A couple of years back I happened upon a wonderful bizarre graphic novel entitled Cancertown.
When I say ‘happened upon’ it is fairer to say that I hunted it out as I had a passing acquaintance, at the time, with the artist, Stephen Downey.
As a self-admitted Marvel zombie (and DC aficionado) my taste in graphic novels normally ran to the mainstream, regular tales of spandex covered heroes and heroines, with only the occasional foray into the ‘other side’ of comics, such as O’Barr’s The Crow, Watchmen, etc.
Then Stephen recommended Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth – which is an amazingly complex and twisted story that feels like it is part fantasy and part gritty crime noir in which society’s lost and dispossessed sometimes lose themselves in – to me, written by the breathtakingly weird genius that is Cy Dethan; the rest, as they say, is history.
The anti-hero , and main character, of the story – Vince Morley – was an awesome character, who deserved to be up there with the likes of John Constantine and Dresden and while Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth could very well have been a stand-alone story – and while Cy was kept busy penning the likes of The Indifference Engine, Slaughterman’s Creed, and White Knuckle – it was also crying out for a sequel.
And, like a willing genie, Cy granted our wish as, as if fully formed from his temple (not to mention artist Graeme Howard, colourist Peter Mason, and the letterer extraordinaire that is Nic Wilkinson!), Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours sprang to life!
Set six months after the events of Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth, Vince Morley is a dangerously sick man. Bugfuck is in a psychiatric hospital, sticky fingers picking through the darkest corners of the mind that brought Cancertown into existence. The crossing points between Morley’s two realities are wearing thin and all the rules are changing.
From the start the stakes seems somehow raised in Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours. That isn’t to say that the original was a slouch, by any means, but there is a much greater sense of urgency here. The fact that familiar faces are seen, and dispatched, in pretty short order is definitely a key factor here, and one that I found surprising as I thought that the Players were going to be one of the corner stones of the tale, along with Morley himself. Of course if you want to introduce a new threat what better way to do so than by taking down one of the big guns? As Ric Flair was wont to say, to be the man you have to beat the man … and to be the Player you have to beat the Player. And mutilate, and decapitate, and so many other –tates that I can’t even think of!
It isn’t all action, of course – though there is plenty of gut-wrenching carnage along the way – as Dethan is extremely adept at writing dialogue that is a realistic and believable as the characters deserve. This is where Nic Wilkinson’s lettering comes into its own, with a unique ‘voice’ created for each of the old and new faces alike. The original Cancertown had some of the most amazing art of any comic title that year (or any year) and while Graeme Howard and Peter Mason may not bring the same level of detail and clarity to the story – especially where Downey and Cook separated reality and Cancertown itself with such brilliance – they more than make up for it with truly harrowing and emotive art that easily portrays the horror of where Morley finds himself this time around. Howard’s art has a nightmarish and fevered quality to it that makes you feel that Morley is always in Cancertown, even when he’s in reality – or as close to reality as he manages to cling on to, this time around. Peter Mason’s colours are extremely well suited to the art, warm and rich when required and macabre and stomach churning too as evidenced by the decaying and decomposing giant floating eyeballs.
There are two issues with Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours, but these are both relatively minor. The first is that you really need to have read Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth prior to the sequel or you may find yourself drowning in the deluge of characters and story; the second is that, as good as it is, this sequel isn’t as good as the first one. Now, bear with me here for a moment as I explain something: Cancertown 2 is still an EXCELLENT book, which shows that there is still an alternative to Marvel and DC – to the mainstream heroics found in the Avengers or Superman – and it delivers on many, many levels. It just felt like it ended as it got going; if there is a sequel on the horizon, and Cancertown 3 is the finale in a trilogy, then this will be an amazing mid-chapter book and even if there isn’t then it is still a pretty damn amazing one in its own right.
So, all I can say in summary is that if you like stories that straddle the thin line between fantasy and reality, between nightmares and daydreams, between love and hate – like a lovechild of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere – then you will like this too.
…and, so you should!
Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours is published by Markosia and due for launch in November 2012
Author bio: Cy Dethan is a British writer who began his comics career in 2006 as writer of the Starship Troopers: Extinction Protocol strip for Mongoose Publishing.
In 2007, Cy was hand-picked to take over the reins of Markosia’s flagship ongoing series, Starship Troopers. He has subsequently written several creator-owned titles for Markosia, including Slaughterman’s Creed, The Indifference Engine and White Knuckle.
Cy’s first creator-owned book, Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth, was a major independent hit and a sequel, Cancertown: Blasphemous Tumours, is due for release in 2012.
Recently, he has joined the writing team of the Unseen Shadows transmedia project. Before turning to comics, Cy was an award-winning freelance copywriter and editor. Prior to that he was a professional magician and, quite frankly, he’d rather not talk about that…
Cy is represented by Jordan X Creative Arts Agency
Four and a half nerds out of five!