The History of Pancreas Joe: Part 3

Planet Pancreas

Towards the end of 1986, Tony decided to buy a 4 track tape recorder. Soon he and Denny had formed the avant-garde band Planet Pancreas, modeled after the experimental Bay Area group "The Residents". Their first collaboration was on a song called Jack the Magic Strawman. (Jack was something of a legend to their group of friends. In 1978 while working at Shakey's Pizza in Northridge Ca.. Denny had found a post card advertising a children's entertainer named Jack the Magic Strawman. The back of the card told all about his act, and on the front was a color photo of a man dressed as a strawman. Denny showed it to Tony and Shawn back when they were in the first incarnation of PJ & CA and they all thought it was bizarre. A couple of years later while driving down Fallbrook Ave. in Canoga Park, CA. Denny saw an old Ford Van parked in front of a house. Painted in large letters on the side was the name Jack the Magic Strawman and Denny realized that this was Jack's van. A couple of weeks after that, late one night ( and in a state of inebriation) he and Tony crept up to the van, not to do anything malicious, but to look inside and see what they could. They saw what you would expect from a child's entertainer, balloons, props, etc. and also saw that Jack's partner was named Bubbles the Clown.) They experimented with a piece that involved Gregorian Chants called "Sceletos" and wrote a piece to accompany a film that they had made together, based on a painting by Denny, "To Build a Fire".Poster from the Planet Pancreas Haight Ashbury Concert, featuring Jack

Denny, a renowned artist, had been asked to participate in a charity art show to assist an arts program for underprivileged children. It was to take place at the Haight Asbury Community Center. When the charity director found out that Denny also was in an experimental band, he asked if they would perform at the show. Soon a number of filmmakers and performance artists had also been invited and an evening of entertainment had been planned. Shawn had also agreed to play a couple of songs.

On September 5, 1987, the show, Night of a 1000 Fools, featuring dance, films and performance art went on. The video of $30 Guitar was shown. Shawn performed 5 songs solo, a few Bob Dylan tunes, a hymn and with Rick, another former PJ & CA member, a song from a musical he was writing, "Good Morning America". Next Planet Pancreas went on. They had a couple of friends performing a mime to some of the numbers, like Jack the Magic Strawman, as well as video monitors and films playing behind Sceletos and To Build A Fire. On the final number, the Monkees' classic (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone, Denny and Tony were joined by Shawn and Rick, making for a PJ & CA reunion.

Planet Pancreas set: (*denotes cover) Jack the Magic Strawman; Instrumental; Sceletos; Canary Jig at Midway; Picnic in the Jungle*; To Build a Fire; Rock & Roll*; (I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone.*

Of Comics and Columns

Soon after, Tony had begun attending California State University, Hayward, and joined the college newspaper, The Pioneer. At first he concentrated on writing music reviews and other feature articles. By spring of '88 he had become News Editor, and was up for the job of Editor in Chief, but decided to accept the job of General Manager of the Campus Radio station instead in the fall. During the summer Tony continued to work on the paper, now as Feature Editor. The paper had one comic strip, written by a student, that Tony didn't think of too highly. He decided that he would submit an idea for a strip based on the character of Pancreas. When he had first started in the original band in 1979, he had started drawing a strip to amuse friends that had gone away to college at UC Santa Cruz (one of whom, April, would later marry Denny). The comics featured the adventures of Pancreas Joe and Canker Sore wreaking havoc on the laid back school, and were written in crude stick figure style (see the cover of the Paris Concert program for an example).

It was this same crude drawing style that he used in the strip that he submitted to the paper and it was immediately rejected.

Meet Pancreas Joe: My World And Welcome To ItWhen Tony showed the comic to Denny (as well as the strip that the paper was publishing) Denny agreed that with him doing the artwork, and both working on the stories, they could do a great strip. Beginning in Fall of 1988, "Meet Pancreas Joe" began appearing in the Pioneer. The strip featured the characters Pancreas Joe, Jack the Magic Strawman and Mr. Anatomy as the 3 friends whose misadventures were followed. The strip included some pointed opinions on politics, as well as popular culture, and featured some of the best artwork to be seen in comics since the days of Winsor McCay. Denny would spend hours preparing the intricate line work that was required for the strips, (See Sci Fi Fun or Murder Go Round) and over time, as Tony became more involved with other projects, wrote most of the storylines. The strip featured such cultural luminaries as George Bush, Shirley McClaine, Salvador Dali, Morton Downey Jr., Geraldo Rivera and Alan Hale. The final 2 strips in the series featured the death of its main character, at the hands of Mr. Anatomy. At the 1988 California Collegiate Newspaper Association Awards the strip won 2nd place for best comic strip, of all college newspapers in the state.

Also at the same time, Tony, who was concentrating on running the radio station, could no longer act as an editor on the paper, but wanted to continue to contribute. He convinced the editor to allow him to write a column as Pancreas Joe and took the title of National Affairs Editor (after one of his journalistic hero's, Hunter S. Thompson, who had that title at Rolling Stone). The column appeared once a week and covered everything from national events to school elections.

Hello Kiddies and the End of Pancreas

In spring on 1989, and soon to graduate, Tony decided that he wanted to produce a television show on the campus station. He knew he didn't want to do a news or interview show, which is what the other students were doing (though he briefly toyed with the idea of doing a serious interview show dressed in a cow costume).

He finally settled on a children's show, again using the characters he knew best, Pancreas Joe and his friends. He cleaned up Pancreas and made him a clean cut young man (played by David a friend from the newspaper) and called him Uncle Panc. Jack the Magic Strawman and Mr. Anatomy also became part of the cast, along with Miss Paige, who taught exercises and dances, and a character from the old band days, the Professor, who would teach science. Tony lent his voice to a hand puppet Elvis the Snake, who was the troublemaker of the show. The show was called "Uncle Panc's Clubhouse" and was shot on a set made up to look like a kid's clubhouse. The show included a science segment, a segment on animals, a cartoon and a fairytale, acted out by the cast. 4 episodes were produced with the help of April, an educator, who reviewed the scripts, and were shown on KSUH which reached approximately 100,000 homes.

With the children's show, the history of Pancreas Joe ends.

ShawnDenny continues his work in the arts, having numerous shows in the Bay Area, eventually becoming President of the San Francisco Art Institute Alumni Association. He and Shawn formed a production company in 1990 and produced a show written by Shawn called "American Dioramas" that was performed in clubs throughout the Bay Area in 1990. Shawn continues to write and produce new music. Tony graduated with a degree in Mass Communication in June of 1989, and with Denny has produced a couple of short experimental films, as well as assisting Shawn and Denny in their projects.

Rick continued in music and was leader of the renowned Seattle based group, The Puddlejumpers, whose 2 CDs, "Choices" and "Out of the Shadows" have been multi-award winners and played concerts throughout the Northwest. Kurt continues in music, and is a sought after studio musician in the LA area. Fred, the band he played with for so many years that had started as Gutterspit, played clubs in LA throughout the 80s but eventually broke up. Steve Bell, a founding member of Gutterspit and producer/director of the $30 Guitar video, passed away in February of 1987. Jack the Magic Strawman, inspiration for so much of the Pancreas legacy, never knew of his fame in song and comic and probably never will.

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