Cannon Comic Creators Set to Fire Digital ‘Double Barrel’ [Interview]
In those pages, readers are treated to opening chapters of two graphic novels: Heck, Zander Cannon's story about a former high school football legend who finds a doorway to hell in his dad's old house, and Crater XV, a sequel to Kevin Cannon's Far Arden which once again features crusty arctic pirate Army Shanks. Readers also get a letters page, a humorous comic book Q&A that answers questions about the book's format, an intermission, and a guide to making your own comics. There's plenty packed in these digitized pages, giving CA plenty to ask about during a chat with the two creators. Hit the jump to learn all about how the duo chose their own digital publishing adventure.
ComicsAlliance: This first question is where I would usually ask why you decided on the format you did for this, because it's something unusual, but you guys kind of anticipated that with the intro comic, "It Takes Two." It does a lot of explaining in a funny, entertaining way. Why did you think you needed to do this comic to head off questions?
Kevin Cannon: Doing digital comics, it's sort of the Wild West for that right now. This is sort of our--whatever metaphor you want me to use--our iron in the fire, our hat in the ring. We wanted to basically tell people what we're up to, and sort of, just set the stage a little bit.
Zander Cannon: The thing is, we're jumping in when it's pretty well established that people are doing digital comics all the time, even digital-only comics. We only felt that our take on it was that we wanted to make the amount of content and the price a little more comparable with the other things that you can get digitally, television shows, books, music and that sort of stuff. Instead of just having it be the same thing that's coming out in print, but in digital format for approximately the same price, it's something that isn't available in print because Top Shelf doesn't publish monthly comics, typically. It's something that, I think, is a little more appealing to your average consumer, someone who doesn't buy comics all the time.
CA: I don't think I've seen something that provides the number of pages this does, at 122, for $1.99. Did you guys set that price point, was there kind of a negotiation to it, and how did you arrive at that?
KC: We definitely thought to keep it as low as possible. We're competing with so many artists, ourselves included, who will put content online for free. That's sort of what we're battling against. We should also note that we're going to have a baseline. Every issue of Double Barrel will have at least 50 pages, but we thought we'd front load this first one and really just surprise people the amount of content.
CA: It seems like there's a lot of work in putting together that many pages of a comic every month. Even 50, split between the two of you, is a lot.
ZC: The graphic novels that are being serialized are mostly finished. We're well ahead on those. The things that we're accomplishing month by month are the incidental stuff. We wanted to serialize the book to give it that pulp, cliffhanger feel, but we have a story. The story will conclude for certain.
CA: So when you guys were creating the graphic-novel parts of this, the two main stories, did you have this format in mind, or was this something that came about after you finished?
ZC: This specific format came about long after, but Kevin did his book similarly to Far Arden, which he serialized on the Web, and I was using that as a model. I was doing my book in discrete, 12-page chunks that were intended to operate as chapters even if I wasn't specifically thinking, I'll release this at this time and that at that time. We were trying to emulate that pulp magazine feel of these complete chapters, but the way this has all come together has been the surprise for everybody.
CA: Initially, when you were writing these and drawing these, was the thought that you would serialize these on the Web somewhere?
KC: Far Arden, my first book, I did serialize online a chapter at a time, basically one chapter a month. I really enjoyed the reaction from the audience and forcing myself to end on a cliffhanger. That was a lot of fun. I've always loved that model. But with this book, I really thought Crater XV would just be finished, in the can and go straight to the book. Part of the reason we decided to serialize these two books in Double Barrel is that Crater XV has been completely finished for over a year. Just because of the publishing schedule, the book itself won't come out for another year. This is a way to get it out to the public in a really fun way, not just thrown up online.
ZC: The idea that we can charge a little bit for means we can actually spend some time on it and put extra stuff in it, make it more of a package. The low pricing is so that, we're serializing, but if everybody bought every issue new, they'd spend $24 to get two complete graphic novels, plus all the extra stuff. That sort of eased our conscience a little bit; we weren't going to be sticking it to people twice.
CA: In the intro comic, there's a threat of, if readers wait for the collected edition, we'll punch them in the arm.
ZC: The threat of violence, we feel like, is always the most effective way of dealing with your audience.
CA: It sounds like you guys would really prefer for people to, at least now, read this in this format. Why do you prefer it?
ZC: I wrote that line and I sort of felt like, I've had so many projects that just fizzled because people were waiting for the trade. That was just becoming the way people thought about stuff. But if the sales aren't there, we aren't going to make it to the trade. Even if you could stick it out, it seems perverse that you're throwing books out into the world and no one's buying them because they're waiting for a big fat one. From an aesthetic point of view, it's fun. It's fun to read cliffhangers. It's fun to read little bits here and there. If you and your friend are both reading them, you can say, "Oh what do you think's going to happen?" or, "I like this part." It forces you to focus a little more on each chapter, because maybe you read it a couple times before the next one comes out.
CA: Let's talk about the two main stories here, Heck and Crater XV. Kevin, did you lose a coin toss to be the second story in the book? How did you guys decide on who comes first?
KC: No, I'm actually heading up the production end of things, and I guess it's just sort of my Minnesota nice that just made me put myself last [laughs]. I think, because mine had more pages, maybe. It just felt like the weight of it might make more sense to put that second.
ZC: Heck was done in landscape format, and since the book is portrait format, we stacked the pages two up. So my already relatively short chapters became half as long. I think it's nice to read this and then, you know, get 10 billion pages of Crater XV, as a bit of a reward.
KC: I hope people feel that way.
CA: You said Crater XV has more pages. It also just feels that Heck gets to the plot very quickly; Crater XV kind of has more room to breathe. It spends some time with the characters first. Is that the result of it being a sequel, or is that a difference in your writing styles?
