Trust the Man From Cancer!

« I’ve always wanted to be a giant space crab. » — Gabe Newell

We have quite a treat for you this week. One of our very favourite creators, Mr. Glenn Dakin, has genially agreed to shed light on the inception of one of his lesser-known (but nonetheless striking) creations, Mr. Crusht Acean, aka ‘The Man From Cancer’. Take it away, Mr. Dakin!

Glenn Dakin: The phrase The Man From Cancer came to me when I was writing a song, referring to myself as a typical Cancerian.

It gave me the idea for a detective organisation where all its members were Cancerian. Of course it had that Man From U.N.C.L.E. association. As I was discussing this idea with my brother down the pub, I said – as a joke – that in order to get a magazine interested in the idea the character would have to actually BE a crab. As soon as I said this, I knew it could work…

Phil was the obvious choice to draw it, as the superb consistency of his style and great visual imagination would make readers accept the bizarre idea as a reality. Also we worked a lot together.

When I told Phil about it, he said ‘how did you know I was Cancer?‘ (much to my surprise). So it was clearly in the stars!

Marvel UK were just launching STRIP, in which creators could keep the rights to their work, so it was a natural place to send. Dan Abnett was the editor and he really got what we were trying to do with the absurd humour. After the first two-parter, he offered us a regular one-page slot.

This is Strip no. 11 (July 7, 1990, Marvel UK). Cover by Phil Elliott.

Who’s Out There?: Judging from the supplementary materials (Strip no. 11), you seem to have quite fully worked out Mr. Crush Tacean’s universe. Did you have lofty plans for the series?

GD: Not so much lofty plans, but whenever Dan Abnett gave us a chance to expand it, we enjoyed enlarging the madness of the world. These supplementary materials were created for STRIP to remind readers of the story half way through, and get new readers on board, after we had been dropped for a couple of issues.

I remember that as my confidence on it grew, and we had the story where we took the force of gravity to court, I started to think of it as a kind of visual Goon Show, following its own absurd logic.

WOT?: Could you shed some light on the series’ publication history? Were the instalments that didn’t appear in ‘Strip’ published elsewhere before they were collected in ‘The Rockpool Files’? (by Slave Labor in Sept. 2009)

GD: You will have to ask Phil that, they might have appeared somewhere, but I don’t think so. We did have a two-pager in a Channel Tunnel magazine!

WOT?: What brought about the change of title? I was quite fond of ‘The Man From Cancer’, I must say.

GD: We were asked to change the name as ‘Cancer’ – we were told – was not exactly a fun buzzword.

« Sez who? »

I think that was the suggestion of Slave Labor, the publisher. The Rockpool Files was the first thing that came into my head, and Phil liked it. The Rockford Files had just been on TV, of course!

This is the book you have to get. While it’s rather… compact (14 x 21,5 cm), in glorious black and white, and out of print, it’s very nearly comprehensive… and most of all, it exists!

WOT?: What’s the story behind these huge gaps between appearances (issues 2 to 9, then 11 to 16)?

GD: As far as I remember, the second half of the Diukalakadu story appeared the next issue in STRIP [no.2 — RG]. Then Dan asked Phil and I to keep it going as a regular feature. We agreed, but as they were working many issues ahead, it took us a little while to launch the new stories.

The only problem was, as it was an anthology comic with multiple contributors, the page count was hard to level out every issue. As the only one-pager, Man From Cancer was the easiest to drop. I think getting asked to create the supplementary materials mentioned above, was a bit of an apology for us being so bumped around. Also the text story ‘Wallow’ in the Rockpool Files book, was originally created in 24 hours by special request of Dan, to solve a pagination crisis when a strip didn’t turn up in time. But then STRIP was canned before it could appear.

WOT?: You’ve collaborated quite a bit with other cartoonists. I presume that the division of labour varies from project to project. In this case, was there a clear line between the job titles? Did you serve strictly as the writer, or did you provide storyboards, layouts or conceptual sketches? And vice versa on Phil’s part?

GD: I never typed up a script for Phil, I just drew a rough of the strip. In this I visualised a lot of the characters, but it was up to Phil if he followed my suggestions. Sometimes he would create an amazing surprise like a giant octopus answering the phones at Cancer HQ. Phil didn’t write anything but he did loads of visual world-creation as we went along.

