The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli is a reminder of the fun and unpretentious adventure comics of the “Silver Age” (1960’s an 70’s) and before, in this case updated with a bit of anime flavor in the way outline and flat color drawings of the characters are set against rendered and 3-D backgrounds.
Drawn and written by Maine artist Jay Piscopo, Capt’n Eli was created as a promotional vehicle for a specialty root beer company. Comics and characters created in that kind of role are often half-hearted, designed-by-committee and drawn by disinterested commercial artists. Capt’t Eli, on the other hand, is a delightful exception to that rule, and surprised me when I first encountered it to the extent that I likened it to finding a classic Fantastic Four comic in your shredded wheat box.
Capt’n Eli carries a bit of that 60’s Marvel flavor, plus some of the wonderful camp feeling of earlier “Golden Age” comics (to which it makes reference with the character of “Commander X”), plus a healthy dose of Johnny Quest, which featured the character design work of Alex Toth. Capt’n Eli is an undersea sci-fi adventure story featuring high-tech submarines, flying mini-subs, time travel, monsters, robots, nefarious villains and lost civilizations; in short, a nice mixture for all-ages adventure comics fun.
The submarines, helicopters, robots and other tech gadgets in the story are rendered out as 3-D models, giving an additional flavor of Popular Science stories on wild designs for future submarines and aircraft. I particularly like the enemy subs that have a feeling of the Nautilus from the classic Disney version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The combination of the outline and flat color drawings against rendered backgrounds and 3-D objects may seem jarring to some, though anyone whose seen my own webcomic knows I’m completely comfortable with it (grin), and the use of that approach in Japanese animation has made it seem less unusual in recent years.
It was through my webcomic that I encountered Capt’n Eli, when Jay Piscopo wrote me several years ago and asked me to take a look at the strip, which was then available as a webcomic. I did, and wrote a nice review of it on the Zark Comics Links page. Piscopo subsequently asked me if I would like to write a foreword to the new print collection, which I was delighted to do.
It took a little time to reach fruition, but The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli has finally been released as a 104 page trade paperback (“graphic novel” format) containing two Capt’n Eli stories and a “Golden Age” Commander X story, and is available through the Capt’n Eli site for $9.99, on the same ordering page with the company’s root beer and other sodas (read “pop” for those of you in the U.S. and Canadian midwest); along with other Capt’n Eli gear. You can also find it on Amazon.
The volume features a cover by comics artist Steve Rude, and pin-ups by Rude, Herb Trimpe and Howard Chaykin. You can see a few (unfortunately small) sample pages from one of the stories by selecting “The Story Begins” at the bottom of this page. You can also read the full first Capt’n Eli webisode, The Mystery of Me, and some earlier material in the Archives (though, again, the web versions are kind of small).
The Capt’n Eli site also has a gallery of pin-ups and a bio of artist Jay Piscopo, who has a background as an art director at Tom Snyder Productions producing educational CD_ROMs like Fizz and Martina Math Adventures, created the The Scrap City Pack Rats comic for Goodwill Industries, and was an animator for the ABC Saturday morning show Squigglevision. Piscopo teaches classes in cartooning at the Maine College of Art.
The second volume of The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli is slated for release in October of this year and should be available though the web site, Amazon and a number of comic book stores.
Oh, and the root beer’s pretty good too.