By Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon
122 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about watching digital comics take off is the different ways that people have approached this way to deliver the medium. DC Comics, for instance, have created original comics that are connected to their characters but are just far enough removed to let them try things a little differently. (The new non-continuity Legends of the Dark Knight series, for example, or Smallville comics.) Some cartoonists are posting a page every couple of days, funding the comic with things like donations, merchandise sales, or Kickstarter fundraisers. In the case of Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon (who aren’t actually related, as they’re quick to point out), they’ve created a new digital comic series titled Double Barrel, where each issue contains portions of new graphic novels, plus additional short stories, sketches, and essays. Based on this first issue, I think they’ve got a good thing on their hands.
An introductory essay (in the form of a comic) explains the idea behind Double Barrel, and how by releasing the book in a digital format instead of individual issues they’re hoping to avoid the "waiting for the trade" feeling. I’m not 100% if this will forestall that feeling, but considering you’re getting 122 pages of comics for just under two dollars, it’s certainly a price point that a print comic wouldn’t be able to match. The lower price is as good a way as any to try and entice people to pick up these new projects in a serialized format. It’s a fun introduction, in part because of how both Cannons poke fun at the horrible things that they’ve done to their characters (even as characters from the new graphic novels walk up to say hello) and the general, conversational tone of the comic.
From there we dive right in, kicking off with Zander Cannon’s Heck. It’s got a great story hook—former high school football player Hector "Heck" Hammarskjöld comes back home having inherited his father’s mansion, discovers a portal to Hell in the basement, and turns that into a business—and the writing in Heck is fun. Zander Cannon quickly sets up the premise behind Heck and dives right in; the strange twists and turns behind what it means to journey into Hell and how you get messages out are inventive and intriguing, and Zander Cannon just as quickly shows us the real danger behind what they’re doing. The end result is a story that’s tense and instantly exciting, and makes me eager to read more; in other words, exactly what Double Barrel needs to do. Zander Cannon’s art, though, isn’t quite as robust as I remember it from projects like Smax or The Replacement God. He packs a lot of panels onto each page (in the realm of 11-15 per page) but that means there’s a lack of detail. We get a lot of tight close-ups on faces with little in the way of backgrounds, but even then the faces aren’t quite as expressive as we’ve had in previous comics. Ultimately I like the story of Heck a great deal, but the art isn’t quite up to the same standards.
Kevin Cannon’s Crater XV is a sequel to his graphic novel Far Arden, which was a good adventure story with an amazingly bleak ending. For now, Crater XV feels like it’s along those same lines. Right now there’s a good vein of humor moving through this story of adventure and secrets set near the Arctic Circle, although every now and then there’s a moment (like the early deaths of two people who antagonized Shanks) that might startle you a bit. It moves at a nice pace, though, and while the story isn’t quite as instantly engrossing as Heck was, this story involving students, pirates, and Russians is good enough to make me want to read more. Kevin Cannon’s art feels nicely rich in Double Barrel, with a great deal of texture and detail on his pages. Little moments like a hold full of crabs come across as menacing, and on the whole it looks good, generally sticking to a 2×3 panel grid (with the occasional panel borders knocked out to merge some together). It’s definitely the best-looking part of Double Barrel #1, and it’s fun to boot.
This month includes a few bonus features; first we get two pages of True Tales of Jin, in which Zander Cannon gives some glimpses into fatherhood which are fairly entertaining. Also included is the first installment in a 12-part essay titled How To, with this one being, "How to Get Off Your Butt and Draw a Graphic Novel" where Zander Cannon writes about how to get moving, create an outline, have room to improvise, and more. It’s a well-thought-out essay, and budding cartoonists definitely should pick up Double Barrel for this alone (although the rest of the comic was good too, of course). All in all, Double Barrel #1 is a solid, entertaining first issue. There’s enough to entice you back as a reader for more, and on the whole I enjoyed it a great deal. Will I read more Double Barrel? Absolutely? Should you? I think so, too.