Sunday, October 10, 2010

Profile Antics: A Chat with Jay Piscopo!

Today's spotlight feature is a neat interview with Jay Piscopo, the author and illustrator of the all-ages graphic novel series, "The Undersea Adventures of Capt'n Eli". I recently noticed the Facebook page that Jay had set up as promotion for a cool new spin-off from "Capt. Eli" that focuses on a major supporting character from that series called "The Sea Ghost". This underwater champions visual design is really classic in appearance, and I have to admit that I've always had a soft spot for ocean-based heroes like Aquaman and the Sub-Mariner, so I fired off an invitation to feature Jay and "Sea Ghost" in the Catacombs.

Jay has been producing children's entertainment for almost 20 years, primarily using the computer to hone his own unique style by combining regular two dimensional characters with three dimensional backgrounds.
Jay was an art director at Tom Snyder Productions, leading their creative team in the production of educational CD-ROMs like the award-winning "Fizz and Martina Math Adventures" and he was an animator on the ABC Saturday morning show "Squigglevision". For Goodwill Industries, he co-created an internationally distributed comic book series featuring the world's first disabled superheroes, "The Scrap City Pack Rats".

Jay has conducted hundreds of comics workshops and classroom events teaching drawing and storytelling techniques. He lives in Portland, Maine.


Q) Jay, I noticed that you’ve used your talents to reach out to school kids. What prompted your interest in using Capt. Eli in educational efforts?

I have a bit of experience working on cartoon characters with a message. In the early 90s I was working on The Scrap City Pack Rats - a group of disabled heroes - a comic book series published by Goodwill. Also I worked at Tom Snyder Productions working on educational software with the characters Fizz and Martina teaching math and language. With Capt'n Eli's connection to the sea, there seemed plenty of opportunity to develop Eli's ability as a messenger on a range of subjects, including oceanography, geography and science generally. The graphic novels themselves are not text books but can be used to create discussion and curiosity. Teacher Laura Richter has created educational materials that teachers can use with the graphic novels to launch into practical lessons.

I also have a one hour interactive workshop teaching kids cartooning. It’s a great way to promote the book, travelling to schools and libraries - and to help de-mystify cartooning and bring young kids back to comic books.

Q) I first noticed Sea Ghost on Facebook and would like to know more about him?

Sea Ghost was formerly The Sea Raider - a golden age hero and featured prominently in The Undersea Adventures of Capt'n Eli. In fact his origin is in Book 2.

Q) As a fan of the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, I immediately wondered if Sea Ghost was inspired by the late Alex Toth’s “Space Ghost” design.

Absolutely-- His design is an homage to Mr. Toth and Space Ghost. As well as Bill Everett the creator of Submariner. Alex Toth's design work for Hanna-Barbera is a major influence -- Birdman, Herculoids, Mighty Samson as well as Space Ghost warped my brain forever!

Q) What are your plans for Sea Ghost beyond the one-shot that’s coming out now?

We are looking into creating a Mego-style action figure of Sea Ghost similar to the Commander X figure. Looks very promising and a real possibility in the near future.

Q) You have a multimedia background; do you feel that those skills serve you well in telling stories in a graphic novel format?

Absolutely, comics have their own vocabulary but learning cinematography and storytelling in prose and pictures has been essential.

Q) Which comics industry creators most appealed to you as a young reader and do you follow any series that are currently on the stands?

My big three are: Alex Toth, Jack Kirby and Wallace Wood. Luckily I’ve had the opportunity to have some of my idols create pin ups - Herb Trimpe, Howard Chaykin, Steve Rude and Ramona Fradon who is my favorite Aquaman artist and who created a beautiful pin up for the Sea Ghost book. I loved Jim Aparo's work when I was a kid -- still do. Love the Buscemas, John and Sal -- I could go on and on. Most of the current stuff I look at is independent: Sky Pirates of Valendor by Susan and Everett Soares, Serial Squad by Paul Shultz and Jon Hodges. Always looking forward to seeing what friends like Michael Leal (Curse of the Vessel) and Dan Barnes (Tree Frog Comics) and Josh Alves (The Araknid Kid) come up with.

Q) What types of art “tools” do you use to produce your work or is all of your stuff completed solely on the computer?

I will work traditionally with paper pencil and ink occasionally -- especially if I’m doing a golden age homage. But generally I’m getting all the effects I want with the computer. I’m using a variety of programs, Flash, Photoshop, Poser, Lightwave.

Q) Has recent industry turmoil affected your self-publishing efforts in any way?

Not really. When we started Capt'n Eli we took into account where the market was. The audience we chose to market to has pretty much left the industry - young kids and adults that want to recapture the fun they had reading comics as a kid. We do have hardcore comic fans but in order for this to work we had to reach beyond the comic shop.

Q) I gave up on the DC Direct action figures years ago when so many of them were afflicted with design flaws that limited their ability to stand up. How well does your Commander X dolls hold up?

Our manufacturer is "Dr. Mego", Paul Clarke. He's the man behind the Mego rebirth and the new Mattel Retro super heroes. He keeps a keen eye on quality control . The Mego format is what I grew up with and what I prefer to see in my action figures. Commander X can definitely stand on his own two feet.

Q) What’s your favorite flavor of Capt’n Eli’s Soda?

I'm still partial to the Root Beer- but the Blueberry Pop is great!


Here is a link to Jay's online store where you can purchase a hot-off-the-presses copy for yourself. You will also find a smorgasbord of other stuff like his Capt. Eli books, apparel, several flavors of bottled Capt. Eli soft drinks, card games, action figures and educational items. There's something for everybody, and the holidays are rapidly approaching!

Jay and his publicist, Tami Kennedy, kindly provided me an uncorrected file copy of the entire first issue of Sea Ghost to review (thanks) and I really appreciated the opportunity to see the issue first-hand. It will appeal to every fan of Hanna-Barbera superheroes, silver age comics and all-ages friendly material. I also feel like fans of Mike Allred's Madman and The Atomics would really enjoy this book as I got a strong "Allred-kind" of vibe off of Jay's visuals in Sea Ghost.

Since it was an uncorrected proof that I actually read, I have no real criticisms of "Sea Ghost" other than a couple of minor misspellings (which will probably have been fixed already) and in my humble opinion as a snobby purist (you guys better laugh at that tongue-in-cheek remark), I believe that the only "improvement" that I could suggest in future Sea Ghost adventures, is the addition of expository captions, the purpose of which is to inform, explain, describe, or define the author's subject to the reader. There were a few places where captions would have been of great benefit to me as a reader, such as the pages where SG encounters a device that transports him to another planet. However, the absence of captions didn't detract from my overall favorable impression of the book. I enjoyed it quite a bit and certainly enough to hope that Jay is successful with this spin-off and can bring Sea Ghost back for more. Recommended!

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