Cartoonist: Dave Chisholm
Publisher: Scout Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A highly philosophical science fiction space adventure about memory, agency, philosophy, and trauma.
Think Interstellar (2014) meets Moon (2009).
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
When astronaut and physicist Helen Sterling wakes up with amnesia on a planet three hundred light-years from Earth, she must piece together her memories and attempt to complete her mission, even as it remains a mystery to her. With her ship in disrepair, Helen and her robot companion Arthur must find the materials to get back home.
As they travel, relics from Helen's past are formed in front of her and more of the mystery of how she got there and what happened to her memory is unlocked. But will she be ready to accept the truth of her condition, and will she be able to complete her mission in time?
Chisholm presents an ambitious and sweeping story that covers both an intensely personal and epically grand scale. Managing to convincingly portray both the journey of a motivated individual and what is essentially a creation myth simultaneously is noteworthy in and of itself.
It's clear that this is a singular vision of an auteur with a lot to say both about the chosen subject matter and the craft of creating comics as a whole. Though that can certainly be a loaded term (both Alfred Hitchcock and Tommy Wiseau are auteurs), it provides a unique and authentic reading experience.
Though there are a limited number of characters for Helen to interact with, being tethered to her point of view never gets tedious and her journey never becomes boring. There's always something going on and Helen's constant presence doesn't slow that pace as it might in a more conventional story.
The art itself is expressive and contains a staggering amount of detail that could be pretty easily glanced over. Real work and love went into making the comic, but that never spills into the feeling that the artist is being ostentatious or trying to overdo it.
If one thing does truly sell the urgency of the plot and the epic scope of the story, it's the striking images and intense art style employed on every page of Canopus's four issues.
The flat, pastel colors are evocative of the Dr. Manhattan chapters in Watchmen and impart the same feeling of vastness and loneliness central to the story's conceit.
The twin themes of trauma and rebirth are consistently planted throughout the series and pay off by the end in a spectacularly satisfying way. Your mileage may vary on certain aspects of the story and presentation, but it's hard not to walk away without being impacted by the simplicity and beauty of Canopus's ending.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
Ambition is a double-edged sword, and as grand as the scope of the story was, there was quite a bit of the minute-to-minute moments that fell flat. The biggest offenders are the huge, four-page double-spreads that mark Helen's memories returning; it's impressive in theory, but in practice grinds the pacing to a halt and can quickly become tedious to read.
Amnesia as a plot device is tired and isn't redeemed by pointing out that fact in the text. To the story's credit, amnesia is a central part of the comic and deeply impacts the plot and themes, but that isn't going to stop anyone from rolling their eyes and putting the book down at the outset if they feel strongly about it.
The art, though expressive, was often incongruous with what was happening in the scene. I honestly wasn't sure if I was supposed to take certain things seriously because of the ghoulish faces being made that could easily be mistaken for a dark comedic tone.
Some of the dialogue, likewise, just doesn't work. Arthur, for example, often attempts to crack jokes and keep things lighthearted, but it mostly just undercuts the tone and makes his eventual revelation in the plot seem less believable (for reasons that are far too spoilery to get into).
Helen is a mixed bag of a protagonist which I'll try to condense into a single example: Though she is, in her memories and through her position, presented as a genius, the plot only works because she repeatedly makes obviously stupid decisions that make it hard to take her seriously.
There's some arguably hamfisted imagery and rushed sequences that distract from the otherwise well-thought-out themes of the story. It's easy to get distracted from what the book is trying to say with the overt way it attempts to say it.
At best, the lettering gets the job done, but frequently (and especially during those aforementioned memory sequences) it fails to properly guide the reader through the panels which makes it far too easy to get lost on the page.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
I probably come across as fairly harsh on this comic, but I actually rather enjoy it. There may be a lot to take a critical eye to, but it's still a well-realized sci-fi epic with some strikingly beautiful pages and a ton of big ideas. Anyone that likes the genre or is a fan of philosophical storytelling will find something to enjoy here.
Canopus isn't perfect, but it has something to say and it isn't embarrassed to try something different. All things considered, I'd rather read something that has flaws and takes a risk than a safe, inoffensive book with no soul any day.
WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Chasin' the Bird by Dave Chisholm
Coffinbound by Dan Watters & Dani
Strayed by Carlos Giffani & Juan Doe
If you like the art:
ABOUT THE CREATOR:
Dave Chisholm – Cartoonist
Multitalented: Wrote, illustrated, and lettered this entire comic
Music Lover: Has a doctorate in jazz trumpet
Award Winner: His music has received many awards and accolades, and I have a feeling his comics will, too
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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