Friday, May 23, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #142: The Fish Police, Vol. 1 by Steve Moncuse

Everyone tells you that you can't go home again, that you can't go back to the scenes of your youth. But that only applies to real life: the art you loved when young is still there, ready to be rediscovered. It might have shockingly changed over the years -- become smarter or more obvious than you remembered it, even turned into something you never would have noticed the first time around. But it'll still be there, and we all know that what's really changed is you.

I read Steve Moncuse's comic Fish Police many times: first the original black and white Fishwrap issues, then the color reprints from Comico (and their trade paperback or three, I think), and then the return to black and white in the early '90s. I re-read the whole thing once or twice in the '90s, and then put them away. (I never saw the TV show -- but, then, hardly anyone did.) My copies were sitting in longboxes in my basement, and were destroyed, like so much else, in the flood after Hurricane Irene in 2011.

(I'm making that sound more melodramatic than in was: I hadn't been in those boxes for at least five years at that point, and probably more like ten. I'd stopped buying floppy comics long before, and was too busy with kids and work and life to dig into the old ones and read stacks of comics the way I did when I was 16 and 22 and 25. I figured I'd get back to reading that way, eventually -- and, who knows? maybe I could or will or might.)

But comics are a mature publishing ecosystem these days, and nearly everything comes back, in some form, eventually. And so IDW brought out a new edition of "Hairballs," the first arc from those early 1985 issues of Fish Police, as The Fish Police, Vol. 1 in 2011. (They haven't done any other volumes since, which doesn't mean that they won't, but it's not a good sign.)

And Fish Police is still what it was then, almost a perfectly emblematic exemplar of the indy-comics movement of that time: a bit rough around the edges, odd and particular and idiosyncratic, drawn reasonably well but with clear deficits, driven by a shaggy-dog plot that was more of an excuse than an armature, filled with smart dialogue, and, more than anything, wearing its influences on its sleeve. That was the era when the second-tier companies didn't exactly do superheroes -- sure, all of those books focused on iconic, heroic central characters with distinctive clothing, who saved the world or their friends regularly and who often had special abilities, but they didn't have codenames and masks, so they definitely weren't superheroes. (This was really important to a lot of people at the time, in the way finicky distinctions are always important to those making them.)

Gill is a cop in a tough city. He's also a fish, and the fishiness of himself and his fellows is lampshaded constantly in these early issues, with jokes about climbing stairs, beer mugs, and other unlikely underwater things. (This, mind you, close to two decade before SpongeBob did the same kind of thing without the knowing attitude.) He's up against the evil organization SQUID, run by the villainous Hook, though it's not quite clear what SQUID actually does in these early issues, other than just generally being evil and hanging out in a spooky castle. There's also a couple of dames -- one a femme fatale, the other the nice-girl receptionist at the police station, at least as far as we know at first -- a scientist mixed up with SQUID's schemes and his own, an informant with unknown loyalties, and various barmen, muscle, and other hangers-on. It's all very noirish, in that winking post-Chandler way, but Moncuse never quite plays it straight: he's winking at it all the whole time.

This isn't a complete story; the plotting is elliptical and plans fall apart rather than come to any point -- a concern that I seem to remember continued as the series went on; I'm not sure it ever had anything like an ending in its twenty-six issues -- but it's fun and quirky and more like itself than anything else could ever be. It's not really a lost classic of comics -- I'd never go that far -- but it's readable and just as amusing and different now as it was in 1984. And I do hope IDW keeps going; I'd like a chance to re-read the rest of this series, and remind myself of what happened to Gill and Hook and Angelfish and Goldie and the rest. So, if this sounds at all intriguing, run out and buy a copy to encourage them to do a Volume 2.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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