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Interview with Captain Ultimate writers Benjamin Bailey & Joey Esposito

Captain Ultimate Title

Yesterday saw the release of Captain Ultimate #2 from MonkeyBrain Comics. The series is an all-ages comic that sees a hero of yesteryear returning to the present day. We reviewed both the first and second issues here at Talking Comics.

I had a chance to talk with the writers of Captain Ultimate, Benjamin Bailey and Joey Esposito and ask them some questions on their labor of love.

Talking Comics: How did it feel for you guys to have a pretty positive reaction to Captain Ultimate #1? Let me clarify that a little. Living in a world where it’s cool to be hateful on the Internet, was it surprising to find an overall positive reception to the first issue?

Joey Esposito: There’s plenty of that, but the people we wanted to respond to it, responded to it positively. You could get an infinite number of hate comments, but you get that one email that really touches you. You’ve really affected that person somehow, and it makes everything else moot. It doesn’t matter, you know?

Benjamin Bailey: The amount of positive response was surprising just because I was surprised that many people just cared about our comic. Not in a bad way, I was just happy. People just send us emails about how much they loved reading it with their kids. I was so stoked that happened. Unbelievably so.

Esposito: That was sort of the point for doing the book in the first place was to have a book like that. Especially in the superhero genre, where it is so overwhelmingly adult. I think there is that balance that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults, and I hope that we stay on that path. I’d like to see other books follow suit.

TC: Was that one of the reasons for writing this book? To put another all-ages titles out there that people could read with their kids?

Esposito: Yeah, Totally! I know Ben has kids, and that is something that is important to him. In general though, it’s something we’ve talked about together. “I wish there was more of this kind of stuff.” Well, we can just do it ourselves.

TC: Are kids’ comics something there should more of or are there enough?

Bailey: Well, “kids’ comics” is kind of a loaded term. I think there should be more all-ages comics that can be read by anyone. Not just younger, but older people as well. I would like to think that our comic is pretty accessible; you don’t have to have a PhD in [superhero] continuity to understand what is happening. A lot of comics are in love with their own history. They are hard to get into. That’s half the fun of those, but we need more stuff that’s casual and fun and anyone can pick up and enjoy just an issue of.

Esposito: I think casual is a really good word for it. We’re very conscious to not get involved in our continuity. When we started we wanted to make something accessible from every issue and not have any continuity, but that’s changed a little. We do want to have some bigger story arcs, but we want to structure it in a way that any issue can be your first issue.

TC: This is Ben’s first time writing on a comic. Is writing an all-ages comic something you set out to do? Or did you set out to write in other genres?

Bailey: This was not only my first comic, but my first all-ages work. Most of the stuff is considerably more f-ed up.

Esposito: [laughs] Just follow him on Twitter. You’ll understand.

Bailey: [laughs] It was important to me when we started making this, you know I have kids, so if I was to put something out there it would be something that I could share with everybody. I think I was surprised a lot of people, like my parents. “I wrote a comic.” They were like great… “No, it’s a kids comic.” And they were like “Whaat?”
I want to write stories of all kinds. I think pigeon holing yourself to one style of comic or genre is a sure way of having a really short career.

TC: When it comes down to the writing of each issue is it a straight 50/50 or does one of you type away while the other is talking? How do you guys get things done?

Esposito: Generally we hop on Skype and plot out the issue together page by page. When that’s finished we just divvy up the pages. If there’s a page we really want to write we’ll say that, then we split up for the week and write our individual pages. Then we reconvene, put it all in one document and go over it together to make sure the transitions work and all kind of stuff.

We’re working on issue five right now. Up to this point it’s been smooth sailing. It’s very collaborative.

TC: You mentioned collaboration. Whose idea was it to color Captain Ultimate and some of the older characters in that old newsprint style?

Esposito: I don’t know who came up with it specifically, but it is something that we directed Ed, our colorist, to do. We’ve given limited direction on what we wanted the art to look like, but these characters that have been coming back need to be colored in this sort of way. There’s a reason for it that we will get to eventually.

TC: Whose idea was it for Ulti-Mutt?

Esposito: Anyone that knows me knows I love superhero pets. At one point I said [Captain Ultimate] has to have a super menagerie, because that is what I associate with superheroes. I was driving to work one day and Ben texted me, “Ulti-Mutt!” Yes! Yes! Perfect! [Both Laugh]

I think the original plan was not to introduce him for a while.

Bailey: But we couldn’t hold back.

Esposito: We just couldn’t wait!

Bailey: I think the happiest Joey has ever been with me, was when I came up with the name Ulti-Mutt. Right away he got on twitter, “This guy is a genius!”

Esposito: That’s when I knew it was meant to be.

TC: Were there any influence either direct or indirect that affected Captain Ultimate?

Bailey: One thing that I bring up a lot are the Pixar films. Particularly, The Incredibles. I think the tone of those movies in general is they are not kids’ movies. They are truly all ages; events that everybody goes to see. The spirit of those films if really inspiring.

Esposito: For me I go to the Rocketeer, and that you can pick up any story. It doesn’t matter if it came out in 1982 or 2012 you can pick up either one and get just as much from it. It’s a dude with a jetpack and that is all you need to know. You don’t need a deep knowledge to enjoy those stories. I think we play off that a lot.

TC: In issue two we see a blast from Captain Ultimates past, Doctor Destruction. Will we be seeing any more old-timey supervillains?

