August 16, 2012


2013 Calendars: Desk—The Argyle Sweater; Dilbert; The New Yorker; Wall—The New Yorker; Pearls Before Swine; Sideshow Banners. Andrews McMeel. $13.99 each.

      Step right up, and for less than four cents a day, you can decorate your desk and wall next year with a whole host of snippets of amusement, information and amusement.  (Well, it is mostly amusement.)  Predictions of the demise of the longstanding desktop, spiral-bound, open-flat appointment calendar have proved premature: not everyone wants to use electronic organizers and apps, and most creativity (as opposed to entertainment) continues to be done on personal computers, both desktop and laptop, in offices and other stationary locations – not on-the-go with tablets and cell phones.  So why not spruce up your desk and wall with something colorful, amusing and useful for keeping track of phone calls, appointments, must-dos, probably-won’t-dos, and all the rest?  Certainly we can all use a touch of humor during the work day – intentional humor, not just the kind provided by co-workers’ mishaps – and The Argyle Sweater and Dilbert desk calendars are perfect for that.  Scott Hilburn’s The Argyle Sweater features a full-color single-panel cartoon for every week, each of them showing Hilburn’s offbeat style and fondness for puns.  For example, at a church wedding attended solely by punctuation marks, one guest says of the bride and groom, “They seem so happy together” – and so they do, because the colon and parenthesis, side by side, form a “smiley” emoticon.  Later in a marriage – this one of two socks – the wife admits that she and her husband don’t match (which is easy to see; they are different colors and patterns), but she says she stays with him because of static cling.  Another homespun scene, involving two bananas: she is showering, and he slips on the peel that she has taken off and left on the bathroom floor.  Then there’s the porcupine-spanking cartoon, and the dental dams made of wood (ordered by the dentist’s assistant, who is a beaver), the suburban dragon whose allergies make him sneeze flames and set the curtains on fire, and so forth.  Certainly not your typical office fare.

      Scott Adams’ Dilbert displays far more everyday occurrences – unfortunately, for those experiencing them.  Each week of this calendar features a full-color Dilbert Sunday strip, such as one in which project members take out a restraining order against Wally, one featuring complaint-line outsourcing to Elbonia, one in which an “executive stakeholder” explains on voice mail that he is “more of a concept than a corporeal being,” a “teamwork” award strip in which the engineers “slap something together and randomly nominate people,” and a sequence in which Dilbert perceptively notes that “experience is just another word for losing hope.”  Luckily, users of this calendar won’t lose the hope of finding something funny enough in it to get them through day after day of drudgery.  And to chronicle those days, this calendar – like The Argyle Sweater – offers lined spaces on every right-hand page for taking notes, writing down phone calls and appointments, or doodling.

      The 2013 Cartoons from the New Yorker calendar offers unlined note-taking spaces – how’s that for original thinking? – and a different offbeat and typically sophisticated or abstruse New Yorker cartoon every week.  In one, two angels are comparing cell-phone reception up above; in another, a child at the front of the class declines to discuss his summer because “anyone following me on Twitter already knows” what he did; there is a supermarket with aisles marked “Lose,” “Maintain” and “Gain”; a SWAT team member, brandishing a fly swatter, races down the street after an insect; a pharmacy pickup attempt involves a man offering to cover a woman’s co-pay; a tattoo parlor shows customers what their body art will look like in 30 years – well, New Yorker fans will appreciate all this, and much of it is just odd enough so that non-readers of the magazine will enjoy it, too.

      In fact, if you are a big fan of The New Yorker, you can have a wall calendar of the magazine’s cartoons in addition to the desktop one.  True, this way you get only two cartoons per month (a big one at the top, a small one at the bottom) instead of one per week, but you do get to display the month at a glance and have a generous amount of space in which to write things for every single day.  And you get to meet the ultra-modern psychiatrist who, although his patient still lies on the traditional couch, now texts his “how did tht mke u feel?” instead of saying the words – and the flight attendant whose safety lecture includes an explanation that, if cabin pressure suddenly falls, oxygen masks will drop down for a fee of only two dollars.

      The sarcasm is darker in Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine, and if you want to regale yourself with death, doom, evil and kicks in the oompa-loompas all year, this is a wall calendar just for you.  For every month, you get a Pearls sequence, with one of the panels blown up to huge size and shown in color: Pig’s mating dance and air-guitar attempts; a menacing visit to the strip by Dennis the Menace; Diogerat searching for good customer service in much the way that Diogenes once sought an honest man (but with a lot more cursing); Pearls Christmas wrapping paper (for December, of course); and a croc funeral where the eulogy is, “Fred died. No one cares. Me take his beer.”   Pastis – who frequently appears, disheveled, in his own strip – has managed to create one of those love-it-or-hate-it comics that polarize opinion at least to the same extent that politics does – although it is not quite as mean-spirited.  Month after month of this will be more than enough for many people, but not nearly enough for others.

      So if you want additional weirdness, consider Sideshow Banners as well as Pearls Before Swine.  If you thought Pastis’ characters and art were bizarre, wait until you see the dozen examples here.  They date back to the heyday of sideshows – or “freak shows,” as they were also called – and feature all sorts of human and quasi-human oddities, usually labeled “alive” somewhere on the banner.  Here you will find the Tattooed Girl (1037 designs, which is a lot even by 21st-century standards); the Rubber Skin Man (the banner shows him pulling his skin way out to the side); the Alligator Girl (with presumably scale-like skin); and the Iron-Tongued Marvel, who holds a heavy weight with only his tongue.  There are animals, too – the Midget Bull and Giant Alaskan King Crab – and unclassifiable characters, including Spidora and the Devil Child.  The days of the traveling circus – and of branding people with skin conditions and other physical issues as “freaks” – are long gone, but the days of the voyeur are still very much with us, and these banners are campy and historically peculiar enough to provoke a touch of wry amusement or an “oh my” reaction today, rather than the strong desire to see the “freaks” that the banners were intended to create back in their own time.  The truth is that in our more-enlightened age, we now realize that there are “freaks” all around us, so who needs to pay a sideshow to see them?  Just check out the reactions of people to the Sideshow Banners calendar, or any of the other desk and wall calendars from Andrews McMeel, and you can decide for yourself how many of the weird and freaky things are in the calendars and how many are walking around in the real world.

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