Over the past few months I have really been digging Zander Cannon’s Kaijumax, a series about Godzilla sized monsters in a maximum security prison. Since I’ve been enjoying Cannon’s work so much on the title I thought it was time to dive into some of his other work and the first things found was his highly acclaimed graphic novel Heck. It’s a graphic novel that I’d heard about a few times prior to reading, with the now defunct NonCanonical podcast giving it praise on multiple occasions, and I’d have to say that it was a terrific read from start to finish. Full of adventure, character moments and an interesting premise Heck is something I’m very excited to tell you about.
Before I get to the meat of this graphic novel I want to tell you a little about how it came about. Heck was born out of a project Zander Cannon had in which he would spend a 12 hour stint once a month for a whole year to create to create a 144 page graphic novel by the end of it. Although, once you read it, you’ll see that this was became a project bigger than the concept and ended up being a total of 18 chapters over 285 page. These chapters were then serialised in the digital comics magazine Double Barrel before they made their way into a nice hardcover collection thanks to Top Shelf Productions. It’s an interesting way to go about creating and releasing a body of work and one that I think worked to Cannon’s advantage as it helped create plenty of word of mouth.
What the heck is it about? Heck focuses on Hector Hammarskjold, aka Heck, who discovers a gateway to Hell when he’s cleaning out his recently deceased father’s house. Jump to 5 years later and he’s taken advantage of this gateway by venturing down into the underworld of Hell in order to deliver and receive messages from those who have passed away. Although he’s been down there many times before, this particular venture is his most dangerous as he must go further down than he’s ever before putting not just himself but also his assistant in a lot of danger.
Adventure is a focus on this story, with the story centring on his journey through Hell, but what I believe the best part about this story is the character development of Heck. Heck was the town’s football hero during his prime and that came with a lot of perks, one of which one was popularity. The result was that it shaped his personality and his motivations as he was built up by others to be the town’s most important person. At the start of the book everything he does is motivated by how people would perceive him, from following his father supernatural past (something he had been running away from most of his life) to make him proud to taking a job from a woman he went to high school in the hope that she would fall in love with him. Throughout his journey in Hell and his decent through the different rings (essentially levels of hell based of different sins) he’ll see come face-to-face with a reflection of wrong-doings and motivations in a way that will make try to overcome them in order to come a better person. It’s a creative way of revealing Heck’s flaws to him as there’s a build up of realisation before it actually clicks with him and when he does click it feels like a tonne of bricks have fallen on him.
One thing I’ve failed to mention is Heck’s assistant, Elliot. He’s a little mummy that’s a highly skilled sandwich maker with a limited vocabulary. He’s also the emotional crux of the story and by the end the real catalyst for Heck’s character development. Cannon has also been able to render him with plenty of emotion and character which you’d think isn’t an easy job considering we can’t see his face, but is achieved effectively through the way he sets up his panels along with Elliot’s body language.
Cannon also renders Heck’s emotions in a way that is powerful and pulls in the reader, myself included, at the right moments. This emotion amplifies the stakes of the story but also proves that Heck’s character transformation is not only worthwhile, but you’ll want to see him succeed. You’ll be egging him on to do the right thing and when it looks like he’s not there’s a rush of disappointment. Cannon had successfully invested me in these characters which made for a more satisfying read than your regular adventure story.
Heck’s art isn’t as polished as some of Cannon’s other work, due to the short time frame to do each chapter, it’s still very strong. This is because he decided to work in black and white, which I assume was mostly due to make each chapter achievable in 12 hours, and I think it’s better off this way as it fits the tone of the setting and narrative. Hell is a dark place, not all fire and brimstone, with the heavy use of black working well to portray it. We find out it can also be a lonely place and with Cannon’s clever framing portrays this nicely and helps with the emotional pull. Some of the background objects and people look a little deformed but as they are not the focal point and the development time Cannon allowed himself to work on each chapter this is very much forgiven.
His character designs are fantastic. Heck, while an older man, has many features of an old-timey hero. From his square jaw, short hair and adventurer’s outfit forms together a the adventurer’s archetype in the form of a man whose no longer in his prime. Elliot, on the other hand, is just adorable. His miniature stature, wide mouth full of little crocodile teeth and tightly wrapped bandages will have you going “awwwww” and make you wish he was your assistant.
Overall, Heck is a very rewarding read full of adventure and deep character moments. Throughout Heck’s decline into Hell we get to witness an emotional character redemption story wrapped in strong adventure. These emotional beats hook you in and make you want to keep on reading as you travel into not only Hell with Heck but his personal one too and you’ll want to see him strive to come out the other end. Cannon’s art is great, apart from a tiny selection of rushed looking panels, with the use of black and white used incredibly well to build Heck’s world – making it feel big while at the same time lonely and focused. It’s for all these reasons that Heck has become one of my favourite graphic novels I have read this year. I highly recommend that you give this special graphic novel a try, you won’t regret it.