I caught up with Johnny Cannon…..the man behind Cannonhill Comics with titles like The United, Space Rats & more on the way.
What started Cannonhill Comics off?
Cannonhill Comics is named after a hill in my hometown, Ardrossan.
I discovered comics when I was about three years old and I started tracing and copying pictures from comics when I was around four or five. My friends thought I was good at drawing and I wasn’t really good at anything else, so that’s what motivated me.
I’ve drawn loads of comics since I was a kid, just for myself or occasionally for friends. I used to roleplay Dungeons and Dragons, TMNT and Heroes Unlimited so I would create and draw characters for that. That’s where Big Cat originally came from. I never actually finished the comics I did and I never thought I’d ever finish a comic. All that early stuff was just pencils, with no script or title or anything, and I was just drawing for the sake of it.
About 16 years ago I started drawing a detective story. I hadn’t drawn in a few years at that point, but I was a student, skint and bored. It was meant to be a straightforward detective yarn, but I got distracted and drew a giant robot in the middle of a scene. This took the story off in an unexpected direction. I got bored and stopped drawing it after about six pages.
I met my wife seven years ago and she found comic pages I’d kept when we moved in together. (I should clarify that we weren’t married to each other when we first met.) She encouraged me to start drawing again. For my 40th last year she got me tickets to Glasgow ComicCon and told me to finish the damn comic. So I did.
What was the inspiration behind The United?
I was going for the vibe of the Marvel UK comics of the 1980s. I loved Night Raven, The Black Knight and particularly Alan Davis’ run on Captain Britain. These were between two and seven pages long, all black and white. The Marvel US reprint material was also amazing, slightly oversized in black and white. I was really into Spider-Man, Thor, Fantastic Four, Daredevil and the Avengers. I also got Battle and it’s successor Battle Action Force and I read my pals’ 2000ADs. The first and second phases of Zenith made a big impression on me. I wasn’t a huge DC fan.
Anyway, that period had the look and feel I’m going for now. Solid storytelling, fun, a bit dark, a bit weird, a bit grainy. I’m not consciously drawing in any style beyond the way I normally draw, although I’ve gradually changed the way I ink over the course of the series. That’s because this is the first time I inked anything. It’s gotten increasingly murky, which I quite like.
The actual story (and title) of The United was partly inspired by The Damned United, by David Peace. Hence, the team pretty much collapses inwardly in 44 days, just like Brian Clough’s rein at Leeds. Football culture and iconography is a trope I draw on a fair bit, like the idea of superheroes as Galacticos. (This version of Big Cat is based on David Beckham.)
The government elements have played a crucial part so far – is that something that will develop as things go on?
The motivation for the main villains, Malcolm Macabre and Lucas Grange, is to try and tear down the establishment. Early on I decided to make Margaret Thatcher a key part of The United’s fictional history. She’s one of the villains of the story. The Queen, the Bullingdon Club, David Cameron and (sort of) Tony Blair also pop up in issues three and four. In issue 5 there’s Maxwell Knight, Aleister Crowley and Roald Dahl amongst others.
I try to base at least 66.6% of the story on David Icke’s ‘theories’.
How many more issues will we see of The United?
I’ve a shit-lot of ideas for The United and I like the characters, but there are there are other things I want to write and draw. Space Rats, Tales From The Garngad, Boxers, Lost in Glasgow and a Robert Burns thing are all bursting to get out my speccy heid. I’m writing and drawing Lost in Glasgow just now, so I’m taking a wee break from The United.
You switched from superheroes to sci-fi with Space Rats – what was the inspiration behind that?
I think it was really just to draw something different. It was also a failed pitch for Future Shocks in 2000AD. Gav asked to colour it and it came together very quickly. It was only meant to be a short story, but I liked the characters and so I’m doing more with it.
Did you always want to work with Gavin?
Gav works in my local comic shop and we just got talking one day about drawing comics. I quickly found myself drowning in the deep blue oceans of his eyes. I was lost at sea, a bit like Robert Redford in that film, except I’m not as old. Plus, I don’t own a yacht.
Anyway, we’ve done Space Rats and Alfie’s Special Socks together and I’d definitely like to collaborate on more with Gav, but we’re both busy on solo stuff just now. I’m looking forward to the rest of Escape From Coatbridge. It’s fantastic.
What’s it like working on your own comic?
It really depends. Sometimes it all comes dead easily and other times it’s like wading through treacle. Some things are easier to draw than others. I’m not at the stage where I can draw exactly what I see in my head. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that stage, but the only way to get better is to draw challenging shit. So I try and experiment with angles and composition. For example, the car/horse chase from issue three was a pain to do, but I learned a lot from doing it.
Who are your favourite writers/artists?
Oh shit, this is hard…
In no particular order… Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern, Alan Grant, John Wagner, Pat Mills, Mike Baron, Max Allan Collins, Walt Simonson, John Byrne, Steve Epting, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Jim Aparo, Milton Caniff, Al Williamson, Jim Aparo, Frank Hampson, David Lloyd, Steve Rude, Mike Allred, David Mazzucchelli, Mike Parobeck…
I think the best comics have a kind of chemistry going on; between the creative team and the characters. For example. Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser are absolutely amazing together, they seem in perfect sync. Lee and Ditko or Lee, Kirby and Sinnott or Claremont, Byrne and Austin are other famous examples off the top of my head. Also, Walt Simonson’s art just wouldn’t look right without that John Workman lettering, it’s a key part of the graphic design of the page.
What are you reading just now?
The new comics I get are Invisible Republic, The Fade Out, Velvet, Dark Corridor, Ragnarok, Lazarus, Black Science, Outcast, Autumn Lands and Providence.
I’m also reading a bunch of back issues: Simonson’s Thor, Stern, Buscema and Palmer’s run on Avengers, Nexus, Madman and Steve Canyon.
In terms of novels, I’m reading Dreamland by Newton Thornburg and A Man’s World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith by Donald McRae. Those are both great.
What can we expect next from Cannonhill Comics?
I’m taking a wee break from The United to do Lost in Glasgow. It’s about a family-run detective agency set in Glasgow. Their office is above the family ice cream shop. I was run over by an ice cream van when I was a kid, so I’m really just working through some issues.