June 23, 2011


2012 Calendars: 365-Day—Cul de Sac; Dilbert; Non Sequitur; Zits; Cartoons from “The New Yorker”; Wall—Dilbert; Cartoons from “The New Yorker”; Home Is in the Kitchen. Andrews McMeel. $13.99 each (365-day); $14.99 each (Dilbert; New Yorker); $15.99 (Kitchen).

     When is it too soon to start looking ahead to next year? Odds are that with 2011 not even half finished, you have spent no time at all considering what calendars you might like to use during 2012. You may not even realize that you can get 2012 calendars this early in the year. Well, maybe you can’t – shelf space at stores is limited, after all – but on the other hand, isn’t there something optimistic about looking back at the portion of 2011 that has been completed, and starting to think about possibilities for a new year that is admittedly still distant? So for those forward-looking enough to want to consider where to go in the new year while the old one is still relatively young (all right, middle-aged), here are some excellent possibilities.

     Andrews McMeel specializes in calendars made from the best and most popular comic strips now gracing newspaper pages (and Web sites), and 2012 will be no exception: the company has a full line of comics-themed calendars in the works. Richard Thompson’s wonderful Cul de Sac, about the adventures of four-year-old Alice Otterloop and her friends and suburban family, is a standout, because the strip itself is so good – intelligently written, very well drawn and increasingly well wrought in characterization. The cover of the 2012 calendar really encapsulates Thompson’s humor, with Alice “drawing a happy face or a mad face on each page to plan my moods for the year” as her spike-haired friend, Dill, looks on admiringly, complimenting her on her thoughtfulness. Home and family, Blisshaven preschool and scene-stealing eight-year-old neurotic-in-training brother Petey – all are here and all are delightful. Better known and even more popular, Scott Adams’ Dilbert returns for 2012 with the usual gang of idiots (the phrase is from Mad magazine, but it applies just as well here). Adams has made Dilbert, Alice, Wally and even (sometimes) Asok more willing to confront the absurdities of a workplace run by the Pointy-Haired Boss and his ilk – they talk back more directly in this calendar than they used to. But whatever they say, or don’t say, nothing much changes – which is exactly the point, and helps explain the strip’s continuing tremendous popularity.

     The popularity of Non Sequitur rests largely on Wiley Miller’s willingness to take a skewed look at just about anything, not merely the workplace. Politics, dating, celebrity obsession, home life and more are gently poked or more forcefully prodded every day in panels that may not connect with what comes before or after (non sequitur means “it does not follow”) but that all come very clearly from a finely honed sense of the absurd. And speaking of absurdity, Zits plumbs the depths of life as or with a teenager, featuring Jeremy Duncan (who is now 16) and parents Walt and Connie attempting to live in the same general orbit without colliding more often than absolutely necessary. Jerry Scott’s writing is always on point here (e.g., Jeremy explaining to Connie that so much happened at school that “I don’t know what not to tell you first”), with Jim Borgman’s superb art – which features ultra-pliable teenage bodies, tremendous exaggeration of circumstances in ways that seems truer than reality, and a healthy dose of surrealism at all times – constantly enlivening the strips. Surrealism is also present a good deal of the time in Cartoons from “The New Yorker,” where the usual topics (money, work, relationships) are handled in distinctly New Yorker-ish ways. Generally witty and wry, and often rather dry, the humor here has a distinct urban and sophisticated slant, and the bemused and befuddled characters will be immediately recognizable to New Yorker fans and anyone who has ever had the fortune (good or ill) to interact with residents of the real New York City and its environs.

     The New Yorker and Dilbert are also available for 2012 in a particularly interesting wall-calendar format that Andrews McMeel calls a “Weekly Wall Organizer.” These ought to be fairly easy to find right now, since they actually start with September 2011 and run through December 2012 – a 16-month arrangement that helps bridge the old (okay, not so old) and new years. The design of these calendars is clever and renders them highly useful. They are spiral-bound and are really two forms of calendar in one. Monthly planning pages simply display an entire month at a glance, with no art but with plenty of room to make notes for each day of the month – and with a small year-at-a-glance calendar running along the bottom of each page. In addition, there are weekly planning pages that do contain art at the top, plus extra (lined) space for writing down specific appointments, and the same year-at-a-glance strip along the bottom. There is space for notes as well at the top of each weekly layout – more space in The New Yorker calendar than the Dilbert one, because of the difference in size and layout of the illustrations. Be sure to hang either of these calendars with a suitably strong nail or picture hanger: both are heavier than typical wall calendars, and both include a pocket for storage of receipts, notes, invitations and the like – which means they will get still heavier through their 16-month lifespan even as they become increasingly useful.

     Those who prefer a more traditional wall calendar have plenty of choices, too, and not only in the cartooning sphere. One especially attractive option is Dan DiPaolo’s Home Is in the Kitchen calendar, in which a rotund and happy chef displays everything from wines to cupcakes to soup (depending on the month), while other drawings feature a “Mom’s Diner” menu, wine list, fresh jellies and preserves, and even a big fat hen. DiPaolo’s drawings are an amusing celebration of the gustatory without being overdone, created in pleasant earth tones that go well with any décor and are a delight to look at again and again. Whether you cook all the time or just wish you had time to cook, Home Is in the Kitchen will accompany you through 2012 with flair, delicious month after delicious month. And it’s never too early to consider that sort of enjoyment.

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