Z2 Comics has come to define the depths of possibility in the relationship between music and graphic fiction, proving that great art is not defined by format, and the marriage between mediums can elevate the experience for all. This is perhaps best exemplified by their latest announcement of Enter the Blue, a fictional story inspired by the history of one of the greatest houses of sound, as written and drawn by Dave Chisholm, known for his incredible Charlie Parker graphic novel released by Z2 in 2020.
What begins as one woman’s search for her own artistic courage unravels into a stunning look into what jazz music can teach us about our search for the truest versions of ourselves…
For decades, seasoned players on the scene have spoken in whispered tones about The Blue: a mysterious meeting place for jazz history – a place where ghosts from this music’s storied past spring to life for those courageous enough to enter.
When Jessie Choi’s mentor Jimmy Hightower collapses at a gig and loses consciousness, she finds herself reluctantly pulled back into the jazz scene she abandoned years earlier. In investigating the music and mystery behind Jimmy’s comatose state, every thread leads to the same question: is Jimmy somehow trapped in this enigma known as The Blue? In her search to save her teacher, Jessie rubs shoulders with legends, uncovers the secret history of Blue Note Records, and faces her own deepest fears.
Enter the Blue is written and drawn by Dave Chisholm and will be released in a soft and hardcover edition in finer comic shops and bookstores alike in January 2022 and is also available to preorder now in these and a gorgeous, oversized slipcase deluxe format featuring a gorgeous print set.
Superstate is a new graphic novel and accompanying original soundtrack, out 27th August 2021, in association with Z2 Comics. The high-concept world of Superstate encompasses the pairing of an original album soundtrack of 15 new songs from Graham Coxon, with a graphic novel of 15 stories featuring the work of 15 artists, and writers Alex Paknadel and Helen Mullane, with album and book cover artwork by Coxon himself.
Superstate sees Graham Coxon working with co-writers Alex Paknadel and Helen Mullane and 15 graphic artists including Christian Dibari, Marie Llovet, and Ryan Kelly as well as musicians Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne, Sharlene Hector, Valentina Pappalardo, and Vula to realize this reading and listening experience unlike any other. Coxon’s vision is brought to the page by an all-star co-operative of writers and artists who devised stories and visuals inspired by the original concept from Coxon. The creative process has been led by new music written and recorded by Coxon exclusively for Superstate. The result is a visual compendium that features 15 different graphic stories, each accompanied by its own individual soundtrack.
Superstate is about a dystopian world where angels and villains alike promise the people paradise, disenchanted children live feral in vast rubbish dumps and the masses are pacified by a drugged out, government-mandated digital dreamscapes and robot partners while they wait to perish on this dying planet. It seems all hope is gone but there might be one place in the universe where the most desperate can escape… heaven.
The tracklisting and artist credits for Superstate is, as follows:
1. Yoga Town (Artist: Kendall Goode) 2. Uncle Sam (Artist: Eryk Donovan) 3. It’s All In Your Mind (Artist: Andrade Estevez) 4. Only Takes A Stranger (Artist: Anna Readman) 5. L.I.L.Y. (Artists: Luisa Russo) 6. Bullets (Artist: Goran Gligovic) 7. I Don’t Wanna Wait For You (Artist: Ryan Kelly) 8. The Astral Light (Artist: Soo Lee) 9. Heaven (Buy a Ticket) (Artist: Koren Shadmi) 10. The Ball of Light (Artist: Vasilis Lolos) 11. Tommy Gun (Artist: Minerva Fox) 12. Goodbye Universe (Artist: Kim Canales) 13. Butterfly (Artist: Dave Chisholm) 14. We Remain (Artist: Ivan Stojković) 15. Listen (Artist: Taylan Kurtulus)
As well as a standalone digital release, the Superstate soundtrack will be available on vinyl bundled with the book. A deluxe bundle that includes the soundtrack, a hardback copy of the book with an exclusive slipcase and 3 art prints, retails at £73.17 (US$99.99). A limited super deluxe bundle will also include a copy of the book signed by Graham, retailing at £146.34 (US$199.99). In addition, the Superstate book will be available to purchase separately in hardback £21.94 (US$29.99) and paperback £14.63 (US$19.99).
