October 05, 2017
(++++) SWEETNESS AND…NOT SO MUCH
Calendars (wall for 2018): Anne Geddes—Small Is Beautiful; Timeless; Mary EngelDark. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 each.
Who wouldn’t want wall space to be light, inviting, enjoyable, amusing and altogether delightful throughout the coming year? Certain wall calendars are designed to ensure that the wall is all those things and more – a few “awwww” moments are in order as well. There are artists whose stock-in-trade is perfectly suited to keeping things light and bright throughout any year, and Anne Geddes is definitely one of them. Andrews McMeel has not one but two Anne Geddes calendars for 2018, and both are so temptingly sweet that it may be hard to choose between them – in fact, it may be necessary for Geddes fanciers to get one for one room and the other for a different place (clever marketing there!). Geddes’ photographic art involves pictures that accentuate the adorableness of babies by showing them in apparently altered sizes and surrealistically delightful settings – with the occasional realistic photo thrown in for good (and contrasting) measure. Thus, the Small Is Beautiful calendar features babies that are really small, at least in apparent size. One, for example, sits atop a mushroom, while another is sleeping peacefully in a caterpillar costume (complete with antennae) and presumably getting ready to metamorphose into a butterfly. Then there are the three little ones, wearing antlers, perched neatly atop a mantelpiece – a lovely Christmastime image that adorns the December page. Two realistic black-and-white photos complement the unreal-but-adorable ones here. One shows an infant looking up toward the camera and slightly off to one side, with a quizzical expression that parents will immediately recognize and adore. The other is a shot from behind (actually two behinds) in which one sitting baby has an arm thrown around the shoulders of another. Warmth and whimsy pervade this calendar – and they are ever-present as well in the one called Timeless, which includes some scenes to which fans of Geddes will immediately gravitate. One has a baby looking like a just-hatched chick amid more than a dozen not-yet-hatched eggs. Another has a sleeping baby nestled within the petals of a flower. Still another shows two sleeping infants in ladybug costumes, their faces toward each other and their bright beetle-like backs (one yellow, one red) charmingly contrasted. And then there is a classic Geddes portrait of three side-by-side blue-and-white polka-dotted flowerpots, each with an infant’s head peeking out. It is surely possible to think of Geddes as bending over too far into ultra-cuteness for all tastes – certainly people not enamored of very young babies may find these calendars a bit much – but anyone who smiles at little ones’ expressions and thinks of infants as angels (yes, Geddes dresses some babies in angel costumes) will find his or her walls, weeks and months brightened by these bursts of adorableness.
Just as reliable as Geddes in the cuteness department, and just as cloying to those who find the whole thing less than awwww-some, is Mary Engelbreit, whose very name (“bright angel”) bespeaks a sparkling, effervescent personality that is never, ever down, dull, dark or depressed. Hee-hee-hee. Somewhere in there lurks one of those little devil characters occasionally seen on cartoon characters’ shoulders, urging them to do something, well, a bit devilish. Apparently that is where the Mary EngelDark calendar for 2018 comes from. Finally, finally, it can be revealed that Engelbreit is not all sweetness all the time – only, say, 99.8% of the time. This is the calendar from the other 0.2%, and it is hilarious – both in general and (especially) for anyone who knows Engelbreit’s lightweight and ever-bouncy handling of life’s trouble and turmoil in illustrations of all sorts on products galore. Even people unfamiliar with Engelbreit will enjoy the way she channels the snarkier side of a quote often attributed to Shakespeare, who actually never said it but was in fact a master of insults: “I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see that you are unarmed.” What matters here is not only the verbiage (which is amusing enough, no matter whence it comes) but also the very Engelbreit-ish illustration of a plumed-hat-wearing, caped Shakespearean-type fellow with mustache quite suitable for twirling. The combination is deliciously silly. Even in “EngelDark” mode, Engelbreit is to be enjoyed for the way she draws her characters, not for the grammatical or literary accuracy of what her illustrations say. The hands-on-hips, eyes-cast-to-her left woman asking “Who left the bag of idiots open?” is an inversion of a classic Engelbreit persona and pose, so the fact that the calendar page starts incorrectly with “Alright” rather than properly with “All right” becomes irrelevant. And Engelbreit remains a master portrayer of a certain sort of nose-turned-up, self-assured young person whose adorableness in most Engelbreit works is transformed in this calendar into remarks such as, “People hate the truth. Luckily, the truth doesn’t care.” Toss in some very clever use of backgrounds (contrasting with the plain white ones on other calendar pages) and some skillful design and management of lettering, and the result is a Mary EngelDark calendar that offers not quite wit and wisdom but certainly not suavity and sweetness. There is fun here for the whole year, and a chance to use “dark” thoughts (which are really more crepuscular than midnight-gloomy) to brighten every bit of 2018.