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Strange Tales

Strange Tales Spotlight: Max Cannon

The Red Meat cartoonist sinks his teeth into a re-imagining of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four-plus Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

By Sean T. Collins

For many members of my generation, Max Cannon’s twisted humor strip Red Meat was our first glimpse at the weird, wild world of comics outside super heroes and the Sunday funnies. Whether you first stumbled across one of his book collections in a hip book or record store or laughed yourself stupid at his regular appearances in The Onion and various alternative weekly newspapers, seeing Cannon’s deadpan art juxtaposed against the bizarre black humor of his cast of characters was like sneaking a peek at the comics your mother warned you about.

But it turns out Cannon himself always had a soft spot for the mainstream: He’s been a Marvel fan his whole life. Maybe that’s why Cannon’s gunning straight for the top in his STRANGE TALES #2 contribution: He’s taking on the characters who kicked off Marvel’s Silver Age streak of genius, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. Cannon took some time to tell Marvel.com all about it.

Marvel.com: Tell us what you’ll be up to in STRANGE TALES, Max.

A page from Max Cannon's contribution to STRANGE TALES #2
Max Cannon: Respectively, in two separate installments, I’ll be tackling the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. To me, they are the two iconic and legendary titles that ushered in the Marvel Age, [although I first fell for them] around 1974, or thereabouts. Without spoiling any surprises, I’ve presented both my installments as “the original versions” that Lee and Kirby kept hidden for over 40 years. And by “original versions,” I sort of imagined that at the time of this visionary leap in comic storytelling, both Lee and Kirby were working inhuman 18-hour days cranking out an unholy number of monster, romance and Western titles.

I pictured them operating on a crippling sleep deficit—fueled only by sheer genius and a steady influx of caffeine, nicotine and stale danishes. Subsequently, their fevered late-night attempts to forge a new and astounding direction for comics were earnest but ill-fated. Upon editorial scrutiny by the harsh light of day, their bold visions of a “Marvel Universe” were considered too daring for the times, and were hastily returned to the duo for “reworking” to make them more palatable for the youthful comic book audience of the early 1960s. So those were my writing parameters when I came up with the concepts.

Marvel.com: So the idea for your story is sort of taking the Marvel-ousness out of the early Lee-Kirby Marvels?

Max Cannon: Ah, so that’s how it is. I thought I was merely adding to the intrinsic Marvel-ousness of the source material. Oh well, let’s move on. [Laughs]

Marvel.com: Your usually style is pretty far afield from the Marvel norm. What do you bring to the table as a writer and artist that's different from what readers might be used to?

Max Cannon:
After 20 years as an alternative strip cartoonist, animator, humorist and screenwriter—and a lot longer than that as a diehard Marvelite—I suppose I could say that I come at things from my own, um, unique angle. I guess the readers will have to be the judges of the what, why and how on that and if it works or not.

Marvel.com: Is there a difference in the way you approached working with Marvel characters and concepts vs. how you approach your own, creator-owned work?

Max Cannon: Comics-wise, I’m used to working in a short, three-panel format, so doing longer form work is like getting to spread my wings and fly...and then getting to lay pulsating, translucent egg clusters in the still-warm remains of my childhood heroes...and then getting to sell their kidneys on eBay. Otherwise, I pretty much stick to my usual storytelling methods.

Marvel.com: What'll make the Marvel zombies out there sit up and take notice?

Max Cannon: Hopefully, they will be laughing too hard to sit up. And if they’re actual zombies, I suppose the smell of my brain would do the trick.

Marvel.com: What's the first Marvel comic you remember reading?

Max Cannon: Hard to pin down an exact book. However, I do remember that Herb Trimpe was drawing the Hulk, John Buscema was pencilling  FANTASTIC FOUR, John Romita was the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN artist, George Tuska was on IRON MAN and Gene Colan was giving me nightmares with his freaky cinematic illustration style on DAREDEVIL and the Black Widow.

Marvel.com: What Marvel comics are you reading these days?

Max Cannon: STRANGE TALES, of course!

Marvel.com: What's your favorite Marvel title at the moment?

Max Cannon:
See above.

Marvel.com: Of all time?

Max Cannon: I will always have a special place in my heart for CAPTAIN AMERICA. Guess I’m just loyal to the dream, too.

Marvel.com: Any other Marvel heroes or villains you'd like to tackle someday?

Max Cannon: Absolutely. Too many to name here, but the Avengers came to mind right away, so I’ll go with them. And I would love to have some good-spirited fun at the expense of Daredevil, Luke Cage, the Skrulls, Nick Fury, the Sentinels—just to name a few. 

Marvel.com: For those fans out there who aren’t familiar with your work, what do you suggest they check out if they want to see more?

Max Cannon:
Yikes. Uh....you can go to redmeat.com, the official web site for my weekly alt-strip Red Meat—though it always makes a nice gift for that someone special if you purchase any one of my three book collections from St. Martin’s Griffin. Hint hint. [Laughs] I’m not sure if comedycentral.com still has my animated series, Shadow Rock, up on their “Motherload web shows” section or not, but you can give it a try. I’ve recently written a feature comedy film that goes into production next summer, which doesn’t portray any super-powered beings but is worthwhile nevertheless.

Marvel.com: What else are you working on these days?

Max Cannon: I’m working on two screenplays, doing some preliminary writing on a graphic novel, teaching college animation, publishing my weekly comic strip and praising the almighty name of the God of Thunder for hearing my wretched pleas to get to actually work on a project for Marvel. It’s every boy’s dream come true.


Check out Max Cannon's story in STRANGE TALES #2, on sale now!

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