Long Live the Newer Flesh
A personal story of self-destruction as well as self-resurrection all told through the lens of superhero symbolism; with a bit of biomechanical body horror aplomb as a chaser?
Matthew Allison’s Cankor marks the arrival of not only a new voice but perhaps the beginnings of an entire new language in comics.
The new collection from AdHouse Books wrangles up the previous self-published Cankor comics in a handsome, understated, sans title, slighter smaller than average comic sized edition. But if any debut comic has earned the right to go all Led Zeppelin IV and not even bother with a title on the front it’s Cankor.
Because like that four symbol adorned nameless classic this is a work of inspired, disparate alchemy that manages to feel breezy even while dragging you through its dungeon depths of darkness. It also feels like the culmination of years of work despite being a debut.
I’ve been following Allison’s work since discovering it online and then purchasing all the self-published issues of Cankor. What became apparent right away was the technical skill on display here coupled with the to the marrow confessional storytelling resulted in a freeing, fearless sort of read. Ostensibly this comic tells the story of a lonely cartoonist with a drinking problem and a penchant for hard rock who reaches out to a biomechanical superhero savior for help; only for the savior to say, naw. Because he’s got his own shit to handle. But that’s like saying Moby Dick’s about some guy who’s mad at a whale.
It’s rare to find a talent like Allison’s which is versed in mainstream superhero motifs and storytelling while also equally marinated in the freaky flavors of indie comics darlings like Daniel Clowes or Charles Burns who doesn’t seem obligated to merely satire the former. The result is work which celebrates both home worlds while paying fealty to neither.
So, yes, there will be a Liefeld X-Force battle pose rendered in excruciatingly precision with linework reminiscent of Dan Clowes and yes, you will love it.
But don’t think Allison’s Cankor is simply a mashup gimmick or homage-fest; Allison’s own voice snarls and bubbles up from each page. He has a knack for inventive character poses and finding ways to conjure acting and emotion from mostly faceless or severely distorted faces.
Despite an overall eerie, dreamlike and at times Lynchian quality to much of the story there is also a pervasive sense of playfulness, dark humor and even straight up slapstick found in this pages. Most importantly there’s also a great deal of heart beneath all the blood, circuit boards, and body transmogrifications.
The weird denizens of the Cankorverse can’t seem to stop themselves from mutating and blossoming into some awful and exhilarating new iteration of themselves every few panels or so. It’s like Rob Bottin was allowed to do the special fx on a superhero movie directed by David Cronenberg with a soundtrack by Big Business or The Melvins. But again, all of this does not exist merely as an excuse for the artist to draw something cool; it all furthers the feelings of the characters. Put simply, they look like they feel and how they feel is fucked up. Damaged, hurt, in flux…to quote a signature line from the previous mentioned Rob Bottin’s most celebrated film work, “It’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.”
This work asks us what it will take to for us to get right. Right with ourselves, with the world, with the things we’ve done that we’re not proud of, with our own shortcomings and with our own unrealized ambitions and promise…Knowing that Allison has completed this work at all, let alone shared it with the world feels like a note of unrestrained triumph amidst the quieter, reserved poignancy of the story’s actual resolution.