September 02, 2010


2011 Calendars: Wall—Kitchen Herb Garden; Pearls Before Swine; 365-Day—Pearls Before Swine; Liō; Non Sequitur; The Dictionary of Corporate Bulls**t; Disney/Pixar. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 (Kitchen); $13.99 each (all others).

     The pleasures of summer warmth will start to fade soon enough, but one of the wonderful things about calendars is that they can provide those pleasures – or enjoyment of many other kinds – throughout the year. It’s just a matter of deciding what sorts of things will be fun to see when 2011 arrives, which it will quite soon enough. The Kitchen Herb Garden wall calendar is a perfect example of finding growth and beauty through the year. It features a dozen works of art – and they are works of art – by Sherri Buck Baldwin, each devoted to a homey scene that is made special by Baldwin’s keen eye for detail and unerring ability to find beauty in the ordinary. This is, in fact, a perfect calendar to hang in a kitchen, with its pictures of delicious-looking fresh vegetables, potted herbs, food being prepared and a meal being served. There are no people here – just ingredients, plates and finished dishes – and the result is a feeling that these everyday wonders somehow exist or are created by a sort of magic. The beautiful decorations above and below each month’s display further enhance the calendar’s charm.

     Prefer amusement in your daily diet? Then consider Stephan Pastis’ wild and weird Pearls Before Swine strip, which can regale you (if that is the right phrase) in either wall or page-a-day form in the new year. Groaner puns and bizarre situations share space in both Pearls calendars with appearances by the strip’s recurring characters: Pig, Rat, Goat, Danny Donkey, and the imbecilic and expendable crocs. The wall calendar includes one strip per month, plus a full-color blowup of one panel of that strip – and those are not for the squeamish (but then, neither is Pearls Before Swine). Arguably the funniest of the large panels is the one in which a croc in Colonel Sanders clothing stands bewildered, surrounded by chickens. Or maybe it is the one in which Pig wears fried eggs over his eyes. Or the one in which Rat urges figure skaters to start acting like hockey players by getting into fights. Or maybe it is the front of the calendar, which features “Da Fantasteek Four (Math Not Part of Their Fantasticalness)” – three, count them, three, ridiculously overdressed croc supernumbskulls. Or maybe…well, you pick. Or pick a different Pearls strip every day with the 365-day calendar, which for 2011 is called “Dr. StrangeCroc, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Reptile.” The cover of this one features one of those poor unfortunate crocs riding a bomb toward Earth, in a parody of a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s famous 1964 movie, which was itself a parody: Pastis has now moved to parody parodies. Pearls Before Swine is an acquired taste, but if you have acquired it, you will want to acquire at least one of these calendars.

     Speaking of acquired tastes, Mark Tatulli’s Liō and Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur deserve the same description. Liō is the simple and nearly wordless story (the title character himself never speaks) of a young boy, his pet giant squid and homicidal kitten, his fascination with such scientific experiments as nuclear bombs and reanimating the dead, his reinterpretation of “alien abduction” to mean that he abducts the alien, and much more. None of these strips follows from anything that has come before – in fact, you could say that Liō is a non sequitur strip, except that the title Non Sequitur is already taken, and taken very well indeed. There are some recurring characters in Non Sequitur – notably Danae, a young Goth girl, and some of those in her orbit, including Martians. But by and large, the strip is filled with whatever Wiley (as he prefers to be known) feels like drawing to make whatever point he feels like making. The 2011 Non Sequitur calendar is in color, and the coloring tends to be as subtle as some of the barbs and as understated as some of the sarcasm. This is a calendar in which a man’s favorite cell-phone app is the off button; a climber seeking the secret of life goes up the mountain to a cave where he finds the secret to lawn care, and pedestrian “walk/don’t walk” signs become “advance” and “obstruct” while a character worries that the change doesn’t faze him anymore. Non Sequitur means “it does not follow,” but followers of the strip will find plenty to go along with in this calendar.

     Another thing that does not follow is corporate jargon, or corporate bulls**t, as in The Dictionary of Corporate Bulls**t for 2011. Subtitled “A Year of Empty, Enraging, and Just Plain Stupid Office Talk,” this calendar is packed with verbiage that only Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss could love. This daily dictionary of dumb, dumber and disastrous double-speak goes beyond the obvious meaningless words, such as “synergy” (although yes, it is included) to provide the real definitions of such verbal bloatware as “impactful” and “incentivize” (neither of which is a real word), “self-starter” (someone who will be required to work without training or supervision), “goals” (imposed objectives designed to be used against you at performance-review time), and many more tidbits of tortured meaning. It may or may not be a good idea to keep this calendar on an office desk – if you work in the sort of place that actually uses this vocabulary as if it has meaning, you’re better off keeping the calendar at home to help you return to the real world every evening.

     But no one says you have to spend time in the real world, at least in calendar terms. One of the most wonderful unreal worlds you can go to all year is the world of Pixar animation – which is actually a lot of different unreal worlds. And for 2011, the Disney/Pixar calendar is one of the most enjoyable and cleverest offerings around. It is not, strictly speaking, a day-to-day calendar, since it display a week at a time – but what displays those weeks are! Pixar (now part of Disney) has created an astonishing number of memorable characters that exist only as tiny models or computer bits and bytes, but that seem more solid and emotionally realistic than most flesh-and-blood Hollywood movie protagonists. The fantastic creations from all 11 Pixar films people every calendar page, even when the characters are not people but bugs, robots, monsters, cars, fish or toys. Ratatouille, Nemo, Lightning McQueen, the Incredibles, the cast of the three Toy Story films, and many more creations are here – and the calendar is (get this) interactive. The pages do not merely display – they become keepsakes. Some are punch-out postcards, bookmarks or door hangers; others are collector cards or standup display items called “standees.” These are disproportionately enjoyable to punch out, set up, use and display, for adult Pixar fans as well as kids. Along the way, the calendar offers some neat Pixar trivia, such as the full name of Mater, the twangy-talkin’ tow truck in Cars – it’s “Tow Mater,” as in “tomater,” as in the way the character would pronounce “tomato.” Get it? By all means get it – the Pixar/Disney calendar, that is – if you want to balance your everyday world with one that, if not necessarily as realistic, is a lot more colorful and can be every bit as emotionally gripping. This is one calendar that combines oddity (the characters and their adventures) with beauty (their design and the underlying warmth that distinguish every Pixar movie made to date).

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