WRITER: Dave Chisholm ILLUSTRATOR: Dave Chisholm AGE RANGE: General Adult GENRE: Science Fiction SRP: $3.99 FORMAT: Comic Book PAGE COUNT: 32 DM PUB DATE: July 22, 2020 ITEM CODE: MAR202085 PUBLISHER: Scout Comics
After waking up marooned on a lifeless planet, astronaut Helen and her robot companion Arther have struggled against the alien environment to make vital starship repairs while facing ghosts of the past. Having finally uncovered the truth of her doomed mission and with launch imminent, Helen’s plan to escape the orbit of Canopus proves to be less-than-ideal. Arther may be her only hope as the saga comes to its poignant conclusion. CANOPUS tracks the demons of both inner and outer space in an intricately illustrated psychological sci-fi adventure!
WRITER: Dave Chisholm ILLUSTRATOR: Dave Chisholm AGE RANGE: General Adult GENRE: Science Fiction SRP: $3.99 FORMAT: Comic Book PAGE COUNT: 32 DM PUB DATE: June 17, 2020 ITEM CODE: FEB201960 PUBLISHER: Scout Comics
After waking up marooned on a lifeless planet with no memories beyond a hazy sense of extinction-level urgency to return to Earth, Helen and her robot companion Arther have to make vital repairs while facing ghosts of the past. Now trapped half a mile beneath the surface of the planet and surrounded by otherworldly fire, the situation is looking dire. As they attempt to blast their way up, Helen learns the truth behind the mission to Canopus, amping up her urgency to return home. CANOPUS tracks the demons of both inner and outer space in an intricately illustrated psychological sci-fi adventure.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of Charlie “Bird” Parker’s birth, the life of the jazz icon will be told in the pages of an upcoming graphic novel to be released by Z2 Comics later this year.
During his short life, Bird changed the course of music. He was a pioneering composer and improviser who ushered in a new era of jazz and influenced subsequent generations of musicians, writers and artists. Music industry legend Quincy Jones once said, “I believe that a hundred years from now, when people look back at the 20th century, they will view Bird, Miles and Dizzy as our Mozart, Bach, Chopin and Tchaikovsky.”
With the publisher’s highly anticipated Grateful Dead: Origins graphic novel due out in just over a month, Z2 switches genre and tempo to the story of perhaps one of the most overlooked times in the life of the late great father of bebop.
Chasin’ the Bird is named for Charlie Parker’s 1947 standard, and adapts one of the sunnier, but darker chapters in the life of Bird, beautifully told by Dave Chisholm and colored by DreamWorks Animation Director Peter Markowski. The book will be released in September and will include an exclusive flexi disc record featuring a recording from Parker’s time in Los Angeles. The deluxe limited edition will include a vinyl 45 with two tracks to be announced ahead of release. In conjunction with the graphic novel, Verve Records/UMe are currently working on a new album spanning Bird’s L.A. period that will be released in September as well.
The graphic novel tells the story of Bird’s time in L.A. starting in December 1945, where Bird and Dizzy Gillespie brought frenetic sounds of bebop from the East Coast jazz underground to the West Coast for a two-month residency at Billy Berg’s Hollywood jazz club. This marked the beginning of a tumultuous two year-stint for Bird bumming around L.A., showing up at jam sessions, crashing on people’s couches, causing havoc in public places, and recording some of his most groundbreaking tracks, “A Night in Tunisia” and “Ornithology,” as well as “Relaxin’ At Camarillo,” inspired by the end of his time in SoCal at the Camarillo State Hospital. The novel explores Bird’s relationship with the characters and events he encountered during his time in L.A. including recording some of his signature songs with Dial Record founder Ross Russell, a brief but influential stay at the home of famed jazz photographer William Claxton, a party for the ages at the ranch home of artist Jirayr Zorthian, and others who found themselves in the orbit of the jazz genius.
Chasin The Bird is being released during the centennial of Bird, dubbed Bird 100, as one of the many initiatives celebrating the extraordinary career of the trailblazing jazzicon, including exciting new music releases, a tribute tour, festivals and events, prestigious exhibitions, special partnerships, exclusive collectible art, and myriad of independent appreciations and concerts. Chasin The Bird is available for preorder now from Z2’s website in both standard and deluxe editions.
When it comes to movie directors, there is no one who has such a diverse scope as Christopher Nolan. His movies have shown a generation of creatives just how far you can push your imagination. Take for instance The Prestige which could have been a standard tale about dueling magicians. Under Nolan’s gifted guise, it became a suspense thriller. Then there’s his true to life story of Dunkirk, which harkened to the movie styling of Stephen Spielberg, where he put the audience right into the action.
One of his best stories is Memento. It’s an early outing for the auteur which showed how he could weave such a complex tale into the noir genre. Then there is Interstellar, sometimes confusing but ultimately a splendid explanation of quantum physics and mother-father relationships. I often wondered how it would be if combined elements of these films into one grand tale? In Dave Chisholm’s Canopus, we meet a hero like in Interstellar but with elements of Memento to make a mystery worthy of unraveling.
