ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Dave Chisholm is a comic book artist in Rochester. He’s had a long path to get here. He was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, then moved to Minnesota, then to Salt Lake City, where he spent most of his time growing up.
Flash forward to the present; he’s been in Rochester for almost ten years now, after coming to Eastman School of Music for his doctorate in jazz trumpet. He’s releasing a new sci-fi book in four issues called “CANOPUS.” The first volume is coming out Wednesday, with comic book signing at Comics Etc. tomorrow at 11 a.m.
He’s always loved music and comics, but the love for one of them started in the crib.
“My earliest memories were comic books,” he said. “My mom claims to this day that my first word was Spiderman. Which is probably not true.”
His path to changing his love of reading comics into making them, happened when he discovered what was happening behind and pencil.
“It became more about the people making the comic, than the characters that were being portrayed,” he said. “I wasn’t so much interested in Spiderman than Todd McFarland’s spider man.”
Chisholm’s passion and trademark is using form to tell a story. Whether that’s changing the frames of the comic, the drawing style, or even coloring.
Compare this to a movie, or the video at the top of this article. In that medium, one frame is followed by one frame. There is always a sequence. But in comics, an artist can have one frame take up a whole page, or frames squished and bent together, or frames on top of each other.
“The way you can have the form reflect the content is really the biggest draw for me,” Chisholm said. “You can tell any story in comics, and if you’re clever enough, you can have the form of it reflect whatever the story is telling.”
In addition to a hefty freelance portfolio, Chisholm has released two full-length comic books under his name. The first was a huge book called “Let’s Go to Utah,” which he admits was probably too big a project for beginner.
But the previous book was “INSTRUMENTAL,” a multi-media project that he wrote, drew, and composed music for.
That project also turned into a teaching job. He’s now teaching a class at the Rochester Institute of Technology at the school of individualized studies called “Comics and Music.”
“It’s a class focused on formalism,” he said. “Synthesizing formal aspects of the comics language, and trying to find analogous aspects in formal music, and trying to find ways to combine these two experiences to create a more immersive experience for the consumer. It’s been really awesome.”
After INSTRUMENTAL’s 2017 release, Chisholm wanted to explore more stories, constantly propelled by the goal beyond the horizon, and his “obsessive” process moving him forward.
“When I’m working, I call it time travel. I sit down on my drawing table, and I lose four hours,” he said.
CANOPUS uses story and form to detail the story of a woman named Helen, who wakes up on an alien world, with no memory, except for a vague urgency to get home. Her past was erased, and must draw from the world around her, to create a new path.
“Along the way her memories start to come back gradually as monsters on the surface of the planet,” he said.
But like any comic, especially ones with alien settings, CANOPUS explores very human, and this case, the personal side of things.
“The way we process resentment, and the way memory defines us, and how so many people, maybe most people, how the defining moment of their lives are the worst moments of their lives,” he said.
“I have a real struggle in my own emotional landscape with letting go of resentment, and really understanding forgiveness,” Chisholm said. “Sometimes it feels like forgiving someone without contrition on their part feels like an injustice.”
Beyond telling a great story with fantastic visuals, this project accomplishes a personal goal, by using the other side of the pencil, drawing a new form, and to create a new path forward.
“Being on this side of it, it’s definitely helped me,” Chisholm said.