July 30, 2015


2016 Calendars: Wall—Cats We Love; Anne Geddes—Down in the Garden. Andrews McMeel. $15.99 (Cats); $14.99 (Garden).

2016 Calendars: Desktop—Dilbert; Peanuts. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 each.

     One of the nice things about physical calendars, as opposed to electronic ones, is the way they provide instant change and uplift, amusement, or some other emotional “zing” for your workspace or home. By picking one of Andrews McMeel’s 2016 calendars and displaying it where you see it all the time, you guarantee that you will have a smile on your face, a tingle of enjoyment, or some other positive reaction to the day – at least once!  The calendars cannot do anything about what happens after you glance at them, but at least they can be a small dose of “up” feeling to counter anything drab or difficult that may come along later. The key in selecting a calendar, therefore, is to choose one you will really enjoy seeing day after day, week after week, throughout the year. Cat lovers have an excellent choice for 2016 in the form of Cats We Love, which features the art of Sueellen Ross – who creates cats with near-photographic realism and places them “just so” in a variety of appropriate and often adorable settings. These are not kittens, to which adorableness comes naturally: they are full-grown cats planted in entirely appropriate places. In fact, the very first cats in this 16-month calendar – shown with four small versions of September through December 2015 – are interacting with a planter, one of them lying on its side in front and the other inside it, looking out of the picture directly at the viewer. And thus the cat theme is “planted” for the year. It continues with a lovely series of indoor and outdoor cat portraits, several including red flowers of various types and several showing cats in positions that cat companions (sometimes called “owners”) will immediately recognize: a cat lounging on a rocking chair, one looking straight ahead while snuggled on a pillow, one perched in a tree and gazing about in mastery of the universe, and so on. Cat lovers will find this a delightful all-year foray into the feline world, which intersects the human one but seems to coexist only through the benign permission of the cats that occupy it in whatever way they wish.

     Amusing world-blending of a different sort is the basis of all the art of Anne Geddes, who delights in combining utterly adorable babies with costumes and settings that go beyond the improbable into the surrealistic – but always with an eye on enjoyment, not anything disturbing (as surrealism can be). The 2016 Down in the Garden calendar features a dozen perfect examples of Geddes’ approach. An especially adorable one is the illustration for July, in which there are four rows of beautifully decorated plant pots on four shelves – with babies costumed as flowers peeking out of every pot. There is much more along the same lines here: for June, one of Geddes’ frequent forays into babies perched atop red-capped, white-spotted mushrooms; a baby-as-yellow-butterfly for November that deliciously parallels and contrasts with a baby-as-snail for December; some almost-laugh-out-loud babies within pea pods for April; and on and on throughout the year. Geddes’ art is not to all tastes – some people find it a trifle on the weird side or a touch too sentimental – but if her work does engage you, this calendar will provide a year-long chance to revel in it and enjoy scenes that can be really remarkable, such as the one for March that shows three babies still in chrysalises and a fourth already hatched from one as a beautiful butterfly.

     If you prefer your calendar amusements more on the wry side, one way to get them is with desk calendars – those spiral-bound, open-flat planners that let you see a week at a glance and take an overview of your schedule and appointments. Predictions that physical planners would disappear in the rush to follow schedules electronically have turned out to be incorrect, and in fact some people have found clever ways to combine the two forms of tracking: the physical planner is large enough to give you a whole week’s overview, while the smaller screen of a smartphone can then give you specifics about individual meetings. The comics that appear on pages opposite the ones for tracking appointments can let you enjoy whatever type of humor fits your life best, and fits the place where you are keeping the planner as well. It is easy to imagine, for example, keeping the 2016 Dilbert desktop planner at the office and the 2016 Peanuts one at home. Scott Adams’ calendar this time is called “What can I say to make this conversation end?” The cover shows Dilbert asking that question while attempting to work at his computer as the Pointy-Haired Boss hovers behind him, clearly ready to offer the latest bit of mismanagement. There is a great deal of useful advice here for people trapped in the surreal corporate world that Dilbert inhabits – and unlike Geddes’, this world is one whose surrealism does have teeth (so to speak). Here you can be inspired by Wally’s non-work ethic (“when I get to within four years of retirement, I’ll only work on projects that have a five-year payback”); by Alice’s incessant “arguing with the GPS navigation system,” in which she repeatedly shouts at it, “Change your mind! Change your mind! Change your mind!”; by the Pointy-Haired Boss attempting to inspire by leadership clichés and then reporting to Catbert, evil director of human relations, “I drilled until I hit bile”; by Dilbert’s discovery, which he reports to the company’s CEO, that “there’s no correlation between our predicted and actual outcomes”; and much more. The comic strips may not make you feel better about any meetings scheduled on the opposite pages, but they can help put all those meetings, along with the rest of office life, into some sort of perspective.

     Peanuts put life in perspective, too: Charles Schulz’ much-loved strip had more depth and bite to it than many people realized during Schulz’ lifetime. Nevertheless, the 2016 Peanuts desktop planner offers gentler, less-snarky humor than the Dilbert one. Here, Lucy contemplates marrying Schroeder but being so poor that they would have to sell his piano to buy saucepans; Snoopy, in his World War I Flying Ace persona, must bail out of his plane – only to land in his supper dish; Charlie Brown’s team gets deeply upset about playing baseball on Mother’s Day, which makes them “no good” and “thoughtless” and “selfish and cruel,” although Charlie Brown points out that he himself “sent my mother a very nice card and a dozen pink roses”; one of Charlie Brown’s interminable failures to kick a football held by Lucy is caused by “an involuntary muscle spasm,” against which Lucy says the odds were “ten billion to one”; and much more of the unique Peanuts brand of humor. There is something reassuring about all calendars: they lay out an entire year neatly and seem to provide evidence that all will be nicely organized and proceed according to a well-designed grid, illustrated by something pleasant and/or amusing. Real life doesn’t exactly work that way, to be sure, but calendars’ implication that it might work that way next year is one of the reasons they provide so much enjoyment, time after time.

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