Artists Zander and Kevin Cannon (no relation) have parlayed their willingness to try just about anything into the picture of success.
Potential clients, take note: The Minneapolis art studio Big Time Attic is no longer accepting sides of beef as payment.
“We were hired to design a logo for a meat market, and they asked if they could pay us in meat,” explained studio co-owner Zander Cannon.
“It was during our ‘We don’t say no to any project’ phase,” added his business partner, Kevin Cannon (no relation; more on that later).
But just because they’re now using more traditional forms of remuneration doesn’t mean they’ve quit challenging normal business practices. On the contrary, they have generated a considerable amount of buzz for their latest graphic novels — Zander’s “Heck” and Kevin’s “Crater XV” — by using a new medium.
Starting last summer, the Cannons decided to go “digital first.” The newly popular publishing method found them releasing serialized versions of the books online, long before the bound copies will reach book stores on June 26 (published by Top Shelf). They launched a Web magazine, called Double Barrel, where they’ve been posting the books in monthly installments. The website also offers extra material that isn’t in the books.
While digital comic sites aren’t unique, the Cannons’ jump into the digital-first waters has onlookers taking note. Publishers Weekly quickly flagged their site when it debuted last year. USA Today called the Cannons’ move “very promising.” The online magazine Boing Boing went a step further, heralding it as “the true beginning of the future of digital comics.”
“The internet has changed everything about publishing, and both Cannons smartly embraced its power to build an audience,” said Mark Waid, a veteran writer for both Marvel and DC Comics, who’s working on a digital comics initiative called Thrillbent. “If you let the audience access your material over the Web rather than force them to search — often in vain — for a retail outlet, they’ll be your fans for life.”
The Cannons, as laid-back as a couple of superheroes on vacation, aren’t getting caught up in expectations, grandiose or otherwise. Regardless of whether the website turns out to be an innovative marketing tool or ends up cutting the legs out from under book sales, their focus remains on how well they execute a project, not on dreams of riches.
“Hardly anything you do in comics makes you rich,” Zander said. “Fortunately, that’s not our goal.”
They do a lot more than just create graphic novels. They work on textbooks, do illustrations for magazines, draw storyboards for industrial videos and have even designed an indoor amusement park.
“That’s how we keep the lights on,” Zander said of their other endeavors.
It also keeps them sharp, Kevin added.
“We’ve learned a lot of new skills by jumping into the deep end,” he said. “We did a storyboard for a video for Target. When we delivered it, they said, ‘Do you retouch photos?’ And we said, ‘Of course we retouch photos.’ As soon as the meeting ended, we ran over to Barnes & Noble and got a book on how to retouch photos.”
What’s in a name?
The Cannons have spent a lot of time explaining that they’re not related. Nonetheless, they owe their partnership to their shared name.
Zander, 40, attended Grinnell College in Iowa. When Kevin, seven years his junior, enrolled in the same school, the folks in the art program assumed what everyone else assumes.
“People kept saying: You must be Zander’s brother,” Kevin said. “And I kept saying: Who’s Zander? Finally I went to the library and looked up some of the cartoons he’d drawn for the school paper. And then I said: ‘This guy’s really good.’ ”