Far Arden – rip roaring tales of Arctic adventuring
by Kevin Cannon
Whatever you do, don’t sit down with Far Arden when you’re in a bad mood. The first time I picked it up I really didn’t like it, really didn’t get it. I managed 50 pages and put it aside for some other time. I’m glad I did. Because the second time I came to it all was much better in my world and 382 pages of entertaining, action packed and genuinely funny adventure just sailed by in a very pleasurable blur.
At first glance, Far Aden comes across as a lightweight adventure tale with very simple cartoon style artwork. But it’s luckily more than that. It is a very lightweight adventure (at least until the end, which we’ll get to in a moment) and it does have very simple cartoon style artwork, but it also has a great deal of wonderfully self-mocking humour. Kevin Cannon is spinning one huge, huge yarn here; a classic adventure story that delights in ridiculous set-ups, far-fetched schemes, hidden treasure, mysterious strangers, outlandish characters and ridiculously contrived threats leading to even more ridiculously contrived rescues. Everything in Far Arden connects, every character is there for some reason implicit to the simple plot of one sailor attempting to reach the mythical Far Arden, a tropical island paradise in the middle of the barren and desolate Canadian Arctic. And it’s a great, great adventure.
(All the way through Far Arden Shanks collects people like some people collect stamps. And they’ve all got some greater connection to the big story. From Kevin Cannon’s Far Arden.)
Army Shanks is that sailor, and during his quest to find Far Arden he gets involved, as is customary in these sort of far-fetched yarns, with all manner of people; old college friends who were once just as obsessed with Far Arden as he is; his ex and her current husband; a couple of college students; an orphan out for revenge on the man who killed his father; a travelling circus with it’s dubious ringmaster, a troup of feral children and a circus strong man raised by polar bears; environmental agents preaching a message of global warming; the evil bureaucracy of the Royal Canadian Arctic Navy and many more. But not one of the characters he meets along the way is quite what they seem, not even Shanks. There’s a great deal of funny in Far Arden, most of it coming from the elaborate and often ridiculous plot twists that Cannon throws into the path of his characters and the way he throws soap opera like twist after twist into the plot to connect everyone together. Every single character Shanks meets adds some extra layer onto his quest, some additional task to carry out so that at one point Shanks is committed to the following:
(A simple quest to find Far Arden gets more and more complicated with every character Shanks meets. From Kevin Cannon’s Far Arden.)
But even though it’s a hugely enjoyable tale and full of funny moments, credit must go to Cannon for delivering a staggeringly low key and unexpected finale that managed to put a not inconsiderable lump in my throat. All the way through, even peril has been met with some deux ex machina style rescue where someone always comes along and saves the day. But not at the end. And Far Arden is a far stronger work for that simple device of turning our expectations of the story on it’s head.
And in the 350 or so pages leading up to the ending, it’s great credit to Cannon’s writing that he can spin his tale out for so many pages without a single moment of boredom or lull in the enjoyment (providing you’re not in the bad mood I mentioned earlier). It’s testament to his skills in not only keeping the action going in real rip-roaring style but also to the manner in which his artwork is so easy on the eye, so very simple but also so very adept at portraying exactly what is needed for the tale.
One other great way that Cannon milks his tale for every drop of humour he can get is in some very creative and funny use of sound effects. Such a small thing in the overall book, but adding so much:
(Break Through! Kick Open! Punch! There’s something so stupidly funny about the way Cannon puts his sound effects into Far Arden. And the search for the sword’s pretty funny too.)
So, like I said at the beginning, not one for those in a bad mood. The ridiculousness of the story just wont have the desired effect. But come to this relaxed and ready for nearly 400 pages of the rip-roaring-est adventure you’ll read in many a year and you’ll have a blast. And get ready for a really impressive ending. But maybe I’ve said too much about that already. Enjoy the book.
(Addendum: In a nice bit of coincidental timing Tom Spurgeon over at The Comics Reporter has a lengthy interview with Kevin Cannon.)