August 12, 2010


2011 Calendars: 365-Day—Dilbert; Baby Blues; The New Yorker; Insight from the Dalai Lama; Foodie Fight; Disney Animated. Andrews McMeel. $13.99 each (Dilbert, Baby Blues, New Yorker, Dalai Lama, Foodie); Accord Publishing/Andrews McMeel. $14.99 (Disney).

     Yes, the new year is still months away; and yes, it may be a little odd to think about 2011 calendars when there are still plenty of days left in 2010. But if you like being on top of things – ahead of them, even – this is your chance to think and plan. And if you simply enjoy doing something a little unusual from time to time – say, making a comment during August 2010 along the lines of, “Well, I checked my calendar, and I’m afraid I’m busy on Friday, February 18, 2011” – an early look at next year’s day-to-day calendars gives you plenty of opportunities (365 of them, in fact).

     It is a time-honored tradition to use page-a-day calendars to lighten the mood of your home or office, and this is one reason Andrews McMeel’s calendars are so much fun in any year. The firm simply has more super-popular syndicated cartoons to draw from (so to speak) than any other. This means you can easily find daily laughs for both home and office. Of course, the office amusements produce more of a grimace than a smile if you work in a company that even slightly resembles Dilbert’s. But Scott Adams’ comic strip may be even more appealing if you don’t: you can lord it over all those poor Dilbert clones out there – you know, the ones who think of themselves as “a puppet hurtling toward failure,” who say “I want my unwarranted optimism back,” who stay “in my cubicle trying to imagine what futility doesn’t feel like.” For 2011, there is more of the same – lots more of the same – from the Pointy-Haired Boss (Adams is smart never to have named him), from ever-lazy but ever-clever-in-his-lazy-way Wally, from highly competent and easily angered Alice, and from the usual suspects (real-seeming and surreal) who inhabit Adams’ world.

     So you can have Dilbert at work and then breathe a sigh of relief when you head for home. Unless, of course, your home is like that of the MacPhersons, stars of Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott’s Baby Blues. Darryl and Wanda have attained the suburban dream: over-mortgaged house, minivan that always smells like melted crayons and ground-in popcorn, and three adorable children who have their parents thoroughly outnumbered. Just as Dilbert fans suspect that Adams has spies in their offices, Baby Blues enthusiasts think Kirkman and Scott must have found a way to sneak into their homes and take (or draw) pictures. Except that real life isn’t nearly as funny when it is being this chaotic (Scott, who writes the strip, is a real master at mixing parental angst with parental love). Kirkman and Scott are letting the MacPherson kids grow up a bit now, but not too quickly – one milestone in the 2011 calendar is baby Wren learning to walk, thereby making life even more impossible for Darryl and Wanda (yes, it’s possible to be more impossible). Just check out Darryl discovering some uneaten raisins (he hopes) and Hammie ordering so many ice-cream toppings that the ice cream flavor itself doesn’t matter, and you will see why Baby Blues continues to produce smiles day in and day out, year in and year out.

     For humor that varies daily – different topics, different artists, but always a certain sophisticated sensibility – there is the 2011 Cartoons from the New Yorker calendar, which is at its best when twisting reality (“Caribbean Airport Security” requires doing the limbo beneath smaller and smaller screening portals) or twisting cartoon conventions (angel stranded on a desert island: “I just remembered I can fly”). There are office parodies that are not quite what you will find in Dilbert (“everybody’s getting together after work to do some more work”), wry twists on classic literature (“Hamlet’s Duplex” has a door labeled “2B” and one labeled “Not 2B”), and commentaries on money, interpersonal relationships and most of the rest of life. The New Yorker is not to everyone’s taste – by design – but for those who like its offbeat brand of urban-oriented, sometimes esoteric humor, this 2011 calendar will be a hit all year.

