[Interview] Talking Art and Business with Captain Alex

Written by Abram Buehner

Introducing: Captain Alex Interview

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Captain Alex, a prominent creator in the Nintendo community. Alex is perhaps best known for his incredibly detailed custom controllers and his range of other, artesian Nintendo items. Now, he’s also the owner of Comic Controllers in Clermont, Florida. Join us today as we discuss his love of Nintendo and his craft!

Can you think back to the moment when you became a Nintendo fan? Was there one game or experience that really resonated with you?

Oh man! This is a hard one. It kind of feels like I’ve just always been a Nintendo fan. Growing up we had the SNES and the N64. My earliest video game memories come from Super Mario World, which is still probably my favorite Mario game to date. Whether that’s nostalgia talking or the fact that we still haven’t gotten a power up as fun as the cape feather remains to be seen! But one of the defining moments of pronouncing myself as a Nintendo fan was probably in high school, when I decided that it wasn’t the PS3 or Xbox 360 that interested me. The Wii was the only system I had eyes for!

Have you always been interested in art? When did your interests in gaming and art begin to cross over?

I have been! I find it funny to think back on stuff like this and say “have I been an artist my entire life?” because it doesn’t feel like it. But I truly have been. I’ve been drawing and sketching most of my life, not that I consider myself to be very good, but I still have comics that I drew as a kid, and saved quite a few of my art projects from middle and high school and they’re actually, surprisingly, better than I remember.

Similarly, when did you begin to create custom controllers, and what was the first one you worked on?

This is one question I get to talk about all the time, and I still love answering it! In August of 2013 I was playing Xbox 360 and my controller was getting kind of worn down and gross. After thinking about it, I thought to myself “What could I do to fix this? I couldn’t simply paint over it at the time, because it was an uneven surface and already had a lot of wear and tear on it. My idea was to decoupage it. I took old Captain America comic books, glued them all over the front of the controller in a collage style, and clear coated the heck out of it so it wouldn’t get ruined. I still have it to this day!

Can you talk a bit about the process of conceptualizing a new design?

The very first thing I do, which I imagine is similar for most artists, is pull up a reference image. Who are we working on today? I’ll grab my favorite version or image of the character from the internet and then get to work. What makes that character stand out? For someone like Mario it’s the iconic red color, but it’s also the bright yellow overall buttons and the iconic M. All things that went into designing Mario as a Pro controller. I’m a pretty imaginative person, so believe it or not a lot of my designs never actually get drawn out anywhere, I just get to work and let them jump straight from my brain onto the controller, or whatever medium I’m using!

What was the most rewarding custom to complete? How about your favorite?

I’ve had some really cool opportunities, and I still have even more to come, so this is such a hard question to answer! Off the top of my head I have to say working with Image & Form to create a SteamWorld themed Steampunk Switch had to be one of the most rewarding projects for me so far. Working with an extremely well known developer that created games I’ve been playing for years was kind of surreal!

My personal favorite design changes on a near weekly (if not daily) basis. I’ve decided to just put my logo on the backplate of my main Switch just so I wouldn’t have to choose a favorite design!

From your controllers to your pins (LOVE those Dodo Airlines wings!) you’ve worked with a lot of different mediums. Do you prefer one medium over the others?

That’s a great question! I think I might love them equally. They’re so different. With controllers, its the personal touch that’s really awesome. Each and every one is hand made, so seeing my creations come to life in the (literal) palm of my hands is surreal sometimes. That being said, designing something in illustrator and having it sent off to be manufactured into something like a pin, and receiving a professional product I designed dropped off at my doorstep is also pretty surreal. It’s something you always dream about growing up, but never think it could happen!

You’ve tackled a lot of large scale projects, from the Smash Ultimate Pro Controllers to the Etika Memorial Joy-Con. Is it difficult to balance your creative side with the realities of the projects you take on?

Absolutely! I am constantly biting off more than I can chew. I’ll have between 1 and 10 projects going at any given time, and balancing them is no small, or easy task. I have a list of projects on my phone because i’ll literally forget about things I’m working on if I don’t write them down. Maybe I’m overly ambitious, but as a creative person it’s hard not to get excited when something new sparks my creative interest!

Speaking of large projects, you’ve just opened your first retail store in Florida, which is surreal! I have family down there, so next time I’m in the area, you know I’m coming by. First off, before you even answer my question, plug the shop so people know what it is, and where to find it!

Haha! The shop is called Comic Controllers – the same as my Etsy store, and we’re located in Clermont, Florida (the city we live in!) in a trendy little co-op space. We’re just 25 minutes away from the theme parks and downtown Orlando, so we’re hoping to one day grow the shop large enough to become a video game and pop culture haven in the tourism capital of the world! You can check us out on ComicControllers.com !

Now, can you offer a bit of insight into the creative and logistical considerations behind opening your shop? What excites you the most about having a venue like this?

One of the hardest things about opening a physical location was merchandise planning. First and foremost, my products aren’t for everyone. I know the cost of them is a barrier for many people on an everyday basis. I do great online around the holidays, but not everyone is going to be ready to drop $100+ on a controller on any given Tuesday afternoon when they stumble into our store. So the first challenge we faced was, ‘how do we diversify our inventory enough to make products for EVERYONE while also keeping on brand with what we want to do, while also not becoming just another gaming or comic book store?’ We don’t want to be a GameStop or a HotTopic, so we decided that what was best for our brand would be to create a boutique, artistic retail space that can expand over time. By doing that we’ve been able to curate a collection of products for just about every geek out there! We’ve got stickers, candles, pins, keychains, game controllers and more! Our candles are made by other small shops that we’ve purchased from wholesale – and they’re all geeky themed! The pins, keychains, and game controllers were all designed by myself and my wife Jessie. We’re really trying to keep our store as unique as possible, but we do hope to offer more commercial products, like new game releases, in the future.

What excites us the most about doing this is the future. It’s always been our dream to create a place where young adults could come out and feel safe in a fun, geeky environment. When we found this venue and knew it was something we could afford right now it was a no brainer. It was the perfect space for us to test out our products and ideas in a low-risk way. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been so well received by our community already, and we’re so excited to see what the future brings!

Finally, as an artist and a creator, at the highest level, what you do seek to achieve with your artwork? By extension, what compels you to keep taking on new challenges?

I just want to bring a smile to people’s faces. I want people to look at my work and get joy from it. I’m so excited about everything I do and everything I make and I just want people to see that, to know that, and to feel that same feeling! The online community, and now my local community in our store, is what compels me to keep going. It’s been awesome to see little kids come into our store and get super excited over Pikachu controllers. Something I designed has little kids’ eyes lighting up! That’s what it’s all about, and that’s why I’ll keep doing what I do for as long as I can!

Thank you so much to Captain Alex for his time. Make sure to check out his website here, then drop him a follow on Twitter!

Leave a Reply