More than likely, it was sightings of a shark and other marine creatures during a family trip to the Bahamas that instilled in a very young Jim Toomey a lifelong fascination with the sea and its inhabitants. The Alexandria, Va., native says Sherman, the dim-witted great white shark star of his comic strip, has actually been swimming in doodle form on his sketchpad since he was a child.
One might have expected Toomey to become a marine biologist. However, his grandfather was an engineer. His dad was an engineer. So it came as no surprise to his family when Toomey graduated from Duke University with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1983 and accepted a full-time position with a Virginia engineering firm. But Toomey eventually broke the family mold, becoming instead a successful nationally syndicated cartoonist within the next eight years.
Toomey began honing his artistic skills in college, drawing daily political cartoons for the school newspaper and, from 1983 to1989, for two Virginia dailies. Between his drawing and a part-time engineering job, he found the money just wasn't coming in, so, after a short stint in the merchant marine, he packed up and moved to San Francisco. There he went to work for a company that built custom exhibits for museums and trade shows and started on a new project in his spare time - creating a comic strip.
After unsuccessfully attempting to interest several different California newspapers in his strip, Toomey finally hit pay dirt in May 1991, when the Escondido Times-Advocate agreed to run "Sherman's Lagoon." By the time Creators Syndicate signed Toomey to a seven-year contract for national distribution that fall, the cartoonist had already begun to build a loyal audience for "Sherman's Lagoon" in 17 client newspapers, including the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Denver Post.
Now distributed by King Features Syndicate, "Sherman's Lagoon" currently appears in more than 200 newspapers, including The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Denver Post, Arizona Republic and Columbus Dispatch as well as newspapers in Europe, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and the Caribbean.
"Sherman's Lagoon" has earned kudos from the Coral Reef Alliance. Based in Berkeley, Calif., it is an independent non-profit membership organization that works to educate divers and the general public about coral-reef conservation. In addition, it provides funding and technical support for various coral-reef projects around the world. Its president told Toomey that "'Sherman's Lagoon' has been a huge hit both with Coral's staff and our members! One of our members was so impressed that he wrote in saying how it's the first thing he turns to every time he receives one of our newsletters! 'Sherman' gets two fins up from the divers at Coral!"
Bob Woollacott, a professor of biology at Harvard University, also praised the comic: "'Sherman's Lagoon' combines Mother Nature with Human Nature in ways that enlighten and entertain. Toomey's strip sets an important, upbeat tone for my undergraduate course in marine biology."
Toomey's hard work has paid off in many areas. Andrews McMeel has published six collections of Toomey's cartoons strips. The latest collection is "Surf's Up!" featuring strips from 1994 to 1995. Other anthologies include: "Sherman's Lagoon 1991-2001: Greatest Hits and Near Misses," was released in October 2002. anthologies include: "Greetings From Sherman's Lagoon"(2002), "Another Day in Paradise," (2001), "An Illustrated Guide To Shark Etiquette," (2001), "Poodle: The Other White Meat," (1999) and Sherman's Lagoon: Ate That, What's Next?" in 1997 . A line of stuffed "Lagoonie" animals has surfaced on the market.
Toomey was recently named an "Environmental Hero" by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in recognition of his effort to "protect and preserve" the nation's environment.
And, in his spare time since "Sherman's Lagoon" was launched on the waves of success, Toomey has taken acting classes and gotten a master's degree in liberal arts from Stanford University in 1997. Toomey lives in Maryland with his wife and daughter.
Fans can view more about "Sherman's Lagoon" on Toomey's Web site at www.shermanslagoon.com and send e-mail to the cartoonist at firstname.lastname@example.org.