Zander Cannon talks Top Ten, T-Minus & Transformers

Zander Cannon is a familiar name to many comics fans. He wrote and illustrated "Replacement God," which, while not setting the sales charts afire, led to the high profile gig of illustrating Alan Moore's "Top Ten" with Gene Ha. Since that series ended, Cannon illustrated the "Smax" miniseries written by Moore, and as part of the studio Big Time Attic, he's worked on a number of projects including illustrating Jim Ottaviani's "Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards."

After writing and laying out "Top Ten Season 2," which debuted last year, 2009 looks to be even bigger for Cannon. The Mark Schultz-written "Stuff of Life," a nonfiction comic about DNA, was released in January, and on sale soon is the new graphic novel "T-Minus," about the space race, also written by Ottaviani. Zander Cannon is also writing an upcoming Transformers miniseries for IDW Publishing.

With so much going on, CBR News sat down with Cannon to get all the details.

CBR: Most people probably know you from your collaborations with Alan Moore. You had been working in comics for years before then, what was it that made you say yes to "Top Ten?"

Zander Cannon: Working with Alan Moore and working with Gene Ha. Alan has been a hero of mine since I was first reading comics, and there was no way in hell I was going to pass that up. Gene and I were friends from many, many comic shows and signings, and the prospect of putting together our two extremely different styles was intriguing.

Why did you decide to write a sequel to "Top Ten?"

There was always a loose plan to create a second season to "Top Ten." Originally, of course, Alan was going to write it, but as he moved away from ABC, I felt like Gene and I had the tone and vision right, and could continue it on our own. Following up Alan Moore is no mean feat, but once I looked at it more as following up "Top Ten," keeping the procedural aspect of it, the small character interactions, and so forth, it was a more manageable project.

What to you is the essence of the series and the world that Alan Moore created and the tone that you needed to capture in the miniseries?

This may seem strange, but the fundamental note that I felt we had to hit was that the plot climaxes and the character climaxes did not coincide. You could have plot elements that stretched over several issues or were resolved three pages into a comic, and still structure stories that gave us satisfying character-based endings at the end of each 24 pages. That was something that I felt that Alan Moore and the police shows we were all trying to emulate did very well, and something that you don't see very much in comics.

Why did you decide to set the book when you did?

I feel that with a comic like "Top Ten," the characters are fascinating enough that it was important to catch up to them immediately afterward. These aren't people who are only interesting when they are saving the world; they're interesting when they can't start their car. That's 1) Because they're brilliantly created by Alan, and 2) It's probably because the car has some sort of alien robot disease.

What did you think of the Paul DiFilippo and Jerry Ordway sequel that came out a couple years back?

I love the work of both of those guys, but I felt like the series was too different in tone to really be "Top Ten." They put in great gags and added a lot of interesting visual notes to the world, but the storytelling was awfully stylized for such a day-in-the-life, procedural type of book. The characters, I felt, had no particular depth or motivations that would make you want to follow them, which was too bad. I felt like the comic was very well made, but it wasn't right for "Top Ten."

Was it important to make sure that Gene Ha drew it?

It was important to me, and it was very important to Wildstorm. Let me tell you one thing: if you're going to greenlight a "Top Ten" sequel because one of the original three creators is aboard, it's not going to be me.

Other than the obvious, which is that the script is yours, how has the process of putting together "Top Ten" Season Two differed from the first with Alan Moore?

There was a lot of brainstorming with my business partners Kevin and Shad that gave me a lot of ideas for characters and plot lines. Just having to come up with ideas that would 1) be interesting, 2) work together, and 3) be true to "Top Ten's" world was a challenge.