We meet Dr. Helen Sterling, an astronaut, who has just awoken from a slumber, to find herself out in space on top of a planet orbiting Canopus, as her friendly AI, Arther. As she struggles to understand what happened, she doesn’t know what is real, how she got so many light years away from Earth and most importantly, how she got here in the first place? As she looks for clues, she finds a landfill on the planet filled with children’s toys, where she finds a toy tied to a childhood memory, which makes even more suspicious of her circumstances. By the issue’s end, Helen uncovers even more mysteries.
Overall, an engaging and rapturous debut issue which gives readers a new heroine and mystery to dive into. The story by Chisholm is well developed and euphoric. The art by Chisholm is superb. Altogether, a story that will have readers re-read it several times to catch all the clues they missed the first time.
Story: Dave Chisholm Art: Dave Chisholm Story: 9.2 Art: 9.2 Overall: 9.2 Recommendation: Buy
Scout Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
Canopus #1-2is written, drawn, colored and lettered by Dave Chisholm, with color flats by Dustyn Payette and production by Kurt Knippel; published by Scout Comics.
Helen wakes up marooned on a lifeless alien planet 300 light years from Earth with no memories beyond a hazy sense of extinction-level urgency to return to Earth. Joined by her robot companion, Arther, she explores the planet to find materials necessary to repair her ship. However, circumstances are not as straightforward as they seem: along their perilous path, Helen’s most painful memories return to her, as monstrous manifestations hellbent on her destruction. In this mind-bending sci-fi adventure, Helen’s story unfolds into her past and future, revealing a poignant conclusion that will leave you speechless.
Dave Chisholm is a creator who seems to always be pushing new boundaries. Always trying something new, or doing old ideas in new fashions; always trying new genres, and trying new things with his signature art style. More importantly, he always approaches each project with a thematic goal in mind. He’s not just trying to be all style. There’s always a substantial theme that every artistic and storytelling decision circles around in, exploring every corner that he can before bringing it all together in a satisfying conclusion. For Canopus, his first foray into science fiction, Chisholm delivers yet again, this time with the addition of colors and a theme of letting go of grudges.
Chisholm’s previous work, Instrumental, was black and white and took full advantage of that aesthetic by experimenting with linework, inking, and the whole plate of comic art basics. He did so much to push the boundaries of what black and white comics could look like that he created a unique, experimental, and surreal style of art that was far above and beyond even some of the great comics done in color. It would take too much time to describe it all, so I’m just gonna leave this image here. I think you’ll get the picture:
In Canopus, Chisholm decides to embrace color, and while the heavy amount of stylistic experimentation from his previous book is absent, he more than makes up for it by just how good the coloring is. I don’t know if these colors were implemented traditionally or digitally, but either way they bring an atmospheric layer to the setting. Purples, blues, and the impenetrable blackness of space pierced only by the blaring whiteness of stars really gives that sci-fi feel. This really becomes apparent when Chisholm does both establishing and long shots in his panels. You really get a real sense of scale and a surprising amount of detail on this mysterious, seemingly empty planet. I think a good chunk of credit also must go to Dustyn Payette whose flats keep the colors clear and distinct without losing its character.
Panel layout is probably the strongest element of Canopus. There are, on average, about 7-9 panels per page. However, never once does it feel cluttered. That’s because the dialogue is straight to the point and lettered in a thinner font than usual; Another aspect is the art itself. It’s kind of like European comics, particularly the works of Moebius and Herge, where panels are drawn so that environments, characters, and action are all able to coalesce without a detriment to any one of these elements. You really do feel like you’re on this planet, traversing it with Helen and Arther, and taking in all the wondrous, natural spectacles around you. It’s so much more absorbing than having an avalanche of mindless action and particle effects that clutter the page just to shove as many trademark characters as possible. At that point, you might as well stare at the sun until you’re blind.
Chisholm goes to great lengths to make his characters as visually unique as possible. Keep in mind, there’s only three so far and some dudes that show up in the flashback scenes, but I can’t help admiring how distinguishable they all are, particularly how looks match up with personality: Helen’s short, slightly spiky hair reflecting her headstrong attitude; Arther’s large eyes and sock puppet body that are characteristic of his childish sense of wonder. Even more detailed are the mysterious monsters that the duo encounters. These things are straight out of nightmares, packed with metaphor, symbolism, and repressed trauma; Freud and Jung would probably be huge fans. They’re scary, really scary. You’ll probably find yourself both terrified and unable to look away just because of how ingenious their designs are. Even if it doesn’t have the same level of madness as Instrumental, Chisholm still brings a lot of surrealism to Canopus.
