Every now and then, I stumble across something that is seriously cool and seriously different. Where to start with this one?
Capt’n Eli is the young hero of a new graphic novels series by Jay Piscopo, The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli. So far, two volumes have been released, with a third due in March, 2009. The comic is a throwback to the golden age of comics, but Piscopo also incorporates an interesting blend of CGI-style graphics into the drawings. The combination really works and the series has received glowing praise from the likes of Marvel Comics Editor and Writer, Roy Thomas. Each of the volumes also includes pinup art from other well-known artists. I enjoyed reading the comics, which reminded me of a 50s take on Jules Verne with large-scale undersea intrigue in a setting featuring Atlantis and, of course, the heroic efforts of Eli. My daughter, Natasha (age 8), got hold of my review copies and polished each of the 100+ page books off in single readings- she really liked them and was disappointed to find out I didn’t have any more.
The marketing behind Capt’n Eli is state of the art, taking advantage of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, as well as a series blog. The web site also features videos of Piscopo at work. A limited-edition action figure (of the character Commander X) is being released in December. Trading cards and a board game are also available. And in an unexpected twist, Capt’n Eli is also the brand name for a line of premium soda and you can watch a video of their bottling line in action.
Which came first, the soda or the comic, plus a win-win holiday promotion after the jump
So, which came first, the soda or the comic? Technically, the answer is neither. Eli Forsley was a WWII navy veteran and educator who became known for storytelling, public service on behalf of disabled veterans and the mentally ill, and was a producer of homemade root beer. Eli’s son began commercially producing Capt’n Eli’s soda in 1997 (so the soda did come first). The idea of creating a comic book character based on the brand name of a soda sounds like a barely concealed advertising vehicle, but that’s not how it was approached. The comic was created to stand on its own and believe it or not, the characters don’t spend their time drinking root beer. The Forsley family wanted to ensure that Eli’s legacy of education and entertainment was continued in a manner that appealed to kids. Without a doubt, the products are promoted together through marketing efforts and the web site, but you can enjoy the comics and collectibles on their own without ever realizing the connection.
How often do you get the chance to buy something cool for yourself (or your kids) and have a child in need receive the same thing, for free? OLPC comes to mind as an example, but not everyone has four hundred bucks to throw around on a gift this holiday season. In a gesture that warms the hearts of Geeks everywhere, you can buy a Capt’n Eli graphic novel at a holiday sale price and with your purchase, a copy will be donated to the Portland, Maine "Stuff A Bus" campaign to help children in need. See? Everyone wins.
And in a move reminiscent of Dr. Pepper’s Chinese Democracy soda giveaway (but without a miffed Axel Rose, the legal action, and for a much better cause), the first 100 people to donate a gift at the Dec. 5 "Stuff A Bus" event in Portland snag themselves a free bottle of Capt’n Eli’s root beer. So if you live in the Portland, Maine area, head out on December 5 with a new toy or book to donate for the bus and you might just score yourself a free root beer.
I can’t personally speak to how the soda tastes- it certainly looks appealing and I can appreciate the fact that it’s made the old-fashioned way with actual sugar instead of that high fructose corn syrup crap that most bottlers use, but I do recommend giving the Capt’n Eli graphic novels a read. Thumbs up from both Natasha and myself on those. The charitable holiday donation campaign puts Capt’n Eli over the top and earns a GeekDad approval.