January 14, 2021


When Sharks Attack with Kindness. By Andrés J. Colmenares. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

     Sharks represent so much to so many people. In the main, they are fearsome creatures, top predators, unstoppable marine killers, to be avoided if possible, killed if necessary, and feared at all times. These are the sharks of Jaws and its innumerable sequels and spinoffs. At other times, they are fascinating creatures about which much remains unknown, cartilaginous fish dating back 400 million years, a thousand species of which many remain virtually unstudied. These are the sharks of scientific inquiry. At still other times, in a far more lighthearted way, they can be comic-strip characters with strong personalities that bear zero resemblance to anything in the real world but that make for all sorts of amusement as the cartoon sharks interact with many other underwater creatures that also bear zero resemblance to anything real. These are the sharks of Jim Toomey’s long-running, ecologically aware Sherman’s Lagoon – and, in a very different way, of Andrés J. Colmenares’ Wawawiwa Comics, from which the new collection, When Sharks Attack with Kindness, is drawn.

     Talk about playing against type: Colmenares here creates an entire book (indeed, actually an entire strip) in which sharks are sweet, kind, loving, helpful and friendly – and surrounded by lots of other sweet, kind, loving, helpful and friendly marine creatures, all sporting rather realistic-looking bodies with not-realistic-at-all smiling faces. Although a great white shark is central to the strip and the book – Toomey’s central character is also a great white – Colmenares also peoples his world (and “peoples” is the correct term for characters as anthropomorphic as these) with a hammerhead, a whale shark, and critters ranging from octopus and jellyfish to penguin, polar bear, seagull, pelican, clam (yes, a smiling clam), and even a “sea human” who explains at the outset that he is “not supposed to be here.” Well, not if “here” is underwater, where the strip takes place, but the little boy fits neatly if “here” is a realm where kindness rules and all interactions are modest, sweet and non-threatening.

     This all sounds a little too good to be true, and indeed there is something a bit treacly about When Sharks Attack with Kindness, whose message is essentially the same on every page. However, Colmenares’ sincerity and nicely honed drawing style keep the book interesting, and even though the amusement here is mild, the book is amusing – and that is worth something. In one strip, the great white shark is seen in typical tooth-showing terrifying pose, but turns out only to be waiting for his morning cup of coffee. In another, the shark urges a catfish not to eat a slice of pizza, but the catfish eats it anyway, ending up pizza-slice-shaped (essentially a triangle), and the shark says, “You’ve changed species” – to which the reply is, “Totally worth it.”

     A lot of the strips in When Sharks Attack with Kindness do lay on the supportive and positive elements a bit too thickly and obviously. For instance, there is the strip in which a young shark complains that he is bad at drawing because he can only make a bunch of wavy lines, so the main great white shark swims in with a compliment: “Wow, buddy! You drew an ocean!” For another example, the great white takes his friend, a pilot fish, to see “my most valuable treasure,” and they are seen swimming toward a treasure chest piled high with gold. Then the shark indicates what is next to the treasure chest and says, “It’s the rock where we met!” A little of this niceness goes a long way; a lot of it goes, well, a bit too far, even during a time period when we can all use as much niceness as we can possibly get.

     Colmenares is so darn well-meaning, though, that it seems churlish to complain that he is somewhat too sweet – given all the things in life and the world that are a great deal too bitter. So When Sharks Attack with Kindness works as a counterbalance to a lot of the mean-spiritedness that the book’s readers surely deal with on a regular basis. Seen that way, as an antidote for nastiness and negativity, Colmenares’ pleasantries are a great deal more welcome than they might otherwise be. The electric eel that helpfully recharges the great white’s cell phone, the birthday candles that turn out to be happy angler fish, the flounder whose “good side” is the one with both his eyes visible – these become characters showing readers a kinder and gentler way to view things than is usually available in the not-undersea world. And from time to time, Colmenares comes up with notions that are cute and funny enough to produce a genuine chuckle, as when the big (adult) great white advises the small (young) great white to “try to reach for the stars,” and the young shark responds to the clichéd advice by picking up several starfish and saying, “Done! Now what?” When Sharks Attack with Kindness may not be great cartooning or great thinking, but these days, any heaping helping of kindness is more than worth its weight in – well, in pearls, like the one Colmenares shows inside a clam, even though pearls actually grow in oysters. Shhhh…don’t say anything about that. Be kind.

No comments:

Post a Comment