Going to the dogs, the cats and worse
Yeah, Chandler said “Down these mean streets a man must go.” He never mentioned cats. Or hippos. Or horses. Or giraffes…The creators of the following eyes apparently didn’t get the memo.
But to tell the truth, the craze for anthropomorphic detectives is starting to smell a little like clean-the-cages day at the zoo.
Sure, there have been some good ones. The decidedly adult Blacksad immediately springs to mind, and there have been tons books for kids over the years, from Sam the Cat to Chet Gecko that are just plain fun.
- Hettie Bagshot by Mandy Morgan
A crime-solving feline named who runs her own struggling detective agency–in a world populated entirely by cats. Sadly, intended for adults, without much irony attached. Essentially a cozy dressed up in kitty litter cuteness, and then drenched in enough coochie coochie coo to make most grown-ups want to cough up a hairball.
- John Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido
I hate to break it to you, but the dapper, world-weary hard-boiled private eye hero of this award-winning hard-boiled comic series is a cat.
- Sam the Cat by Linda Stewart
No, really. This is a pretty good mystery for kids, complete with a tough-talking puss, and some of the nastiest villians to ever cough up a hairball.
- Danny and Harry by Walter Brogan and Charles Santino
The tagline for this web comic says it all: “Danny’s a cat. Harry’s a seagull. They’re private eyes. Proceed.”
- Manny Diamond (Animal Noir) by Izar Lunacek & Nejc Juren
In the four-part comic mini-series, ace detective (and giraffe) Manny Diamond must deal with zoo porn, in a surreal world populated by gangster hippos, porn-dealing leopards, stoned monkeys, wildebeast thugs and neurotic zebras.
- Hip Flask by Richard Alan (aka Richard Starkings)
A tough-talking, wise-cracking private eye, who walks softly, but carries a big gun. And, um, he’s a hippopotamus. Unfortunately, it was all a joke. Hip was actually created by Richard Alan for Active Images as a marketing tool for their comic book fonts on their web site. Hip may only be a shill, but he’s a great one, as some of the best artists in the comics biz (Jim Lee, Brian Bolland, Sergio Aragones, etc…) pay loving tribute to the funny books, with some loving parodies that manage to poke some gentle fun, and maybe even sell a few fonts.
- Flatfoot Fox by Eth Clifford
Woodland hijinks solved by the “smartest detective in the whole world” in this series for kids.
- Fred Fox by James Thurber
A parody of the tough guy P.I. in which all the characters are animals, written by one of America’s most beloved humorists. It’s a wandering rabbit job, with hard-boiled Fred Fox called in by old Mrs. Rabbit to find Daphne, one of her descendants. The story first appeared in 1941 in The New Yorker.
- Private I. Guana by Nina Laden
A clever little story book for younger kids, who’ll dig the great illustrations and the quirky world of lizard detectives, bullfrog cops and a chameleon with an identity crisis, and their parents, who’ll recognize the cliches of the P.I. genre that the book so gently and lovingly skewers.
- Chet Gecko by Bruce Hale
For kids from 8-12. Chet is the private detective hero of this long-running series. He’s also a grade four student at Emerson Hicky Elementary School. And yes, he is a lizard. Will work for flies.
- Hairbutt the Hippo by Bodine Amerikah & Jase Paulos
From the pages of Australian MAD Magazine and the decidedly-twisted good folks at Rat Race Comix came the thundering saga of a Down Under private dick who did not go gently into that good night. Definitely not for kids. Like one of the covers boasts, “Uncut! Uncensored! Unashamed! Unhygenic!”
- Meat Hamburg by Walt Kelly
Hard to believe, but Walt Kelly, one of America’s most beloved comic strip artists and writers (he created Pogo) wrote not one, but two parodies of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, recasting impulsive, none-too-swift blowhard Albert Alligator as “Meat Hamburg, Private Eye, Ear, Nose, Throat, and Leg Man.”
- Conrad Metcalf by Jonathan Lethem
In Lethem’s first novel Gun, with Occasional Music (1995), a private eye as human as you or me (more or less) is working in a future where gangsters employ genetically modified kangaroos as hired muscle. No, seriously…
- Rex Shepherd by Lou Breslow and David Chandler
King, a German Shepherd, is left a large inheritance by his master, an eccentric millionaire, in You Never Can Tell, a 1951 family flick. But when the beloved mutt is poisoned, the fast-thinking pooch talks his way out of doggie heaven, and comes back to earth as a human private detective determined to solve his own murder. Which, I guess, is sort of reverse-anthropomorphy. King’s human incarnation was played by Dick Powell, in one of his final film roles.
- Sam Spayed (Garfield) by Ron Tuthill and Jim Davis
Another parody, “Babes and Bullets” is a pretty straightforward spoof of the private eye genre. Davis’ lasagna-loving fat cat first appeared in a short story and was soon spun off into a really charming little book and eventually a half hour television special.