Matthew Allison Interview

Recently we sat down with Matthew Allison, creator of Cankor, and discussed a few things involving his new AdHouse Books publication, and what exactly the comic book industry is going to do to survive the current sideways state that it seems to be these days. It was with great pleasure to have gotten to know Matt through the course of this conversation and we at Panel Patter are now lifelong fans of his work.

Matthew's bio: "My parents were bats. My wife, an angel. Cankor is... multi-dimensional, physically unfit, humored, flawed, searching, manipulated and manipulative, unfinished, touched and touching, obsessive, a circular reference, struggle averse.
    changing - changed - changing
As for me..."

Well, I guess that's where we come in.

Here is our conversation, and come back tomorrow for a review of Cankor, released earlier this year from AdHouse.

Sean Cohea:    Thanks for setting aside some time for this, Matt. I really appreciate it. So, I just read your new graphic novel, Cankor, and it got me thinking... how did the title character come to be who he is? Was it a slow burn or did the character have a definitive outline from the moment you thought it up?

Matthew Allison:    First off, thank you for inviting me to answer some questions for you. In terms of the creation of the Cankor character it began with his face, which is seen on the splash page that starts off the first story I drew with him in it. The only thing I knew going in was that he was going to be a wreck, both physically and mentally so I rendered his face as a mass of cuts, bruises and bumps. I had just quit drinking at the time while working in an environment that was crushing me and that's how I felt internally. My life was a bit of a mess at that time so Cankor became a way for me to work out some of that inner strife as I tried to get myself together. In that early story, Cankor quickly puts a mask on to cover up the damage he'd done to himself over the years - the symbolism isn't super deep there. I'd been covering up a lot of emotional junk that suddenly came to the surface after getting sober so it was an easy way of illustrating that.

Sean:    That is quite the origin story! Having such an intimate and personal connection like that to a character you've created does it make it easier or harder to reach back for any necessary inspiration to keep the story moving forward?

Matthew:    It makes recognizing and embellishing subtext and symbolism a little easier in that I can figure out characters' deeper motivations by applying my real life experiences to theirs.

Sean:    This new release of Cankor from AdHouse Books is the collection of self-published work on the title that you did about five years ago, correct? Did you create any new content for it, or was the publication merely meant as a catalyst for new readership?

Matthew:    There were spots in the original story that I felt could use some more narrative detail so I drew some new sequences that are peppered throughout the main story. I also did a new short story as well as some additional spot illustrations.

Sean:    Have you ever considered giving this character a more permanent publishing home with some sort of ongoing new content, or are you perfectly ok with where it’s at right now? I realize this isn’t exactly a story meant for all ages, but I’d like to think there’s a manageable market for it somewhere.

Matthew:    I'm not sure what the market would be for an on-going series at a publisher like Image but I may get back into self-publishing and try to get a few books out each year. The beauty of Cankor is that I can take it in any number of directions - from straight forward narratives to more esoteric wordless shorts so the idea of basically doing a one-person anthology book appeals to me and that's likely the route I'll take with future Cankor material.

Sean:    The possibility of a one-person anthology book sounds very exciting. Personally, I would love to see what would come from that! The Cankor story in the AdHouse Books collection is quite like no other, and the way you tell it is very unique. Do you have any personal influences that have given you you’re individual artistic style?

Matthew:    My goal is to create comics that have the same impact, or close to it, as Jim Woodring's dream-influenced comics. Woodring's comics carry you into a defined physical space with creatures and landscapes and other elements that are easily recognizable but then he contorts them suddenly with explosions of cartoonish violence and anguish. With that said I don't necessarily try to draw like him, although I admit he was a huge influence on my drawing style in the 90's before I started publishing. I met Woodring briefly at SPX a few years ago and I handed him an issue of Cankor and told him he was a major influence on what I do. He furled his brow, handed the book back to me and said "I don't see it."

Sean:    This is equal parts hilarious and degrading. How did that interaction of meeting an influencer of your artistic style effect you? Did it have any lasting effect on you?

Matthew:    Well, I honestly don't think he was trying to be mean but rather it was that he'd maybe assumed that I'd be doing something with funny animals in black & white, not superhero style characters. With that in mind, no.. no lasting effect.

Sean:    I noticed very specific nods to comic creators as well as some hidden Easter eggs in the artwork of Cankor. Do those happen intentionally or is it just part of the organic creative process?

Matthew:    Honestly, it's something I want to move further away from going forward. It's a natural thing to throw in nods to people and things you enjoy but it can be a crutch. Arguably I went overboard with it but now that it's out of my system I can just do what I do without feeling beholden to pay tribute to the artists I admire.

Sean:    The final few pages of Cankor is basically a letter to the reader sharing how you were feeling through the process of writing it. I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting this to be autobiographical. At what point did you realize that’s what the story was becoming?

Matthew:    Making the book partly autobiographical came naturally. With Cankor I wanted to throw in every genre of comics that I'd had affection for and in the 90's autobio was a staple of indie comics. When I was reading stuff like Joe Matt's Peepshow and Chester Brown's The Playboy at the time it was coming out I was too timid to be that open with my own work. I'd considered drawing comics about my own life when I was in my 20's but knew that I wasn't capable to deftly pull off that kind of honest revelation. Even the stuff I did in Cankor is fairly veiled - I could've dug much deeper but chose not to.

Sean:    If Cankor were adopted by one of the Big 2 would he be a member of the Justice League or an Avenger? Hypothetically, of course.

Matthew:    Avengers. Cankor would work well in a Secret Wars type series, I think, although some of the stuff I do with Cankor is more in line with what happens in Crisis on Infinite Earths, keeping it in the mega event arena.

Sean:    What’s one mainstream storyline in comics you’d jump at the opportunity to be a part of?

Matthew:    I talked briefly with Gerard Way about doing a Superman short story for a book he'd proposed to DC that could've been cool. I wouldn't mind working on something mainstream although I don't have any specific stories worked out that I could pitch to the Big 2 personally.

Sean:    Ok. Cankor versus Loki. Who wins?

Matthew:    Cankor always loses no matter who you put him up against.

Sean:    What about the Immortal Hulk? I’d pay top dollar to see Cankor go up against Al Ewing’s green machine.. or even the more classic Ewing monster, Zombo.

Matthew:    Beyond some preview pages I haven't read Immortal Hulk but I'll use the same answer as with the Loki question - Cankor never wins.

Sean:    The comic book industry seems to be at sorts with itself right now. With DC doing downsizing and Marvel doing its best to hold its own while the indie publishers just try to stay afloat. Where do you see comics in five years? And more specifically, where do you see indie comics?

Matthew:    I feel like at some point in the next five years there will be an app - and I'm sure there already is one and I'm just not clued into it - for comics to be read on your phone that will include simple animation and be interactive with games and social connectivity that will be widely embraced. The content will be formatted for that and not really meant to be printed. I can see traditional monthly comics going away and something that is more of a blend of comics, animation and video games taking over.

Sean:    You sell some of your original art and facilitate commissions through your art rep, Inky Knuckles. Do you have any favorite commissions you’ve done for people over the years?

Matthew:    I've started to enjoy drawing Spawn which would be surprising to anyone who knows how much I despised all the Image content back in the 90's. I did a recreation of the Spawn no.1 cover and was very happy with how that turned out.

Sean:    I’ve seen some of your "Cankorized" takes on modern characters. What’s one you haven’t drawn yet that would be a fun draw for you?

Matthew:    I haven't really done a "Cankorized" Hulk yet, since you mentioned him earlier. Maybe a Cankor-Hulk versus Cankor-Thing.

Sean:    Oh! That would definitely be a sight, I'm sure. This is probably a good place for me to admit ownership of the recent "Cankorized" Spidey that you were commissioned. Yea.. that was me. 

Matthew:    That's fantastic! Very good to know. Spider-man is always enjoyable to work on so I was happy to see that one come in.

Sean:    Are there any new things coming? Should I mark my calendar for the follow up to 2020’s Cankor? Let me have a little bit of breaking news here. Heh!

Matthew:    Right now I have some Cankor pages that I'm working on where I have some panels worked out and I'm in the process of finding the connective tissue between them. The idea is to start putting these panels up for my Patreon subscribers, possibly in random order, then once I hit 24-32 pages putting out a short run printed edition. I'd love to have something new in print by June of 2021.

Sean:    This has been great. Thanks so much for agreeing to this. You’ve been very generous. Is there anything you’d like to say, in closing, to other illustrators out there who may be just starting out? Maybe some profound Matt Allison words of wisdom?

Matthew:    The best advice I can pass on, at least the best advice I can think of at the moment, is a bit from a list of drawing tips from one of Robert Crumb's sketchbooks which is: if it doesn't look right, draw it again. I'll amend that by adding that if you do draw it again and it still doesn't look right draw something else. Any time I get hung up on a pose or panel composition and I haven't nailed it by the second or third try I scrap it and move onto something else. Sometimes it's best to give up as long as you don't GIVE UP, ya know?

To follow all things Matt check him out on Twitter, Instagram, the Cankor Comic website, or become a member of his Patreon

Wear T-shirts designed by Matt on his teepublic page.

Cankor is available now at AdHouse Books

Check our site tomorrow for our full review of Cankor.