September 28, 2017


Calendars (page-a-day for 2018): Church Signs; Medical Cartoon-a-Day; Peanuts. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 each.

     There is one thing that is absolutely certain to be true in 2018: some days will be a lot worse than others. And that means some will be a lot better than others. And there is very little that most of us can do to predict which will be which and to ensure that the crummy ones are a little less crummy. Except – well, page-a-day calendars help. Never mind getting daily electronic access to cartoons – that is all well and good, but sometimes the electronics themselves are the source of what makes a day crummy. There is something sturdy, self-sufficient and sometimes even uplifting about stand-up-on-a-table-or-desk, tear-off-a-page-at-a-time calendars that help you through the year by brightening the dull days and making the already-bright ones just a bit more enjoyable. And speaking of calendars being uplifting, that is the whole point of Church Signs. Subtitled “Little Sayings to Help You on Your Way,” this is a year-long presentation of those amusing notices planted outside many churches, designed to lure worshipers in or just give passing motorists or pedestrians a little something to encourage them in their lives – with, perhaps, a smidgen of spiritual uplift. Some of the signs here are pithy, sermon-like remarks: “Thank God for what you have. Trust God for what you need.” Others are closer to self-help thoughts: “An obstacle is something you see when you take your eyes off the goal.” Some are reassuring, especially on crummy days: “It is brave to have a soft heart in a cruel world.” And there is even an occasional pun: “No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.” Then there are the worth-thinking-about items: “Takers may eat better, but givers sleep better.” And the ones quite as applicable to the secular as the sacred: “Sometimes the easiest way to solve a problem is to stop participating in it.” And, now and then, a touch of thoughtfulness that crosses the secular/sacred boundary line: “Some people come into your life as blessings, others come into your life as lessons.” And even a touch of deviltry from time to time: “Forgive your enemies. It messes with their heads.” These little signposts can be very reassuring when things are going less than well – and with this calendar, the thoughts and homilies are available all week, not just on Sundays.

     Whatever the state of one’s spiritual health, it must coexist with one’s physical health, and that is where the Medical Cartoon-a-Day calendar comes in. Jonny Hawkins has been producing single-panel cartoons on health topics for a long time, and his “daily dose of humor” (frequently of the “groaner” variety) can help cheer you up if you find yourself feeling down, dull, blue, achy, or otherwise yucky. One panel has a doctor telling a very overweight patient, “I can see you’re living life to the fullest, and that’s the problem.” Another shows a tombstone with the epitaph, “I can use the rest.” One has a trendy theme, with a man asking a doctor if he sells medical marijuana and the doctor replying, “Yeah, think of me as a joint specialist.” Another trend-following panel has a doctor telling a woman she has holes in her remote-control flying toys – that is, “Drone’s Disease.” But many cartoons use more-classic situations. One has a doctor climbing up a mountain to ask the stereotypical guru, “When was your last meta-physical?” Another has a duck telling a human doctor, “I want to see a quack.” Still another features a giraffe being suitably worried about a recommended procedure: “Remove my tonsils?!” And then there is the occasional otherworldly cartoon, such as one in which one winged being tells another, “I am a tooth fairy, not an indentured servant.” And then there is the chicken about to visit a “Wishbone Specialist.” And the firefly whose rear fails to illuminate, being asked by a specialized proctologist, “How long have you been suffering from burnout?” None of this is great humor and none of it is intended to be – the idea is to elicit a chuckle on each page, lightening the day just a smidgen, and for that purpose, even the “groaners” are just fine. After all, groaning at a joke is better than groaning at physical pain.

     Some calendars do celebrate genuinely innovative and even meaningful humor, always including the ones based on the marvelous Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schulz (1922-2000). Because Peanuts daily strips contained four panels (many more-modern strips have only three), they shrink quite a bit to fit into page-a-day form. But the art, characterization and humor (usually gentle, sometimes pointed) are more than enough to make up for the necessary format compromises. In one series, for instance, several of the girl characters march intimidatingly to a “crab-in” that Snoopy eventually breaks up by kissing ever-crabby Lucy on the nose when she opens the door after he knocks. In another sequence, Sally says she was insulted by a kid at school, and wants Linus to be her “knight in shining armor” who will “clobber” the kid; when Linus refuses, she asks Snoopy to bite the kid, but Snoopy also says no, his comment on biting being, “How gauche.” Then there is Linus’ question to Lucy about why trees do not have leaves in winter, followed by Lucy’s comment that Linus asks stupid questions – and Linus’ rejoinder, “Even stupid questions have answers.” As baseball-team manager, Charlie Brown says he wants the players to do 20 pushups every day, but Lucy counter-offers with “one pushup every twenty days.” Then there is Linus’ “new theological discovery” one night at bedtime: “If you hold your hands upside down, you get the opposite of what you pray for.” Elsewhere, Snoopy gets invited to play in the Masters Golf Tournament and assumes his “flying ace” costume to take himself there. He also uses it in its more-usual way, when he becomes a World War I Flying Ace and gives highly detailed information on what he is seeing, commenting in the final one of the four panels, “Have you ever in all your life seen such good research?” Snoopy also heads off at one point to a wrist-wrestling tournament, leading Charlie Brown to offer him a tearful goodbye and then say, “Goodbyes always make my throat hurt. I need more hellos.” There is gentleness to this humor, true, but there is also an underlying awareness of the human condition – not specifically involving children, even though all the humans in Peanuts are kids. The latest Peanuts calendar can be an exercise in nostalgia for those who have long known and loved the strip – and a source of discovery of a thoughtful, occasionally erudite, often surprisingly moving sort of warm-hearted humor for those who do not really know Peanuts well, or at all. This is a day-brightener that comes equipped with a touch of “think about it” message on many occasions – a winning combination throughout the year to come.

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