Don’t let me forget the action scenes! Yes, even though Canopus is a highbrow sci-fi with a focus on atmosphere and character, that doesn’t mean our heroes don’t occasionally bring out the kung fu against their psychoanalytical foes. Thanks to Chisholm’s expert panel layouts, these scenes are very well-paced. Blows are satisfyingly delivered with close-ups used to build up anticipation, then pulling back for a medium shot when impact is made. Even though these action scenes aren’t the main focus, it is incredible how Chisholm can do just about any type of scene.
Probably the cream of the crop of art in this series are the two-page spreads. These occur whenever Helen finds a familiar-looking object that triggers a forgotten memory. It can be a doll, a pair of dentures, or even a pair of socks. From these objects, we’re open to the spread:
These flashbacks are all four pages long, starting with the object that triggered the memory, and ending on them as well. The spreads might seem like a mess, multiple panels of a particular object in descending order, all over the page like multiple packs of scattered cards. However, there is a deeper reason for this.
In my interview with Dave Chisholm, he told me that the biggest influence on the formatting for these flashbacks was the graphic novel Asterios Polyp by the legendary David Mazzuchelli. He described to me in a scene from that book where the main character has a flashback triggered by a blistered toe, then something in that flashback triggers another memory, and so on and so forth until the memories become a kaleidoscope of sorts. It’s a visual representation of how memory can be processed sometimes, where we try to put together in order seemingly random sights, sounds, smells, and whatnot into an order so we can recollect. Remember that Helen has amnesia, so every time she recollects a lost memory, it probably hits her so hard that she finds herself transported back to the past and relives an experience. It’s sort of like PTSD, although Chisholm also made it clear to me that such a serious mental illness does not dictate the layouts. He is not trying to visualize PTSD.
What Chisholm does visualize however, is a genius kind of layout to represent recollection of memory that puts the reader in Helen’s shoes. You might find yourself confused at first, trying to find a recognizable sequence of events.It does not take long though and, again, like Helen, you soon figure out what happened, why this memory is so important and even how these events both led Helen to where she is now and how they shaped her as a person. Another part of this is how each flashback has a unique color palette to it. These palettes are restricted to very few colors, usually with the prominence of two certain colors. I’m not sure there is a deeper meaning to these choices, but hey they look awesome and distinguish each flashback so much that the images will stick in your own memory long after you’re done reading.
Of course, fantastic art on this scale is nothing without a solid story, especially in comics right now where the science fiction genre has taken off so expediently that it can be hard at times to find the sweet bread amongst the stale white loafs. Chisholm gives us the best kind of sci-fi, or really any kind of genre fiction, where the genre is used to explore deeper themes beyond mere entertainment. Paraphrasing Chisholm, Canopus is about letting go of past hurts, and this all starts with the main character.
Helen Sterling is an obvious protagonist. She is intelligent, strong, courageous, and determined to save Earth from an unspecified armageddon. This makes her the most likely person to cheer for, however at times she’s not always likeable. She can be stubborn, easily angered, and has a tendency to hold onto grudges. The worst of her tendencies come out in her interactions with the only other person…well, “person” on the journey.
Arther is a highly advanced robot with a special kind of body. It’s not metal but something of a flexible substance that gives him a cartoonish appearance. The comparison that comes immediately to my mind is Fone Bone from Jeff’s Smith Bone. The difference between the two is that Arthur’s main power, at least so far, is the ability to turn his body from that of a toddler to that of freaking Flex Montello by blowing on his thumb.
Temperamentally though he is always like that of a child. I don’t mean that he’s constantly in need of attention or guidance. He’s actually surprisingly mature-minded in a lot of ways. It’s more like he has a sense of wonder to the world. He is programmed to look forward to learning new things and having new experiences. He is also intensely attached to Helen, so far as calling her “Mother”. Arther is loyal to Helen and will protect her from anything.
Which is why it seems odd that even with their very first interaction, Helen is hostile toward Arther. She will dismiss him, accuse him of slowing her down, and at one point yells at him furiously. Also, his reference to Helen as “Mother” annoys her to no end, so, honestly, it doesn’t shine Helen in a good light. At the same time, Arther is not all that innocent. He seems to be holding back a lot from Helen despite her amnesia. If he was really loyal, you would think he would tell her everything.
