Kevin Cannon - The High Arctic, a Dare, and 'Far Arden'

Far Arden

If you’ve ever found yourself sitting around moping about that graphic novel you’ll never get around to doing, maybe you should take a lesson from Kevin Cannon. Despite a busy career as an illustrator for such works as T-Minus, Cannon accepted a dare to try and produce an entire graphic novel under very unusual circumstances. The resulting book, Far Arden, proved to be a hit webcomic (you can read it at www.kevincannon.org/288hour ) and was subsequently picked up by Top Shelf Productions for a 400-page graphic novel premiering this May. We got up with Cannon about the graphic novel, and just how it came to be.

Newsarama: Kevin, tell us about the basic premise of Far Arden.

Kevin Cannon: Far Arden is an adventure story that takes place in the Canadian High Arctic. Our protagonist is a salty recluse, Army Shanks, who searches for a legendary tropical island paradise supposedly hidden somewhere in the frigid arctic waters. Shanks is helped and hindered by a bizarre cast of selfish villains and long-lost loves. I like to think of Far Arden as Jack London meets James Bond meets It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

NRAMA: Now, this book came about in a very unique way...

KC: Far Arden started as a dare. After several years of doing a twenty-four hour comic, my friend Steven Stwalley dared me to do one twenty-four hour comic a month for an entire year -- with each month's output being a chapter of a graphic novel.

Fortunately, I said “Sure, why not?”, and decided to flesh out the story of Far Arden, which had been a short story in my head since 2000. It should be noted that only the first four chapters were done in twenty-four hours. The rest of the book was finished in shorter time chunks.

NRAMA: How did you come to be at Top Shelf?

KC: Ever since I thought about collecting Far Arden into a printed graphic novel (which didn't seriously enter my mind until it was close to being wrapped up), Top Shelf was really the only publisher I wanted to send it to. I really admire Chris Staros and Brett Warnock for the types of books they put out, and wanted to see Far Arden in their catalogue. So I sent an unsolicited manuscript to them, and we went from there.

NRAMA: Will there be any differences in the collected edition from the webcomic?

KC: Very few. I was actually surprised and pleased Chris and Brett wanted to publish Far Arden basically as is. The real difference will be in presentation -- no web comic can match the feel of holding a thick 400-page book in your hands.

NRAMA: What did you learn from working on the book this way, and what were some of the biggest challenges?

KC: The way Far Arden was made -- by publishing a chapter online every month -- meant that I couldn't go back and tweak any dialogue or story elements once they had "gone live." That was challenging, but fulfilled a sort of Kerouacian desire to just sit down with a cup of coffee and pound out a story.

The thing readers will not necessarily realize is that every character in Chapter One was created on the spot, and for no good reason. I put in some college kids, a circus barker, some undercover cops, an orphan with a can of beans as a cap, without really knowing why. So the fun (and challenge) of the rest of the book was finding a way to transform these impulsive creations into complex, important characters.

NRAMA: What were some of your historical and fictional influences?

KC: Shanks the character was born during a semester I spent in London. During that trip, I jumped from the Maritime Museum to the Cutty Sark to Dulwich College, and came face-to-face with the artifacts polar explorers used during their many expeditions to the north and south poles. Ernest Shackleton's story was the most popularized and celebrated at the time, and he became a big inspiration for Shanks's look and personality.

Also, as a kid growing up in Minnesota, it was hard not to be exposed to the books of Jack London and Gary Paulsen, both of whom inspire a great respect for the power and indifference of Nature.

NRAMA: Have ye plans for more tales of that salty dog Shanks in the future?

KC: All in me head, mate, all in me head.

NRAMA: What are some of the things you're working on outside comics?

KC: Zander Cannon (his brother) and I run a comics & illustration firm called Big Time Attic. These days we mostly illustrate nonfiction graphic novels like The Stuff of Life and T-Minus: The Race to the Moon. However, when we started the company nearly five years ago (with our friend Shad Petosky) we took on jobs like animating online games for Cartoon Network, and designing pizza restaurants.

The most bizarre (and fun) job we've ever had is designing "Action City" -- a family fun center in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. As cartoonists, we were completely outside our element, designing nearly every square inch of this huge indoor theme park. By the end of the project we lived on site for three weeks and oversaw construction crews, painters, resin sculptors, tilers, and the like. It was extremely stressful, but a blast.

NRAMA: What advice would you give people who have graphic novels they're reluctant to write or draw?

KC: Two rules helped me get through Far Arden. The first rule is knowing that you have to make time for your project, because no one else will. This seems obvious, but it can be difficult (for me at least) to turn off the TV or put down a good book in order to stare at a blank page.

Second is to always make sure you're writing something that you would want to read. Part of my day job is working on corporate illustration gigs where I have to think about pleasing target demographics and not offending anyone. At home, it can be hard to turn that thinking off. If you sit down to draw and you're thinking “What's hot right now?” or “What do the kids like?” or “What's Top Shelf gonna buy?” then you're wasting your time.

NRAMA: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?

KC: I'd like to plug a gallery project that I'm co-curating called "Big Funny." To celebrate the life and death of the newspaper, the Big Funny team is asking cartoonists to submit an original Sunday strip in the spirit of the original Sunday strips (think Little Nemo). The best will be printed in a big fat newspaper, and original art from the submissions (as well as actual turn of the century Sunday strips) will be exhibited at Altered Esthetics gallery in Minneapolis. All the submission details are here: http://www.cartoonistconspiracy.com/bigfunny/

Take a trip to Far Arden this May from Top Shelf. The Diamond Order code for this book is: MAR094430, or you can check out the online comic at www.kevincannon.org/288hour

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