Esposito: As far as we’ve discussed that is his arch nemesis. His Lex Luthor. His Joker. In August we released a prose piece on our website that fills the gaps between issues one and two. We’re presenting that as lost tale from Captain Ultimate’s heyday. It’s also a story with Doctor Destruction. It’s a free PDF download.

Bailey: It’s got a cool pulpy cover!

Esposito: It’s a lot of fun, and something we can do to explore old villains while also creating old ones in the present. Every time we have a think session we keep thinking up more and more.

Bailey: The cast is getting insanely large! We’ve only written about five issues, and we have so many ideas to keep track of.

Esposito: And that’s not to say each one will get a large arc or anything. Going back to the days of villain of the week, and maybe down the line someone says, “Hey remember that guy. He was cool. Let’s bring him back.” Even the giant robot tentacle monster will be coming back in a way you won’t expect!

TC: Changing gears, what was the reasoning for giving Captain Ultimate a moustache?

Esposito: I mean, come on!

Bailey: How could you not? When we were putting it together we visually wanted the belt and the moustache. We have early designs from Boy that are like 30 different kinds of moustaches. That was the only part of the process that we said, “No we have to be involved in every step of this!” We’re very passionate about it, and I can’t even say 100% why.

Esposito: How often do you see heroes with moustaches?

Bailey: Not enough.

Esposito: It’s always the anti-heroes or the bad guys. We’re taking moustaches back!

TC: Captain Ultimate focuses a lot on Milo and Captain Ultimate so far. Do you think both young boys and girls can relate to the story? Do you have plans to introduce any female characters down the line?

Bailey: We have female characters that have already kind of been in there, but they’ll be playing much larger parts; really important parts in this story. Actually, the prose piece you can get on our website shows just how kick-A Ricki Ratcliffe is and will continue to be throughout the series.

Esposito: Yeah, beside Ulti-Mutt she’s my favorite character to write so far. She’s a really strong character. You know I hope that the series is appealing to everyone and not just boys. The themes are universal, but we will have more female characters coming up!

TC: A lot of our listeners and readers are curious about the writing process and getting work published. When you first approached MonkeyBrain was this something you did before you started the series or after you had already completed the first story? Can you walk us through how you got the book released?

Esposito: It was the easiest pitch experience I’ve ever had in my entire life. Our plan was to go to them when we had the first issue done or the pitch pages. I don’t even think they were colored yet. Just black and white pages. We contacted them and said, “Hey we’re doing this book. Is it something you might be interested in?” So we sent it off. Every other pitch experience I’ve had has been like wait two months then hear back and go from there. But literally within ten minutes they emailed back, “Alright. We’re in.”

Had that now happened our plan was just to self-publish digitally. Maybe do Kickstarter for the trade or whatever. So, were super super happy that we ended up there. It’s been an awesome time working with them. They are super easy to work with.

TC: You said that if you hadn’t gotten in with them, you would have self-published. For new writers out there what kinds of ways can they do that?

Bailey: Comixology Submit is what we talked about a lot. Honestly, we considered [MonkeyBrain] a long shot. Our original plan was Comixology Submit. But we thought, well let’s send it to MonkeyBrain and see what they think, and we lucked out with that. Otherwise, we totally would’ve gone with Comixology.

Esposito: I think that’s the best route right now. You can Kickstart of course. I’ve done that twice. Both times it has been an emotionally taxing experience. Plus the investment for writers that feel they can’t raise enough for a print book, sometimes they make the mistake of trying to do floppy issues. I tried to do that. So expensive.

To be able to do that on a level that’s worthwhile, to even make money back, the end cost is just too much. I think really digital is the way to go. If you need to Kickstart to pay an artist, I’d rather have my money go toward making great art than to a printing house. So I think something like Submit which is totally free upfront for you is a great way to do it.

Bailey: They are the Diamond of digital. They are the largest digital distributor by far. To have that resource where they are directly taking books? This is all new territory. This is like a godsend. Obviously, you need to create quality work first they’ll accept, but to have this resource available is something people should strongly be considering.

Esposito: Also, Comixology will be making money off your book as well, so it’s in their best interest to promote it as well. They do show off the submit books from time to time on the front page.

TC: One last question. Any teases for what is down the line?

Esposito: Well, as you can see at the end of issue two, issue three is all about Captain Ultimate’s secret origin. How he gets the belt and where it comes from. Ben what can you offer?

Bailey: Let’s just there is a villain coming up that was an idea suggested to me by my five year old. When he told it to me I thought, those words together don’t even make sense. Joey texted me an hour later saying he had idea of how to make it work. So, issue five. A villain suggested by a five year.

Esposito: The most ridiculous villain ever!

TC: Well that sounds awesome! Thank you very much for talking with us. You guys have a great night!

Esposito: Thanks a lot!

Bailey: Thank you, take care!


You can check out the newest issue of Captain Ultimate on Comixology now.

Visit their webpage to learn more about the team and the series, as well as downloading the free prose piece mentioned in the interview.
You can follow Benjamin Bailey on Twitter @616Earth and Joey Esposito @joeyesposito.

Adam is the "Valiant Guy" for Talking Comics. He is the host of the Talking Valiant podcast. Adam also has immense knowledge of the old Star Wars expanded universe. He's a high school English teacher by day, and has a Master's degree…

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