This tale, the second Man From Cancer investigation, appeared in Strip nos. 9-11, 16-19 (1990, Marvel UK). The lovely colours are by Steve White.

And since I hinted at the existence of ‘supplementary materials’, it would be callous of me to leave them unseen.

A bit of context from Mr. Dakin: « How nice to see this after all these years!
I read it with great trepidation, wondering what on earth I had said… The upbeat piece on the left ‘
I’m an optimum overview kind of guy…‘ was supposed to be by Mr C Urchin (Crusht’s cheerfully inept assistant), which is why it reads a bit odd, with Crusht at the top. I think the original plan got lost when it was given to the designer at Marvel UK. »

I hope you enjoyed our chat with Mr. Dakin, whom I cannot thank enough for his generosity and charming manner. In the event that your interest has been piqued, take a gander at our earlier post entitled Glenn Dakin’s Alter Ego, Abraham Rat.

-RG

Glenn Dakin’s Alter Ego, Abraham Rat

« What’s the point in eternity… if nothing ever changes? » — White Ant gets in the final bon mot (Captain Oblivion no. 1)

In the mid-1980s, the surprise success of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird‘s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles touched off a veritable avalanche of ever crappier, hastily-assembled and cheaply-produced knockoffs — at least Eastman and Laird initially meant their creation as a joke. Oh, there were some real gems amidst the rubbish, but as Sturgeon’s Law tells us, the bad greatly outweighed the good, let alone the great. This is now known as the Great 1980s Black and White Comics Glut.

Among the good-to-great (well, to my taste) were a score of short-lived onomatopoeic humour anthologies such as !Gag! (Harrier), Honk! (Fantagraphics), Splat! (Mad Dog Graphics), Bop, Buzz, Twist (along with the venerable Snarf, all from Kitchen Sink)… the mutant progeny of Zap Comix, I suppose.

It was within the pages of Honk! that I was greeted by such across-the-pond talent as Eddie Campbell, Glenn Dakin, Phil Elliott and Paul Grist. Their work provided a sorely-needed gust of English country air to the superhero-fatigued reader, though one had to keep both eyes open, as alternative comics publishing in the ’80s was a maddening mixture of whack-a-mole and ‘throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks‘.

Now that the stage is set, I’ll share some of my favourite Dakin strips. He’s been a busy chap, creating several solo series: Temptation, Captain Oblivion/Abe Rat, Robot Crusoe; collaborations: Paris: the Man of Plaster (with Steve Way), Mr. Day and Mr. Night, The Man From Cancer and Greenhouse Warriors (all with Phil Elliott), as well as YA novels (the spooky Candle Man) and animation (the astonishing Shaun the Sheep).

Today, I’ll focus of my very favourite Dakin creation (his most understated and personal), the fancifully autobiographical Abe Rat.

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The author introduces his creature, and who better to do it? From the sterling compendium Abe – Wrong for All the Right Reasons (2001, Top Shelf).

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A Song of Spring was originally published in Fast Fiction no. 14 (April 1985, Fast Fiction).

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As this Captain Oblivion one-shot was left out of the Abe collection (the original artwork was lost!), the completist will want this one as well… and will not be disappointed nor go broke in the process. This is Captain Oblivion no. 1 (Aug. 1987, Harrier). Cover colours by Mr. Phil Elliott.

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Dakin’s comrade-in-ink Eddie Campbell (Abe’s his fave Dakin strip too) provides the introduction to the collection, and therein shares these thoughts: « Back when we were doing our little photocopied comics (what I term ‘small press’) in the ’80s, we constantly challenged each other to take the comics form in new directions. Dakin evolved in exciting ways in his Abe stories. The were autobiographical, but more concerned with the inner life than the physical one. He arrived at an approach which I termed ‘discourse’. He would devise characters and symbols, and borrow others, combining them in argumentative juxtapositions. There would be passages where he’d use a character from history or a novel to push his contemplation towards a resolution. Once he even called a halt to proceedings and ran a variant ending. »

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed making Abe’s acquaintance.

-RG