CANKOR: Matthew Allison's Bizarre Trip Through Consciousness

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
This book is a trip. I don’t think there’s any other way to put it other than that. Matthew Allison has been doing the Cankor character for some time now; mostly featured in self-published comics, the metaphysical title character exists in a vast universe busy being.. well, a trip. This new graphic novel collects a previously self-published story told in four sequential magazines by Matt in 2016 and can finally be picked up as a collected read thanks to AdHouse Books in last March of this year. Cankor is a literal "must-read" of the year. Let this recommend come with slight caution being that I wouldn't consider it for younger readers due to all sorts of unfiltered imagery of body horror and word choices that would otherwise cause some to question your particular judgement. That said, I loved it.

Upon my own reading of the book I cannot say I knew what I was about to experience or where I was about to go, but what I can say is once in I wasn’t sure I was capable of leaving. I was trapped; trapped in the spacial confines where my only chance of remembering was with my forgetting as I navigated the surroundings in a place where I once was, just beyond my own reach of recognition. This newly constructed space attributed by the imaginative mind of Matt strangely becomes the only reason for being anywhere at all. Truly a visual experience of its own, clearly not one to be passed by.

Reading Cankor reminded me of prior mindfucks, ones of film that I absolutely adore. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, and Ryan Reynolds’ The Nines are all on a short list of stories created with purpose none other than to mess with the mind. Those stories are examples of ones that I cannot seem to get enough. Caught in the middle of the story I experience within these stories I find certain enjoyment in following the characters in their respective, and rather messed up, journey’s again and again. Achieving such similar state of existence with a comic book is a level of storytelling that is not explored often enough. Give me more stories that rely heavily on the obscure and strange. Show me a world that takes life and turns it sideways. Bring me inside your head and when I come out I’ll tell everyone who passed on the story that they were wrong, missing out on something truly unique and moving.

In Cankor, Matt tells a very personal story, one that borrows conventional wisdoms pulled from past superhero tropes and repurposes them in this often tragic tale of human consciousness. The story begins as we follow a recluse. The recluse finds momentary reason, and courage to venture out and mingle at a rock show. This unlikely decision to explore space outside the walls of his apartment brings him into literal uncharted territory, only to be welcomed by violence and mayhem. A rather pathetic and as-to-be-expected cry for help soon follows upon his arrival and the scene transitions focus. Attention is immediately shifted to something that lifts our spacial existence beyond any preconceived supernatural understanding of things. Something named Cankor.

At this point of reading I began asking myself very specific questions. Who is this recluse and in what capacity does Cankor serve him? At that exact moment, when these questions began to surface, we are formally introduced to the title character. He is the supposed, albeit unlikely, savior for the poor recluse on the prowl as he lay on the floor, leaking from violence, surrounded by routine rockers, and underneath the towering Cankor. Legs spread and arms folded we begin initial transcendence.

Fading from one consciousness to another throughout the book, Matt does an excellent job illustrating two entirely different universes. One meant for the extreme and intricate, but gruesomely strange being, and yet another for the dull and lifeless creature who cannot seem to motivate self to do much of anything. The recluse, who seems to unknowingly rely on Cankor as his guiding soul, weaves through one transient thought after another through endless threads of self-loathing, and decisions better left on the other side of yesterday. Eventually, as pages keep turning, things become apparent that the world of the supernatural, the one of the body horror, is the alpha to the omega existence of the recluse. One does not exist in spite of, or instead of the other; rather, they depend on each other so that the one has purpose giving the other formative meaning to belong.

Drifting back and forth between consciousness, one glaring difference between them is that one is entirely spent in all shades of gray while the other is painted with flat and dull purples, blues, and grays. The flat consciousness, while anything but two-dimensional, is elaborately explored with several opportunities to get lost in the intricate delicacies of the art. I caught myself on more than a few occasions getting lost in a rather embarrassing staring contest, unknowingly, with the twisted line work of the pages waiting for something to be caught looking back at me blinking first. During these accidental one-manned games of glare, hidden messages, objects, or phrases would jump out at me. I’d be lying to you if I told you I didn’t say “damn you, Matt” out loud at least once during it all. Reading this book has so many variations where your thoughts could wander that it’s nearly criminal how intentional the approach seems. The detail, the structure, and Matt’s imaginative perspective are simply one-of-a-kind when things circle back and, by the final pages, the tone of the story gives itself such a specific and obvious message that it made my stomach drop.

Cankor is a graphic miniature of a bit more than 100 pages that will absolutely mandate multiple reads, all of which you could enjoy on many different levels. Read it slow for the story. Read it again to be uplifted, all while the unique and strange message is found in the end after all the twisted pipes and dripping flesh are permanently branded in your mind. Read it fast for the art, then read it backwards, but slowly, for the art again or for the randomly inserted bonus features. Some of my favorite moments of the book include those breaks from story as the title character is featured in full page advertisements and hilarious standalone strips. There really is no wrong way to read this book; as you go back to it again and again you will undoubtedly find a new detail, an alternate angle, or some new reason to appreciate the infinitely descriptive delicacies laid out gruesomely on the pages of this book. Come for the graphic body horror and stay for the intimacy of self-reflective purpose. If this is the way in which the comic medium is reimagined then I predict a rapid uptick in attentive readership. We are long overdue for a moment of reformatting; a hard reset of the comic book industry. Cankor could (or, should!) become that book where the illustrators and storytellers of tomorrow refer back to the pioneer in graphic storytelling of the twenty-first century with Matthew Allison and his strangely unique superhero (if that is what you would call it), Cankor.

Available now on the publisher's website, you can order your own copy from AdHouse Books, here.

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created, written & illustrated by Matthew Allison
published by AdHouse Books (March 2020)