Also, it is revealed that Arther is tied to one of Helen’s memories, a pretty terrible one involving betrayal. Helen is someone that throughout her life has experienced heartbreak, loss, and betrayal at every stage in life. It’s no wonder she has issues with anger. In this way, the sci-fi/fantasy elements come to serve the purpose of Helen’s story, particularly the flashback scenes and symbolic monsters. Helen is not just trying to save the world, she is confronting her past. How this all plays out will have yet to be seen in the next two issues.
There is also an ongoing motif involving plant roots. Don’t know exactly what that is about yet, but definitely keep your eyes on it.
There are very few issues that I have with Canopus. One is the amnesia plot. I don’t think it’s bad. In fact, Canopus is one of those rare stories where amnesia is used as a proper story device and not a cheap trick. The only issue is how selective it is. Helen doesn’t remember where she’s at or how she got there, doesn’t remember anything about her life, and yet she immediately knows how to communicate with the ship using the correct terminology. Another issue has to do with the manifestation of an important person from Helen’s past. I won’t spoil it, but Helen, with all her intelligence, falls for it. At first, it seemed reasonable enough since she had no idea what was going on, but even after she deduces that the planet is somehow taking her memories and conjuring monsters from them, she still keeps this person around. She shows a lot more suspicion toward Arther. I’m still trying to figure out why she made this choice.
Whatever flaws there are in Canopus, they are small. This series is two issues in and already shows so much promise. Art full of atmosphere and color, panel layouts that take full advantage of these qualities, complex and characters that are both complex and uniquely designed. The two-page spread flashback scenes are by far the best part of the series, an ingenious art technique that I hope everyone will consider the highlight by the end. How exactly the theme of letting go of grudges plays is yet to be seen, but already the seeds have been placed, and I am confident they will grow into something spectacular.
Story: Dave Chisholm Art: Dave Chisholm Color Flats: Dustyn Payette Production: Kurt Knippel Story: 9 Art: 10 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy
WRITER: Dave Chisholm ILLUSTRATOR: Dave Chisholm AGE RANGE: General Adult GENRE: Science Fiction SRP: $3.99 FORMAT: Comic Book PAGE COUNT: 32 DM PUB DATE: March 18, 2020 ITEM CODE: JAN201955 PUBLISHER: Scout Comics
Now that our amnesiac astronaut hero Helen has gotten her sea legs a bit on the strange distant planet where she’s marooned, the psychological alien action kicks up a notch! She and her sort-of helpful robot pal Arther have encountered a few too many relics of Earth culture here to make any sense, but Helen’s psyche seems to totally unwind when they meet her long-dead father. Arther knows what’s immediately obvious to us — something’s dreadfully wrong — but Helen’s having none of it. And then things really take a turn.
WRITER: Dave Chisholm ILLUSTRATOR: Dave Chisholm AGE RANGE: General Adult GENRE: Science Fiction SRP: $3.99 FORMAT: Comic Book PAGE COUNT: 32 DM PUB DATE: February 19, 2020 ITEM CODE: DEC191848 PUBLISHER: Scout Comics
In the opening pages of CANOPUS we meet Helen, a lone astronaut in a crashed ship on a distant moon, and Arther, her cute AI assistant. She doesn’t remember how she got here, only that she has to repair the ship and that the fate of humanity is at stake. When Helen and Arther have to go searching for materials they need to make repairs, they stumble into a pit full of discarded toys from Earth, an alien monster, and then things really start to get weird.
Dave’s story is personal and internal, exploring Helen’s psyche and emotional state, but it’s expansive sci-fi, as well, involving deep space exploration and human folly at a global scale. The art packs a punch, as Dave uses comics panels much like he uses notes in a trumpet performance, dotting the pages with miniature moments to build a story that’s more pointedly emotional than straight-ahead narrative.
Helen wakes up marooned on a lifeless alien planet 300 light years from Earth with no memories beyond a hazy sense of extinction-level urgency to return to Earth. Joined by Arther, her strange robot companion, she explores the planet to find materials necessary to repair her ship. However, circumstances are not as straightforward as they seem. Along the way, Helen’s most painful memories return as monstrous manifestations hell-bent on her destruction. Canopus is Castaway meets Annihilation, with a healthy dose of Phillip K. Dick trown in for good measure!
Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of Dave Chisholm‘s. Awhile back, my fellow Graphic Policy writer Madi Butler interviewed Dave about Instrumental about an inspiring jazz trumpet player whose ambition leads him to a mystical horn that may give him masterful skills, but could also result in the end of the world. Ever since reading this masterful book, I’ve been following Dave and eagerly waiting for his next big project.
