November 03, 2016


2017 Calendars: Wall—Anne Geddes: Timeless; Coffee: The Daily Grind; Cats We Love; Cats in Color; Downton Abbey; Desk—Dilbert; Peanuts. Andrews McMeel—$14.99 each (Anne Geddes; Dilbert; Peanuts); $15.99 each (Coffee; Cats We Love). Universe/Andrews McMeel—$15.99 each (Cats in Color; Downton Abbey).

     One of the pleasures of living in a video-saturated age is ignoring the video saturation. The absolute insistence from devices of all kinds – on people’s wrists, desks, walls and practically everywhere else there is a more-or-less flat vertical or horizontal surface – that everything changes constantly and must be instantaneously up to date and watched unceasingly lest something of some sort somehow slip by…well, that gets old really quickly, and anyone who does not realize how much stress it causes is just not paying attention. Probably too stressed to notice. But as our increasingly frenetic lives move inexorably toward a new year that seems destined to be even more frantic than the current one, there is at least a small, partial corrective to the watch-everything-change-all-the-time approach to cardiovascular and psychological ruin. It lies in using vertical and horizontal surfaces for printed calendars that do a perfectly good job of showing the month, day and date and an even better one of bringing a touch of beauty or humor to each day’s occurrences. No power outlet required.

     What makes this possible is the fact that printed wall calendars can be large enough to make a real statement to anyone seeing them – no squinting at a screen here! Andrews McMeel makes and distributes so many different wall calendars that it is almost impossible not to find one or more that will bring you a touch of respite from the ever-demanding scurrying of everyday life in 2017. Take the new Anne Geddes calendar, for example. Its very title, Timeless, flies in the face of the notion that we have to do everything lickety-split (now there’s an old term!), without ever pausing to look at where we are and what we are doing. Geddes is known for the fanciful illustrations she creates using real babies, and this calendar serves up a year of them. There are the three little ones in flowered caps, each child neatly placed in a flowerpot, the whole scene done in bright and appealing red polka dots on a yellow background – quite ridiculous and quite adorable. There are two babies wearing pumpkin caps, looking out at the viewer from the middle of a giant pumpkin. There is an infant snuggled neatly into the top of a Christmas stocking. There are three happily ensconced in lily pads, looking like, well, water babies. The cuteness overflows here, but it is mixed with sufficient amusement to bring a smile as well as an “awwwwww” to anyone’s face. A picture may no longer be worth a thousand words, but each of these is surely worth a thousand frames of Internet video.

     If you need something more word-and-design-oriented to get you up and going in the morning, and keep you doing what needs to be done all day, Dan DiPaolo’s Coffee: The Daily Grind wall calendar may be just the thing. Each month features a graphically striking coffee-related message, the sort of thing that just might hang in the window of a (what else?) coffee shop. February and July have the same theme, expressed visually very differently: the former says, “All You Need Is Love and Coffee” (with a central heart within which a steaming cup of java appears); the latter gets right to the point with the phrase “Coffee = Love” above two attractive polka-dotted mugs. A similar sentiment appears in December in the message “Me & You and a good cup of coffee” – a recipe for warmth at a chilly time. There is also an “Espresso Chart” (October) showing six different variations, and an up-and-at-’em message for April: “Good to Go! Coffee First – Then Awesome.” And lest you wonder whether all this caffeination (or decaffeination, if you prefer) is designed to keep you focused on everything you need to get done, you can simply turn to the design for May, which reads: “The Daily Grind. Fresh.” Actually, the whole point here is to make daily activities less of a grind.

     That is the same aim, at least as far as cat lovers are concerned, built into calendars featuring the art of Sueellen Ross (Cats We Love) and Sebastiano Ranchetti (Cats in Color). Cats are a major source of Internet enjoyment, true, but nothing on a screen compares with the ones seen here. Ross portrays cats in entirely realistic mode, showing them engaging in just the kinds of behavior that endear them to the humans with whom they deign to share space. One cat here simply walks across a Persian rug, toward the viewer. Another lies luxuriantly on a similar rug, staring right out of the middle of the picture. And then there are the two lying in parallel on an elegant, old-fashioned chair, beside a fireplace in which flames flare attractively. There are outside cats here, too, exploring some flowers that are about to be planted, sitting regally and looking back toward the viewer, and more. These are cats of all colors and sizes, and all of them seem to interact with human observers through the calendar in ways that, as cat lovers know, are not particularly common in real cat-and-human life. No matter: there is nothing standoffish about these felines, and every one of them is a charmer.

     The Cats in Color illustrations are bolder, brighter and more impressionistic than realistic. These are cats whose bodies and personalities are distilled to their basics and whose colors range from striking black to black so dark it looks blue to some appearances not found in nature, including purple and bright red. All Ross’s cats seem to look out from the calendar, but few of Ranchetti’s do: these colorful felines have more interesting things to do than pay attention to human viewers. The real-world expressions common to cats are wonderfully captured and accentuated here: notably, that sometimes-unnerving stare with which cats look intensely at the world is captured particularly well. These are cats of all types, from a striking Persian to an open-mouthed, tail-erect black cat looking like the perfect Halloween symbol (helped in that role by the orange background). It is tempting to describe the cats here as more real than reality, but in fact they are both more and less real: the strongly emphasized poses and looks are quintessential felinity, while the colors transport cat lovers to a world where beauty comes in many shades of strange.

