This month, Ink Stains is breaking out of the fanzine realm a tiny bit and featuring current artist and writer Zander Cannon, and his alternative work!
Humor is not easy. Ask any stand up comedian. Humor in comics may even be harder, since most mainstream comic writers and artists are subconsciously trained to do the “big muscle” thing, and in the last 20 years or so, the “big angsty thing.” Comics took a dark turn when Frank Miller, genius that he is, became popular and was later emulated by every up and coming artist and writer. Purple prose ruled, anti-heroes flooded the market, and humor just didn’t seem to fit. Eventually though, things would even out, especially with the burgeoning self publishing/independent comic explosion of the 1990s, and a bit later, the mini comics boom.
Zander Cannon would probably have taken a big happy part in the fanzines of the 70s, had he been around way back then. In today’s comic scene, the self expression that was the hallmark of those mimeographed, dittoed and sometimes nicely printed fan published papers has been evident in mini comics, web comics, and self published work. Also bearing mention is the recent trend of the 24 hour comic, several of which you will see in this installment of Ink Stains. I remember seeing Zander Cannon’s first published work on Chainsaw Vigilante in the back pages of The Tick, and really loving the crazy humor and clever art that reminded me of independent creators like Bernie Mireault. Of that time Zander told me that, aside from his 1993 New England Comics Press pro debut, “I had also done some comic strips for my college paper, and illustrations and cartoons for my high school paper.”
When I asked if he had been drawing his whole life, he said:
I had; I thought I would be an animator for Disney or something like that, but then when I was in middle school, a friend clued me in to all the comics that were coming out at the time (1986), and it blew my mind. Just Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dark Knight, Watchmen, and Groo should have done it, but one that really got me interested in drawing comics was Matt Feazell’s Cynicalman. The idea that someone could just put together a comic book and print it on a photocopier was amazing to me, and that year I printed my first minicomic, The Ninja Garbageman.
The title of that last comic is Zander in a nutshell! Aside from his ability to be a visual storyteller of clarity, his light sense of humor is a quality that draws people to him and his work. Below, you can see a few samples of one of his 24 hour comics, “The Caterpillar Space Force of Robots.”
Note that the cursing is all numeric language. Makes sense, since they are all robots. I haven’t decoded the binary phrases, but I would not be surprised if a few of them are actually repeated correctly. Zander has also had a good knack for detail, both in his visuals and his scripts. Check out a few more pages from this 24 hour comic below, and note how well he uses negative space and wide open spaces.
The basic premise of this story centers around a group of robot travelers who end up losing their precious “Victory Sapphire,” and their problems trying to figure out how to correct the situation. Though Zander is capable of detailed rendering and deep backgrounds (as seen in his Replacement God series), the nature of the 24 hour comic prohibits him from using those skills. Instead he relies on clear storytelling and just enough visual information to get the idea across. See the plot thicken below!
I won’t give away what that “one more thing” is that the feminine robot, Cat-3, has to do, but it fits within Zander’s love of the “payoff” line. Download the comic!
Before we delve into the darker story coming up next, more information about and from Zander. As I said, many of us writers and artists were taken with the incredible burst of energy and visual fun that Frank Miller brought to comics upon his debut. Miller is one of several artists Zander looked up to as he was learning. Read about his other influences below, followed by the sequence of his “big breaks” in the business.
It being the 80s, I loved Frank Miller and John Byrne, but my favorites in the Big Two comics were Alan Davis and David Mazzucchelli, who are not exactly similar, but they each captured something I was going for– Davis, a cartoonishness and joy that was still within the realm of ‘serious’ adventure comics, and Mazzucchelli, a graphic sense of composition and depth rendered with the bare minimum of lines. My other big heroes were Paul Chadwick, Sergio Aragones, Dave Sim, Marc Hansen, and David Boswell. I loved humor comics of the era. Anything that had a different look and a sense of place had me hooked.
In 1993, NEC Press hired me, a college student, to write and draw (and letter) Chainsaw Vigilante. That was a big one. Then, Slave Labor Graphics published The Replacement God in 1995, which gave me my own book in the indie comics world. Then in 1999, Gene Ha asked me to work with him and Alan Moore on Top Ten, which put me on people’s radar in the mainstream comics publishers. So there has been one break after another, adding little bits to what passes for a career in comics. In 2004, I formed a studio with Kevin Cannon and Shad Petosky, and we did a number of educational comics over the years. Then this year (2012), Kevin and I started Double Barrel, an indie pulp magazine that serializes our projects we’ve been working on in our spare time.
