August 06, 2015


2016 Calendars: Page-a-Day—Non Sequitur; The Little World of Liz Climo; Cartoons from “The New Yorker”; Medical Cartoon-a-Day; Murphy’s Law. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 each.

     Choose your amusement. And choose wisely, because day in and day out, you will get a dose of it from the latest crop of calendars from Andrews McMeel. It’s a bumper crop, drawn from some sources that highlight cartoon art, others that focus on words, and some that mix the two in their own inimitable style. “Inimitable” is the right word for Wiley Miller, whose Non Sequitur calendar for 2016 continues his comic’s longstanding inability to find anything unworthy of satire. There are the usual targets, such as “speed dating for lawyers,” which goes about as you would expect. There are the continuing adventures of Captain Eddie (with a polar vortex) and young-but-cynical Danae (who, among many other things, strongly objects to snow in March). There are the one-time-only, out-of-nowhere panels that show just why Non Sequitur (“it does not follow”) deserves its name: the suggestion box at the foot of a pyramid up which prisoners are being marched for sacrifice; the surgeon tripping over his poorly tied shoes just before doing an operation; the torture chamber with a new twist of agony in the form of karaoke; the express lane to heaven “for those who always pick up after their dog”; the funeral of the would-be samurai-sword juggler, who is buried in four side-by-side graves; and the “morning in America” panel that asks the question, “So what new manufactured crisis is going to paralyze us with fear today?” Have no fear of Non Sequitur: its calendar dishes out a whole year of this sort of humor, day by day, fearlessly and with wry amusement.

     Non Sequitur is a newspaper comic, but as the age of newspapers fades, more and more cartoons are originating online – in places such as Liz Climo’s Tumblr blog. Hence The Little World of Liz Climo, which brings Climo’s anthropomorphic-animal humor into print. Climo plays off animals’ appearance for her humor: a snake asks a “pretty lady” why she is so sad until it is pointed out to him, “Dude, that’s a hose”; dolphins worry about passing a beach ball to a narwhal; a bear with a fishing pole teaches a cub how to catch fish while a fish with an old boot attaches it to the hook, explaining to a young fish that “that’s how you trick a bear”; a beached killer whale explains to an inquiring penguin that he just ate and is waiting an hour to go back in the water; a hammerhead shark finds it impossible to wear 3D glasses; a dog asks a flamingo to stop standing on the lawn because “you’re making it look tacky”; a remora irritates the shark to which it is attached by repeatedly asking “where we goin’ next?”; a frilled lizard has trouble with a turtleneck sweater; for a costume, an armadillo rolls up and becomes a basketball; a duck turns down a child’s offered crumbs because “I’m not eating carbs this week”; two T. rexes try without success to give each other high fives, then “hug it out” instead. The humor here is gentle rather than pointed, with some animals appearing repeatedly but always doing different things, and an occasional panel not using animals at all (such as one in which a washing machine becomes self-aware and exclaims, “Oh, gross! Dirty underpants!”). And Climo mixes up the humor with periodic doses of pure sentimentality, such as a panel in which a smiling little girl (one of the few humans to show up here) is hugging the very large, long-suffering but patient dog she has brushed and decorated with ribbons. Climo’s Tumblr fans will enjoy having her in the physical world through this calendar – and those discovering her for the first time may well be lured to the Internet after seeing her calendar pages.

