New (to Us!) Comic Alert: Sherman's Lagoonby GoComics team
One of your favorite newspaper comics is now available on GoComics! As of this week, all the characters from Sherman’s Lagoon bring their under-the-sea shenanigans to the site, including Sherman the shark, his wife Megan, and son Herman, along with Fillmore the bachelor sea turtle, and Hawthrone the hermit crab.
Creator Jim Toomey dreamt up this fictional lagoon more than 30 years ago, and the strip’s been syndicated in more than 150 daily newspapers since. For Toomey, creating the comic fulfills two lifelong fascinations—cartooning and the ocean—and the strip’s been a platform for more than just laughs. As you’ll read in our conversation with Toomey below, Sherman and his pals have also been integral in introducing both kids and adults to the alien-like creatures that live in the ocean, and they’ve also been changemakers in ocean conservancy efforts. Not bad for a character who Toomey calls the “Homer Simpson with fins”!
Your love of cartooning and the ocean came about around the same time: when you were a kid, right? Do you still have the same kid-like love for both?
You have to have a fascination with the process of drawing that borders on the childish in order to do it well. As Picasso once said, “All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” That doesn’t mean that artists have childish minds—just the opposite. But the process is more play than work, and if you don’t go into it with a sense of play—a certain lack of awareness of time, a clear mind free of the day’s adult baggage—then your art will suffer. Regarding the ocean, my childish sense of wonder has never waned. Why do we obsess as a culture on the mysteries of outer space when we still know so little about 70 percent of planet Earth?
How’d you marry both those passions to hatch Sherman’s Lagoon? Were you inspired by any other comic strips or creators?
My favorite comic when I was a kid was Peanuts and The Far Side. I delivered the paper after school every day, and so had a chance to read all the comics and all the paper for that matter. In my late twenties, just as my cubicle job was hitting its worst, dullest moments, I decided that if I were ever to reach my dream of being a newspaper cartoonist, now was the time. At the time, I had still retained my childhood interest in oceans, augmented by a new interest In the environment. I looked at the comics page and said to myself, “no fish… We need an underwater comic strip.”
You said in your 2010 Ted Talk that the foundation of your work is to invoke change around how people see the ocean—what are you most proud of in relation to that?
I can’t point to a single big achievement. I do enjoy regularly hearing from readers who tell me, “I had no idea the blobfish was a real animal, so I Googled it, and there it was!” Or the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (Earth’s longest mountain range), or the fact the green sea turtles use the earth’s magnetic fields to navigate the open ocean. One comic series at a time, I feel I am slowly turning the light on in this underwater world. At the end of the Ted Talk I did in the Galapagos, I compare exploring the ocean to wandering the Louvre Museum at night with the lights out. We have no appreciation for what is down there. We look at the ocean as a resource to be exploited.
Are there any people in your real life who served as inspiration behind your characters?
The characters are mostly different facets of me. Sherman is the “say anything, no filters” me. Fillmore is the pensive, sensitive me. Hawthorne is the “angry at the world” me. Megan is definitely my wife, and a lot of our marriage goes into the strip. Herman—Sherman and Megan’s son—is my son. So, much of my real life serves as inspiration. That helps for two reasons: it keeps the humor honest, and it provides a never-ending supply of ideas. Ultimately, much of the dialog is a dialog In my head between two different parts of me. When I have to sit down every morning and fill a blank piece of paper with something funny every day, it’s the only way I can do it.
How does your family react to seeing themselves in the strip?
Most of the family humor is written from the perspective of the clueless father, Sherman. So, most of the time, the joke is on me. I did a series where Herman tries to explain the phrase “Okay, Boomer,” to Sherman, as my son did to me. When my teenage son, William, read the series, his reaction was “you STILL don’t get it.”
Which character(s) do you identify with most?
Sherman. He is a little misunderstood.
What’s been your favorite story arc or gag, and why?
One of my favorites appeared in April 2008, (wow, am I getting old!). In the story line, Sherman is caught by a fishing boat and his fins are subsequently cut off. Shark finning is a common practice in the unregulated open ocean. Shark fins are extremely valuable, and long-range trawlers prefer to devote their limited holding to the most valuable commodity. Ultimately, this comic series played a role in helping NOAA convince Congress to pass the Shark Protection Act, which limited the sale of shark fins in US markets.
Are there stories or characters that have resonated with fans in ways that surprised you?
The story line above went both ways with readers. I received emails to the effect of “sharks are a pest; we’re better off without them; good riddance.” That surprised me. Maybe they are responsible for four or five deaths a year, in a bad year. If somebody drowns in a lake, do we drain the lake? How safe do we need to make the planet? And at what cost of natural resources? It got me to wondering if my own portrayal of Sherman as a mindless eating machine was contributing to the problem. Since then, I have tried to limit my “shark eats people” gags, though they have not gone away entirely.
Other than cartooning, what profession(s) would you both like to try?
I was educated and trained as an engineer. I think many of today’s problems have engineering solutions. I have not ruled out getting back into engineering one day.
What profession(s) would you never want to try?
Ha! I never wanted to be an author (the kind of writer who produces a 400-page written book, not a cartoon book). Then, over Covid lockdown, I wrote a 400-page book about my family’s adventures living on a sailboat for two years. The experience confirmed for me that it is a job I never want to do ever again.
Be sure to follow Sherman's Lagoon on GoComics!