July 31, 2014
(++++) COMICS OF, AND FOR, THE YEAR
2015 Calendars: 365-Day—Dilbert; Non Sequitur; The Argyle Sweater; Medical Cartoon-a-Day. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 each.
Say what you will about keeping electronic notes, datebooks and schedules – there is still something highly enjoyable about tracking the days of the year in physical form, actually tearing off a calendar page to mark the passing of the day, the week, the month. And there is still something delightful about having those pages filled with some of the best comics being drawn by cartoonists today – ones that will bring you a different laugh or sigh of wry amusement day after day. Yes, you can get cartoons electronically (even if they were not created for electronic media); and yes, you can look at the small screen of a cell phone or the somewhat larger one of a tablet or the even bigger one of a computer to see comic panels. But there remains something unsatisfying, for many people if not for everyone, about living all of one’s life electronically, including the tracking of each day of it. And so there are lots of excellent Andrews McMeel calendars based on top cartoonists’ work available each year to help fans of the strips mark the year to come. And they are always welcome – they were this year and will be again in 2015.
Dilbert is beyond being a classic and has become an integral part of society for everyone who works in a soulless, faceless major corporation, and for plenty of people who don’t work in such a place and are quite sure they wouldn’t enjoy themselves if they did. The cover of Scott Adams’ 2015 Dilbert calendar says it all: it features the Pointy-Haired Boss (PHB) asking a hapless employee, “Did you get the E-mail I texted you?” Dilbert, mouthless as always and his tie curled up as usual, sits next to the boss, marveling at this latest instance of cluelessness. And it is scarcely the only such instance, as this calendar’s pages show again and again. In one, Dilbert explains that after computers learn to program themselves, machine intelligence will grow so quickly that civilization will likely be destroyed, so humans can now decide whether to live an unhealthy lifestyle or engage in techno-terrorism; the boss blandly selects Option A. Dilbert tries Internet dating and has to choose between a woman addicted to Facebook and another addicted to prescription pain medicines – a tie, Dogbert points out, but Dilbert notes that only one of the two will likely make eye contact. The company CEO tries his hand at creating a new brand and comes up with “herthlokel.” The PHB declines to motivate Dilbert, saying that “a monkey could do your assignment while eating a banana.” Dogbert starts “a pump-and-dump newsletter for thinly traded stocks,” carefully arranging things so “my bad stock picks can be attributed to honest mistakes.” The company hires an intern’s intern, who must wear a leather hood at meetings. And so on, so forth and so it goes. With a year of this in store, any vestige of interest that Dilbert fans might have in finding a job at a big company will soon decide he or she would be better off on the proverbial desert island.
And that is just where two characters find themselves on the cover of the 2015 calendar based on Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur, with a man on one tiny island sending a note in a bottle to the man on the next-door tiny island, with a note in the bottle saying, “You have a friend request.” Characters do not always follow logic in Dilbert, or follow it only to extremes, but Non Sequitur actually means “it does not follow,” and although the title refers to the fact that one day’s work usually has nothing to do with that of the day before or after, it also shows just how illogical (or too precisely logical) life can be. A woman visits a store looking for an old-fashioned greeting card for Valentine’s Day and finds a rack labeled as being for “imaginary Internet fiancé.” Up above the clouds, God looks with puzzlement at an Oscar statuette, wondering “if they gave it to me just so I won’t smite them.” A graveyard labeled “Testosterone Acres” includes a headstone inscribed, “Let me show you a faster way to do that.” Another cemetery contains the “tomb of the unknown celebrity,” who was “always sober, stayed faithful, obeyed the law.” A crowd of cars is seen by the side of a road in the desert, next to a sign reading, “Last Chance to Tweet: no reception for next 250 miles.” Wiley’s characteristically befuddled, feckless non-repeating characters are interwoven in this calendar with a few that are recurring, notably little Danae of the dark personality, who (among other things) creates a “shut up and mind your own business zone” that quickly provides her with “a new crop of devoted minions.” And there is Danae’s brightly optimistic compatriot, the pygmy Clydesdale, Lucy, who takes Danae to a place where there is no cell or Internet service and tells her to “sit, relax and just be,” a notion that Danae finds particularly appealing when Lucy points out that in nature, you can go to the bathroom anywhere you want. Plenty of other characters, recurring and non-recurring, make Non Sequitur a delight and surprise day after day – a sure way to brighten the year to come.
To make your days not only bright but also strange, consider Scott Hilburn’s The Argyle Sweater in calendar form for 2015. Here too the panels do not follow from one day to the next – and for that matter, not even the species of characters can be predicted. In one panel, Death applies for a newspaper job and is told he has an impressive résumé based on the obituaries. Spongebob’s mother warns him to stop wringing himself out in his bed. A knife-wielding cookie cutter demands that two chocolate-chip victims “hand over the dough.” An airline passenger gets a row to himself by coughing constantly while making sure people in the aisle see the books he has brought along about overcoming tuberculosis and living with leprosy. A mother and father sausage worry about their kids being “spoiled brats.” A praying mantis warns the young mantis taking his daughter out to have her back before midnight and to be sure his head is still attached. A dog husband compliments his wife on her disgusting breath, which she attributes to her new “hot garbage scented” mouthwash. Wonder Woman tries unsuccessfully to describe her invisible jet to a policeman after the plane is stolen. A subway rider encounters “the likeness monster,” who closely resembles the man’s father. Elmer Fudd reads the instructions on a box of “bwownies.” Dogs go shopping at Victerrier’s Secret, Foot Licker, Puppy Gap and other canine mall stores. A pirate dentist tells patients to say “arrrrr.” And so on and so forth all year – a collection of puns, pop culture, talking animals, and lots of absurd characters doing absurd things. And no actual argyles were harmed in the making of this particular sweater.
Speaking of harm, doctors and other medical professionals are supposed to be sure not to do any, but for anyone who finds that an iffy proposition – or simply thinks laughter may be better medicine than most prescription drugs – Jonny Hawkins’ Medical Cartoon-a-Day may be just the thing to lift spirits throughout 2015. Hawkins produces old-fashioned black-and-white cartoons of the type that used to appear in magazines and still show up in some print publications, such as The New Yorker. One shows medics – or are they mechanics? – carrying a man on a stretcher to a body shop. Another offers an I chart – that is, a optometrist’s chart containing only the letter I. Elsewhere, surgical students are forced to learn from the “Operation” game because of funding cutbacks; a doctor tells a patient that “your HMO will pay for a pound of cure, but not an ounce of prevention”; and another tells a man, “We’re not even sure how many syllables there are for what you have.” A man who passes out during a Star Wars marathon is diagnosed with “a near-Darth experience.” Patients in a crowded waiting room are told the “naturalist healer” is giving them plenty of time to heal naturally. A hot-dog cart offers “all-natural health supplements” with the frankfurters. And then there’s the man who is in counseling for his addiction to counseling. The simple line drawings are mildly amusing but are not the main point here – it is the one-line insights into (and critiques of) modern medicine that will keep you chuckling throughout the year. Or keep your doctor chuckling – this is one of those calendars that can provide a daily dose of gentle humor to the very people at whose expense it generates laughs.