That last desire has recently come in the form of Canopus, his new sci-fi miniseries from Scout Comics. I had the pleasure of reading Dave’s book beforehand, and I immediately knew this would be on par with Intrsumental and give a medium clouted with many sci-fi stories that just about look the same. I sat down with Dave to discuss Canopus, how sci-fi can be used to funnel personal issues, many of the new bag of tricks he learned along the way during the making of this project.
Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for Canopus come from?
Dave Chisholm: I had a speaking engagement in Boston. I was sitting on the flight toward it, and at that point I had just a basic idea for the main conceit of the story which I’m not going to give away.
GP: No spoilers!
DC: Right, no spoilers. Basically, I was just flying out and ruminating on some big ideas I had. Not the characters yet, but more the bigger sci-fi stuff. The character ideas stemmed from a deeper place from my struggles of learning to let go of resentment and pain from my past. I had tendencies to hold onto grudges. It reached a point where I was like, “Man, that’s not good for me.” I couldn’t really figure out a way to let go of it, so I decided to take that angst and channel it through the story with a character who is going through a similar issue. That character’s Helen. That’s the basic origin story for this book.
GP: I’m familiar with your first book, Instrumental, and Canopus is a totally new idea, which is what I admire about you. You’re not just repeating yourself. You’re going with something fresh. Instrumental was a surreal urban fantasy; Canopus is surreal sci-fi. What made you want to do that kind of story now?
DC: I’m a huge fan of sci-fi media. I love Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clark, and writers like that. I wanted to throw my hat in and do that kind of hard sci-fi story. One thing that draws me to Philip K. Dick, in particular, is how he will take a really personal idea and filter it through this completely bananas sci-fi setting. He’s trying to understand his own struggles with hanging onto reality or his other well-documented struggles. He uses a book like his own personal diary, therapy, or exploration of ideas for topics that might be a little more personal for him. I love the ability of sci-fi to explore a big concept, like healing from trauma or love or parenthood. Something like that.
I could’ve told a story about someone living in Rochester, New York in 2019 who’s trying to understand the trauma that they’ve been through, the pain that they’re feeling, and that stuff. I think it would’ve been a good story, but I also had these bigger ideas. Why not merge the two together?
GP: Helen seems like the perfect protagonist for your story because she is the type of protagonist you would expect: an adventurous scientist type, but she’s also working through her personal issues from the past. Not going to spoil that because, again, no spoilers. How did you conceptualize her character?
DC: It boiled down to essentially writing her life story, figuring out events in her life that led her to point we first meet her, then figuring out which one of those life events would be featured in the book. Specifically, these flashbacks that occur from time to time in the story. From there it was sort of, like, reverse engineering it in a way that made sense to who she was as a character, what she wanted, and how she grows.
When the story starts off, she (Helen) is a pretty intense person. She’s very on edge. She’s not a warm or nurturing person. She is very stern in getting things done.
GP: “You’re gonna do this, and you’re gonna do it NOW!!”
DC: Yeah, that kind of vibe. Hopefully the reader will be wondering why she is that way and get a clear picture of her life.
GP: Sympathize with her.
DC: Yeah. As far as what she wants vs. what she needs, and what her goals are–some of those are plot driven, some of those are character driven. Hopefully there will be a nice marriage between the two.
GP: The only other character that exists along with Helen is her companion Arther. I won’t spoil too much about him because he’s so unique, but I want to know how did you come up with him?
DC: How Arther came into the picture is a fascinating story. A lot of it had to do with workshopping with a cabal of editors. For example, my wife, Elise, is an amazing editor. She has the keenest eye for plot holes. I’ll give her something to read, like “You gotta read this!” She’ll read it and say “I just love it…here’s a plot hole”, and I’ll be like “OH NO!”
GP: Oh no! The ego has been pierced!
DC: Haha yeah! She was so helpful with this project. Thanks to her help and those of my friends who also workshopped it, Arther evolved over time so much. He started as something that was pretty different from what he ended up being. I hate to say this, but one of the last, big revelations for Arther, when I put the last piece of the puzzle in, was quite late in the process, even as I was pitching this to publishers and had a couple of issues drawn. Probably wasn’t the smartest thing. It’s one of the bits in the story that I’m most proud of, too. So, for people working in comics, publishing, working on art and stuff, you should work on it all as you go, like re-examining plot points or anything really. You’ll figure those things out, you’ll find something.
