Friday, November 5, 2010

Raising Maine Magazine -- Author Profile: Jay Piscopo






Author Profile: Jay Piscopo
Saving the art of comics, 1 book at a time


November 4, 2010

By JENNIFER HAZARD, Raising Maine Contributor

Epic film battles. Hanna-Barbera’s Space Ghost. Golden Age comics. These are just a few of Portland author/illustrator Jay Piscopo’s favorite things. His recent graphic novels, “The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli: The Mystery of Me” and “The Mystery of the Sargasso Sea” echo all of these influences, offering adventure, intrigue and a colorful cast of heroes and villains.

The series begins with an infant named Eli, whose underwater pod mysteriously washes ashore on a remote Maine island called Eagle Rock. Eli is adopted and raised by the island’s lighthouse keeper, Pops, and his wife, Ma. When Eli reaches boyhood, the couple learns that their son is a prodigy – capable of designing his own high tech submarine. Word of the boy’s abilities soon spreads beyond the tiny island. Professor Wow, a scientist from an underwater exploration team called the Seasearchers, invites young Eli to join the team. Eli accepts in hopes of learning more about his mysterious past.

If the character of Capt’n Eli looks and sounds strangely familiar, you’re right. The name is based on the Maine-made soda developed by Shipyard Brewing Company President and Founder Fred Forsley. According to Piscopo, Forsley wanted to promote Capt’n Eli’s soda with a TV show similar to 1930s radio programs like the “Lone Ranger” and the “Green Hornet.” He approached Piscopo – who worked as an animator on the ABC Saturday morning series, “Squigglevision” – to see if he’d be interested in the project. Based on past comic book experience, Piscopo encouraged Forsley to start simply. And so they did, beginning with an activity placemat for Shipyard’s restaurants. The placemat featured a comic called, “The Great Root Beer Battle,” starring young Eli, his dog Barney and a recognizable parrot named Jolly Roger.

The trio of characters appeared in a comic book called “The Mystery of the Haunted Lighthouse.” Piscopo says the comic was cute, similar to a Scooby Doo-style mystery, but not quite what he had in mind. He researched favorite books, films and comics, and in a year’s time, he developed “The Undersea Adventures of Captain Eli.” Piscopo hopes to add a third installment of the series by the spring of 2011. However, fans of his graphic novels will have something to tide them over in between. Sea Ghost – one of the many characters in the series – is featured in a recent comic book. And another mysterious character, Commander X, will be highlighted in an online comic available for the holidays.

With so much on his plate, is a television series about Capt’n Eli still possible? Piscopo says talks with agents in New York and Los Angeles are happening now. In the meantime, he’s busy promoting the series in schools with comic book workshops geared toward 7- to 10-year-olds. He says the hour-long cartooning workshop is designed to demystify the art of making comics, and kids are responding positively.

In a market where monthly comic book sales are declining, he likes the idea of appealing to a new generation of writers and illustrators. The workshops are one way to keep the art alive.

“I love the medium,” he says. “I don’t think it’s dead by any means. If writers and illustrators make a good thing and are aware of their audience, a comic will work.”

Piscopo hopes “The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli” is doing just that. He wants the series to appeal to children and their parents, who might be seeking comics reminiscent of their childhood.

“If a family can read these books together,” he says, “that’s the Holy Grail.”

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