Sometimes a comic book has a profound effect on you that you just can't walk away from. After reading the latest book from local artist Phil Cannon, we have to admit, we're just a tad terrified. Lockjaw
is a simple book that contains a poem to describe the character you're looking at, with brilliant decaying artwork to drive the point home. Locally, you can grab the first issue at
Black Cat Comics, but the book has already started to circulate around the U.S., primarily at MELTDOWN Comics in Los Angeles. Today we have the chance to chat with Cannon again about what he's been up to lately, including his new comic. (All pictures provided courtesy of Phil Cannon.
Gavin: Before we start, how have you been since we last chatted?
Working. I've had some great opportunities come up. I had the chance over the summer to go to California and study TV show development and pitching with Nickelodeon. I also apprenticed with one of my favorite artists, Stephen Silver. He's the guy who designed the characters for Kim Possible
and Danny Phantom
, among others. Both experiences were interesting. I saw my work progress in ways I haven't seen before. Both experiences also helped me to develop a better sense of my own voice.
How are things going for you being a freelance artist? Any recent work we'd recognize?
I wouldn't really call myself freelance, honestly. I'm lucky in that I have the security to really pursue personal projects in ways that I wouldn't be able to otherwise. I do pick up freelance work from time-to-time. I've done everything from album/merch art for bands to political campaign design to corporate logos. I get to pick and choose. All my time right now is devoted to my book.
Getting to the topic, what made you decide you wanted to do a comic book-like project?
The thing that made me decide to do a comic book is actually the work I did in California. I realized that animation isn't really my thing. I had a couple of opportunities to stay in California, but I decided to come back to Utah and work on my own project. A good friend of mine who is an artist that works in the industry encouraged me to create my own IP. He works for a studio, and said that if you have the security to pursue your own IP like Mike Mignola (Hellboy
), Skottie Young (I Hate Fairyland
), Ryan Ottley (Invincible
) and dudes like that, then I should do it. Lockjaw
is a project that has been in the back of mind for a long time. So, I'm going for it.
You told me the concept came from a debate you had with a friend. What was the debate about, and how did that spawn the idea for Lockjaw?
The debate actually occurred well into the project, so it didn't spawn the idea. It was more of a defense of the concept and the execution. Ultimately, the debate came down to whether or not you can tell a story devoid of environment
. "Brains" are obviously a big part of the zombie genre; so is the environment. I want to turn that on its head by creating a book where environment
doesn't play any role other than to create some form of context; you are basically only inhabiting the mind of someone living in the apocalypse. You see how he reacts to his world, but you don't get to see it. My friend argues that telling an interesting story without environment is overly limiting. I'm not sure I disagree with him. I'm releasing the book in serial format, so it's an ongoing process. I'm interested to see how the storytelling evolved over time.
How did you go about creating the poem first?
The voice evolved over time. I've written more than 100 pages. I realized pretty early on that the voice had an unhinged whimsicality to it that I found intriguing. So, I started studying Dr. Seuss a bit. Some followers on Instagram have compared the look of the character to the Grinch. My book isn't like Dr. Seuss, but the format of his books is a huge influence, though there isn't the same kind of structure to my prose. What I loved about Dr. Seuss was how the simple illustrations complemented the text. My goal is to create a structure where the prose is stream-of-conscious and the imagery is, as well... I'm pretty introverted and I'm a very visual thinker. I'm trying to share what that looks like.
You mentioned you were going for the concept of “after” as part of the theme. Explain that a little bit in how you approached it for this body of work.
The "after" is the thing that drives all post-apocalyptic entertainment. There's some kind of understanding that the characters are living in a place that exists after some kind of catastrophe has ended our world as we know it. The characters are then left to rebuild or survive in a new world. They have new lives. I always see these characters as living in some sort of afterlife. Their previous world is dead. Now they're left to pick up the pieces. I think that's why I made the character a zombie. He is literally living in some form of an afterlife. Limbo or Hell? I don't really know.