This was the first comic I'd written for someone else to draw, as well as a comic that was following up the work of Alan Moore, so I felt like I had to kind of over-deliver in order to make the book attractive to Wildstorm. At the time, they were still a little unconvinced that the book was going to sell and not very convinced about me as a writer, so I decided I was going to create layouts that were pretty complete-- basically something that could be read entirely without the script. I did that so that anyone who picked it up could look at it and know that it was a good comic without having to interpret panel descriptions. Since there was going to be a long gap between the writing and the art, that was probably a good idea.

I also did this because I felt like I was most confident going into the project not simply as a writer and not simply as an artist, but as a layout guy. As either a writer and an artist, I sometimes feel like I'm on shaky ground, but as a layout guy, I have the credentials.

Has Alan Moore read Season 2 or did he have any advice for you about writing it?

I sent him a copy of the layouts for the first 4 issues and the special and I heard through the grapevine that he thought it sounded good, but that's all I've heard. That's enough for me.

You're also illustrating "Stuff of Life," a new nonfiction book that Mark Schultz wrote. How did that come about and what interested you making a graphic novel about DNA?

Kevin and I drew that one over the last part of '07 and the first part of '08, and we were brought on by Howard Zimmerman, the packager and editor of the project, after it already was in the works with just Mark attached. Kevin and I have done a fair amount of educational comics work, and so this was a nice project for us that really played to our strengths.

I always really like doing educational comics because it frequently allows you to draw things that, rather than being pictures, are explanations instead. Obviously, the RNA subprocesses that we illustrated in this book don't actually look like little guys with hardhats, but they're so much easier to understand when they do.

That's interesting, because even with a full script, you'd think drawing an explanation would be a much more involved process for an artist.

The writer really has to be in on it if you're working from a full script; he has to have at least a sense for what metaphor he wants to use so that you can take it from there. My favorite way, however, is for a writer or editor to just provide the information and let us come up with a way to present it on the page. That for me is the most fun: thinking spatially about how information presents itself and how your mind will absorb it the best.

Had Mark scripted out the book really tightly, or did you have some room with regards to the layout and the design?

We agreed with Mark that the book should be done based on 6-panel grids on each page, no bleeds. That made things a lot easier in terms of knowing what he was going for with his panel descriptions, which were loose but set us in the right direction. On certain pages, when a concept would be expanded or the text merely had to be illustrated, he let us go wild and design it however we liked.

"T-Minus" is your second book with Jim Ottaviani. What is you enjoy about working with him?

Jim is fast, friendly, and consistent, and his stories take us places where I wouldn't have known that there were interesting stories. He also doesn't shy away from the specific details of the world we're getting into; he makes them interesting and they pull you in.

In contrast to "Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards," where much of the story was factual but you had a lot of free reign as far as the look of the book, with "T-Minus," there's a lot of reference material about the sixties and the space race. Did that affect the process?

Funny you should mention that-- Kevin and I were talking about how strange that was relatively recently. With "Bone Sharps," there were maybe three photos of the main characters and a handful of scenic reference shots, so we had to make a lot of it up. With "T-Minus," we literally had to use photo-reference for everything because it is all recognizable-- recognizable people, recognizable spacecraft, recognizable buildings. It was tougher not being able to fake it, but I think the effort really shows in the final product.

You're also working on a Transformers project for IDW. What can you say about that?

By the time this hits anywhere, I imagine it'll be okay-- I'm writing a Bumblebee miniseries that spins off of a new semi-reboot of the Transformers continuity at IDW. I'm only in the process now of writing a proposal, so I can't say any more.

The first book of yours that many people read was "Replacement God," which was a one-man show. Since then, you've illustrated books for other writers or written books for other artists. Was this a conscious decision and do you prefer working in different roles on different projects the way you have been more recently?

I'm very conscious of this. It's fun to collaborate with other people and see what they bring to the work, but I also like to keep a handful of projects to myself. I have a shelf at home with a bunch of three-ring binders on it with the first couple chapters of books laid out in them that I work on when time allows. But being personal, they are not terribly commercial, so the going is very slow. And after all, I have a baby to chase around.

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