Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cream City Conversations with Kevin Cannon

Next up is a guy whose hands I'm glad I didn't break and whose artwork I've been lucky enough to publish (with Bud Burgy) in Muscles & Fights. I could go on about how amazing Kevin's hand lettering is or how rich his background art is. Instead, I think I'll let you read Kevin in his own words.

CCC: For those who don't know, Name and location?

Kevin Cannon, Minneapolis, MN

CCC: How did you become interested in creating comics?

I used to copy the dailies as a kid and, then, produced my own TMNT comics in middle school. I'm not sure where the interest came from ... I guess it always existed. My uncle is an artist so maybe it's in the genes.

CCC: What was your first published work? Did you self-publish that work?

I wrote and drew five comic strips for my college paper, the Grinnell Scarlet and Black. In 2002, using college funds, I published an 80-page collection of one of those strips, Johnny Cavalier.

CCC: If you self-publish, what do you gain from that experience?

Printing Johnny Cavalier was eye-opening, in that it threw me head first into the challenges of off-set printing and book design. Maybe the best thing I learned was that there are experts out there and it pays to learn from their expertise. For instance, I worked closely with Jim Powers [Grinnell's art director] and he gave me great tips about scanning, resolution and Photoshop. I also worked one on one with a local off-set printer and he taught me all about paper grades, cover stock, binding styles ... things I hadn't known I should even be thinking about.

CCC: If you've been published by other publishers, compare the experience to self-publishing.

Right now my company, Big Time Attic, which I co-own with Zander Cannon, is publishing a graphic novel with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The process is more stressful than self-publishing in that everything has to be perfect and on time. All of the art and text are being vetted by outside experts and they have an entire production staff making sure that all of our deliveries are spot-on.

Of course, that stress dissolves when you realize that this whole team out there in New York is working its collective ass off tomake you look good. Also, we have the pleasure of working with an amazing editor, Howard Zimmerman, who's overseeing every step of the process and keeping us in line. Unlike self-publishing, where I can shut out the world and get my project done in solitude, publishing through FSG means weekly or even daily emails with our editor, publisher or production team.

CCC: Give us a list of your published works (self-published or otherwise)?

*Johnny Cavalier (2002)
*Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards (2005)
*Project: Romantic (2006)
*Far Arden (online) (2008)

CCC: Describe the art scene where you live. If you've lived elsewhere and were producing art there, compare those scenes.

Minneapolis has a thriving, energetic art scene. But I often feel like everyone groups themselves into cliques, like in high school. To crudely generalize, you've got the Cartoonist Conspiracy, which is like the "drama club" -- a lot of very enthusiastic artists at all skill levels who all feel that production of comics goes hand in hand with the social aspect.

I think the Conspiracy has become the face of Minneapolis comics simply because they're out there putting on shows, blogging, doing magazine interviews and TV appearances.

Minneapolis has its handful of famous creators like Sam Hiti, Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly who are able to make a living at their comics. Let's call them the "lettermen" in this analogy. They steer clear of most Conspiracy functions, but you'll see them at all the local comics shows.

There's also a huge group of comics students at MCAD ("freshmen")... comics fans who meet to talk about comics ("AV club").

Nick Post and the MNCBA who organize FallCon and MicroCon ("student government"?)... My point is that there's a huge comics community in the Twin Cities, but it exists in self-aggregating pockets and these pockets rarely mingle except at a Conspiracy gallery show or an MNCBA convention. Uh... I've also lived in New York and our scene is better than theirs.

*Note: I am getting sick of reading... and hearing about... and talking about how great the Twin Cities art scene is. Aren't you? I'm half joking but, if you're reading this news for the n-teenth time, it should spur you to want a thriving scene in your city. Of course, the great Kevin McCarthy and I will be rectifying the situation in Cream City soon enough.

CCC: Do you belong to any online or 'real world' art groups? If so, list them and describe what that/those group/s benefit you.

I'm a card-carrying member of the International Cartoonist Conspiracy. We meet once a month to draw jam comics and we're almost always planning something in the public eye, like the City Pages Comix Issue, the Schmapples Tribute and the upcoming LutefiskSushi Volume C show at Altered Esthetics.

*Note: Yeah, that's right. Just keep bragging, Cannon. Why I oughta...

CCC: What is your ultimate or immediate goal in creating comics? Are there other mediums you enjoy working in? If so, what? How do you display this other work?

My immediate goal is to keep Big Time Attic successful. Ultimately, Zander and I would like to spend our days only working on our own books and properties. In the meantime, though, we have to take on a few corporate art projects here and there to remain in the black.

