By Tim Maytom
Desmond Fishman is a brilliant, weird, funny comic about three girls living together at Sheffield University in the UK. Created by John Allison and drawn by talents including Max Sarin, Lissa Treiman and Whitney Cogar, Desmond has been going strong for several years now, and has amassed a rightfully devoted fanbase.
As it’s set in England, though, and because… because…
We find ourselves in the De Groot household in Tackleford on December 23rd, aka Christmas Eve Eve, as the family makes their final preparations for the holiday season. Esther’s mum mentions getting a turkey from Bingham’s, which is an actual Sheffield butcher/grocer that specialises in meat spreads and potted beef. Turkey is a traditional British Christmas meal, unlike in the US where it is primarily associated with Thanksgiving.
Esther’s dad apparently has a “gouty foot”. Gout is a form of arthritis that causes sudden, severe joint pain, usually in the big toe. It is due to persistently high levels of uric acid in your blood, and is associated with a diet heavy in meat, beer and sugar-sweetened beverages. Historically, it was known as “the disease of kings” due to the connection with rich foods. A much better name for it is “the disease of T. Rexes”, which would also be accurate because a T. Rex specimen named Sue is believed to have suffered from it.
The title of this story is a reference to Dr Seuss’ classic Christmas poem How The Grinch Stole Christmas, another festive tale involving a green-skinned creature. Luckily, Desmond doesn’t have the same sinister agenda as the Grinch, and his heart is plenty big enough already.
Esther’s festive attire includes a graphic on the back of her top featuring Santa Claus being attacked by tentacles that have sprouted from a chimney. Whatever it is that Saint Nick is fighting, it has the look of a Lovecraftian monster about it, which may explain why Esther feels such a connection to fishmen, another topic that the horrible old racist liked to write about.
Esther’s idea for a graphic novel features a boy who uses his hair as a weapon, possibly in a manner similar to Queen Medusa from Marvel Comics’ Inhumans. Medusalith Amaquelin, to give her her full name, boasts the power of trichokinesis, enabling her to move each strand of her highly resilient hair independently. To be honest, adding a gay romance plot to the Inhumans couldn’t hurt.
Esther encounters Shelley Winters, one of the main protagonists of Allison’s Bobbins and Scary Go Round series. Winters is an investigative journalist and novelist who grew up in Tackleford, much like Esther. She moved to London after getting a job at the Ministry of History, with her adventures there covered in the webcomic Destroy History. Her verdict on Christmas shopping in London is pretty accurate.
London’s Dickensian waifs have reportedly all been replaced with grime MCs, which is a real upgrade if you ask me. Grime emerged from London in the early 2000s, combining elements of jungle, dancehall, garage and hip hop with drum and bass. It spread among pirate radio stations before gaining mainstream recognition thanks to artists like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Lethal Bizzle. Stormzy, Britain’s unofficial Prime Minister, is probably the most successful grime artist at the present moment, having been the first Black British artist to headline Glastonbury.
The turkey-snatching interloper appears to be dressed as Kyle from South Park, complete with orange jacket and green ushanka. Perhaps Desmond also has a Canadian brother?
The chase takes Esther along the edge of what is presumably the Tack, the river that flows through Tackleford, passing a classic oil drum fire with some hobo-looking characters warming their hands around it. Despite the undeniable chilliness of winter nights in the north of England, this feels like another American trope imported into Tackleford’s otherwise well-realised Britishness.
Desmond, the fishman who appears here, is a regular character in Scary Go Round. He is technically a human-mermaid hybrid, and goes on to become an assistant smoothie technician and 19th Lord of Sunderland. He is able to breathe underwater, squirt ink and talk to fish, but insists that he is just a normal bloke with a skin condition. As the Lord of Sunderland, he inherited a considerable fortune but has forgotten this in the past, which may explain why he has resorted to turkey theft in this story.
The Forties saw a new craze hit Britain that has remained popular ever since: Comparing Things To The War.
Grandma Jane refers to Des as a “scaly devil”, which may be a nod towards the Sea Devils, an alien race of amphibious reptiles encountered by Doctor Who. They also mucked around with some Lovecraftian nonsense, and were generally much more unpleasant than good old Desmond.
At least he’s not a scally devil.
Grandma Jane is reading the Radio Times, a TV and radio listings magazine that has been published since 1923. While circulation has dropped with the advent of digital TV, DVRs and streaming services, buying a copy for the festive period so you can track all the films you want to watch is something of a British tradition.
The Wombles can be seen on the cover of Grandma Jane’s Radio Times. A Womble is a fictional, small furry creature that lives on Wimbledon Common in London, residing in burrows and helping the environment through collecting and reusing rubbish. Originally from a series of children’s books by Elisabeth Beresford, the characters gained a higher profile thanks to a stop-motion animated TV series in 1973 with a truly delightful theme tune.
Sex and the City 2 is the 2010 sequel to 2008’s Sex and the City, with both films following on from the HBO TV series. Despite being critically panned, it made $294m, more money than you will ever see in your lifetime!
How The Fishman Despoiled Christmas
Written by John Allison
Drawn by Caanan Grall
Coloured by Jeremy Lawson
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Tim Maytom is a writer and critic who has spent a lot of his time thinking about The Wicked and The Divine. You can find more of his writing here alongside Alex Spencer – and you can follow Tim on Twitter here!
This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!