Emily Shen

The day is Wednesday, March 21st, 2007, and a young kid is sat at a dusty old computer in his primary school’s ICT room, teeming with excitement over a sort-of-inexplicable class task: to create a superhero and give a presentation on it. Finally, he could do the writing and imagination he filled his days with anyway - and call it work! But the task was harder than anticipated. How do you even create a new superhero? Where would you even start? With the powers? How do you stop them being a pale imitation of the greats which have come before? Perhaps these existential questions were a little beyond the point - he was running out of time. He needed something now - then? - to offer as the product of an afternoon’s work, and to make good on the understanding shared by everyone else in the school that this kid is a walking, talking encyclopedia of superheroism.

He needed a superhero. But who?

Thirteen years later, we are mere days away from the ADC Online premiere of The Adventures of Sharkman, an “aquatic audio adventure starring none other than the world’s greatest half-man, half-shark superhero” (according to our press release). On paper, The Adventures of Sharkman were told across 17 or 18 issues, written from 2007 - 2009, read by me to my various tutor groups. To be frank, I’ve got no clue why I was given a platform to just sit and read my superhero adventures to everyone, but my role as class storyteller quickly became somewhat mythologised. Reading and writing these stories gradually gave me the confidence to try out for school plays, talent shows and all sorts, as well as fermenting that yearning to spend my life as a writer, a yearning which remains just as true in 2020 as it was in 2007 (the jury is yet to decide on whether this was a good idea). More deeply, it firmly solidified my enduring love and affection for superheroes.

The Original Sharkman!Jasper Cresdee-Hyde

Creating Sharkman cemented and kicked off those lineages which have run through the course of my life - writing, performance and superheroes - at different speeds, but are coming together once more in Emily Shen's absolutely glorious comic book art and my occasionally-HQ sound editing. The Adventures of Sharkman is a mad, whirlwind adventure featuring a whopping 23-strong cast who have all put in the most phenomenal, funny and emotional work across a manic week of recording to bring these characters to life. Our producer Vicky Chiu has, as ever, managed to bring everyone together and construct a functioning schedule all the way from Hong Kong. Thomas Field, our sterling composer, has arranged the most beautiful and epic scores as befits a comic book superhero adventure, and my co-writer, Jake Rose, has been an invaluable aid in sharpening up dialogue and scenes, and throwing in great gags.

The Adventures of Sharkman is a classic, rip-roaring comic book action-adventure serial with big, explosive set pieces, Marvel-esque gags and a timely message. It’s packed with hilarious cameos and epic, uplifting moments, and it is positively, unequivocally mad. It’s the kind of production that could never have happened in ‘normal’ Cambridge Theatre - it’d look awful. The basic set-up, of Sharkman squaring off against the slippery Seaweed Man and Seaweed Boy, is adapted from the very first issue, and much of the world-building is taken from my original books too - but, equally, it’s a story made from history, infused with the age of superhero cinema that has occurred over the past thirteen years. As such, a lot of the humour is suitably meta, but on a deeper level, it’s a love letter to superheroism. 

The best superhero movies deconstruct what it means to be a hero; Spider-Man 2, Iron Man 3, Into the Spider-Verse, The Dark Knight, the Avengers Saga - the list goes on. Now, more than ever, the world is realising that a superhero can be anyone, and can come from anywhere, but that these heroes are human, too. The best superheroes are human, in their emotion and pathos, and what we’ve tried to do in The Adventures of Sharkman is remind people that even the greatest and most fantastical superheroes can fail, get knocked down, and feel distinctly un-heroic. Sharkman is divorced and has a complicated relationship with his teenage daughter. The franchise bearing his name is dead in the water. People don’t really take him seriously anymore. He’s an old has-been, a relic of superheroism long gone. It was important to me that I didn’t just pluck Sharkman from the pages without dusting him off; with me, Sharkman has grown old.

I needed a hero in 2007; and now, in 2020, I need him once more - and I am so, so excited to share him with the world again.

All that history and time is wrapped up in and charging The Adventures of Sharkman - it’s a product of the modern boom of superhero cinema, forever changing the landscape of popular culture, and it’s charged with my relationship with that too. I became a film blogger when I was 12, writing stories and editorials about movie news for a small geek blog with adults I now see as mentors and friends (all this meaning I grew up way too quickly). I wrote well over a thousand articles across the years and had a few good hits. I got to interview Drew Peace and Shane Black, respective writer and director of Iron Man 3 in 2013, and I attended the press premiere of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice some years later, where I got to see an awkward introduction by Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill. Film blogging and, later, filmmaking, consolidated not just my fandom but also my confidence that I would study Film - a plan which, within a few weeks of that degree, fell apart entirely, culminating in my arrival at Cambridge to study HSPS.


Mountain View

Read More: Soundtrack to my quarantine

With that academic journey, the innocent fandom of my youth has ebbed and flowed, and sometimes feels a little lost - but making The Adventures of Sharkman has brought it to the fore once more, and reminded me that, deep down, I am a geek, a nerd, a fan, and hopefully the show will bring out the little fan in all of us. It takes that collective fandom and locks it into the story, making it as much a commentary on the positive power of fandom as anything else. A story of a superhero, but also one about superheroes. It’s a big adventure story to share with the world, yet it’s simultaneously deeply personal to me, and represents a fusion of disparate elements of my life. Superheroes, fandom, the film industry, Cambridge, politics (of course it’s got some critiques of capitalism) - and, above all else, Sharkman. He was the first (the original, you might say) of my creations and writings, the first world from my mind I shared with an audience. Across thirteen years, and no doubt across the years yet to come, that impulse to imagine and share hasn’t gone away. The classroom has become a quarantined bedroom, the paper and ink evolved into radio waves, and I - all of us - have grown much, much older.

But one very, very important thing unites these worlds and times apart. One tale, one story, one superhero, reawakened with a new lease of life. I needed a hero in 2007; and now, in 2020, I need him once more - and I am so, so excited to share him with the world again.

The Adventures of Sharkman splashes onto the ADC Theatre YouTube Channel and CamFM at 19:00 on Friday, May 22nd.