A strange thing occurred to me after finishing The Adventures of Superfish and His Superfishal Friends, the twenty-third collection of Sherman’s Lagoon funny fishy comic strips. Actually, two things occurred to me. First, we never actually get to see the promised Superfish or his superfishal friends (a real disappointment but I’ll live). Second, despite being a product of pop-culture media living in one of the most contentious periods in recent memory, there’s a noticeable lack of politics. In a world nearly gone mad with the polarization of practically everything, it’s hard to describe how refreshing this really is.
There’s more to the news than just political talking points, and thanks to cartoonist Jim Toomey and his careful eye for catching a few headlines we may have missed during the chaos. Toomey has won awards for his work promoting environmental awareness and conservation, but maybe it’s time to recognize him in another field that could sorely use a return to its chief promise of objectivity and balance: journalism. Maybe that would help restore some sanity to our world.
This is also the first collection since last year’s Onward and Downward, which is something of a miracle as previous Sherman’s Lagoon collections have been…sporadic at best. Strips collected here are culled from 2017, reproduced in all their black ‘n white and Sunday colorized glory. Fans should expect the usual gag-filled riffing on the pop-culture hotspots of the day, including jokes about technology like connected coffee makers and iPhone movie-making, facial recognition, dog shows frauds, magicians and the usual contemplations about eating hairless beach apes (i.e. humans).
Key series here include Sherman becoming a pro wrestler, organized crime at the Lagoon thanks to the Manatee Mafia, investigating insurance fraud in the “Lake of Death” with the Grim Reaper, and even the return of once extinct supershark Megalolamna via DNA cloning (perfect if you just saw The Meg and wanted more). So what does any of this have to do with underwater adventures with anthropomorphic fish, sharks, crabs and turtles? Not a whole lot, honestly, but a few good laughs and giggles don’t necessary have to make sense, do they? They can’t all be educational.
Speaking of education, our crafty cartoonist manages to sneak in a few clandestine lessons within his mix of daily funnies that might expand your thinking in unexpected ways. Did you know there’s a species of shrimp named after psychedelic rock gods Pink Floyd? It’s totally true: Shrimpus Pinkfloydi just might be the answer that wins you the next round on Jeopardy.
Speaking of psychedelics, witness the strange and surprisingly wonderful history of Ussuri Bay in Russia, where discarded glass (read: lots of Vodka bottles) from nearby glass and porcelain factories during the Soviet-controlled era. Dubbed “The Glass Beach”, it’s become a hot tourist spot as years of natural ocean waves motions have tumbled and churned the bits of refuge into beautiful kaleidoscopes of color and sparkling pieces of natural art. It’s not often we see an ecological disaster with such a happy ending (especially in Russia…), and never this exquisite.
Maybe you’ve already read about the death of the world’s most famous lungfish, Granddad, last year at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago after living in captivity for eight decades. An import from Australia back in the 1930s, his actual age was never known, though it’s speculated he was approaching the centennial mark – an appropriate number as more than 100 million people have been able to catch a glimpse of the famous fish over the years. Poor Granddad was suffering from severe organ failure, and the decision to euthanize him must have been difficult for the the museum’s longest-lived attraction. RIP Granddad.
Every Sherman’s Lagoon collection typically includes one big social issue to really deep dive with (forgive the bad pun), and here that issue appears to be bringing attention to the ecologically destructive practice of bottom trawling on the western coast of the United States. Sherman and Ernest travel to California to lend their flippers of support at a local protest, meeting a variety of deep sea creatures most affected by the practice like rockfish, basket stars (deep sea relatives of starfish), and even talking sponges. A big question is: why does a protest have a gift shop?
I was actually surprised Toomey didn’t mention or give his requisite shout-out to any specific group or organization dedicated to fighting against bottom trawling, but that’s what Google is for. Thankfully, the Marine Conservation Institute includes an informative primer on “destructive fishing” methods like bottom trawling and what you can do to help. Those interested in learning more should check out their website right HERE!
Come for the gags, stay for the learning; you’ll laugh, you probably won’t cry, but you’ll definitely come away a little bit smarter after reading through The Adventures of Superfish and His Superfishal Friends. It not only contains another helping of daily and Sunday funnies from Jim Toomey’s resiliently funny comic strip, but offers fans and curious newcomers alike a brief respite from the craziness that’s made following “the news” an exercise in frustration. If it takes man-eating sharks and shameless crabs to lift our spirits during these trying times, so be it.