Inspector Gill. Artist: Steve Moncuse.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: Fishwrap Productions
First Appeared: 1985
Creator: Steve Moncuse
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Fresh from the explosive success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the U.S. comic book industry of the mid-1980s was replete with Turtles wannabes. It wasn't just direct rip-offs, like Adolescent Black Belt Radioactive Hamsters and Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos — to the speculators who infested the industry at the time, practically anything sufficiently goofy, created by writers and/or artists who hadn't yet made names for themselves and published in black and white by very small companies, could be the next Turtles, and therefore should be bought in quantity and hoarded, just in case. Trollords, Ninja High School, Elf-Thing … These were among the more

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… prominent — most didn't even get into Overstreet's Comic Book Price Guide, which had once made a point of listing everything.

It was in this climate that cartoonist Steve Moncuse introduced Fish Police, published by his own start-up company, Fishwrap Productions, with a cover date of December, 1985. The main character was Inspector Gill of the Fish City Police Department. Gill was designed similarly to a funny animal, with human-like arms, but had the tail of a fish. His adventures resembled those of fictional cops in other media, particularly TV, except that everything was immersed in water.

A few contemporary critics made the point that Fish City wasn't entirely like real-life sub-aqueous environments. For example, its buildings sometimes had stairways, which seem superfluous where buoyancy is a factor in everyday movement. Also, Inspector Gill was occasionally shown taking a drink in a bar, an act incongruent with his all-liquid surroundings — to say nothing of the fact that handguns don't work in that locale. These critics are no-doubt horrified by Spongebob Squarepants, which regularly depicts underwater beaches, fiery explosions and even open flames. (Not to mention the fact that Spongebob himself works as an underwater fry cook.)

Most of those mid-'80s black and white launches prospered for a time before the inevitable collapse, but Fish Police did a bit better than that. After four issues at Moncuse's company, it was picked up by a somewhat larger publisher, Comico, where The Elementals and Mage started, and which also published properties like E-Man and Jonny Quest. It ran there until #11 (November, 1987), which is about when most of those comics were starting to bite the dust. But Comico picked it up again a few months later, and published another half-dozen issues. Starting with #17 (August, 1989) it was published by Apple Comics, a subsidiary of the publisher of Elfquest. That lasted until #26, dated December, 1990.

Next, Fish Police did something very unusual for a black and white comic book from a small publisher — it was adapted into a TV cartoon. CBS debuted it in a prime-time slot on Friday, May 28, 1992. Inspector Gill was played by face actor John Ritter, whose few other voice roles include Clifford the Big Red Dog. Other big-name voices heard were those of Tim Curry (Nigel Thornberry), Edward Asner (Sgt. Cosgrove in Freakazoid!), Robert Guillaume (Rafiki in Disney's The Lion King), Jonathan Winters (Grandpa Smurf) and Buddy Hackett (Scuttle in The Little Mermaid). The half-hour show was produced by Hanna-Barbera.

Despite the star-studded cast, Fish Police failed to reel in viewers. Six episodes were produced, but the plug got pulled after only three had been aired. The rest appeared only in a few overseas markets. Nonetheless, Marvel Comics launched a Fish Police series written and drawn by Moncuse, this time in color. It lasted six issues, October 1992 through March 1993.

Moncuse has since busied himself with more mainstream properties, such as Spider-Man and The Punisher. But Inspector Gill still turns up from time to time, for example in the 150th issue of Dark Horse Presents, the anthology that introduced Concrete and Sin City. Maybe it didn't enjoy Turtles-like success, but it's far outshone Equine the Uncivilized, Alien Ducklings and the the rest of those 1980s black and white comics.


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Text ©2005-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Steve Moncuse.