October 27, 2011

(++++) WELCOME, 2012!

2012 Calendars: 366-Day—Pearls Before Swine; Murphy’s Law; The Office; Australia; Wall—Dilbert; Get Fuzzy; Brevity; Masha D’yans; The Metropolitan Opera. Andrews McMeel and Universe/Andrews McMeel (D’yans; Opera). $13.99 each (Pearls; Murphy’s; Office); $8.99 (Australia); $13.99 each (wall).

     Oh, you say it’s not 2012 yet? Well, it will be soon enough, and you had best be prepared: these new years sneak up on you before you know it! But have no fear: Andrews McMeel is ready to make the coming new year better than the current one (much better, one fervently hopes). All it takes is a daily dash of humor from one of the company’s page-a-day calendars. In fact, you get a dash plus 1/365th of a dash for 2012, since it is a leap year. Hence the title of the 2012 Pearls Before Swine calendar: “Leap (for your life) Year.” The box picture explains this perfectly, showing Zebra gritting his teeth as he leaps over four crocodile members of the ZZE fraternity (Zeeba Zeeba Eata). The ongoing Zebra-Crocodile disputes are only part of the everyday amusements here. Stephan Pastis’ crooked sense of humor is in evidence on every page, whether in the sequence about Guard Duck’s pursuit of Drama Cow, the Sunday strip in which Pig imagines himself as a silhouette on mudflaps, Rat’s attempt to get free beer by mentioning a specific brand repeatedly, Pig’s “sheep stalker,” or the panels in which Pastis deliberately breaks through comic conventions (for instance, by having his copyright line from between the panels fall into a panel and onto Pig’s head). Pearls Before Swine is not for everyone, but if it is for you, you have 366 days of enjoyment to look forward to.

     On some of those days, though, things will go wrong. Murphy’s Law is the answer – not to the things that go wrong, but to the need for laughter when they do. This calendar goes far beyond the original idea that “if anything can go wrong, it will.” Some of the observations here, assembled by Arthur Bloch, are well-known, such as Kierkegaard’s: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.” Others are more thoughtful than wry, such as “The Siddhartha Principle: You cannot cross a river in two strides.” But plenty are out-and-out amusing, at least until you think about them a bit and realize just how true they seem to be. “Law of Selective Gravity: An object will fall so as to do the most damage.” “First Rule of Applied Mathematics: 98 percent of all statistics are made up.” “Stewart’s First Corollary: Murphy’s Law may be delayed or suspended for an indefinite period of time, provided that such delay or suspension will result in a greater catastrophe at a later date.” These daily reminders of the futility of just about everything may not always produce chuckles, but at least when things do get messed up, they will ensure that you have been warned. Repeatedly.

     Of course, nothing gets as messed up as life in the office. Or rather life in The Office. Fans of the TV show that is nothing, absolutely nothing like workplace reality – except to the extent that it is – will find plenty to enjoy in the 2012 version of this calendar, which reminds viewers of many of the plot points while extracting daily comments typical of the characters who give the show its punch. Yes, there are chances here to follow along with Jim and Pam and little Cece to see how everyone is adjusting to married life with child. And yes, sometimes the good guys get what is coming to them: Darryl gets promoted. But much of the attraction of the show comes from what the frustrated, unhappy or not-so-good guys do, including all sorts of jockeying for position – Andy trying to win ex-flame Erin back from Gabe, for example, and super-schemer Dwight bribing, begging and even disguising himself to try to sneak his way into the position of regional manager. Non-fans of the The Office won’t get any of this, but regular viewers will relish the well-selected quotations that peer out from every page, as when Dwight remarks, “I’m just a normal guy who enjoys revenge.” Well, yes.

     But perhaps you have had enough of snarkiness, and would like something more restful, even beautiful, to contemplate each day. And perhaps you would prefer not to take up too much space with a day-to-day calendar. Australia neatly takes care of both issues. It is significantly smaller than most day-to-day calendars: each page is only three inches wide and a little more than two inches high, so the calendar needs little room on a desk, table or counter. And it comes with magnetic backing, so you can hang it up and have it take no desk, table or counter space at all. As for beauty, Australia is filled with it; indeed, the only problem with this calendar is that the vastness of this island continent can be only imperfectly captured on small pages. In addition to the best-known aspects of Australia, from the Sydney Opera House to the country’s world-famous beaches, the calendar includes views of the major cities, stunning desert photos (Australia is, in fact, mostly desert), national parks, eucalyptus forests, islands, vineyards, mountains and more. These are pictures by Lonely Planet Images, which offers work by many outstanding photographers, and each day’s photo is a visual delight – this is a calendar that should help you think of far-off and beautiful places even if you spend every day toiling in a cubicle.

