The Fish Police – Hairballs. Or why sometimes the past should stay the past. It’s warmer, fuzzier and happier that way….
By Steve Moncuse
Oh, never go back, never go back……
It wasn’t long ago I was talking about the re-release of Steve Moncuse’s The Fish Police:
“There’s almost part of me that’s terrified of picking this one up – will it live up to the memories? Only one way to tell of course….”
And the reason I was so worried about re-reading this is how much I loved The Fish Police when I first read it as a teen – I seem to recall my first encounter was Comico re-releasing the first few issues as a collection. (…..quickly checks Wikipedia – oh my God, 1987. How is that possible? Nearly 24 years ago. I’m too old.)
There are many things I adore from 1987, back when I was young. Taking just one of them; The Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me album, an album that feels as beautiful, exciting and original today as it did when I first heard it twenty-three years ago and even now, as I write this, I’m remembering the opening guitar parts and a frisson of nostalgic joy is going through my head and I’m reaching across to the iPod dock to set it playing as soon as I finish this line….
Okay, it’s playing, fresh and vibrant and beautiful and exciting as the day I bought it back in 1987. Sadly, I can’t say the same for The Fish Police, even though I really wanted it to be everything I remembered.
But how much of that is memory messing with me? I remember it being an absolute laugh riot. And sure, there’s some funny bits on that… the first couple of pages made me laugh all over again, and lulled me into a reassuring sense that this was going to be as good as I (mis)remembered it. And that false sense of security kept me going for quite a while, until I finally had to admit that, although there’s some funny, although it’s original(ish) and although there’s a fun story here, it’s something that was a damn site better when I first read it, and sadly it just hasn’t aged very well.
(Fish Police page 1 – and we’re right into the mystery – fish & stairs?)
Basic story… Inspector Gill wakes up one day and finds himself a fish. Underwater (sort of), surrounded by lots of other fish. But something isn’t right, and Gill has all these strange memories of a life elsewhere, except the memories aren’t fully formed, he can’t quite put his finger on it, but he’s obviously remembering a life as a human and dammit, he’s wondering where the hell his legs went.
Why is he here? Why does everyone here act like he’s always been Inspector Gill? Why does his boss at the Police Dept. hate his guts so much? Why is the criminal organisation known as S.Q.U.I.D. so interested in him? Why are there even stairs? And just how does beer stay in your glass if you’re underwater?
So Gill gets caught up with S.Q.U.I.D., their highly strung and dangerous leader Hook (with his servants Line & Sinker of course), with Dr Calamari, who may have invented a drug called Hairball which can transport the user to another universe where people walk on funny things called legs. And he also gets caught up with two beautiful women/fish – neither of whom are what they seem – Angelfish and Goldie.
Volume 1 of The Fish Police is pure setup, introductions to the various characters and it’s all wrapped up in the mystery of Gill, using the fish out of water idea to grab the laughs.
And despite my disappointment with The Fish Police Volume 1, I have to admit, it’s still fun, still funny. Just not as funny as I remembered. Now, how much of that is this terrible memory of mine making it funnier that it ever really was, exagerrating it’s impact upon me over the passing years – I honestly have no idea. For a start I seem to remember there being a lot more funny stuff dealing with Gill’s memories of being human than we have here.
So maybe it’s not the book at fault here, maybe it’s just a combination of my tastes that have changed and a nostalgic false memory? Sadly either way, the end result, at least for this tired old man, is a book that sort of, very nearly, but not quite, worked. I wanted really funny and quirky, I got mildly funny and silly.
I genuinely feel rather bad that I’m rather damning with faint praise here. Problem is, I just can’t review it fresh – it was so much a part of my younger life, one very bright bit of humour in the morass of the black & white boom of the 80s, and coming back to it just has me comparing my relatively lukewarm response now to my love back then. But should I really be surprised? Isn’t it always the way, aren’t most things we adored young best left consigned to the rose tinted specs of memory?
In the end Moncuse shouldn’t feel to bad, he’s in good company – the same thing happened a little while ago with a book I passionately loved as a teen, but re-reading it left me nonplussed and amazed I found it so wonderful the first time round. Maybe there are some things that have a time in a person’s life they ought to be experienced?
Oh, the book in question – JD Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye. See what I mean about Moncuse being in good company?
I’d love to hear from someone reading this for the first time, just to see what it reads like fresh. In fact, if one of the regular readers wants to give it a try, let me know, email me and I’ll post it on to you, I’m genuinely that intrigued to see what you’ll make of it.