The Tick was created by high-schooler Ben Edlund and went on to become the mascot for the comic shop he frequented. New England Comics in Norwood, Massachusetts, in 1986. The Tick first appeared in the fourteenth issue of their newsletter, and after some well-received stories in following editions, New England Comics financed the production of a black-and-white comic series. The series debuted in June of 1988 and released twelve issues over the next five years.
|The Tick's first appearance.|
The Tick is a parody of superheroes and super hero comics. Initially having escaped from a mental institution, he possessed no memory of his past before becoming The Tick. Incredibly strong and durable while also being klutzy and incompetent, he became the protector of The City. He took a day job at the Weekly World Planet newspaper with fellow superhero Caped Wonder, aka Clark Oppenheimer (a Superman pastiche, but more of a jerk). Initially, Edlund wanted The Tick’s costume to be brown, but it was decided that blue looked better in print when the comics switched to color.
|The Tick meets Arthur.|
The Tick’s sidekick was Arthur; an accountant who one day found and put on a moth suit, never taking it off again. His suit gave him the ability to fly with retractable wings in his backpack and he was often mistaken for a bunny due to his long antennae. He would serve as the voice of reason to Tick’s enthusiasm. The City was also populated by a cast of equally absurd heroes and villains, many of whom were parodies of various Marvel and DC Comics characters. A lot of the humor would come from dark comedy and sexual innuendos.
|"We will bring the tangy sweetness of justice to the airwaves!"|
When toy licensing and design company Kiscom discovered The Tick, they approached Edlund with the possibility of merchandising The Tick much the same way Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had just recently been. However, networks and studios were reluctant to take on the property until finally Sunbow Entertainment expressed interest. Sunbow paired Edlund up with writer Richard Liebmann-Smith to work up the series proposal, despite neither having experience in animation. After two months, they presented the proposal to the fledgling FOX network who, rightfully so in the minds of both men, turned it down. FOX did give them five days to refine the idea and pitch it again, which they did over the course of a weekend. The new proposal was accepted by FOX and the series was greenlit.
|The Tick promo image.|
Edlund served as a producer of the show and was very hands-on in every aspect of its production. Along with contributing to the series’ scripts alongside Liebmann-Smith and former The Tick comic book writer Christopher McCulloch, Edlund also dabbled with the character designs and the storyboarding for the episodes. As a result, the series was delayed for over a year from its intended debut date. The Tick finally premiered on September 10, 1994 on the FOX Kids block. Other writers included Martin Pasko, Henry Gilroy, Art Vitello, Michael Rubiner, Pippin Parker, Jed Spingarn, Ralph Soll, Andy Yerkes, Randolph Heard, Eric Stangel and Justin Stangel. The series’ theme, as well as the entire score, was composed by Doug Katsaros consisting of big band music and campy scat singing.
|The "I've got a show!" strut.|
Although a lot of the tonality from the comic had to be removed for a Saturday morning audience (such as removing all traces of Tick’s time in the institution, instead replaced by his crashing a superhero convention), the satirical roots were firmly in place and didn’t hesitate to fully immerse itself in parody. Tick’s job was also a casualty of the change in media; with his now being a permanent boarder on Arthur’s couch after pulling him into a hesitant partnership. Essentially, episodes would consist of the Tick (Townsend Coleman) emphatically charging head first into all situations with his battle cry “SPOOOOOOON!!!!” (thought up during a cereal breakfast one morning) like a bull in a china shop. Arthur (Micky Dolenz & Rob Paulsen) wound up providing a well-thought and reasoned solution to the conflict once he stopped cowering and exclaiming “Not in the face! Not in the face!” The Tick would then sum up their adventure with a moral full of absurd hyperbole. Arthur would eventually come to meet, and date, the daughter of the scientist who invented his suit, Carmelita Vatos (Jennifer Hale), who had a moth suit of her own.
|Sewer Urchin, Die Fledermaus, Fish Boy and American Maid.|
Like the comics, The City had its share of superhero protectors—although some were better at it than others. Created specifically for the show was Die Fledermaus (Cam Clarke), a parody of Batman with a more bat-like costume, who avoided conflict with full cowardice and spent his time hitting on pretty women; Sewer Urchin (Jess Harnell), an Aquaman riff with a Rain Man-like personality who was virtually ineffectual everywhere but the sewers he called home; and American Maid (Kay Lenz), a blend of Captain America and Wonder Woman with a weaponized tiara and stiletto heels who was possibly the most effective, though least-powerful, hero in the city. Other heroes from the comics included Big Shot (Kevin Schon), a heavily-armed anti-hero ala Punisher who eventually goes to anger-management therapy; Fish Boy (Clarke), an Aqualad parody who was a completely useless lost prince of Atlantis; and The Mighty Agrippa (Harnell), the Roman God of the Aqueduct who could move huge volumes of water. The super team The Civic-Minded Five also appeared from the comics, however they only retained Feral Boy (Schon), a boy who acted like an animal, from their original line-up. The rest of the team was comprised of mucilage-spraying Captain Mucilage (Paulsen), static electricity-generating The Carpeted Man (Pat Fraley), the four-legged 4-Legged Man (Roger Rose) and the athletic (and competent) Jungle Janet (Susan Silo).
