Recently, I was on the most excellent Wayne’s Comics podcast over at Major Spoilers, talking mostly about Pawn Shop. But Wayne has been one of the most vocal and supportive readers of Captain Ultimate, the all-ages superhero comic by myself, Ben Bailey, Boy Akkerman, Ed Ryzowski, and Adam Pruett, published by Monkeybrain Comics. As such, we talked a little bit about the book and where it’s headed.
The question was raised of when Captain Ultimate would be coming out in print. It’s a question we get asked a lot by fans of the series or by people that simply prefer print to digital comics. As usual, I had no real answer to give him. And since doing that interview, I’ve thought about it a lot, and decided that I’m kind of sick of beating around the bush in terms of what’s happening with the print version of Captain Ultimate. For a while now we’ve been telling everyone that we’re still “working out the details.”
Which is true, but the more honest answer is: we’re having a hard time working out said details. Do we want to bring it to print? Absolutely. We want the book in libraries, in schools, at book fairs — we think it will do incredibly well in that environment, and have been told as much by educators and librarians.
But here’s the thing: all-ages comics, as you probably know, are a pretty hard sell for direct market retailers, which is who most comic book publishers are really selling to. There are certainly bunches of all-ages books at various publishers — really, really good ones — but you’ll notice that most of those books, outside of a limited few, have something in common: they’re based on existing properties, either from other mediums or long-standing comic book franchises.
And that’s great, it gets kids reading, gets them excited about comics, and gives parents and their kids something to do together. That’s HUGELY important and is the very reason we do Captain Ultimate in the first place. But publishing all-ages comics can be an uphill battle, particularly when it’s not based on an already successful cartoon or whatever.
And therein lies our problem. We’re remarkably grateful that Monkeybrain took us in and is so committed to the cause of not only publishing great, innovative comics, but including all-ages books among them. Unfortunately, we’ve been turned down by print publishers we thought would be a great fit for Captain Ultimate. This could be because of the other books they publish, or maybe they like all-ages but hate capes/superheroes, or maybe because we’re unknowns. It’s even been suggested to us that we might be better off shopping our comic book outside of the comic book industry. Meaning, we might have better luck with our all-ages comic at a publisher that does traditional kids lit. But whatever the reason, it hasn’t been in the cards thus far.
And that’s totally fine, honest, we’re not complaining. Rejection is a part of this line of work. It’s certainly not the first time any of us have been rejected and it absolutely won’t be the last. It’s frustrating, sure, but it’s nothing personal. We’ll get to print eventually, one way or another, and in the meantime we’ll keep putting out the best book we can and try to grow the digital readership.
But there’s a larger point, which is this notion that original all-ages books seem to be undervalued in the direct market. It’s a Catch-22 scenario, where the sales aren’t there if the direct market offers them, but if the direct market doesn’t offer them and give them a shot, the sales will never be there. The reason I bring it up is because we got a letter to Ulti-Mail, the Captain Ultimate letters page, that we printed back in issue #3 that put everything we do into perspective.
This hit us hard when it came in because it was validation of everything we believed, and has been a reminder for us during the journey of bringing Cap to print that it’s a worthwhile effort. It wasn’t a brand that attracted this kid, it was the story itself. A story with a character he’d never seen or heard of before. A story he wouldn’t have ever seen without the help of Monkeybrain and the digital platform. There’s no reason the same thing couldn’t happen to a kid that comes across the book at his school library or local comic shop.
Of course we’re biased and confident about the book we put out, but there are lots of other great all-ages books out there that are in a similar spot. We know that it’s hard, as a parent, to go into your comic shop on Wednesdays with your kid and turn them away from Batman comics that are too violent for them or Spider-Man books that are too mature. There are the licensed options too, but as Logan has shown us, sometimes that’s not enough.
But there are other options waiting to sit on those shelves, so we encourage you to let your retailers know that, hey, you wish they would carry MORE stuff like Archaia’s Cow Boy or IDW/Monkeybrain’s Amelia Cole. In turn, the retailers can tell the publishers what their customers want more of, and trust me, the publishers will listen. As much as the publishers sell to the retailers, the retailers will listen to their customers and order what they know will sell. So it all comes from you, the readers.
Kids like Logan deserve to have access to books like these that could affect their love for comics and for reading, and it’s up to all of us to make sure we acclimate the direct market properly if the industry is going to grow and survive.