Anyway, Arther turned out to be a great character. His look didn’t really ever change. His look was based on a character I’ve been doodling for years, and he’’s really fun to draw. I really liked the idea of a robot that was squishy and plushy, not hard and geometric. I struggle with those shapes, so if someone asked me to draw a Transformers, I would have a hard time. I think Arther’s design makes him cute and adds to that child-like quality of who he is. Arther’s always curious, always wondering what’s going on, and everything like that.
GP: What strikes me about Arther’s relationship to Helen is how complicated it is. It starts off with her relying on Arther to act as a guide given that she has lost her memory. As those memories slowly resurface though, it turns their relationship into a parent/child kind of deal, except there’s some serious resentment toward the child. Was figuring out that out part of conceptualizing Arther, and does it tie back to Helen’s issues with letting go of past grievances?
DC: That’s a little bit of a difficult question, mostly because the answer would give away too much. I’m just going to embrace the fact that their relationship does get complicated over time as those memories are revealed, and I’m just happy those story beats fell into place.
GP: I’ll move on to a less sticky question then. Canopus, the star. Up until I read this comic, I was not aware that it actually existed. It’s such a unique choice for a setting. It’s not something generic like Mars or creating a phony-baloney planet. You chose something that actually existed in space. Why did you choose Canopus? What is its significance to the story beyond just the setting?
DC: I knew the comic was going to take place on a star that was far away, and, frankly, I just googled star names thinking “Maybe I’ll find a star with a cool name.” There isn’t a whole lot more to it than that. It does sort of tie thematically into the story, again without spoiling anything. I’ll leave it at that.
GP: I noticed that instead of a full-length graphic novel like Instrumental, you decided to make Canopus a four-issue miniseries. Is this your first time doing single issues?
DC: My first series in single issues was a book I did called Let’s Go To Utah! That was self-published from 2007 to 2009. It was a 9-issue series that was done before Instrumental. I did that back in my 20s. I still sell it when I go to conventions, but let’s just say I look forward to when I have enough books on my table that I don’t have to sell that one anymore.
GP: Haha. I get it. Not all darlings are precious. Some you look forward to killing.
GP: Another difference I see is that Canopus is in color. Did you know this was going to be in color? Like did you have a deeper reason for that choice? I feel like Instrumental was purposefully black and white because the visuals you put in that book had to be that way. Canopus seems like a book that works more with color and uses it to tell the story.
DC: Right! It’s cool because the story behind that is I got hired to draw a children’s book a few years ago that I don’t think is out yet. It was a really cute children’s book, independent contractor, and it was a very fun gig. I didn’t realize until after I signed the contract that they expected me to color the art as well. My coloring experience before that was pretty limited in terms of the workflow, meaning that it took me a really long time to color a page or an image or whatever.
Over the course of the 20-some illustration images I did for this children’s book, I really learned how to have a good workflow for coloring and just how to color in general. It was really just a great education for me. I’m a real autodidact. I can mostly teach myself, go at my own pace, find my own approach, and always be critical of my own process. I learned from that experience that I really like working in color. It’s super fun and adds this element of storytelling I had been ignoring as a creator. In that moment I was like, “Oh man. I gotta color the next project I do!”
The first project I wanted to get to was a much larger one than Canopus, but I wasn’t in a place with my comics career to pitch it. I sat on it and decided to pursue Canopus instead. With how the color plays into the story…hoo boy, this is going to be a long-winded answer, but the one thing I’ve really learned in music school, like 10 years of music college, is this idea that sometimes crafting a narrative is about what you don’t put into it, like setting up really rigid boundaries for yourself. That way when you do reveal to the reader that thing that’s been missing all this time, it’s mind-blowing.
Let’s say that you have a song and for the first two minutes there are no bass or drums. The listener thinks they’ve figured out the song. “Oh, it’s just guitars and vocals. There’s a little bit of piano in there.” Then come along the bass and drums into the song. It’s like BAM! It’s loud as hell. Their (the listeners) whole paradigm explodes. With Instrumental, I attempted this with the formal structures of the pages. Remember when Tom blows the trumpet, and all of reality is bent?
With Canopus, I’m taking a similar approach with color. I don’t want to spoil it, but it has to do with what is left out and with a limited, more focused color palette to set up a sense of normal for readers. I’m really happy with the way the colors turned out. With that said, I can’t wait to take all the stuff I learned working on this comic and level up with whatever comes next.
GP: One thing Canopus does share in common with Instrumental is surrealism. Although Canopus is more restrained than how off-the-walls, bonkers Instrumental got, there is still some zany elements. The first that comes to my mind are the panel layouts for Helen’s flashbacks. It shows a sequence in linear format, but there are repeated, multiple images of every panel. To me this symbolizes how she processes memory. I want to know what was your thought process in designing those panels?
