Jim Toomey’s Sherman’s Lagoon, unquestionably the longest-running comic strip about talking fish and lovable man-eating sharks, has its twentieth collection with Tales From The Deep: That Are Completely Fabricated. It’s also the strip’s first collection since last year’s Lunch Wore a Speedo, though you probably wouldn’t have noticed. Since first launching back in 1991, Toomey’s comic hasn’t changed much, with only the slightest modifications to its look, cast, or aquatic mission statement. And that’s to be a consistently funny comic strip. About a lovable man-eating shark. See how it all comes full circle around these parts?
Let me plagiarize myself for a moment: by all appearances here is a strip that seems as milquetoast as they come; comically anthropomorphic sea creatures yukking it up via daily gags and family-friendly misadventures, day after day. But looks can be deceiving – just below its innocuously gentle surface lay one of the most morbid things in your daily paper (barring the editorial page and its own set of creatures), a comic strip completely lacking in pretension or hidden agenda.
At center are happily married Sherman and Megan, two man-eating (yet oddly lovable) sharks just living life to the fullest in the underwater tropical paradise near Kapupu Lagoon. The cast of regulars (who’ve yet to be consumed) are the bookish, loveless Fillmore (the turtle), the happily corrupted Hawthorne (the crab), nerdy Ernest (the smartest little fish in the lagoon), Herman (the sharks’ offspring), Thornton (the world’s laziest polar bear), and several others.
So why continue talking about a collection of comic strips that varies only slightly, year in and year out? Because it’s funny, and I like talking about funny. Talking about funny is better than talking about sadness, and it’s certainly better than talking about depressing things. That said, let’s talk a little about funny fish.
Sherman’s Lagoon is a gag comic strip, and like all gag comic strips the gags rule the roost. In this latest collection we’ve got the usual bizarre mix of naturalistic and anthropomorphic gags, almost none of which make any sense if you stop to think about it… so don’t! Standouts here include:
Sherman’s obsession with yard work (or, at least, his obsession with obsessing over yard work), taking masculinity classes (and failing at masculinity classes), Hawthorne’s never-ending series of failed businesses, Hawthorne being pinched by and becoming a hairy werecrab, Sherman becoming a human lifeguard to win a bet, and so many others.
The guys even get the old band back together, Smooch, a KISS rip-off, after being inducted into the Hall of Fame (and the promise of a lucrative laxative endorsement). Inexplicably, Sherman and Ernest even take an interstellar trip to Europa, “Jupiter’s Friendliest Moon”, after discovering that a giant deep sea-dwelling isopod is actually an extraterrestrial. Sure, why not.
There’s even a nice little riff off Dickens’ Christmas Carol, complete with snaggletoothed plesiosaur and some blob-like jellyfish thing as two of the cautionary ghosts. The subversion of the final lesson should make fans of the Blackadder Christmas Special chuckle; I know I did.
This being a collection of Sherman’s Lagoon funnies there’s bound to be at least one singular environmental cause championed, and the winner this go-around is ocean acidification. To quote the strip’s nerdy Ernest: it’s where the ocean absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, lowering its pH level and, therefore, harming all manner of oceanic life – especially those with shells and plankton.
Naturally, a major cause for ocean acidification is climate change, and we’ve got a handful of funny and often insightful strips
But Toomey, as usual, handles his messaging with a deftness and humor that makes raving climate change soldiers like Al Gore and Bill Nye seem like tinfoil-cap wearing Chicken Littles. Which they are. One can’t help but wonder how much more receptive the population would be to consider modifying their ecologically wasteful activities if there were more people like Toomey at the helm.
This is the part where I gripe and moan about cataloging; apparently, I’m in the only person on the entire internet who cares about such things (and trust me, I checked the whole thing). I’ve come to expect very little in the way of annotation in these comic collections and this one is no different. Again, it would have been nice to know exactly when each strip was originally printed (you know, on dead trees) but this is what we’ve got to work here. Hence, those collected in Tales From The Deep: That Are Completely Fabricated are apparently culled from the year 2014, and given some of the pop culture references, I’ll stick with that guess.