KC: It's almost a reaction to Far Arden, the first book. I didn't know, at the time, when I started the first chapter, that I would end up finishing it as a graphic novel. In that book, I really just jumped into the storytelling. In this one, I wanted to pull back a little bit and take a little bit of a breather. I realized that a lot of people would be coming into it maybe not having read Far Arden to begin with, so I wanted to just pull back and introduce the characters a little bit more. I feel like Zander and I have pretty similar storytelling styles, but we'll show different faces of our storytelling styles, depending on the project.
CA: Even by the time we get to the cliffhanger of Crater XV in issue one, I'm kind of thinking, where is this going to take me?
KC: With Far Arden, that was more of an adventure story. This one is more of a nod to a Dostoyevsky novel or something. It's a little bit longer than Far Arden, it's about 500 pages. Yeah, so I guess I'm asking people to trust me a little bit and let me guide them through it, because the specific burst of the plot probably won't happen until another few chapters in. But once you get there, it's a thrill ride to the end.
CA: Zander, you talked about how Heck was originally drawn in landscape. One thing I noticed is that there are a ton of panels on a page, which kind of make me think you were just plowing through this. Hearing that this was landscape makes sense.
ZC: Yeah, you're seeing two pages for every digital page. Fortunately or unfortunately, that's just the way my brain works sometimes. I always enjoy reading comics with lots of panels. I feel like it's very dense and immersive. That's how I felt like I wanted the story to be. Especially in the early chapters, I was improvising on the page quite a bit. That's sort of my natural style of storytelling, a lot of smaller panels like that.
CA: I think it's interesting how Heck, as a character, compares to other characters like him. He was a football hero, and a lot of times when people think of that kind of character, they think of a Flash Thompson or someone who used to be a bully. But that's not who Heck is at all. It feels like you're intentionally diverting expectation.
ZC: I didn't want to talk too much about what he was like in those days, when he was in high school. The football hero thing, I just wanted to show that this was once someone who was riding high and has been brought fairly low by having all these expectations but not really living up to them, just kind of reaching his mid-30s and being not what he would have hoped to have been. I thought that was a nice way to set up a character who has potential to be a hero or to achieve something.
CA: The last little section of the first issue is called "How To Get Off Your Butt and Draw a Graphic Novel." Why include something in this anthology that is a guide to making comics? Are you guys secretly trying to be the next Scott McCloud?
KC: This kind of goes back to what we were saying about this being the Wild West. This is not a straight-up pulp fiction anthology in the sense that we're just going to deliver stories and that's it. A lot of this is our personality coming through. This is an anthology of these two guys who both like to draw and write comics, but also have a lot to say about the craft and production side of it. They say write for yourself, and I think we're writing for our inner circle of friends who, around here in Minneapolis are pretty much all cartoonists. We all have meetings and stuff every month where we swap trade secrets and craft skills and things like that. It's just sort of natural on our end to just want to offer some advice and thoughts on that front.
CA: The advice in here, is this the way you do things or the way you wish you could do them?
ZC: In a way, it was explaining a little bit about the process in which, at least, my comic came to be. I'm a graphic novel behind Kevin. I did my book very much the way Kevin did Far Arden. Kevin's polished up his style a little bit. The early chapters are my stuff were done very quickly. I wanted to say, I've struggled with perfectionism. One of the things I wanted to do in this case was just sort of say, I need to get off my butt and make a graphic novel. Every cartoonist says, "I want to design these characters and I wanted to design this world and let me map out every plot point from here to eternity." I think it was very helpful for me, and I think for Kevin for Far Arden, to just say, "You know what? Page one, panel one, here we go." In my case, I just dragged up an old character I had sitting around in a drawer somewhere and said, "Here we go. Here's a map of hell, I'm going to follow this as a structure. Let's just hit it instead of plotting it out so meticulously." That was a very satisfying experience for me, and in a way I wanted to share that and show people it's really not that hard.
CA: The next part is, "How to Hand Letter a Comic." I noticed that your personalities come through a lot in the lettering. How important is lettering to you? It's the second part of your guide, so you must put a lot of weight there.
KC: Lettering is a part of the art. Balloons, everything. It's all integrated. I'm sick to death of picking up the standard Big Two comics and just seeing text and lettering that's clearly pasted on as an afterthought.
ZC: "Pasting" is in quotes, too. It's all just floating there on a computer layer. That sort of stuff can work, but hand lettering, I think we both feel, gives so much more personality, it balances out panels a great deal. It's one of those things that has as much personality as your art style. Bad lettering can really kill it.
CA: You said that, when all is said and done, this is going to be $24, which means 12 issues. When Heck and Crater XV wrap up, is that the end of Double Barrel or will it continue in some capacity?
ZC: We are committing to 12. We're assuming that it will continue, because we have further stories to tell and certainly have plans for beyond. The two books do wrap up at the same time, but we would love for this to be an ongoing thing.
KC: Absolutely. There's just so much room for play with the fact that we're editing these and can do anything we want. We'd love to see this go on for a long time.
CA: So, I've been wanting to get to this. I'm confused. On the first page of the intro comic, I am told that you guys are, in fact, the Cannon Brothers, and immediately below that, you say you're not brothers. Are you messing with my head?
ZC: We are not brothers. We are just the way it says in the comic strip. We are not related in any way. It's just a coincidence that we have the same name, but sometimes it's easy to put the Cannon Brothers, the way Kevin did in the title.
KC: There are just too many weird coincidences for us to not use that brand a little bit. We both went to Grinnell College, not at the same time, but both happened to write for the same school paper where we both did cartooning for the first time, both ended up in Minneapolis and have the same last name. We've been pushing the Cannon Brothers mystique for more than a decade now.