August 30, 2007


Make Cakes Not War. By Judy Horacek. Andrews McMeel. $14.95.

One Hot Chick: In Search of Mr. Right (Now). By Cheryl Caldwell. Andrews McMeel. $9.95.

      These are books whose word-and-picture combinations add up to more than the sum of their parts. The words are all right, sometimes even witty, and the art is nicely done, amusing, even clever. But together, words and pictures are really special.

      The title of Make Cakes Not War, for example, is the four-word content of a single-panel cartoon showing baked goods raining down from the skies as a woman and two children dance happily in the delicious shower. The expressions of joy on the people’s faces, the variation on the famous “Make Love Not War” peace slogan, and the gentle absurdity of cupcakes and cake slices descending from the clouds, combine to create a powerful panel as well as a funny one. Judy Horacek usually does single panels, and sometimes purely for their joke value: the genie from the lamp says, “Please enter your four digit PIN”; and an arachnid hanging above a man’s bed says, “I’m your fairy godspider – I’ve come to grant you three wishes,” to which the man replies, “Please just go away.” The surrealism of the spider scene is sometimes the main thing that Horacek emphasizes, as in a panel showing a woman sitting and relaxing in a common piece of kitchenware that is also used as an amusement-park ride: “The giant teacup was still quite comfortable but ever since the arrival of the giant teabag she had been filled with a sense of unease.” Or Horacek pairs absurdity with a touch of philosophy, as in a drawing called “Nietzsche and the Monkey,” in which the philosopher says “God is dead” and the monkey asks, “Mind if I mash this banana into your hair?” Every once in a while, Horacek breaks up her single large panel into several (usually four) smaller ones, as in a sequence imagining that you can purchase “heart felt” and “sinceresucker” at a fabric store. There is bite to many of Horacek’s cartoons, but it is a gentle sort of bite – more a little nip, actually, that you realize only later is something you have really felt.

      Feelings are a big part of the dating scene, of course, and that’s the problem for Cheryl Caldwell in One Hot Chick, a gift-book-size hardcover that you deserve to give yourself if you are a woman searching for something better than everything you have found out there so far. The “chick” on the cover, standing in a frying pan, looks a bit like Tweety Bird on steroids and with lipstick. But the illustrations inside Caldwell’s book show characters that are all too recognizably human, as Caldwell laments – amusingly – the tribulations of the dating world: “I’m sorry, but I was looking for someone a little higher up (on the food chain).” “So many freaks…so few circuses.” Caldwell warns of being misinterpreted when trying to take up new hobbies: “Want to play a round?” refers to golf, and “Support your local hooker” is about fishing. The wisest comment here is one that it can be hard to believe while trying to survive the dating scene: “Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it.” Caldwell is one chick who can help you do just that – without becoming peckish.

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