Part 1 of a two-part series on cartoonist Jim Toomey (Duke B.S.M.E. 1983, M.E.M. 2008), in which we dive deep into the making of the comic strip "Sherman's Lagoon," the career of the strip's creator, and the ocean setting.
Sharks. For many that word brings up images of Jaws and a discordant note of fear. But not so for Sherman, the lovable, food-obsessed great white shark and star of the comic strip "Sherman's Lagoon" created by Duke alum Jim Toomey. Instead of the DA-dum, DA-dum of Jaws, Sherman suggests the gentle plink of a toy piano punctuating the end of a punch line. And if you ask Jim how he came up with such a different characterization for one of the deep blue's most feared creatures, he'd say respect and admiration.
"I've always admired sharks," Jim told TheGreenGrok, "because they have a dimension of intelligence that is somewhat unique to that animal, and especially a great white. A great white has this organ called an ampullae of Lorenzini, and it can actually sense electromagnetic disturbances."
Get Toomey Podcast: Part 1 [6:36] »
Interview by TheGreenGrok editor Erica Rowell
This organ, which he calls the shark's "sixth sense," enables sharks to locate animals in distress. When a fish is wounded or struggling or stuck somewhere, it creates disturbances, and the ampullae of Lorenzini, along with a keen sense of smell and excellent eyesight, helps the shark actually track down that distressed fish.
Of course, just how Sherman and company use such reality-based powers is half the fun of the fiction.
"I've done a few comic strips where Hawthorne, who is the greedy crab, is using Sherman's sixth sense to pick stocks or horse races or bet on the next football game or whatever," says Jim. Again, Jaws this is not.
"Sherman's Lagoon" got its official start in about 15 newspapers in May of 1991, nearly a decade after Jim's stint as a political cartoonist for the Duke Chronicle. Today his nationally syndicated strip is carried in about 200 newspapers in some 30 countries, and has been translated into Swedish, Norwegian, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
One regular in "Sherman's Lagoon" is Fillmore, a green sea turtle whose annual mate-seeking migration to Ascension Island is a detail with some basis in fact.
In today's podcast, Jim introduces us to the cast of characters that inhabit Sherman's Lagoon, including one interesting sea critter that migrates to a small island in the Atlantic to mate, er, or not, in the case of Fillmore (see the two panels above and the video below).
Jim also discusses his cartooning before and after Duke (including the fallout of a run-in with a headmaster who discovered satirical drawings of his teachers), his inspirations, the artist he considers "the Rembrandt of political cartoonists," and his love affair with the ocean and, especially, sharks.
Just click the play button directly below to listen here or download the mp3 above to hear it later on the go. (If you do not see a player below, try a different browser or allow scripts or click on the podcast link above.)
Interview by TheGreenGrok editor Erica Rowell. [6:36]
Next week, in part two of the series, Jim tells us how he weaves marine biology and the occasional sustainability issue into his story lines. And he reveals which sea creatures he would use for President Barack Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney if he had to depict them as ocean dwellers.
Follow Bill Chameides on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheGreenGrok