August 23, 2018
(++++) UP AGAINST THE WALLS
Calendars (wall for 2019): Cartoons from “The New Yorker”; Cat vs. Human; Heart and Brain. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 each.
It only seems that 2019 is a long distance away. It is in reality approaching quickly, as you will realize if you consider the availability of many 2019 wall calendars that, like these three, actually start in September 2018. Choosing any of them gives you a head start on an entirely new year, an opportunity to enjoy 16 months rather than a mere 12 of the different approaches to life and humor represented by the cartoonists whose work hangs on your wall for a month at a time. True, the first four months (September-December 2018) all appear with a single cartoon, so it had better be one you really like if you are going to start using these calendars during the current year. But, of course, there is nothing preventing you from hanging one of these next to whatever 2018 wall calendar you may already be using – you can watch the current year meander toward its finale while anticipating the eventual emergence of the next one. Fans of The New Yorker magazine and its sophisticated and frequently rather dry sense of humor, usually characterized by cartoons in which two very different concepts are amusingly juxtaposed, will find plenty to enjoy in the 2018/2019 calendar featuring many of the cartoonists whose work makes The New Yorker instantly recognizable. The calendar features not only large cartoons atop each month’s display but also smaller ones at the bottom of the dates. The new year starts, for example, with a large January panel combining the concept of lane set-asides on roads with the ubiquitous cellphone use seen among pedestrians nowadays in New York and other cities. Every character in the cartoon has his or her face angled toward a cellphone and is not looking at anything nearby – and above one part of the broad sidewalk is a sign, resembling a highway sign, that reads, “Slow Texters’ Lane.” That is a perfect example of the form of humor for which The New Yorker is known. So is the small cartoon at the bottom of the January page, which shows a man with his head down on his arms during what is obviously a work day, apparently preparing for a touch of midday sleep, thinking to himself, “It’s not a nap if I’m sitting at my desk.” That is a New Yorker take on the whole concept of power naps, and is the kind of pithy visual humor that this calendar will display on your wall throughout the year to come.
If you prefer something more homespun, consider Yasmine Surovec’s Cat vs. Human, a warm and rather daffy bit of cartooning that neatly encapsulates the pleasures and perils of human-feline shared space. Surovec’s illustrations for this calendar tie neatly to specific months or seasons: January’s has a woman making a new year’s resolution to be more outgoing and social and then shows her ignoring the people around her to spend more time engaging with cats, while December’s features a seasonally decorated cat tree with felines draped all over it, as if they are decorations themselves. That December cartoon is wordless, one of several on the calendar that make their point entirely through Surovec’s pleasantly rounded drawings (in which the cats, in particular, are pleasantly rounded). Another wordless offering is a four-panel presentation of cat interaction, with each of two cats initially being shown with a heart over its head, then each sniffing the other’s rear end, then one flopping on its back to expose its belly while the other purrs. Cat owners will definitely relate to this. They will also enjoy the wordless cat-insect interaction, which starts with the cat’s wide-eyed amazement at discovering a bug and ends, after the cat does typical “cat play” with the insect, with the cat losing interest and walking away, leaving the bewildered bug with a question mark over its head. Clearly Cat vs. Human contains more than cats and humans, but there is plenty of cat-human interactivity here as well: how cats behave on laundry day, for example, and how cat-loving humans respond differently to Halloween opportunities to dress up (one woman becomes “a sexy kitty” while another goes the full-body-fur route and declares herself “a domestic shorthaired tabby”). If you have cats or interact with cats or love cats or try vainly to figure out if cats love you, this calendar will give you no answers whatsoever. But it will be a lot of fun to look at nevertheless.
On the other hand, if you prefer to be bewildered entirely by people, you can hang Nick Seluk’s Heart and Brain calendar for 2018/2019 on the wall and ponder the many imponderables of methods by which we humans get in our own way. Seluk is thoughtful and often witty in his creation of cartoons in which live-for-the-moment Heart is in constant conflict with think-and-plan Brain – a reflection of the way so many of us really do feel so much of the time. Heart, a stylized bright-red heart with huge eyes, usually accompanied by a butterfly to indicate just how flighty he is, is seen in one cartoon telling Brain, “Let’s live HERE!” and pointing to a house labeled “The Moment,” while Brain (a stylized pink brain wearing eyeglasses) is heaving a deep sigh while looking next door at “The Past.” That panel also contains an empty lot on which a sign says, “The Future: Under Development,” and on the sign perches an eyeball – yes, other body parts make appearances in Heart and Brain from time to time. Occasionally the two central characters are in accord, as when Heart hands Brain a thick volume and Brain says, “You brought me a new book? Thanks! I was starving.” But more often, Heart and Brain function at cross-purposes, as often seems to be the case in real life – as when the two characters are sitting outdoors, with Brain saying, “We have things that need to get done,” and Heart replying, “Yeah, too bad for those things.” The calendar has some bonus design elements that make it extra-enjoyable: small character portraits are scattered throughout the pages, complementing the large single-panel cartoons that are the main focus, and there are also multi-panel strips running along page bottoms, showing how Heart and Brain and other amusingly sentient body parts behave in some of Seluk’s longer-form offerings. All Seluk’s characters are endearing, each in a different way, and the just slightly skewed observations on life, and on the conflict between where the heart feels like going and where the brain thinks it is right to go, have enough of a ring of truth to make your wall a thoughtful place – as well as one sporting amusing drawings – if you choose to give the new Heart and Brain calendar a spot there.