August 7, 2020

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"This World Can Be Whatever I Want It To Be. It Doesn't Have To Be The End." A Series Review of Canopus


Canopus
by Dave Chisholm
published by Scout Comics

Sometimes a story exists for more than its space occupied. Sometimes a story captivates an audience in a way more than its individual parts could suggest. Sometimes a story gravitates toward something so much more than the fiction it is that it serves purpose to the catalyst of a perspective reborn. Canopus by Dave Chisholm is one such story.

Set in the far reaches of outer space, on a planet unknown, we spend four issues with Helen, our main character, as she wakes up having no recollection of the who, the why, or the where that make up her situation as reader settles in and she explores her surroundings. Left with only her spaceship, the onboard A.I., and the mysterious Arthur creature who insists on calling her “mom”, Helen has a very specific purpose from the start of our story: to locate some Silicone and Titanium so she could print the parts necessary for repair allowing her ship to take flight and return her to the home of which she is unsure. At first this story is quite simple; a woman lost in space with purpose only to return home. As the story unfolds, just as does life, its purpose of existence is revealed; the story itself is given life and transcends all expectations for what previously had.


To be fair, I took notice of Canopus late. A glowing review of Chisholm’s upcoming Z2 Comics Graphic Novel, Chasin’ the Bird, brought my attention to him specifically and it was then that I took notice of his immediate and current title with Scout Comics: Canopus. It was about to reach the third issue of a four-run miniseries and it had a wave of comic-buzz behind it causing my leap of faith. I took a chance; I requested the first two issues at my shop, and at that moment, as soon as those were read, I was instantly taken back by the depth of the storytelling I was experiencing. This was more than a story about Helen and her venture back home. This was a deliberate and whimsical exploration of identity and the human interaction with self and forgiveness. It was a story giving a face to pain, to grief, to anguish, and to all the encapsulating memories of old driving our desire to clench desperately to the justice we feel deserved on our own terms. Canopus folds this concept upon itself, and by the end of the series we are left with nothing more than a breath of fresh air in the company of transcendent peace made by nothing more than the space, the growth, and the existence of life itself.

As a strong contender for miniseries of the year, I see Canopus as the book to beat on any category and across all genres. Chisholm, with only a few comic book pieces to include on a resume, would largely be considered as debuting with this book, though it would be difficult to assume such low stature with work so magnificently stellar as this has. Here he uses the medium to explore the comic book format from a nontraditional angle of perception without compromising aesthetic or appeal; actually, it lifts the story to heights unobtainable without such imaginative courage. Panel work is treated as a character itself, and the dialogue so believable it becomes the voice in your head. There isn’t a fissure in lost space within the story as it paints the picture for you to read. Helen’s rigid design and hard, defined eyes give an immediate foundation of mistrust as you walk this path in her shoes. Arthur’s soft, angle-less shape along with the persistently innocent nature of his presence provides a supernatural blanket of warmth that a story told in space would desperately need if the intent to have a teachable moment about forgiveness is had. Everything about this story is a visual epic far exceeding its four issues. The conversation of pain, forgiveness, or anger, they will all far exceed the pages of which it is told.
The hyper-ambitious work ethic seen here as Chisholm provides the story, the art, the colors, AND the lettering is hard to find in completed stories of this format done with such consolidated efforts. Only Lemire and Kindt and the like can put together something so organic and so intimately creative as Chisholm does here. Quite the company to be in, I might say. Adding to all of this, Dustin Payette’s skill to color flats further advance the appeal as we are gifted with one of the most overall ambitious short stories of science-fiction in the 21st century. This isn’t one of those throw-together-and-distribute comic books that you sometimes may hear about. There is some depth to the pages. More than the average book on the shelf. It is, rather, a piece of literature with an obvious purpose, a determined voice, one with much life left to give, and one with a beating heart worn on its sleeve.

Journeying through the pages with Helen and Arthur as she faces memory after memory I slowly, without fully realizing, came to grips with fact that I was becoming Helen. I became the character in the story. The pain and the hurt from a past gone wrong; all the faces who caused those memories-turned-monsters were materializing in front of me, being represented as the transparency of Helen’s past were revealed in memory form. What became to be known as a grudge incarnate was to be followed as something less physical while also more supernatural. To experience the ability to wrestle with the past, giving physical form to an emotion buried in subconscious, reveals pathways to places of existential peace otherwise left unknown.

A good story becomes a great one when a conversation with a friend becomes a seed that blossoms into a revelation leading to the reminder of a book once read. That is what happened as I discussed forgiveness on a general platform the other day and my thoughts took me back to Canopus. I relived those moments spent with Helen; that fictional story became so real within me that I could not help but see my own faults surrounding my preconceived identity I placed upon my own forgiveness to others. Pain became memory. Memory became monster. Monster became reason to run. Running created a trap. A trap that became something to never escape from. That pain is real, but that trap is not. This story helps direct consciousness toward that realization and paints a vivid purpose for what hope and forgiveness should feel like. If you take a chance on one piece of fiction this year make it this one. I promise that you will not regret it, and it will challenge your perspective. It will expand your existence. It will make you want to truly be alive. Find the seed within you and take chance as your mind roots itself. You may be surprised at what you are capable of once you adjust your existential purpose and take blossom. Live. 

This series review materialized into a very intimate journey for me, and I can tell that, for Dave Chisholm, the same could also be true for him in regards to writing Canopus. So, cheers to that, Dave.

All four issues of Canopus (along with mugs, posters, face masks, and shirts of all sizes if that’s more your thing) are available now from the Scout Comics web store or at your local comic book retailer.