Canopus Volume 1. Creator & Writer: Dave Chisholm, Color Flats: Dustyn Payette, Production: Joel Rodriguez.
Potential fringe spoilers for Canopus. You have been warned.
Fresh off a Best Publication Design Eisner nomination for Chasin’ the Bird: Charlie Parker in California, Dave Chisholm keeps the hits coming with the upcoming release of the trade paperback of Canopus. An expertly blended symphony of comedy, horror, and sci-fi, Canopus is an extremely personal story that capitalizes on the comics form and delivers a heart-felt exploration of trauma. I was speechless following my initial read-through of this book, as “time heals all wounds” took on new meaning through the protagonist’s journey to overcome painful memories and personal failures. This tale from Scout Comics stars Helen, a scientist stranded on a lifeless planet named Canopus, with a robot named Arthur. With vague memories of an extinction-level event occurring on Earth, Helen’s urgent mission to find the materials to fix her ship is hindered by terrifying manifestations of her most traumatic memories that seek her destruction, and are willing to chase her to the core of the planet to achieve it. Little do we know that the ship is merely a stand-in for Helen to piece herself back together (but more on that later).
The title page of Canopus establishes the theme of this book with a singular image. A face on the moon, much akin to Georges Melies’ classic 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, hints at a personal connection to the planet we (and Helen) find ourselves on. Chisholm’s art style focuses a lot on facial expressions, and places a lot of emphasis on emotionality. The character depictions are often accompanied by heavily feathered line work that offers both emotional severity and sci-fi pulp vibes. This dynamic combo is reminiscent of an age when pulp fictions peeked out of the back pockets of every kid horse-playing in the city streets. Very much an homage to the ancestor of the comics medium, Canopus riffs on the fast-paced adventure aspects of pulp fictions by merging them with the introspection of more modern works. The colors in this book only add to this pulpy vibe, with subdued purples and electric blues working together to create an exotic sci-fi setting with intriguing bits of technology (such as a killer wrist-mounted laser sword). A key aspect of the setting is its lack of detail. Void of meticulous design, the background is exactly that: a background. The true detail lay in the characters, fortifying the character-centric point of Canopus. Even though these sci-fi elements are present, Helen does not fight the typical alien threat. Rather, she combats the horror of her own fears.
Chisholm’s panel work carries much of the heavy lifting in terms of representing Helen’s memories and the effect they have on her. A good portion of Canopus follows a traditional three tier approach, often having one or three panels in any given tier that establish a solid rhythm that Chisholm puts to good use for comedy and character emotion. The panel transitions (typically moment-to-moment) that occur in the three-paneled tiers lend importance to small instances of time that embellish the more comedic moments, and exemplify the ol’ “comedy comes in threes” wisdom. Minute movements are important in these transitions as well, serving the overall personal nature of the story as instances of terror (among many other emotions) are magnified. Thought processes are conveyed in these little moments, connecting Helen’s experiences with the reader’s. Disruptions also play a huge role in Chisholm’s storytelling. By disruptions, I mean panels that interrupt the aforementioned three-tiered format.
The three-tiered structure creates a fixed normality both in terms of pacing and Helen’s perception of reality. This “normal” is disrupted at various points throughout the story in both small and big ways, each carrying its own impact for the character. A singular panel depicting flames accompanies Helen’s every effort to remember why she is on Canopus, displaying flashes of memory that break through her amnesia and prompt her urgency. The bigger disruptions come with Helen’s discovery of various artifacts from her life on Earth. These moments bring splash pages where jumbled panels pour from the artifact and lead the reader through Helen’s traumatic memories as she herself remembers them. The effect of this is a gut punch to the reader as the established normalcy is shattered and Helen is forced to relive her worst experiences.
Chisholm crafts an experience like no other as he demonstrates a professional knowledge of the comics form while delivering a story facing one’s pain and abandonment. There’s so much more I could say about Canopus but to do so would rob you of the experience itself. I am purposefully vague about the obstacles Helen faces as their impact on her should be felt first-hand. Her memories are her own until you, the reader, decide you want to accompany her on this journey. I surely hope you decide to accompany her.
Scheduled for a September 21st release, you can preorder this book from Amazon or request it at your LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP!!!
If you get a hankering for more Dave Chisholm, check out Instrumental, Chasin’ the Bird: Charlie Parker in California (as well as POP's Review), and Let’s Go to Utah! directly on his personal website!
For some more insight behind Canopus, read POP’s Comics Creator Interview with Dave Chisholm.