Monday, April 15, 2013

Far Arden

Army Shanks sounds like a tough customer, and that name is true to form with the main character of Far Arden. A version of Popeye by way of Canada, he is a sailor, student of history, and explorer who is obsessed with finding the mythical land of Far Arden. This uncharted island lies near the North Pole but is somehow lush and tropical. During his quest he runs afoul of government agents, double-crossers from his past who want his map, a circus owner and a giant man who wrestles bears, a pack of angry orphans, a couple of college students, an ex-girlfriend, and a boy who dresses like a wolf and wants to avenge his father. Many of these folks appear to be one-off characters but are strikingly well developed.

To say this is a fantastical journey is an understatement. There is romance, melancholy, regret, fisticuffs, and intrigue aplenty here, and the story takes many twists and turns which are enhanced by the playful, cartoony art and clever sound effects. I was charmed so many ways by a plot masterfully spun in a complex but not convoluted manner. However the ending is sharply bittersweet, and I am glad to know there is a sequel Crater XV, which is currently appearing serially in the superb digital comic anthology Double Barrel, even if not all the characters make it.

This comic's creator Kevin Cannon has a growing number of impressive works under his belt, including the collaborations with Zander Cannon (no relation), Evolution, The Stuff of Life, T-Minus, and  Bone-Sharps, Cowboys, & Thunder Lizards. His art and storytelling are exemplars of economy, wit, and energy. He speaks more about his career and this book in this excellent interview with Tom Spurgeon from 2009.

Far Arden was nominated for an Eisner Award for "Best Publication for Teens." Other reviews I have read about it concur with this praise and comment on the mix of humor, artistry, and adventure. Matt Peckham gushed, "Far Arden is like breathing that atmosphere laced with caffeine and laughing gas, a romping shaggy-dog story with a not-so-shaggy twist ending, the best practically pocket-sized adventure fiction I’ve read in years." J. Caleb Mozzocco called it "definitely one of the funniest—and most fun—books I’ve read this year." I agree wholeheartedly with Theodore Anderson, who wrote, "His art is a joy to read: characters leap across the page with noodle-limbed physiques, but he can wring surprising emotional depth from their exaggerated features when he chooses." Jen Vaughan wrote, "Far Arden is one of those books you plow through in an excited and ecstatic manner only to slow down towards the end in order to savor every page turn," which is a feeling I can easily relate to in my own reading.

The entire book is available online here, but this is a fun book well worth owning. The hard copy is published by Top Shelf.

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