What good are heroes without some equally absurd villains to fight? Joining from the comics was Chairface Chippendale (Tony Jay), a crime boss with a chair for a head obsessed with putting his name and likeness on important objects (like the moon); Barry Hubris (Jim Cummings), a glory-seeking “hero” who also called himself The Tick and used a shield device to give him incredible strength; The Man-Eating Cow (Coleman), whose name is very literal (although she’s never been seen actually eating anyone) and was originally a superhero in the comics; The Terror (Paulsen), a Golden Age-era supervillain who doesn’t seem to want to retire; Thrakkorzog (Cummings, impersonating James Mason), an alien from Dimension 14B that lived across the hall from The Tick and Arthur; and Tuun-La: Not of This World (Pat Musick), a woman who could tuck in her legs and emit fire from their bases. New foes included El Seed (named for Spanish hero El Cid, voiced by Ed Gilbert), who could manipulate plants through chemicals; The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight (Maurice LaMarche), an explosives expert (duh); The Human Ton, an enormous moron who was accompanied by his intelligent hand puppet, Handy (both LaMarche); Sheila Eel, who wore an electric eel; Eastern Bloc Robot Cowboy (Fraley), a Communist cyberneticist who put his mind into a mobile vending machine; the Mother of Invention (Paul Williams), an androgynous inventor who wanted to steal credit for all the inventions of history, and many others.
|Barry Hubris, the other Tick.|
The series was nominated for five Annie Awards, winning two of them in 1995, and three Daytime Emmys. Comedy Central began syndicating the series during its run, premiering the episodes “Devil in Diapers” and “Tick vs. Education” before their FOX airings, and introduced it to a more adult audience. However, while the show brought the cult comic national attention, the series failed to achieve the same level of commercial success as Ninja Turtles had, reducing its merchandising potential. That, coupled with frequent production delays, led to FOX cancelling the series instead of going forward with the planned fourth season. FOX did enter into negotiations with Sunbow to produce a prime time Tick special the following year, but the idea never materialized.
Coinciding with the series, Bandai released two series of 6” action figures, five talking Tick figures (one of them 16 inches tall), and a set of 2” PVC figurines. In 1995, Gordy toys produced a line of bendable action figures both individually and in a box set. In 2013, Shocker Toys released three figures based on the show as part of their Indie Spotlight series. Pressman created a board game and FOX Interactive a video game in 1995. Inverse Ink adapted the episode “The Tick vs. the Uncommon Cold” into an interactive CD-ROM comic. As this was the 90s, no merchandising blitz would have been complete without a set of officially licensed POGS by the World POG Federation. Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., Jack-in-the-Box and Taco Bell also partnered with the show to release a series of toys with their kids meals. In 1997, Greg Hyland wrote The Tick: Mighty Blue Justice! which served as a virtual episode guide for the 34 episodes available at the time of its publication along with background info on the various characters. The Tick was also one of the feature characters in the two-issue FOX Kids Funhouse series and the Fox Kids trading cards from Fleer.
|Season two DVD cover.|
In 1995, 20th Century Fox released The Tick: The Idea Men/Chairface Chippendale to VHS, followed by The Tick vs. Arthur in 1998. Buena Vista Home Entertainment released the syndicated version of the first two seasons to DVD in North America in 2006 and 2007. Both sets were missing one episode apiece, “The Tick vs. The Mole Men” and “Alone Together”, due to unspecified licensing issues. The third season has yet to be released. Liberation Entertainment, Ltd. began releasing the United Kingdom version in 2006 with the original uncut episodes and the missing episode. Seasons two and three followed, as well as the complete series boxset in 2008.
To capitalize on the growing adult fanbase, FOX commissioned the production of a new live-action prime time series starring Patrick Warburton in the title role and reimaginings of American Maid and Die Fledermaus. The Tick debuted in the fall of 2001 and lasted only eight of its nine episodes before it was cancelled despite praise from fans and critics. A poor timeslot, lack of promotion and production costs were often cited as the reasons behind FOX’s ultimately abandoning the show. Amazon Studios, however, had begun production on a reboot of the live show in 2014, which saw its debut on Amazon Prime Video in 2016 and ran for 2 seasons before it was cancelled—again despite audience praise. The Tick cartoon, meanwhile, has been regarded as one of the best cartoons in the years following. Coleman’s character of Sentinel Prime on Transformers Animated was purposely modeled after The Tick, and Chairface Chippendale (Seth Green) made an appearance on Robot Chicken. The Tick comic continues to be published sporadically, particularly with an annual offering as part of Free Comic Book Day, although with minimal involvement from Edlund as his work on the show led to a career in filmmaking.