultimate. So we just asked him, pitched Monkeybrain, and that was that. Funny enough, Captain Ultimate #1 was on sale a year or so before that anthology was, even though the latter was done first. Publishing!
Nrama: Now, with the Kickstarter campaign you’re working on right now, you guys are looking to print Captain Ultimate as a trade paperback collection. Can you tell us a little bit about the rewards you’ve got going on in here? I noticed you have a tier to make a backer a recurring hero or villain…
Esposito: Yeah! In the past Kickstarters I’ve done, the cameo options were always a big seller. But here, we’ve gone and one-upped ourselves. Your likeness can be the basis for a new character — hero or villain, your choice — in the coming issues of Captain Ultimate from Monkeybrain Comics.
Nrama: Finally, for those who are still on the fence about backing your Kickstarter, is there anything else you want to add that they should know? Is there any more Captain Ultimate coming down the pike?
Bailey: First and foremost, that it’s completely done. All of the issues in Volume 1 are available digitally on Comixology, the trade is designed and ready to go, so there will be no production delays. We just need the money to pay the printer and off she goes.
Esposito: We also have a few issues of Volume 2 already in the can, but whether or not we continue is sort of contingent on being able to get Volume 1 into print. But even more importantly than us being able to continue the series, I think it’s just really important to support original all-ages comics. Even if this isn’t something you’d personally be into reading yourself, it’s more than likely there’s a kid in your life that would dig it. And getting those kids reading is important not only for the survival of comics, but also will benefit them as a literary tool, helping them to be reading proficient and enjoy doing it.