DC: The first inspiration behind those particular scenes is from the graphic novel Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, if you’re familiar with that.
GP: I know the book you’re talking about. I just haven’t read it yet.
DC: Oh my god. I recommend you read that as soon as possible. There’s this beautiful scene where the character gets a blister on his foot…and the story is that we get present day scenes along with flashbacks, so kind of similar to Canopus is, although I would hate to compare my book to this book because it’s the most genius book I’ve ever read. Anyway, the main character has a blister on his foot, and it opens to this whole sequence where it triggers his memory with an ex, then that triggers another memory, and soon it becomes a kaleidoscopic display of all these different memories about his ex, all surrounding this basic narrative of her breaking a Q- tip in her ear and getting scared as he tries to fish it out with a pair of tweezers.
It sounds like such a mundane scene, but it’s profound with how it associates with all these separate memories that are blinking in and out of this single narrative. So, the memory scenes of Canopus were inspired by that and also pages from Chris Ware books where, like, the way a single object will generate a memory field in a person. Like, when you pick up a favorite toy from your childhood, and all of a sudden you have this visceral recall of the most significant memories around that object. Now those memories tend to be non-linear. I didn’t quite have the courage to do so in my comic, but I still wanted to hit that feeling. I hope the way I laid out the panels is a good stand-in from the fuzzy, more grid-like layouts you see in the “present day” story proper.
GP: I get the feeling that, since these scenes are related to Helen, it’s a representation of her trauma and trying to piece back together these memories, where and when they happened and all that. I do know from reading about PTSD that it can affect memory. I know there’s the concept of certain things triggering bad memories, but also I’ve read elsewhere it can cause emotional distance from them. In a way, does Helen’s amnesia symbolize all that, especially now that all those memories are coming back to her?
DC: I think that this idea of how PTSD works in people is definitely some kind of inspiration, although I can’t say it dictated the layouts. The way someone has a PTSD trigger or an anxiety attack has a more physical response, but I don’t know. Honestly, it’s really hard for me to come down strongly in this book. Her (Helen) character is definitely inspired by the idea of someone going through therapy. It’s sci-fi as therapy though. Inspirations for that are stuff like Russian Doll, Maniac, and The OA. These Netflix shows are, from my point of view, really like therapy in a fantastical presentation. All of those are about people learning to change their mind and reconcile their traumas. It’s just so inspiring.
GP: Another detail of the surrealism I wanted to ask about are the obstacles and enemies Helen faces. They’re all these twisted manifestations of her memories. Remembering those memories seems to be part of her defeating or getting over them. It’s like the whole therapy thing you’re talking about. I just want to know how you came up with them because each are so unique and utterly terrifying.
DC: Thanks, man! I think that, even in Let’s Go To Utah, it follows a thread of thinking where let’s take this really normal-looking thing and give it a charge of weirdness, like capital-W Weirdness. In Let’s Go To Utah!, my goal was to make this ice-scraper an extremely profound thing. In Instrumental, it’s a trumpet. In one of the very first story beats for Canopus, Arthur falls into this hole or crater on this surface, and it’s full of dolls and children’s toys. That imagery was just so creepy, compelling, and weird. It’s taking the normal, mundane and giving it a profound twist by associating it with something 300 light years away from normal, with symbolism and motifs. It’s an attractive idea to me, and I just hope it pays off.
GP: One last thing I wanted to mention was the twist. I have to say, I’ve never seen a twist this crazy in a comic before! When I got to it, my reaction was “Wait, he went that far?!” I’ll say it, your twist tops even Rick Remender’s twists.
DC: Hahaha! Thanks, man.
GP: Seriously! I want to know how your twist ties back to the theme of the story.
DC: The twist is something I’m really proud of. I’m happy the way it turned out, and I hope readers really get something out of it. If I tried to say anything further though, it would give it away. I’m just going to leave it at that and let everyone see for themselves when that issue comes out.
GP: This is just such an audacious series with a fresh sci-fi story and pulls off a lot of great storytelling ideas. It all comes together and has a very important message to people going through a lot of similar issues, me included. Do you hope it engages your readers on an intellectual and emotional level as much as it entertains them? I know you as a creator, and you always go into a story with something to say. You don’t just entertain, but help, if not enlighten, engage readers with new ideas and ways at looking at things.
DC: Absolutely! That’s everything to me. So, my answer is yes. Definitely yes. I have high hopes that it will connect with people and gets into the awareness of people who need it or can empathize and identify with the story. That’s the goal.