Kevin Cannon Author Interview
Kevin Cannon is the March Author in the Spotlight here at BookSnob. Both Kevin and I had a crazy, busy month of March, so I've extended his feature a bit to make sure you all could read this interview and have more time to get to know Kevin. In this interview, Kevin talks about his writing process, his favorite cartoonists and he includes links and websites for further investigation. Read on.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, and learned how to draw cartoon characters by copying the art in the Star Tribune comics section. In college I drew a strip for the school paper and only after a year or two of that did I think that this might be a realistic career move. Since then I've made a living drawing educational comics and doing illustrations for everything from newspapers to movie studios. Mostly I like drawing comics because I can set my own hours and can listen to hockey games while I work.
Why did you decide to write Crater XV?
After my first graphic novel Far Arden came out in 2009 I was motivated to create a sequel, so I tried to think about how best to follow up that book. A lot of readers felt unsettled by the tragic ending of the first book (sorry, spoiler alert) and so I thought it would be a good idea to have the sequel deal with the main character's sudden loss. So when Crater XV opens, we find Army Shanks so consumed with grief that he decides to travel to the most remote place on earth, and that sparks a sequence of events that finds him getting tangled up in a secret race to get a Canadian rocket to the moon. The whole space race plot was inspired by my work on an educational graphic novel called "T-Minus: The Race to the Moon" which chronicled the actual space race between the US and the Soviets. Anyone who's familiar with that story will see that I've dropped a lot of easter eggs into Crater XV -- fun little references to the real moon race.
Can you share with us your writing and drawing process while you created Crater XV?
Crater XV is nearly 500 pages long, so putting the book together was a huge undertaking. I spent over a year just thinking about the story and writing down little scene or plot ideas in a notebook and then eventually put these "anchors" on scraps of paper and arranged them on my bed and tried to put them in some kind of order. The book has many subplots and side character arcs, so the toughest part of the writing process was just making sense of all these narrative strings. What helped was dividing the book into sixteen chapters and then thinking about each chapter live a TV
show: each chapter has its own focus, its own beginning, middle, and end, and as it's basically a pulp adventure story I always try to end each chapter with a cliffhanger.
Eventually I had rough plot outlines for each chapter, and for the better part of a month I sat down every night and wrote the final script for one chapter per night until the whole book was done. It was good to concentrate the writing like that so that my brain could connect or tie up any loose strings in the overall story. Then I spent a good deal of time editing the script, adding jokes, simplifying lines, cutting out the fat, etc.
After that, the drawing was the easy part. With my script in hand I knocked out an average of one chapter per month until the whole thing was done, and then sent it to my publisher for their notes. In all, the process took close to three years.
Another challenge is that most graphic novel advances at this level are only a few hundred dollars (if that) so I was basically creating this book on spec, which meant doing the whole thing over nights and weekends. I think that actually worked in my favor, because I really had to love every page of this mammoth story in order to justify working on it in my free time.
How did you go about becoming a syndicated comic artist or cartoonist?
Before publishing Far Arden I started a cartooning studio with a guy named Zander Cannon (no relation) who was already an established cartoonist, and he was great about taking me to comic conventions and introducing me to various publishers. At one of these conventions I met the guys behind indie comics publishing powerhouse Top Shelf Productions, and from then on always wanted to have a book published with them because they really focused on putting out fun, thoughtful graphic novels, and weren't afraid to publish an inexperienced writer like myself. So I sent them my first book Far Arden and -- after a few exchanges and some suggestions on their part -- I polished up the book and they agreed to publish it.
Can you tell us about some of your other comics and the maps you draw?
Over the past decade Zander and I have illustrated several educational comics, on subjects like evolution, genetics, and paleontology. Right now we're trying something new by doing both the writing and drawing of an introduction to Western Philosophy -- don't worry, it's going to be heavily vetted by an actual philosophy professor. That book should be coming out next year. In my spare time I love drawing cartoon maps, and I've recently become a kind of resident cartographer for the history magazine The Appendix. For each Appendix map I take an explorer and map out one of their adventures. So far I've illustrated Peter Freuchen's 1912 trek across northern Greenland, Gertrude Bell's 1905 adventure into the Hauran desert region of southern Syria, and I just finished drawing a map of Hiram Bingham's 1911 discovery of Machu Picchu.
I always have new ideas for graphic novels, but they take such a huge amount of time and energy that I don't have any plans right now to do another one. Instead I'm more focused on doing smaller projects, especially The Appendix maps. When you're working for free (or for next to free) you've really got to do what moves you, what excites you, and right now what excites me is cartoon cartography. However, if someone wants to give me a 5- or 6-figure advance on a new book, I'll happily talk with you!
Do you like to read? What authors or books influence you?
I've always loved to read, and try to read for pleasure every day. I grew up reading fiction but lately have moved more into nonfiction. I just finished a great book on the history of hockey from Canada's perspective, called "Hockey: A People's History" by Michael McKinley, and a few nights ago I started reading Livy's "The History of Early Rome," which sounds dry but reads like an adventure novel.
Who are your favorite cartoonists? (websites, please)
There are so many great cartoonists out there working today -- many more, it seems, than when I entered the field over a decade ago. I've always been a big fan of Tim Sievert, whose "That Salty Air" is really a wonderful meditation on loss. I've also really enjoyed Noah van Sciver's alternative comics work. His series "Blammo" is a great throw-back to the underground comics of the last century. Stylistically I've always loved the work of Britt Sabo, who is a fantastic illustrator as well as cartoonist. I've known her forever and and it's been great to watch her style improve and grow because you always think, "she couldn't possibly get better than this" and then she does.
What is your favorite graphic novel??
Zander Cannons' recent book "Heck" is one of the best graphic novels I've ever read. Seriously, this thing is going to sweep all of the industry awards this summer, just watch.
Tell us in one sentence why we should read Crater XV?
Anyone who thinks that Arctic Canada is just a wasteland of ice and rock should read Crater XV to see what kinds of hijinks really go on up there.
If you would like to win a copy of Kevin's book, Crater XV please enter here: Crater XV Giveaway