August 27, 2009


Confessions of a Swinging Single Sea Turtle: The Fourteenth “Sherman’s Lagoon” Collection. By Jim Toomey. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

What the Duck: A W.T. Duck Collection. By Aaron Johnson. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

Peekaboo Planet: A Collection of “Rose Is Rose” Comics. By Don Wimmer. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

     A longstanding genre of comic strips is “funny animal comics” – Mickey Mouse and many other characters come from that line. But the field isn’t at all what it used to be – now the animals are almost always thinly veiled human beings, their shapes and forms of communication used to say things about the human condition rather than to produce laughter through simple antics, pratfalls and the like. The sea creatures in Jim Toomey’s Sherman’s Lagoon are a perfect case in point. Aside from breathing water, having fins, living in shells, and other such superficialities, they are entirely human. They use speed dating when seeking romance; go fishing for “hairless beach apes”; set up their own underwater radio stations; become computer hackers; hope to go to rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp; try on spirituality for size; get into arguments with mythological figures – you know, just a bunch of everyday sort-of-human activities. Toomey’s latest collection even includes a touch of comic-strip self-reference – something that’s all the rage these days – as characters from various comics show up for a convention on Kapupu Island. This gives Toomey’s turtle character, the perpetually mateless Fillmore, a chance to meet the Over the Hedge turtle, Verne; Toomey’s shark, Sherman, an opportunity to ask Rex Morgan, M.D., a medical question; and Sherman’s wife, Megan, a meal (she eats Lola). Add in an adventure in text messaging, a wine class, and a visit to Walden Pond, and you have the makings of another of Toomey’s typically skewed worldviews. Or fishviews. Whatever.

     What the Duck is skewed, too, but W.T. Duck stays on land. And takes pictures of its denizens – he’s a photographer. Drawn as a white lump with tiny eyes – looking almost like one of Al Capp’s famous Shmoos – W.T. spends his time interacting with ever-complaining clients (he asks one, “Is Poo Poo Head hyphenated?”), photoshopping real-life problems when possible, and dealing with photo editors and other impossibly demanding near-nitwits (Aaron Johnson draws the human body convincingly, but you never see people’s expressions – he always has speech balloons or objects covering people’s faces). The strip throws in the occasional motto-like remark: “Photoshop – helping the ugly since 1988.” It shows the button used when a client demands that everyone in a photo be made to look 20% happier – it’s an eject button for the client’s chair. It explains “the magic hour” as “the hour between my kids’ bedtime and my own.” And it offers a photographer’s viewpoint on work: “Today I chased wild animals, endured hostile environments, and warded off restless natives. I’m shooting another wedding tomorrow.” Johnson is given to a few too many in jokes – non-photographers will miss some points and find some elements of the strip repetitious – but the off-kilter worldview here means there are many more hits than misses.

     Peekaboo Planet is the only one of these three books in which a cartoon animal behaves almost like a real-world one (albeit exaggeratedly). That animal would be Peekaboo, the perpetually playful (and frequently thoughtful) kitten sharing the Gumbo household with Rose, husband Jimbo and son Pasquale. This is one of the better books that Don Wimmer has produced since taking over production of Rose Is Rose from its creator, Pat Brady, in 2004. Wimmer’s plotting remains mediocre – he never comes up with anything new for the characters to do, instead recycling Brady’s innovations again and again (Pasquale’s dreamship and guardian angel, for instance). But in Peekaboo Planet, Wimmer frequently focuses on squirrels, birds and puppies as well as the title kitten, and in a strip founded to be endearing, it’s hard to go wrong with cute animals. Pasquale’s cousin, Clem, a one-note character (he likes to hog all the attention, brownies, etc.), gets too much focus here, and Wimmer really isn’t sure what to do with some of Brady’s best concepts: Rose’s wonderful alter ego, Vicky the biker, who symbolizes everyone’s occasional desire to dump a solid life and take off for parts unknown, is here reduced to returning overdue library books and anticipating a Christmas present. And neighbor baby Mimi, who talks in near-nonsense syllables originally invented by Brady for baby Pasquale, is too intelligible here – and the strips featuring her spend too much time just repeating what she says in ordinary English, even though Wimmer makes her words perfectly comprehensible (as Brady did not). Still, Peekaboo’s adventure with a little lost puppy, his day with his mom (which includes both of them having toe snags), his stretchability to cover multiple laps at different places in the room, and his octopus-like (or octo-puss-like) spreading over the entire big sofa, are sweet and amusing enough – and sufficiently reminiscent of real-world cats’ behavior – to earn Peekaboo Planet a (+++) rating, even though Wimmer remains nowhere near Brady’s level for thoughtful artistry and warm-hearted family fun.

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