by Kevin Cannon
A review by John Eisler
An adventure story a la Tintin meets 21st-century indie comics in Kevin Cannon's debut graphic novel, Far Arden. The book details the quest of an arctic sailor named Army Shanks who, as he tells his young orphan friend at the end of Chapter I, is "going to avenge your father's death, find the Areopagitica, save Hafley, possibly rekindle a rocky love affair with Fortuna (but probably not)... and fulfill my promise to find Far Arden and meet up with my friend and mentor, Simon Arctavius." With a ship named after Milton's famed anti-censorship essay, another named the Melville, and through-lines about global warming and DNA that keep popping up, the book offers more to chew on than just an Indiana Jones exploit set on arctic waters. And while the story is occasionally bumpy, especially at the beginning, even the plot contrivances seem enjoyed by the novel's dramatis personae, as if they know they're in a farce; if the characters occasionally speak in exposition, their journey to the fabled Far Arden nonetheless becomes moving by the story's tragic end. Such success is largely due to Cannon's beautifully paced, exuberant art, which blends energetic sketchbook passion with measured, concept-driven flair; a particularly nice touch is his graphic use of action verbs as sound effects, so rather than "pow!" and "bam!" we see "tear open!" and "handshake!!" and "face punch!!!" (a strategy Lynn Johnston deployed to great effect in her domestic strip For Better or For Worse, but which here lends a whimsical touch to the otherwise earnest action sequences). Cannon has illustrated other graphic novels, but it's apparent that Far Arden has taught him how to write his own; it'll be exciting to see what he does next.
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