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Book Review

Onward and Downward: A Sherman’s Lagoon Collection (2017)

The 22nd Sherman’s Lagoon collection keeps the long-running comic swimming along in fine form.

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The worst thing you could say about Sherman’s Lagoon is that it’s a funny comic strip. Not quite edgy, non-political, and with hardly a trace of existential angst it’s hardly surprising Jim Toomey’s long-running creation hasn’t taken the zeitgeist by the flippers. In a world of perpetual moral and political crisis, it’s that rare throwback (get it?) that’s remained pleasantly anachronistic through and through; a good, old-fashioned comic strip that’s actually funny.

It’s rare these days to crack open a book, newspaper (they still exist!), or flip through cable TV and find someone NOT screeching at how you “should” feel, think, or take action on something or other. Seems like just about everyone is on a personal mission to educate and enlighten the world, like that barista who won’t shut up about the imperiled state of the bourgeois when all you want is your damn mocha latte.

One never feels at all uncomfortable or out of place reading Sherman’s Lagoon; quite the opposite, actually. Who knew a comic strip starring a man-eating shark could be so…lovable?

Onward and Downward is the twenty-second Sherman’s Lagoon collection (says so right in the title!), and it’s business as usual. At its heart, it remains your typical ‘everyman’ comic, following the trials, tribulations, and wacky adventures of its namesake – Sherman the shark, self-appointed ‘king’ of the fictional Kapupu Lagoon. Alongside him are his wife Megan, son Herman, and a reliable cast of turtles, crabs, and other assorted aquatic friends and foes all trying to survive the hustle and bustle of modern life. Only under the ocean.

Why are sharks drinking coffee? Or need kitchen appliances? Why is a sea turtle setting up a four-star restaurant? Why is Hawthorne (the crab) always butt-naked?

As we’ve come to expect, this latest school of fish funnies takes on many of pop-culture’s most ridiculous moments and fads, skewered by the strip’s cast of likable characters (and species). On the menu this time around are light jabs at Burning Crab (a self-referenced rip-off of Burning Man), a quick Star Wars parody, and tackling hocus pocus with newly discovered Ninja lanternshark teaching Sherman “the way” to inner happiness.

Cool fact: the Ninja lanternshark was named by 8-year olds, who originally wanted to call it ‘Super Ninja Shark’. Personally, I think zoology would be a whole lot more interesting if we let 8-years name more stuff.

Pay a little attention and you might actually learn something, too! Like stuff about tardigrades (i.e. water bears), tiny microscopic critters that live just about everywhere. Or about the strange ‘alien jellyfish’ recently spotted near the Mariana Trench. Or that you probably shouldn’t invite deep sea worms to dinner (hint: symbiotic bacteria doesn’t really go with the good silverware). Did you know that great white sharks are terrified of fish-eating spiders? Well, pudgy, suburban ones, anyway.

Onward and downward!” is actually the rallying cry of famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle, who gets multiple shoutouts in this collection (though none in the actual strips). Never one to miss a good chance to spread the good word of oceanic conservation, Toomey encourages readers to check out her work at proliferating a network of Hope Spots – marine protected areas critical to the health of the ocean; Earth’s blue heart, she calls them.

Check out their website right HERE for more information. And if that’s too much work, there’s even a Netflix documentary, Mission Blue, mere clicks away, so you can ‘Netflix and chill’ yourselves a little smarter about the sea. I haven’t watched it yet, but plan to. Thanks, Toomey!

My frequent gripe: unlike fellow Andrews McMeel-published funnies, these collections of fish funnies don’t include any publication information as to when they originally appeared, or even a vague idea of the period they’re from. In all fairness, few comic collections do this anymore – if they ever did – so I’m not holding it against anyone. Best estimates are they’re from 2015 and 2016, given the cultural references and when this book is being published.

Onward and Downward: A Sherman’s Lagoon Collection keeps Jim Toomey’s workhorse comic chugging along in fine form, and remains an intensely likable gag comic strip that aims to please. It’s fun to look at, safe for sharing, and you might even learn something (without even knowing it). Above all, Sherman’s Lagoon is that rarest of gems in today’s media-obsessed world; funny without being crass, educational without being patronizing, and unapologetically good-natured. We need more like it.