Zander Cannon is best known for his stellar artwork for Alan Moore's Top 10, the story of a superhero police force handling day to day problems in Neopolis, where everyone has super powers.
But over the years, Cannon has become involved with creating graphic novels about factual science subjects. Cannon and longtime collaborator Kevin Cannon (no relation) make up the studio Big Time Attic, with the duo frequently collaborating on these projects. In the course of their science-related work, Zander and Kevin have worked prominent comic book and prose authors Mark Schultz (Xenozoic Tales, Prince Valiant), Jim Ottaviani (Two-Fisted Science, Feynman), and Jay Hosler (Optical Allusions).
A portion of Zander's work aims to communicate an understanding of biology and biochemistry subjects from a humorous and easy to understand point of view. The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA and Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth provide an excellent foundation on both subjects for a student of any level, while maintaining an accessible entry point. The star of these books is the crown prince of Glargal, a sea cucumber-like alien, who's taught about life on other planets.
Zander and colleagues have also tackled more traditional historical fare, like quarrels between scoundrel paleontologists in Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards: A Tale of Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and the Gilded Age of Paleontology. My personal favorite work of theirs, T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, tells the early history of manned space exploration from the point of view of United States and USSR scientists and engineers. Both of these works do a wonderful job of humanizing the protagonists while conveying the facts in a graphic form — arguably a better medium for semi-biographical stories than text.
Zander Cannon took a couple of minutes to talk with us about what drew him to telling science stories in a graphic medium and the link it provides to the next generation of comic book readers, science fiction fans, and scientists.
What first piqued your interest in science and technology?
Zander Cannon: I would have to say it was probably comics in general, funny enough. The pervasive idea of scientists either being heroic or villainous, but always interesting and dynamic, was a way to at least get me thinking about how science and technology was interesting to me.
In addition, my father is a very thoughtful and systematic man, and he and I would sometimes take things apart to find out how they worked, or build simple versions of gadgets to try and understand them. Finally, being a cartoonist, I always wanted to have a sense for how things worked so as to draw them better. If I were drawing a machine, I didn't just want to make it a box, I wanted to make sure that its form followed its function.
You have a long history of telling factual science stories in comic book form, beginning with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sponsored comic, Space Weather. What benefits come along with using the medium of comics to tell science stories?
Zander Cannon: My initial interest in these was that they were an interesting way to make a comic book; the characters could speak directly to the reader and break all kinds of other storytelling laws, since it was all in aid of teaching something. What I found in addition was that by breaking those supposed laws, it made for an enjoyable comic, but also what amounted to a map or a diagram of an idea.
I loved that for me — someone with good spatial skills but not the best attention span — a diagram like this provided a spine of an idea, onto which all new information can be attached. Kevin (Cannon, my drawing partner, but not brother) and I have taken this ideal to heart in all of our educational and non-fiction comics: we want to illustrate an idea to give us something to go back to visually whenever we learn more about the topic.
Is there a desire to introduce kids to comics and science in a single package?
Zander Cannon: Certainly — we all want to be efficient. But I think kids are interested in comics no matter what, if you put it in front of them in an appealing way. Science is a harder sell since there are a lot of parts about it that are boring or forbidding, so choosing your entry point is key.
A visual guide that can be absorbed at the reader's own pace (the thing that sets comics apart from other media) is the perfect thing for difficult-to-understand conceptual information. So I feel that the two are perfectly matched.
What Was It is a series of short interviews co-hosted on io9 and Gizmodo that asks the luminaries of science and science fiction what inspired them to delve so deeply into the only kind of magic we have in the real world - science and technology. What was it that first opened their eyes? Find out more at What Was It?