Interview by Paul D Houston
The thing I love most about comics is, it’s variety of material. Everyone knows the superheroes, Superman and Spider-Man and etc, but comics are so much more. In their almost 100 years of existence, they’ve featured some of the most interesting ideas and concepts that humanity could ever think of. From love stories to sci-fi to horror and yeah, super-heroics. From the mainstream to the super underground, with creators both wonderful and inspired to troubled and mysterious, comic books are a haven for great imaginations and great ideas.
While I had my time adoring superheroes, these days, I personally love outsider or indie comic books with interesting and bizarre art. CANKOR by Matthew Allison is a comic that is filled with some of the most interestingly bizarre comic book art, I have ever seen. Matthew Allison’s style is tremendously inventive, eye-catching, creative and technically sound and CANKOR is Matthew Allison’s greatest creation to this date. He’s a grotesque Frankenstein sort of character, a mix between monster and superhero and the stories he’s in are, a bizarre and strange parade of creativity. These stories feature everything from the surreally mind-trip style of brain twister to huge full page spreads of battles between Cankor and other cadaver like characters.
Matthew, who is Cankor and how did this comic come about?
Cankor wasn't a character I put much thought into originally, at least in terms of who he was or any sort of back story. In 2011 I was doing a comic strip called Slobber Knocker for some friends' website...
...and the concept was superheroes having emotional or mental problems while in the middle of some battle or cosmic adventure. I enjoyed doing the strip enough that after a half dozen or so I decided I'd do a full web comic in that vein. There was a team of heroes, the Challenge Acceptors, and Cankor just happened to be the one I focused on. I quickly realized I could apply my personal hangups onto this guy and that became a great way for me to work through some stuff that I was simultaneously dealing with in therapy.
So Cankor debuted on the web, but then you collected those stories into print collections and self-published them. Why self-publish?
Necessity. In the beginning I didn't feel as though the material was strong enough to try selling to a publisher. My art was too crude and the story was half-baked. I was working in a print shop so I had access to a high end digital printer as well as bindery equipment. If that hadn't been the case I'm not sure I would have made that step. Putting pages online was easy enough but of course I wasn't making any money doing that so, I had to make a physical product and just happened to have the means to do so. My boss at the time knew that I had been wanting to make comics for years and was kind enough to not charge me for the printing on that first book as a bonus.
Crude or half-baked, as you call it, to me your art is very accomplished, so to speak. Did you have professional training or is this all, just you doing lots of drawing and honing your skills on your own over a number of years?
I took as many art classes as I could in junior high and high school, even jewelry making, and I applied to a few art colleges my senior year. I had the choice of going to the Kansas City Art Institute or enrolling in the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver, where I grew up. Since RMCAD was local, had a much, much lower tuition and offered me a great scholarship (I came to learn that they had just started their fine arts department and had given half tuition scholarships to pretty much everyone who got accepted) my parents and I decided that was the best bet. After two semesters I dropped out - turns out you have to take standard courses such as math and English and since I was awful at math I stopped going to that class. Of course I failed and when the counselor told me I'd have to retake it I opted to not come back. Huge mistake. I spent the next 15 years floundering, drawing in sketchbooks with very little skill or understanding of form and technique. I thought I'd be able to draw like the artists I'd admired using Microns when I should have been using dip pens and brushes. During that period I was able to get the Microns to do what I wanted them to, but it's like trying to get a trumpet to sound like a tuba. Wrong instrument. It's really only been in the last 10 years that I've been truly making art as opposed to just messing around in a sketchbook.
I see various influences in your work, from 70’s era monster comics, to 80’s era superhero comics, to b-movie monster/horror flicks. But to you what are your greatest influences or muses?
A quick list would include (comic book artists) Frank Miller, Richard Corben, Bernie Wrightson, Bill Sienkiewicz , Charles Burns, Dan Clowes, Frazetta, Jim Woodring...and about 300 others. Ultimately I gravitate toward work that is a little unsettling. Artists that tend to distort faces and figures, get into some dark dreamlike space are the ones that I admire and try to emulate.
And, what tools do you use in creating your comic art?
Pencil, Micron pens and Kuretake brush pens. Pretty simple. All of my coloring is done in Photoshop.
I would also venture to guess, your work is also fueled by LSD or hallucinogenic use, past or present. Would I be correct in that assumption?
I've done mushrooms a handful of times and acid only once. I don't think I was actively looking for artistic inspiration during any of those trips. In my 20's I smoked pot pretty regularly but never drew or wrote while high. Now if I indulge in some edibles I may break out some of my own comics and see if I can't discover something I hadn't seen before but that's about it. I've tried meditating before sitting down to draw but it just makes me want to take a nap. I think the drug that fuels my art the most is caffeine.
How far do your aspirations as a comic book artist go? Do you want to be published by one of the major comic book publishers like, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, etc? Your work is accomplished enough, I can’t see why you couldn’t be published by those kinds of publishers?
The idea of working on a Batman book or getting an ongoing series at Image isn't in my head at the moment, but I would never say never. With that said I do have a collected edition of Cankor coming out from AdHouse Books in March 2020. Chris Pitzer (Publisher/Editor/Art Director) is someone who is very much concerned with putting out attractive books and showcasing artists that are doing interesting work so I'm incredibly excited that he chose to partner with me on this. It'll be a cool product for sure.
Yes, Adhouse Books put out amazing work. I'm constantly finding myself wishing I had more money to buy their books. As an indie publisher, they are definitely one of the best. Chris Pitzer's newsletters that he sends out periodically are also one of the few I actually read in full, he does them so well!
So, I’m a huge music fan and certain kinds of art always make me think of certain kinds of music, whether the artist is a fan of that music or not. Your work reminds me of the Misfits and later Danzig with a little bit of Metalica and an occasional dose of King Crimson or Pink Floyd for the super surreal stuff. Does music inspire or fuel your artwork?
When I'm drawing I go back and forth between listening to podcasts and music. We moved recently and I decided to set up a CD player, amp and speakers right above my drawing desk in my studio. I just illustrated a story for Heavy Metal magazine, written by Phil Hester, that was based on the song "Spewn from the Earth" by High on Fire.
They're one of my all time favorite bands so I was happy as could be working on that and I had their music playing super fucking loud while I was drawing most of it.
When I was doing Cankor I would say the bands I listened to the most though were Steely Dan and Big Business. On the surface Steely Dan's music has nothing to do with the look and feel of my art but the melding of different genres is possibly a link. It's just good music to get me in a groove. When I need to blaze through some inking though, I'll put on Slayer or Ministry, Rio Grande Blood is a great album to ink to.
Do you have a final accomplishment or goal you want to achieve as a comics artist before it's all said and done?
I'd just like to keep finding fresh ways to make books that are filled with stuff that you're only gonna see in comics. The ultimate compliment for me is someone saying "This could only be done in comics" when they read my work. Hopefully that'll keep happening as I put more stuff out.
The Cankor Website: http://www.cankorcomic.com
Matthew Allisons Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cankorr/