     But a daily dose of humor is not the only thing that Andrews McMeel calendars can provide. If you want something more uplifting – something to think about rather than something to laugh about each day – Insight from the Dalai Lama is one way to get it. Although reviled in China as a rabble-rouser with political motivations, the Dalai Lama is thought of elsewhere (and even in some areas within China itself) as an apolitical philosopher whose wisdom runs through everything he says. Certainly it permeates this 2011 calendar. Every page has a comment worth thinking about: “Ideology is man-made, but compassion and love are produced by nature.” “Too much involvement in the superficial aspects of life will not solve our larger problems of discontentment.” The Dalai Lama, unlike other religious and spiritual leaders, is unusual for not trying to force his views – including religious ones – on others: “Every person on the earth has the freedom to practice or not practice religion. It is all right to do both.” But he is also remarkably clear-headed about what it is right to do once you make a religious commitment – you must “focus your mind on it and sincerely practice the teachings in your daily life.” This is a far cry from the notion of making up on Sunday for all the things you did the rest of the week – and it is a singularly refreshing viewpoint, no matter what you choose to believe or disbelieve.

     Prefer something a little less intense, but also a far cry from a daily comic strip? How about some food-related trivia questions? Foodie Fight has them in six categories: “Foodiesphere,” Lab and Field, Food Productions, Dining Out, Company’s Coming, and What’s Cooking? Here, food lovers can feast themselves on queries such as, “Which state leads the United States in spam consumption?” (It’s Hawaii.) Ever wondered why a fresh egg sinks in water while an old egg floats? It’s because of moisture loss as the egg ages. Do you know the right way to eat soup – that is, the correct direction in which to spoon it? The answer is away from you, not toward you. How about picking the cake-mix brand named after a man originally known for restaurant and lodging guides? It’s Duncan Hines. Some of the questions in Foodie Fight are on the arcane side: “Who wrote American Cookery in 1796?” (Amelia Simmons.) Others are offbeat, amusing or simply neat to know: “What member of the Addams Family was an avid cook [once seen] borrowing a cup of cyanide?” (Morticia.) You can make a parlor game out of Foodie Fight, make it an after-dinner or before-dinner treat, or simply enjoy it yourself.

     And what if you want a day-to-day calendar that is really unusual – more than the typical tear-the-page-off design? New calendar types can be notoriously hard to design, but Accord Publishing has come up with a very intriguing one called Disney Animated. This is not exactly a day-to-day calendar – each page displays a full week – but the form of display is clever enough so Disney enthusiasts will not mind seeing each presentation for seven days instead of one. The reason is that each page really is a presentation. Accord publishes a number of books using a modern form of lenticular animation – a process in which still objects, seen through a grid after being photographer in a special way, seem to move. Disney Animated is a lenticular calendar, and if that sounds complicated, it really isn’t. In fact, the hardest thing about it is assembling the box in which the calendar pages sit – the folding directions are a trifle unclear. Once the box is set up, though, everything is simple. Each week displays a Disney scene: Mickey Mouse in Thru the Mirror (1936), Pluto in Mickey’s Grand Opera (also 1936), Donald Duck in Mickey’s Service Station (1935), Goofy in Boat Builders (1938), and many more. The pages themselves look like a jumble of lines with bits of color peeking through. That is the photography needed to make the characters animate – comparable, to an extent, to the visual separation needed to make 3D movies. To create the animation effect, you slide a plastic screen (which is a series of vertical black lines) from right to left across each drawing. The faster you slide it, the more quickly the characters move – and they move backwards, too, when you slide the screen from left to right. This is one of those effects that can really distract you from work – every speed at which you slide the screen creates a different sense of movement, from the smooth to the jerky, so it is very tempting to keep trying to animate the characters differently. And the calendar does have one significant and obvious disadvantage: if you lose or seriously damage the screen, the whole thing becomes useless (it would have been nice for Accord to include a spare screen, just in case). But if you are careful to keep the screen with the calendar and keep it intact, Disney Animation gives you a whole year of animating classic cartoons yourself, for your own enjoyment, whenever you wish. It is also a fascinating introduction to cel animation and lenticular photography, if you want it to be. This calendar runs only through 2011, but it may pique your interest in ways that could carry you well into 2012 and beyond.

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