     Of course, if you do spend your days cubicle-bound, you may want some reminders that life is more than cubeville. Or, well, maybe. The new Dilbert wall calendar comes with a bonus “Cubert” calendar, a small assemblage that arrives folded flat and opens along pre-scored lines to a small cube-shaped calendar featuring typical poses of Dilbert, Wally and Alice. The main wall calendar shows them doing typical things, too. Or not doing them, in Wally’s case. Each month contains two of Scott Adams’ three-panel Dilbert strips in black and white, with a single panel from one of the strips blown up and shown in color as that month’s main illustration. Pointy-Haired Bosses dislike these calendars – real-world people have gotten into real-world trouble for posting Dilbert cartoons in or near their cubicles – so be sure your company is willing to let you express yourself with this wall calendar before putting it up. But here’s a hint for those whose firms’ managers are humorless: the “Cubert” calendar is small enough to be hidden behind a book, computer monitor or stack of papers.

     The denizens of Dilbert are not alone in bringing sarcasm to the wall for 2012. Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy wall calendar offers much of the same – in a different context – and is laid out similarly. Conley’s strips are four-panel ones, and each month offers a single black-and-white strip with a color blowup of one panel. You would think that Bucky, the cat with something nasty to say about everyone and everything, would get all the blowup panels, and he does indeed appear in all 12 – but Satchel Pooch and even hapless human Rob Wilco sometimes get the better of him. At one point, Bucky objects to having Rob pet him, and Rob says that he is not petting but “feeling your head to see if thinking overheats your processor.” In another panel, Bucky claims that his fur “smooths out my physique,” which leads the plump and wrinkly Satchel to comment, “Ohhh, I must be really buff!” Bucky does tend to get the last word most of the time, though, as when Rob says that Bucky lives “in a dark little world” and Bucky replies, “I prefer to think of it as mood-lit and cozy.” If you live with dogs, cats or both, or ever have, or have thought about it but decided not to, this Get Fuzzy calendar will spend all of 2012 reminding you of why you made a good decision. Or a bad one.

     Single-panel cartoons can be snide, too, such as, for example, Brevity. Actually, Guy Endore-Kaiser and Rodd Perry (whose byline appears as “guy&rOdd”) sometimes subdivide a panel into two, three or even four parts, but most of their work makes its point in a single panel: a massive sea battle during which one sailor is ignoring the explosions to admire the dolphins swimming nearby, a snowglobe-dwelling woman looking longingly at an unreachable nearby globe labeled “Florida,” a knight of Nerdonia confronting a monstrous “Theorem.” The subdivided panels are equally quirky. In one, passersby look on admiringly at a stork carrying an infant along the sidewalk, until a frantic woman runs by exclaiming that “a giant bird stole my baby!” In another, a man bathes his dog in a tub of paint; the dog gets out and shakes itself while the man hides behind a canvas; then the paint-splattered canvas is hung in a museum. The humor of Guy and Rodd is always a little out-of-kilter – this calendar can help you balance any off-center elements of your world in the coming year.

     The whimsicality is subtler and gentler in the 2012 Masha D’yans calendar, which is definitely not made by having a paint-covered dog shake itself in front of a canvas. D’yans’ delicate, colorful, nature-oriented illustrations are tied beautifully and subtly to each month of the year: bare trees on a snow-covered hill for February, two birds nestled together in a tree for May, butterflies hovering around similarly colored flowers for July, a beautifully tinted schematic Christmas tree for December. D’yans claims inspiration from Japanese art and calligraphy, and her work certainly shows those influences in its structure, design and balance, and its use of white space. But there are other influences here, too, and some elements of D’yans’ art are hard to pin down: each of the 12 works shown in this calendar is recognizably by the same person, but many are so different from each other that they seem only moderately closely related. What comes through in all of them is a level of playfulness that will communicate itself as joy in the natural world each month, through all the seasons of the year that will be coming in the not-too-distant future.

     The seasons of opera are not quite like those of the normal year: high drama, complex production values and astonishing vocalizations are always in season. And anyone interested in opera knows that the Metropolitan Opera is at the pinnacle of the field. In fact, even those not interested in opera may find themselves drawn into the fascination of this grandest of musical mixed media through The Metropolitan Opera wall calendar for 2012. The dozen scenes here are big on spectacle – some of them very big. Philip Glass’s Satyagraha has colorfully dressed men in hats of many styles and shapes sitting in the front as huge papier-mâché figures loom over them from behind; a scene from Das Rheingold, the first opera in Wagner’s Ring tetralogy, features three dazzling, mermaid-like Rhinemaidens apparently sliding down a huge wall of stylized water; and Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel is shown in a scene that looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland, with gigantic cooks uncovering mountainous dishes as the two children cling to each other in front of the table. There are also some of the dramatic closeups in which opera excels: Anna Netrebko gorgeously costumed for the title role in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, for instance, and an elegant Jonas Kaufmann posing in the title role of an updated staging of Gounod’s Faust. Non-operagoers who are inspired by the calendar to consider seeing a production need but consult the full 2012 Met calendar included here, and musical-history buffs can enjoy finding out, for example, the dates on which the Met performed Aida for the 1000th time (June 25, 1996) and on which Maria Callas made her Met debut (October 29, 1956). There’s everything operatic here for the coming year except the music.

No comments:

Post a Comment