One can see his Mazzucchelli influence in the following story, a more serious entry called He Becomes Who Kills Him. You can see similarities between the visual style of this story and Mazzucchelli’s best Rubber Blanket work like Big Man.
It makes sense that Zander needed another creator, Matt Larsen, to come up with this dark bit of a plains fable. Zander did his part well, but his wheelhouse will always be light humor, sometimes just plain silliness. We will get into some serious silliness in the next story, but for now, more input from the man himself. As mentioned, several of these stories are “24 hour comics.” This recent comics form and how it helped his artistic progress is touched on below.
Well, several of them are 24-hour comics, so I don’t have much to say about them in terms of their actual artistic merit. What I will say, though, is that the process of making a 24-hour comic has been one of the most significant artistic lessons I’ve learned in my life. The first time I did a 24-hour comic, I was making realizations on nearly every page about things that I had always done that were inefficient, undynamic, and show-offy. Being forced to work that fast and with that little planning showed me how readers were reading the work, and got me closer to being able to really communicate with them through it. Some of the other ones, like Master of Feng Shui, were done for a local minicomics gallery show called Lutefisk Sushi, which features 50 or so minicomics in a box for sale to benefit a local gallery, which then has a show of some of the books’ originals. Having to get a minicomic done for this event makes me take a complicated concept that had been kicking around in my head for years (Master of Feng Shui or He Becomes Who Kills him, which is my friend’s concept, actually) and actually sit down and get it on paper. That’s the great thing about deadlines– they really make you get your butt in gear.
Now, we can get back to a lighter mood again with the wacky Golden Wing vs. The Freezer, an incredibly fun superhero parody of sorts. I have selected a few pages that show Zander’s great sense of timing and his love of silly punchlines.
There is much more to this story, and it may be the most entertaining one of the bunch. The payoff at the end is pure Zander Cannon whimsy, and you must download! If you want to see more fully rendered art with more detailed backgrounds, you can feast on the obtuse (to me, anyway) Master of Feng Shui!
Thus ends our coverage of probably the only Master of Kung Fu parody where your nemesis can be harmed by the moving of furniture out of its perfect place. Again, these are only bits and pieces of the whole story, and if you don’t download it I will move that TV stand to a place that will offend your arranging sensibilities! Hai! Before we check into the freezing arctic of our final story, Zander talks below about a few of his upcoming and ongoing projects, which are:
Kevin’s and my Double Barrel, which will serialize his book, Crater XV, and mine, Heck, over the next 12 months, is keeping us both pretty busy, but we’re also working on an educational graphic novel about rhetoric, and I’m writing a series for Oni that my friend Ryan Browne is drawing. That plus various freelance illustration, comics, and consulting about illustration or comics has booked me up pretty well for the next few years.
The last story of this sampling of the Cannon canon has moments silly and ominous, as well as just ominously silly. Feast your eyes on the monstrosity that is…
If you want to see if our heroes survive this mammoth flightless behemoth, you will have to download the whole comic! This is one of Zander’s 24 hour comics. Now, if you have never created one of these (and I still haven’t), I don’t think you can truly understand the work involved. After all, you create, from scratch, one page an hour over one 24 hour period, until you have a completed comic. Scott McCloud pioneered the format 20 years ago, but it is now a part of many conventions and comic book programs across the globe. I know they had one at the Savannah College of Art and Design here in Savannah as part of the Sequential Design program. There is a special day for the procedure each year, and you can see the website here. You can read a short history of the form on Scott McCloud’s website here.
I apologize for missing last month, but sometimes, life gets in the way. Big thanks this issue goes out to Zander Cannon, who sent me a few pdfs and answered my questions via the Facebook chat engine. His Big Time Attic blog can be read here, while his personal website is here. If you see Replacement God or Top Ten, or any of the other comics that were mentioned in your comic store’s back issue section, pick them up…he was also in several issues of Caliber’s Negative Burn. Now, get the pdfs here. Hopefully I will have no trouble getting next month’s column done, but I am moving back to California from Georgia in a month, so things might be a bit hectic. I will keep you apprised and thanks for reading!
Ken Meyer Jr.