What was it like for you adding a visual to every stanza and making it both represent what was said, and the book as a whole?
Gary Larson is my favorite artist. I devoured every panel of The Far Side
growing up. I own the amazing encyclopedia that they released containing all of his works. I still read one every day for inspiration. He was able to capture so much with a single panel. There was no build-up. He took the political cartoon and made it weird, unhinged and amazing. The panel and text were the punchlines. The interplay was essential. I read that he would fuss for hours over word order in a cartoon with four words. I've done a lot of posters for concerts, and I wanted to create a book where I could combine my love of cover art, poster design and Gary Larson, all to create a cohesive story where the art isn't literal. Each page has a kind of punchline, I suppose. It's how my mind works. What Stephen Gammell did with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
. A lot of comic book art is too literal for me. I'd argue that this is the genre's most fatal flaw—it seems to be an attempt at combining literature and cinema. When it works, it's beautiful: Mignola, Skottie Young, Ryan Ottley, Jock, Francavilla, Tim Sale, Joelle Jones. I could go on. These are the artists that I look to for inspiration. They're the ones who make the genre sing.
What inspired the stark black-and-white style we see from page to page?
Three things: First, old punk posters—specifically from the time of The Misfits. The posters were all basically just shitty photocopied collages. Nothing but black-and-white and awful composition. But, they somehow worked. That's always fascinated me. The power of simplicity, I guess. Some of my favorite posters are from the punk era. Second, Stephen Gammell and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
. The art from those original books haunts me to this day; he's one of my favorite artists. They were disturbing for me as a child. And that left an impression. I've always wondered what it was about them that terrified me so much. If you go through the images, they are all relatively abstract and don't attempt to portray literal events in the book. In my mind, that's why they were so terrifying. The book was re-released a while back. They replaced Gammell's art because it was so controversial. The new artist went literal—he also happened to do a shit job. The books are now about as disturbing as watching an episode of Care Bears
. I bought some of the new versions and lit them on fire as my own personal form of protest. One of the coolest experiences I've had recently was getting to see some of his originals in person. Guillermo del Toro had some of Gammell's originals from the book in his private collection. I got to see them in person in L.A. when they had an exhibit at the LACMA called "At Home with Monsters." And third, it's a reaction in some ways to the oversaturated nature of the color palettes used in a lot of modern comics.
What was it like getting the book out and having it show up in a few shops across the country?
I got to go visit MELTDOWN Comics in L.A. and see the book on display. MELTDOWN is a cool shop, and it was amazing to see my work there. Black Cat Comics is also carrying it. The fact that Greg would be willing to have it in his shop was validating. That dude knows his comics, and if he can dig what I'm doing, then I must be doing something right.
You told me you had more chapters in store and were working to get them published. What's your plan for the series moving forward?
I have a Patreon account
where I release a downloadable PDF of a new chapter each month to patrons. I want to serialize the story. You're in his mind, so the idea is to take topics and just riff on them while also building a story. Social satire in a way. Political cartoon. Weird thoughts. Ultimately, I've introduced another character. The character is a little girl that he saves and then instructs in the ways of zombie hunting. The struggles of becoming a zombie father begin to infiltrate his thoughts. I think it's kind of an interesting way to play with a storyline that's been done before (Logan
What do you hope people will take away from this series?
I want readers to inhabit the mind of this character. I want to introduce them to the way my mind works. It's really the only way I can think of to share that really. I can try to describe how I think, but I think just creating a project like this is a better way of doing it.
What can we expect from you over the rest of 2017?
I'll be releasing new chapters every month on Patreon. Self-publishing books is a bit pricey, so I'm not sure how many physical copies I'll be able to release this year. I'm planning on submitting the idea to Image, and in my wildest dreams, they pick it up. Ultimately though, my goal is to release three to four physical copies a year once I've been able to establish the product a bit more. I'm sending a bunch of copies out to comic book shops around the country and I'll also be going to cons. I'm planning on being at the Salt Lake Comic Con. I'm excited to see what the overall response is from everyone.