Dave Chisholm’s Canopus

>>Imagine waking up on a foreign planet with no memories beyond an extinction-level urgency to return home. This is how we find Helen at the beginning of Canopus, a new comic series by Dave Chisholm.

The compelling story follows Helen as she explores tries to find the parts to repair her ship and complete her mission. The chain of events takes a bizarre twist as the desolate landscape begins to offer up clues that prompt the return of her memories. This psychological sci-fi mystery unfolds over the course of four monthly issues, the first of which comes out in February.

Being a fan of his graphic novels, I was excited when Chisholm announced the new series. He carved some time from his busy writing and teaching schedule to shed some insight on Canopus.

“When Helen wakes up at the beginning with no memory, hopefully it makes people think about ‘what is a person.’ As her memories come back to her, it’s building up her sense of who she is. It may not be something she’s really super psyched about.”

As the narrative unfolds, we see Helen explore her feelings of grief, loss, and resentment as she pieces together her sense of self. The abstract concept of identity and the psychological phenomena of memory are a challenge to fit into the confines of a comic, even one packed with action and adventure. Chisholm craftily finds ways to convey these internal processes.

“The most exciting thing about comics to me is the pliability of the form and how much the form can be manipulated to match the story’s content,” said Chisholm. “Little things will make you look at a comic in a different way. If you find the right story to tell, you can take advantage of the properties of the medium. Formal aspects help me tell the story… Is it all rectangular panels? If I use one that’s not rectangular, what does it mean?”

As with his previous graphic novels, Chisholm uses the visuals to convey meaning. For example, the narrative of the story is told on rectangular panels with white spaces in between. But then when it comes to the segments where her memories return, the pages take on a whole different look and feel.

“When it gets to the flashbacks, the gutters are all black and the color scheme becomes monochromatic, and the panels overlap and repeat. When you think about a memory, like the earliest birthday party you can remember, you think of it like a cluster of thoughts. Your brain doesn’t organize time precisely. This was my attempt at capturing this rush of memory that Helen gets when her memories start coming back.”

While Chisholm has been drawing and writing comics throughout his lifetime, he has only written for publication over the past dozen years. His first graphic novel Let’s Go To Utah was published in 2009 and his most recent, Instrumental, was published in 2017.

Instrumental is the story of a jazz musician who finds an enchanted trumpet. The book has an accompanying soundtrack scored by Chisholm, and played by an ensemble in which he performs on trumpet. Canopus does not have a soundtrack. When I asked Chisholm to recommend a pairing of music while reading Canopus, he suggested something ethereal yet emotional, like the Sigur Ros albums "( )" and "Takk".

When Chisholm’s not writing comics, he’s teaching or performing. After earning a doctorate from Eastman School of Music, he started the indie rock band Talking Under Water. He also teaches individual and group music lessons at Hochstein School of Music and Dance. In addition to music instruction, he teaches art at local colleges. Currently, he’s teaching a course at RIT on the topic of comics and music.

His advice for students and other aspiring creatives:

“Pay attention, be curious, and work - find a way.”

Canopus will only be available through comic book stores. Chisholm will be at Comics, Etc. in Rochester on Wednesday, February 12th. Follow him online for updates about appearances at stores and conventions.

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