November 05, 2009


2010 Calendars: Day-to-Day—Get Fuzzy; Cul de Sac: This Exit; Liō: Monster under the Bed; Joy of Cooking; The Office; Australia. Desk—Dilbert; Peanuts. Andrews McMeel. $13.99 each (Get Fuzzy; Cul de Sac; Liō; Joy of Cooking; The Office; Dilbert desk; Peanuts desk); $8.99 (Australia).

2010 Calendar: Wall—Little Nemo in Slumberland. Sunday Press Books. $14.95.

     That sound you hear faintly, tripping along the corridors and hiding just out of sight in the distance, is the approaching new year, the final one of the first decade of this century. But fear not, for 2010 is sure to bring amusement, enjoyment, escapism and even (if you like) a bit of education, thanks to the many wonderful calendars that will help you get through the year one day (or one month) at a time.

     Andrews McMeel always offers a plethora of wonderful comic-strip amusements in calendar form, and the coming year is no exception. Just as there are cartoons for all tastes – indeed, many strips nowadays are targeted for specific tastes – there are day-to-day calendars that will keep you amused all year with the antics and/or wry comments of your favorite characters. Get Fuzzy, Darby Conley’s increasingly pointed chronicle of the life of feckless human Rob with put-upon mixed-breed dog Satchel and über-self-centered Siamese cat Bucky, features the one-fanged cat’s daily conceited utterances and ever-failing moneymaking schemes, as well as Bucky’s plots against monkeys and ferrets, Satchel’s constant (usually unsuccessful) attempts to stay out of the way of feline abusiveness, and Rob’s ineffective attempts to find a way in which all species can just get along. Cul de Sac, one of the most inventive comics of recent vintage, follows four-year-old Alice Otterloop (“outer loop,” as in the outer lanes of a highway ringing a major city) and her older brother, Petey, in suburban adventures that manage to be both almost-real and entirely surreal. From the thoroughly appropriate education at Blisshaven Preschool Academy to the antics of Alice’s father, Peter, whose tiny car seems to be smaller than he is, life in the suburbs is not so much skewered by Richard Thompson as it is dissected – not only with telling dialogue but also with art that is actually worth looking at every day.

     One comic whose art is the point is Liō, a pantomime strip in which words sometimes occur but are never spoken by the boy with the odd name after whom the strip is named. This is a dark strip, but in an amusing way, and if that seems hard to imagine – well, it is hard to imagine, although apparently not for Mark Tatulli, the strip’s creator. Liō’s friends include swamp beasts, cephalopods, Death (who in one strip delivers sweet treats marked “Death by Chocolate”), under-bed monsters, space aliens of all shapes and sizes, and the occasional zombie. How much of this is in the boy’s imagination, and how much is in his “real” world, is one of those questions you can enjoy asking yourself all year with this calendar.

     At the opposite extreme of wholesomeness and verbiage is Joy of Cooking, where all you get is words, and they’re suitably delicious. Every page of this calendar includes recipes and kitchen tips, tricks and hints, with material taken specifically from the 75th-anniversray edition of this highly popular cookbook. The step-by-step instructions make the recipes easy to follow, and since all of them are short enough to fit on a tear-off calendar page, they should be simple enough for even a busy cook to try once in a while.

     But what’s keeping you busy? If it’s the office, you might enjoy the silly-to-sparkling dialogue from the fifth season of The Office, offered daily in calendar form. No scenes from the NBC show here, true, but this is a program driven by verbal punches and plots rather than by intense action sequences. In fact, strictly speaking, the action at Dunder Mifflin isn’t much different from the action at real-world offices – and that, of course, is what gives The Office its charm. Well, that plus the fact that the characters speak more pithily and amusingly than most people do most of the time in most real offices. From promotional schemes to office romances, The Office takes everyday work life and dresses it up in snappy dialogue that fans will enjoy day after day – assuming, of course, that they want to be reminded of the contrast between the office in the show and the one in which they work.

     But suppose you want to get away from it all each day of the year, not be immersed in an alternative office reality – and are not a “foodie.” What if you just want a calendar to give you a daily peek at somewhere beautiful and exotic? One good choice could be the Australia mini day-to-day calendar for 2010: this island continent is far enough away so most North Americans have not seen it in person, and it has extraordinary beauty – ranging from the world-famous wave-shaped Sydney Opera House to the bleak, red, otherworldly landscape of the Nullarbor Plain. From Australia’s magnificent beaches to its bustling cities and amazing natural wonders, this little calendar is filled with wonderful sights. And it really is a little calendar, so take that into account: it is small enough to hang on a metal cubicle wall or a refrigerator door (a task made easy by the magnets on its back), and that is a plus; but at times the calendar seems too small to contain a place as expansive as Australia. Of course, you could always pay a visit and see everything life-sized….

     Day-to-day calendars have retained buyers’ interest despite the increasing use of electronic organizers; but the once-ubiquitous desk calendars (or “daily planners,” if you prefer) have become less popular. That’s too bad, because there is still something useful about seeing an entire week of work and appointments at a glance when you look away from your computer screen (which, for your eyes’ sake, you need to do occasionally!). And there are some wonderful comic-strip-based desk calendars available, too, such as the Dilbert and Peanuts versions for 2010. In fact, although these two calendars are the same size – 8½ inches in one dimension, 7¼ in the other – and are both spiral-bound so they lie flat, their execution is as different as the comics that appear on every left-hand page. The Dilbert calendar is vertical in layout, and each day of the week gets a long, narrow, unlined space in which you can take notes (Saturday and Sunday are half-size). Peanuts is laid out horizontally, and each day gets a vertical, lined block of space (again, half-size for weekend days). The result is that Dilbert is more useful for making notes or writing sentences across a page, while Peanuts is better for listing appointments or things to do. And anyone who likes the work of Scott Adams and Charles Schulz equally won’t go wrong by buying both.

     But if you really want a dose of magnificent comic-strip art – art that has never been equaled and, given the shrinkage of newspapers, likely never will be – you may want to treat yourself to a truly wonderful wall calendar showing scenes from Winsor McKay’s astonishing Little Nemo in Slumberland. One of the greatest comic strips of all time, this surrealistic strip from the early 20th century pushed the boundaries of comic-strip art in ways that are still beyond almost anything ever done in the medium. The full-color Sunday strips gorgeously reproduced in the 2010 calendar include some in which Nemo’s dreams are really surpassingly strange. One has him sliding down an apparently endless banister until he eventually slides right out of bed and wakes up (each strip ends with Nemo awakening). Another has him dreaming that his bed comes to life – and as its legs grow and it starts walking, the panels themselves become more and more elongated. Another features mermaids and takes place half on land and half in the water. And McKay’s truly bizarre version of the old year giving way to the new has to be seen (and marveled at) to be believed. The 2010 Little Nemo calendar may whet your appetite for more of McKay’s superb art and storytelling – and in fact its dozen strips are taken from two collections of McKay’s Sunday strips published, like the calendar itself, by Sunday Press Books. There has never been cartooning quite like McKay’s, so don’t be surprised if even a full year of his images is not enough. Luckily, the publisher has a way for you to get more – a bit of good news for any time of year.

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