     Fans of The New Yorker know who they are, and also tend to know what they are: sophisticates looking for offbeat humor that is not necessarily apparent to others. That is, in any case, the self-image that The New Yorker wants its readers to have, and it is one reinforced by cartoons that consistently juxtapose absurdly mismatched concepts in a way that not everyone will find humorous but that those who “get it” will, well, get. The latest calendar collection of these cartoons is entirely in line with what fans – perhaps they should be called devotees – of The New Yorker will expect and want. A smartly dressed young woman looks into a refrigerator that is empty except for a large jar containing a skull, and tells someone via cell phone, “Usually I’d be nervous, but the rest of his apartment is so nice.”  Two agents show up at a man’s door with a picture of a wanted chef, and ask the apartment’s occupant, “Well, if you haven’t seen him, do you know a good recipe for puff pastry?” In a restaurant booth, a woman dressed as an aviator tells the sad-looking man she is with, “I just wanted you to hear it from me first, before you read it in the sky.” A shopper at an outdoor flower stall that is crowded with blooms asks, “Which of these will look the prettiest without the others?” An “all-purpose protest” features three people carrying signs that simply read, “Unfair,” “Stop,” and “No.” A woman tells another, “I’ve only been gluten-free for a week, but I’m already really annoying.” A waiter informs two diners, “The starred menu items were available for celebrities only.” The art for these panels, although created by numerous cartoonists, has a certain recognizable style that aficionados will immediately recognize as belonging to The New Yorker. And the humor of the cartoons, although it sometimes tries a bit too hard to be sophisticated and esoteric, will be an everyday delight to people who consider this magazine the pinnacle of, um, sophisticated humorous esoterica.

     There is nothing particularly sophisticated in the Medical Cartoon-a-Day 2016 Calendar, featuring panels by Jonny Hawkins that are designed more to elicit guffaws of laughter than titters of amusement. To be sure, some of the humor here is pointed: “Recent studies indicate that recent studies are the leading cause of anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and heart attacks.” But most of the amusement is on the lighthearted side. An operating-room nurse tells the surgeon closing up a patient, “I can tell the embroidery classes have helped.” Humpty Dumpty asks his doctor, “How many years ‘till I’m rotten?” A panel shows two deep thinkers labeled “agnostic and diagnostic,” the first thinking, “There is no God,” and the second thinking, “Doctors are God.” A dentist warns a patient, “I’m going to do a cavity search.” A patient asks a plastic surgeon, “Can you remove the scars from my first marriage?” A man explains to a dog breeder, “I’m an acupuncturist. I need a pointer.” Both a gastroenterologist’s office and the auto repair service next door sport signs that say, “Funny noises? Bring it here!” And so on and so forth. None of this is, or tries to be, high-hat humor – it is generally down-to-earth, a bit wry but rarely sarcastic, and thoroughly suitable both for medical professionals and for people who merely need to visit them from time to time.

     All these calendars balance art and words in different ways, but some day-to-day calendars invite you simply to contemplate ideas every day – sayings, thoughts, beliefs, inspirational quotes, or, as in the Murphy’s Law calendar by Arthur Bloch, what might be called de-inspirational quotes. Taking off from the original Murphy’s Law (“If anything can go wrong, it will”), this calendar offers a daily dose of other notions of what can go wrong, how, and why that is probably just what will happen. Equally appropriate for workplace or home, this is a calendar that on one day invites you to contemplate Schroeder’s Law (“Indecision is the basis for flexibility”), on another asks you to think about Mark’s Rule (“Laziness is often mistaken for patience”), on a third suggests you consider Herblock’s Law (“If it’s good, they discontinue it”), and on a fourth recommends you pay heed to La Grange’s Law (“When we ask for advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice”). Sometimes the words of one day are followed on the next by a related commentary: Jones’s Motto (“Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate”) is immediately followed by McClaughry’s Codicil to Jones’s Motto (“To make an enemy, do someone a favor”). Other times, the comments stand on their own and can pretty much be counted on to apply to something-or-other that occurs on the day on which they appear on the calendar: Tussman’s Law (“Nothing is as inevitable as a mistake whose time has come”), for example, or Kagel’s Law (“Anything adjustable will eventually need adjustment”). This is a calendar whose slightly skewed view of the world is reinforced day after day throughout the year, lending credence to the original Murphy’s Law while helping people figure out all the many, many other ways in which, doggone it, things that can go wrong do…and things that cannot possibly go wrong go wrong anyway. It does not have the immediate visual appeal of illustrated calendars, but it will set your own internal visuals into gear as you wonder just how many ways a particular day’s saying could affect your own life. Just contemplate, for instance, Robert’s Axiom, which makes the pithy statement, “Only errors exist.” Think about it all day, if that helps. But the cumulative wisdom of this calendar suggests that it won’t.

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