Updated: Dec 13, 2019
Cartoonist: Dave Chisholm
Publisher: Scout Comics
WHAT IS IT?
This is the first issue in a 4-issue miniseries. Canopus is so many genres wrapped in one: Thriller. Horror. Science-fiction. Character study. It's all of them and none of them at the same time. But at face value, it's a mystery surrounding our hero's amnesia and identity, as she's trapped marooned alone, in space.
You definitely get an evocation of solitary space thrillers, like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Moon.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Helen Sterling wakes up with no idea where she is or how she got there. Short term memory loss, it seems like.
She might not know a lot of what happened to get her here, but she knows she can’t get back to Earth, can’t even reach it to communicate with her base of operations.
She also knows the name of the star she's orbiting: Canopus.
As Helen searches for the materials necessary to get home, the mystery – and the danger –grows even deeper. And, all the while, brief flashes of fire light up her mind.
But why? Where did her memory go and how can she get it back? Just what the hell is going on?
As a protagonist, Helen isn't necessarily "likable." In fact, she can be a jerk. Then again, under similar circumstances, I probably wouldn't be at my best, either. And rather than being likable, she's interesting. That's the more important part.
Why Helen is interesting is also important. Granted, anyone with amnesia marooned in a strange place is likely to be interesting. But it's funny (and helpful to our ability to suspend our disbelief) that Helen calls out her own amnesia as cliche. She's drawn as haunted and, in fact, seems haunted by flashbacks and memories and even the physical location she's stuck in.
It's interesting going from panels where the art is completely contained within their borders to spreads that break all the rules. And the spreads in Canopus are STUNNING. Dave Chisholm has a knack for making comics, but his spreads are my favorite part of every title he works on. They're surreal, mind-bending, show-stopping examples of how he understands the medium and uses that knowledge to control the flow of his narrative. Canopus is a song, quiet and controlled, then bursting with sound and fury before retreating once again to the subdued voice we started with.
Each spread is juxtaposed against a mirror image(-ish) layout, like bookends to the memory, giving it an artistic beginning and end.
I'm going to talk more about these memories portrayed in spreads because they take up a decent portion of the issue. Within these memories, we see some disturbing images shuffled in with the pleasant panels. It's an accurate, authentic portrayal of memory, and how it's not a clean filing system, but instead a jumble of images and emotions and events that are sometimes out of order. It also goes far to showcase her trauma which seems like it might play a critical role in this story.
The quiet moments I mentioned earlier, like the page below aren't dull but are instead fraught with tension and fear, a string pulled taut under Helen's circumstances. It could be a much darker comic, but I think the white borders brighten it while also making it seem alien and otherworldly.
The thing I love about a talented cartoonist like Chisholm is that he does everything, and he does it well. Yes, some pages can be text-heavy, but as artist and letterer, he makes room to place those balloons properly in a way that's alluring. Another part of this is how seamlessly he immerses the sound effects into the art for a cohesive reading experience.
Helen's navigator constantly ordering her to "proceed to the route" becomes this menacing mantra that builds tension and makes the action sequence all the more suspenseful.
It's a small thing, but a certain character jumping to get everywhere reminds me of doing the same thing in classic video games.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
This first issue is a little bit of a slow burn, they action picking up toward the end of the issue. That being said, it's a 4-issue miniseries – it had some set-up to do, but the story's got to move fast. And, with what I've seen from Chisholm in the past, I trust him to tell it well.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
There is such a thing as a "Dave Chisholm book." You know, when you see his name on the cover, that you're buying a story that's going to be thoughtfully conceived and highly executed.
You're not buying the same saccharine, love letter to the genre draped in nostalgic wrapping paper. Everything Chisholm creates is something new and, as it unfolds in front of you, you'll gasp in awe and think, "This is why I love comics."
From the constantly twisting story to pages that will knock you on your ass, Canopus sets its hooks in you.
Don't be afraid. Let it reel you in.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Instrumental by Dave Chisholm
Maxwell's Demons by Deniz Camp & Vittorio Astone
Limbo by Dan Watters & Caspar Wijngaard
If you like the art:
Zero Jumper by Patrick Mulholland
Moonframe by Nick Bryan & Lucas Peverill
Deep Roots by Dan Watters & Val Rodrigues
ABOUT THE CREATORS
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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