Far Arden is a very different kind of adventure comic, and fittingly, it was created in a unique manner. Writer-artist Kevin Cannon used a series of “24-hour comic days” to build the short story he had been mulling over for years into an epic, nearly 400-page tale of the high Arctic seas.
“‘24-hour comic day’ is a yearly event where cartoonists of all skill levels challenge themselves to create 24 pages of comics in 24 hours,” Cannon describes. “These events are like college all-nighters in the sense that you’ve got a clear deadline, you’re constantly watching the clock, and you’re surrounded by tons of friends and coffee. The challenge of having to produce under the gun is fun, but more than that, I like the idea that if you produce something crappy or unintelligible, you have an excuse, a free pass. You can blame a bad third act on the fact that you’re sleep-deprived.”
On a dare from a friend, Cannon says, he participated in 12 consecutive monthly comic days, all of which built into the first 12 chapters of Far Arden. As Cannon describes it, the entire process was an enriching way to break out of his usual storytelling modes and try something new. As he puts it, “I had the skeleton of Far Arden settled—an ex-sailor tries to find a legendary tropical island in the middle of the Canadian arctic—but I used the spontaneity of the 24-hour marathons to introduce random characters and plot points. The early chapters were really exercises in spontaneity and are really not very characteristic of me. I tend to over-plot everything, so this method was very freeing.”
Cannon, a native of St. Louis Park, Minnesota (“the hometown of the Coen Brothers, Al Franken, and Thomas Friedman,” he points out), didn’t discover the joys of comics until he was in college. He had spent a lot of time in childhood copying comic strip panels out of Calvin & Hobbes and Garfield, so artistic skills had been building for decades. “By copying lots of different characters,” Cannon says, “I started understanding how different artists treated simple things like ears and noses and proportions. My cartooning heroes early on were Bill Watterson and Gary Larson, and later ones were R. Crumb, Pete Bagge, and Dan Clowes. For me, writers and illustrators were always the same person. I never felt comfortable with the mainstream comics system of having different people divvy up the duties of creation--i.e., one guy pencils, one guy inks, and another guy letters. That always seemed like an impersonal, factory-style way of doing things. I understand the reason for it now, but as a kid, it left me cold, and so I gravitated toward the creators who did everything alone.”
Cannon runs a comic-book studio with fellow artist Zander Cannon named Big Time Attic. Together, they’ve worked on such diverse projects as designing a theme park and game animation for CartoonNetwork.com. “In recent years, we’ve focused on illustrating nonfiction comics for such powerhouses as Jim Ottaviani, Mark Schultz, and Jay Hosler. Our current book is a graphic novel called Evolution: A History of Life on Earth, written by Mr. Hosler and due out next fall. With any luck it will be very controversial and sell a million copies.”
Cannon is now working on an illustration project for an upcoming documentary film. It’s a story focused on the 1960 U.S. ice hockey Olympic team, which won the U.S.’s first gold medal in that sport. (See the preview at forgottenmiracle.com.)
But first, he’s got some big goals for his first love: “First,” he says, “I would like to not get carpal-tunnel syndrome. Second, I would like to finish the script for the Shanks sequel because I’ve been putzing around with it for nearly two years and I want to move on to something else. Third, I’d like to see Far Arden be made into a film written by Eric Rohmer and directed by Jean Luc Godard.”
Here’s what Cannon had to say about the inspiration for and creation of Far Arden!
Cannon was inspired to write Far Arden from Jim Morrison’s posthumous album, An American Prayer. Cannon says, “At one point, he croons, ‘I’ll always be true / Never go out, sneaking out on you, babe / If you’ll only show me Far Arden again.’ Those words haunted me in high school and made me wonder what sort of a place this Far Arden is that could tempt Jim Morrison like that. And then later I started getting into reading about arctic exploration and how some explorers really believed there were crazy awesome things up near the north pole—like tropical islands or big holes leading into the center of the earth—and so my interest in the arctic and my interest in the Morrison poem just sort of melded together into this story.”
“I used to be an avid outdoorsmen (or outdoorskid, anyway),” Cannon says. “I used to hang out in this big patch of woods behind my dad’s house for hours on end, tracking deer and biking and skiing. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more and more sedentary and more of a city kid. And, appropriately enough, those acres and acres of big woods I used to play in have been razed and turned into crappy housing lots. So if anything, my need to write about a frozen wild world is a way to reconnect with my lost carefree childhood. I’ve never been to the arctic but would like to retire there.”
“Army’s a tough guy to get to know, I think, because I’m just getting to know him myself,” Cannon says. “Sometimes I think he’s a romanticized portrait of my grandfather, John Cannon, who died when I was pretty young. My family doesn’t talk about him much, but I have an impression of him being a square-jawed, hard-drinking kind of guy who loved to hunt and be outdoors and who one time accidentally cut up his own face with a chainsaw and lived to tell about it.”
“The writing was always a positive experience,” Cannon says, “and my life was on a pretty even emotional keel—it wasn’t like I got really depressed in my personal life and decided to take it out on Shanks. It was kind of the opposite—the dark turn at the end of the book is really the one thing about the plot that I knew about from the beginning of the creation process. So really, the fact that most of the book ended up being lighthearted is the big shocker to me.”
“I’m working on a sequel and have a handful of other plotlines queued up, so if Top Shelf continues being interested in the property, it could definitely end up being a long-running series. My big ‘problem’ right now is that work at my day job—drawing nonfiction comics with Zander Cannon—is going gangbusters, and I often have to work nights and weekends to make deadlines, so it’s much harder to find time for Shanks now than it was three years ago, when I started Far Arden.”