In a year absolutely overflowing with quarantining pandemics and electoral uncertainties, it’s nice to have the relative comfort and regularity of a beloved comic strip collection to look forward to; even if that beloved comic strip stars man-eating fish and an overall dour look at the human species. I’m talking about Sherman’s Lagoon, Jim Toomey’s long-running comic starring an underwater menagerie of sharks, fish, turtles and occasional sea monster, celebrating its pivotal twenty-fifth collection of daily and Sunday funnies with Evolution is Hard Work. Indeed.
The follow-up to last year’s If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em, fans of Toomey’s fishy funnies should expect another fine square paper collection of the comic’s syndicated best from way back in the “relative” normality of 2019. And, frankly, having a relatively innocuous collection of funnies on standby is sorely needed right about now, especially one so gosh darn eager to please while at the same time providing the odd factoid about underwater marine life without getting preachy about it.
The usual cast of anthropomorphized sea life remains intact, rarely ever changing during the strip’s long 29 years of publication. There’s Sherman the shark, his necklaced wife Megan, uber nerd fish Earnest, Fillmore the bookworm sea turtle and Hawthorne the crab, all doing their thing much like they’ve done for decades. But at least they’re all doing it well, performing their sacred cartoon duties like the underwater troopers they are as one gag leads into the next, having fun at life’s everyday foilables and the wacky developments on the surface from the hairless beach apes.
I was disappointed to find the typical Sherman’s Lagoon classroom (i.e. mini lessons sprinkled throughout) wasn’t as intense this time around, and there’s no overt instructions to explore or to look up real world environments or foundations included. Jim Toomey has become a master at integrating vital educational material within the comic over the years, somehow managing the impossible possible; making learning about the environment and why it’s so critically important for us (the hairless beach apes) to maintain a proper balance with the rest of the world. We’ve only got the one, after all.
That’s not to say you still won’t learn a few choice lessons in this collection, especially with the Ligulalepis, our 400 million year-old prehistoric ancestor as the gang goes back in time to stop fish from evolving into man. But not having a specific call-to-action storyline was sorely missed.
Other bits include riffs on social media (Facecrab, Instashark), the inanity of daytime television talk shows, virtual reality, a “killer” joke about killer whales (Orcas) all named Shamu, and even a quick bit about quarantining that predates our own “new normal” times. There are even a few touching bits about fatherhood and (the inevitable) pitfalls of aging that almost feel truly original for a comic that’s mostly concerned with gentle puns and pratfalls, but one cannot exist on gags alone. Even the aliens know this.
Even without any direct messaging this time around Evolution is Hard Work keeps the Sherman’s Lagoon machine running as steady as ever, just as Jim Toomey has done for nearly 30 years now. As incredible as that sounds, the fact that Sherman’s Lagoon remains as funny and as vital as ever is the real accomplishment, and in a year that’s been anything but predictable, often deplorable, you could do a lot worse than spend a few hours with Sherman and the rest of the Kapupu Lagoon gang. Yes, it’s a strip that can feel out of time, something from a very different time and place. A better place, if you ask me.