May 18, 2006


In Shark Years I’m Dead: “Sherman’s Lagoon” Turns Fifteen. By Jim Toomey. Andrews McMeel. $16.95.

     Jim Toomey’s Sherman’s Lagoon, although it has been around for 15 years, is not one of the best-known or most-popular comic strips in newspapers today – which is testimony to just how straitlaced most newspaper comics editors are.  This strip is hilarious, but it’s also weird, and most newspapers apparently prefer to keep their weirdness in the “lifestyle” section – or on the front page.

     If this strip isn’t in your local paper – it currently appears in 250 dailies – In Shark Years I’m Dead will give you ample reason to lobby for its inclusion.  There’s nothing quite like this story of fish living an idyllic life in a South Seas lagoon, the sharks picking off the occasional “hairless beach ape” for a tasty meal while the hermit crab comes up with unending moneymaking schemes and the sea turtle reads every book that has ever been written and realizes he’ll just have to start all over again.

     Sherman, the shark of the title, is married to Megan, who is more a terror of the seas than he is.  Hawthorne is the scheming hermit crab; Fillmore, the turtle with a bad case of perpetual failure with she-turtles; Ernest, the young computer genius with a penchant for hacking into well-protected Web sites and taking Sherman on trips (in the Ganges River, Sherman chooses his mantra: “Feel like chicken tonight”).  There are lots of bit players, many of them ending up on fishing lines or (even more likely) in Sherman’s capacious stomach.

     This is an oversized “Treasury” volume, which would normally mean all the strips are reprints, except that the Sunday ones are in color.  But there’s a pleasant oddity here: most of the strips toward the back of the book have never been collected before (though they may show up in a future regular-size collection).  That makes this book a particularly good introduction to the strip for non-fans, and gives current fans more reason to buy it than is usual in “Treasury” offerings.  The stories are offbeat and ridiculously surreal: Sherman buys a stuffed swordfish; Megan recognizes the swordfish as “Sally from my book club” and tells Sherman to give her a decent burial; through a serious of misadventures, Sally ends up as Ernest’s CD holder.  Sherman and Megan find a baby shark and are exhausted after taking care of him until his parents show up – but then they end up with a baby of their own later in the book.  Hawthorne starts a casino and is visited by mobfish demanding 30% of the action.  Hawthorne turbocharges a toilet, which ends up carrying Sherman aloft when he flushes it.  Sherman and Hawthorne play Macbeth and Banquo, with the result that Fillmore, the director, is praised as “brilliant in turning this Shakespeare tragedy into a comical spoof.”  A computer virus hits the lagoon, and Ernest helps Sherman track down the perpetrator, who happens to be a surfer – whom Sherman handles as only a shark can.

     It’s a weird strip, but in a wonderful way.  If you don’t know it yet, you should.  Caution: if you don’t like it, Sherman may show up in your toilet bowl one of these days.  Or in your local newspaper editor’s toilet bowl, anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment