I made the mistake of talking about this book on an episode of our podcast first which derailed my thought process for the review. With reviews you need to have some kind of structure even if it’s not 100% obvious that there is, but when you can freely talk about a story in a conversation it’s very different. You can bring up points in the story that aren’t confusing because there’s a tone and voice to it. I’m going to do my damndest to do it justice because it’s definitely a story that deserves your time and money. What I really enjoyed about this book is that I have my own take on the story. Top Shelf and creator Kevin Cannon describe it one way and while it’s accurate, it’s not what I took away from the story. It doesn’t make me wrong because that’s the charm of storytelling, the reader plays a role because their understanding of what’s read is ultimately what determines the story for themselves.
The story begins with a clever recap for the main character Army Skanks as read by two bums reading from the local newspaper. It gives us plenty of information and sets up the next scene in which they put a flaming bag of poop on Shanks’ door step. This is when we first meet Skanks who lives as a recluse away from the rest of the residents of Devon Island. He’s grown a long beard and age is starting to catch up to him as his back aches when he gets up from bed. He picks up the bag and pulls the poop out and fashions it into a knife and lets it sit on the frozen ground for a minute. He then picks it up and charges at the bums trying to stab them. This is the perfect way to describe Shanks as he can think on his feet and jumps head on into any situation. The bums flee by jumping onto a floating piece of ice, but leave behind their dinner and the newspaper.
After reading the newspaper Shanks decides that he’s going to leave Devon Island since the memories of his dearly departed nephew are still haunting him. He boards up his shack and heads towards town. Meanwhile we check in with our bums who are a drift at sea… they meet a comical end as we board the Lunayev a foreign ship that’s heading towards Canadian waters. The captain goes outside to check on the noises they’re hearing (the bums) and finds his wife passed out on the deck. She wakes up and is very happy to see him which only worries him more as she appears to have been crying.
The story is actually built on several characters and storylines that all intertwine. Shanks meets a little girl named Wendy that is saving for a trip into space. Around the same time the Lunayev takes port outside of the town which concerns the RCAN and they send for Shanks to inspect the ship on their behalf since they can’t board it. Then the story gets complicated. Shanks agrees to go on the ship because the Captain’s wife looks like his long lost childhood sweetheart Pravda. Meanwhile the Captain and his men are plotting to steal Canada’s oil for their nation, but under the guise that they’re launching a rocket to the moon in order to make claim to it because its minerals can be used for a renewable energy source (which it can’t). This puts Canada in a space race against the Captain who is bluffing, but no one but he and his men know that.
The story goes on from there and really the only reason I’ve given you so much is because it takes a long time to even begin to get a glimpse of the overall story. It’s a strange pacing for sure, but it works. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story and gotten deep into the pages while still only understand half of what’s going on below the surface of the plot.
Cannon sets up the story in such a way that you can’t piece all of the pieces together until you’re practically at the end of the story. It’s an incredible structure that frankly takes a lot of skills to pull off and isn’t something that would work on every story. The comedy was also very enjoyable in the story. It’s very lighthearted and has a classic animated cartoon feel to it. Sure Shanks fashions poop into a knife, but something about that and the subsequent chase reminded me of Looney Toons or Tex Avery’s animations. It’s was easy to enjoy, much like the rest of the story. It also had tremendous moments of emotion especially at the end of the story. To be honest there’s only a handful of things that are happy about the ending. The rest of it is heavy. It’s not bad, but it weighs on you emotionally and I personally really enjoy stories like that. Happy endings are great, but a good ending that’s also sad… that’s pure gold in the world of storytelling.
I’m not even sure how to describe the artwork. Cannon is masterful with his line and ink work, but I’m afraid my artistic vocabulary is too weak to describe it accurately. My best attempt is to describe it as a mix of classic animation, Popeye, Tin Tin and newspaper strips; and yet very modern with its layouts and presentation. The artwork is as complex as the story. The character’s facial expressions carry so much of the storytelling that you’ll probably never even realize it. I challenge you not to find some kind of expression on each page because none of the characters sit with a blank stare and if they do… you still get the sense of what their emotion is from that as well. I wish I knew what else to say about the art, but I don’t. I’ll just say that I really, really liked it.
This is a book that you might only be able to read once. Due to the structure and the ending it would be hard to be surprised twice, but it’s still an incredible read. Thumbing through it again I’ve found some great scenes to re-read and that’s been as enjoyable as reading the entire story straight through. This story has more to offer than I can sum up so please check it out.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Kevin Cannon Publisher: Top Shelf Comics Price: $19.95 Release Date: 7/2/13