That's not such a bad thing, though. These non-comics jobs have included painting backgrounds for animated TV shows, photo touch-up for Target's NASCAR team and game concepting for Cartoon Network. My personal goal outside of work is to produce a library of pulp fiction graphic novels. If I can make money at that, fine. But I'm more interested in creating the books and getting them in front of an audience.

*Note: If you're smart, you'll be in line ahead of me when all those beautiful books are released.

CCC: What do you think is lacking from the underground art scene? If you had the power, what would you do to address that void?

Money. If I had gobs of money I'd invest in cartoonists the way Xeric does, but on a local level.

CCC: Do you blog? MySpace? ComicSpace? If so, what kinds of things do you communicate through it and what is your ultimate goal in using that site?

I'm on the Facebook, but not for comics reasons. Zander and I blog on Our main goal is to have a spot on the web where people can find useful tips and tricks about cartooning. There are some comics and gags on there too. But I think our most rewarding posts disseminate information like "Here is a brush and here is how you use it." We also use the BTA blog as a vehicle to announce upcoming events and get people's opinions about stuff.

CCC: Do you read any other creators' blogs? If so, what do you think of them?

I check and often to keep my pulse on what's happening in comics. And, then, every so often I'll check in to local creators' blogs... like Ryan Kelly, Brittney Sabo, and Tim Sievert. However, reading creators' blogs gets me down a lot of the time. Everytime I look at Ryan Kelly's blog I think "Goddamn it, how does he make comics AND make those gorgeous paintings?"

*Note: I can teach you how to break his hands without leaving marks, Kevin. Tim is a brilliant artist, though. Look out for his book from Top Shelf this year.

CCC: What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?

Mostly historical non-fiction. But every so often I like to throw in a classic that I either missed or didn't understand in high school. I just finished Macbeth, I'm working on Schulz and after that I'll try to tackle some Jack London.

CCC: What kinds of standards and/or expectations do you place on a comics purchase?

The only expectation I have about comics is that they'll be expensive. I grew up only buying comics that were in the cheap bin at Half Price Books, so it feels strange to pay full price for a book. When I do go to Big Brain I like buying from smaller publishers or self-published work.

*Note: See how great this guy is? And his work is better than his answers.

CCC: What is your favorite indie publisher?

G.T. Labs. Jim Ottaviani is the writer/publisher of this very niche-focused company (science graphic novels). He has the curiosity of a child, the mind of a scientist, and the body of an olympic runner.

CCC: What is it about that publisher you find unique?

It's clear that Jim gets excited telling stories about science and has taken difficult steps to be able to share those stories with the world. I wish I had read his books in high school!

CCC: What are some the local venues for showing your work? Is/are that/those venue/s open to artists from other communities showing there?

It seems like there's always a gallery show around the corner that you can put your work in. For example, there are some pretty cool guys named Amado and Bud who just hung a comics show in Diamond's Coffee Shoppe, featuring art from their second "Muscles and Fights" anthology.

*Note: Ah, shucks. The check's in the mail, Kevin.

CCC: Who is your favorite creator/writer/illustrator?

Julie Doucet

CCC: Is there an artist working in another medium you follow?

Eric Rohmer

CCC: Give us a short list of indie creators you believe are sort of shaping the future of comics (indie and/or mainstream)?

I think Austin English and Jeffry Brown are the future of comics. Their styles and stories epitomize what comics should be: a medium that the everyman can not only consume but create. They are to modern comics what Die Brücke was to printmaking a hundred years ago.

CCC: If you could change one thing about the modern comics 'industry' what would it be?

People's tastes. Who the hell reads superhero comics? I don't know a single person who waits for the next X-Men to come out.

*Note: I swear... Kevin is the person responsible for those words. I did not, could not and would not plug in a bunch of my own answers and attach Kevin's name to them. I will say this, though. The problem I have with X-Men and other super hero books isn't people reading those books. My problem with those books is the same people keep reading them and want those books to grow up with them. Will, Stan, Jack and the rest of the old greats created those books perfectly for a particular audience. They should have been left in their original forms so people could enjoy them as they were. The Spirit is an example of a title allowed to live perfectly ever-after. I know what I did when super heroes weren't doing it for me anymore... check my publishers links.

CCC: Give a shout out to any site and/or underground comic you think people ought to be checking into. is Zak Sally's publishing company. He represents amazing talent... guys who straddle that often gray and blurry art-meets-comics divide.

CCC: Share a bit of advice for other creators.

Carve out an hour and just make something.

Reads like sound advice to me.

Thanks, Kevin!