Luke Williams takes a look back at The Man from Cancer, first published in Marvel UK’s STRIP! anthology – a creator-owned strip by Glenn Dakin and Phil Elliott, still fondly remembered today…
Possibly long forgotten, but not by this geek, the strip that was known as “The Man From Cancer” on this side of the Atlantic first appeared in Marvel UK’s short-lived but fondly remembered anthology STRIP!, edited by Dan Abnett.
STRIP! was an interesting confection, a mix of previously published British material (for example, the mighty “Marshal Law” by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill); European reprint, (“Storm” by Don Lawrence, “Thorgal” by Jean Van Hamme and Grzegorz Rosiński); and the edgier end of American superhero comics (cape free “Punisher” strips); plus the delightful and sadly curtailed “Chronicles of Genghis Grimtoad” by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Ian Gibson – which was also collected into a graphic album.
The anthology, which ran for just 20 issues, also featured a number of one-off, creator owned strips from creators that would later become household names (or at least in our rarefied community). And last, but not least, there was the subject of this article: the hardboiled-science-fiction- comedy-detective story featuring anthropomorphic crustaceans. “The Man from Cancer“.
Glenn Dakin and Phil Elliott came up through the photocopied fast fiction fanzines of the 1970s, the celebrated 80’s magazine Escape and pioneering British publishers such as Harrier and Trident. Collaborating frequently, they share a love of offbeat surreal humour. Phil also worked with Eddie Campbell on strips for music paper SOUNDS, now re-published.
Glenn Dakin cites the inspiration of the strip as a song he was writing in which one line was “The Man from Cancer”. It didn’t take a great leap to go from there to the “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and a detective organisation where everyone was from the star sign of Cancer. Brotherly influence can also be persuasive.
“I was chatting to my brother about the idea and said as a joke ‘for this to get any attention the hero would actually have to be a crab!’” says Glenn. “As soon as I said it, I realised I had hit on the best way to do it.”
The fact that both Glenn Dakin and Phil Elliott were born under that very star sign, sealed the deal.
“The Man from Cancer”, coloured by Steve White, starred the cowardly and workshy Crusht Acean in a series of short, intermittent and occasionally multi part detective dramas set in a future where man (and crab) have colonised space and where whimsy is alive, well and law enforcement is all the worse for it. The strip acted as a quirky and highly amusing counterbalance to some of the more serious fare that was present in the anthology
“STRIP! was the brainchild of editor and writer, Dan Abnett, who wanted to publish a creator-owned imprint,” Phil recalls. “Glenn and I had already worked with Dan on The Real Ghostbusters comic and other titles and approached him with an idea for a single-page continued story.
“When I say ‘an idea’ it was very vague and if I recall, there was no mention of crabs or anything like that! Dan put his trust in Glenn to come up with something and that was ‘The Man from Cancer’.”
The strip revels in its droll Python-esque surrealness and a particularly dry British sense of humour, a droll silliness, but without drifting into being “whacky” or “zany” – and with puns a plenty.
In the opening story, Crusht Acean is sent to investigate a murder of Professor Diukalakadu, killed by a sentient blue mould. Envious of the esteem the victim was held in and spending more effort avoiding doing his duty than he would performing it, Crusht disappears. Agent C.Urchin is sent to find out what happened to Crusht, and is everything that Crusht was.
In their second case. our indefatigable duo are tasked with investigating the killing of the notorious gangster “Tortoise”. The lackadaisical lawmen are determined not the find the real killer, so try to pin the hit on the force of gravity even going as far as getting it into court.
You get the idea.
Amongst the longer form stories, where a few one offs, too, the strip appearing in issues 1, 2, 9, 10, 11, 16 (with an article in issue 11), 18, 19 and the final issue, issue 20, with the first episode of the planned multi-part “The Blue Men” and alongside the Dakin and Elliott’s one-off, “Flatman”.
But that wasn’t the end of “The Man from Cancer”, although after a brief appearance in a BA in-flight magazine, things all went quiet for a while. Dakin and Elliott retained the rights to the strip, and offered it around a number of publishers whilst continuing to collaborate on other strips, like “Dr. Glass & the Greenhouse Warriors”.
It would take 18 years and an Atlantic crossing for the adventures of Crusht and co. to see the light of day again. In 2009, Dan Vado’s Slave Labour Graphics collected all the Marvel UK published strips, although the move to and American publisher also necessitated a name change :
“We were told that ‘cancer’ wasn’t a great buzzword in America,” Glenn explains. “It had been okay for Marvel UK. I suggested The Rockpool Files, as the first alternative that came into my head!”
That wasn’t the only change; the collection was also published in black and white.
“That was simply down to economics and the fact that I wasn’t keen on colouring it all,” notes Phil. “I’ve done a lot of colouring for other people but for some reason find it hard to colour my own work.”
Alongside the previously published strips, Dakin and Elliott also contributed a load of unpublished “Man from Cancer” strips and an illustrated text story to the collection. Copies appear on certain auction sites and well known online retailers named after continent traversing rivers.
Today, both creators are beavering away on many projects. Phil has been busy on Kickstarter, offering collections of strips created in partnership with Eddie Campbell for SOUNDS – “Rodney: The Premonition” and “The Wonders of Science“. More recent work, “The Dummy” has been published in Comic Scene Volume 2 issue 5, written by Michael Powell, and Phil Elliott’s first self coloured published art. He also publishes and contributes to “Malty Heave” with Robert Wells; issue two will include homage to Warren Magazines such as Creepy and Eerie. Elliott also sells pages of original art on one of them thar auctions sites (or you could contact him direct if you are interested in pages of his work via his official web site).
Glenn Dakin is midway through writing a science fantasy novel with an American author, working on the third novel in his gothic detective adventure “Candle Man” series. Glenn is also contributing some Batman articles for a collection by Hero Collector, for Eaglemoss Publications, and has a Star Trek related project on the horizon.
As far as “Man from Cancer” is concerned, although there are other collections of the collaborators’ work out there, there are no plans for further reprints, but “I’d love to see a full colour book in a larger format, enthuses Phil Elliott, “but that’s in the lap of the Gods.”
I’d be up for buying that!
• Glenn Dakin Official Site: www.glenndakin.com
Find out more about Candle Man and buy a copy of Beyond Infinity, a collection of strips by Glenn and Phil that includes “Flatman”, “Skiff, Sea Head”, “The Introspectre” and the “Vicar of St. Voix”
• Phil Elliott: Official Site: www.elliott-design.com
Find out more about Phil’s comics work, illustrations and grab a copy of his free comics lettering font
* Marvel UK’s STRIP should not be confused with the more recent STRIP Magazine, published by Bosnia-based Print Media Productions, a company with ambitions that, er, far out stripped its ability to deliver them, much to my own continued chagrin as its editor, and despair – Ed