     Beauty in a not-quite-real world was one of the major attractions of Downton Abbey on TV as well. Highly popular on both sides of “the pond,” the “upstairs/downstairs” story of the aristocratic Crawley family and its servants has now come to a conclusion that both British and American viewers found generally satisfying – except for the fact that there would be no more programs (or programmes). Into this void comes a handsome 2017 calendar featuring a dozen scenes from the final season  of Downton Abbey – scenes that fans of the show will immediately recognize, whether what is shown is a wedding or the advertisement for an Open House “in Aid of Downton Hospital Trust.” The period costumes – always a major attraction of the show – are displayed to particularly good effect here: the hats alone are worth more than one look, from the many elegant women’s styles to the men’s bowlers to the kitchen servants’ kerchiefs. This calendar is a perfect example of what static, non-electronic calendars can do in our hyperactive, video-oriented age: like Downton Abbey itself, the calendar can freeze 21st-century viewers in time, allowing them to contemplate at length a distant era that, if scarcely better than the modern one in many ways, certainly did possess an air of elegance that is notably absent in our current time frame.

     Wall calendars are not the only defiantly not-up-to-date trackers of the year out there, by any means. When it comes to keeping up with appointments, meetings and planned events at both business and home, there is still no substitute for spiral-bound, open-flat planners that spend the year on a desk or table. This may sound counterintuitive – after all, electronic calendar planning lets you enter and change appointments and schedules on the fly, quickly and easily, and you take your schedule with you everywhere you go. This is true – but it is not the whole truth. Try using an electronic device to scan your entire week’s outlook: it can be done but is scarcely easy or ideal. Now try checking ahead for appointments in, say, two or three weeks, or looking a month or two down the road. This is doable but very definitely not simple when using electronic devices – it remains much easier to scan a week at a glance or flip pages to next month or several months from now by using calendars such as the Dilbert and Peanuts desktop ones. And ease of use is only part of the attraction here: seeing first-rate comic strips opposite all your planned activities is another element. If you have to work in a cubicle, or even an office, there is something motivating, in a weird way, about tracking your schedule using a Dilbert desk planner. The big-company misadventures of Dilbert, Wally, Asok, Alice, the Pointy-Haired Boss, the bullet-headed CEO, plus Dogbert and Dilmom and Ratbert and all the others in Scott Adams’ skewed-but-eerily-accurate world, provide a wonderful balancing act for the inanity of some of the scheduling you will undoubtedly be doing in your own work year. And the 2017 calendar has an unintended bonus: a printing error resulting in the final panel of the January 2 and January 9 strips ending the same way. So, for fun, get the collection called I Sense a Coldness to Your Mentoring, find the correct concluding panel for the second strip, and copy and paste it in the appropriate place – you can’t do that with electronic appointment tracking!

     If you have Dilbert in the office, you may well want Peanuts at home to keep an eye on family-related events – the Charles Schulz strip was, after all, much more family-oriented, albeit in some rather weird ways. There are occasional instances in which Peanuts shows its age now that Schulz has been gone for more than 16 years: one strip in the 2017 calendar refers to Sandy Koufax retiring, an event that is unlikely to have any meaning whatsoever for many people now, and another has Snoopy thinking, “Bobby Hull envies my slap-shot.” On the other hand, there are so many timeless qualities to Peanuts that the occasional bit of datedness is a small matter indeed. The strips chosen for 2017 include several with Snoopy in his “World War I flying ace” guise; one in which he draws insulting pictures of cats because “when you live alone, you have to learn to amuse yourself”; one in which Charlie Brown brings him his food on a tea cart and another in which Snoopy enjoys choosing food from multiple dishes because he “always wanted to eat in a cafeteria”; one encapsulating Lucy’s crush on Schroeder through her use of a feather duster; a philosophical discussion of suffering in the context of the latest losing baseball effort; Linus wanting to catch a fallen star, put it in a pail, and take it home; and Charlie Brown consulting Lucy at the five-cent-psychiatric-help booth because he wants “to be a special person” and “to be needed” – a consultation that goes about as well as could be expected. The wry humor of Peanuts stands up beautifully even when the topical references do not, and the use of Peanuts strips to complement the daily, weekly and monthly planning space in this calendar simply cannot be matched in any electronic tracking device. So by all means continue to absorb video, track life electronically, and become more and more hyper about activities as the new year progresses, if you must. But spare some time for occasional glances at the wall, desk and tabletop where printed calendars reside: they will pull you in, slow you down, and bring you more pleasure than you will get from the latest iteration of any artificially generated voice-response mechanism residing in the gadget-of-the-day.

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