August 08, 2019
(++++) CHOOSE YOUR ANIMALIA
Calendars (wall for 2020): A Year of Snarky Cats; Peanuts. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 each.
Companion animals, at least the felines and canines that come most readily to most people's minds in connection with the word “pet,” tend to be thought of as either snarky or sweet. And each individual's choice of a companion animal says something about his or her own snarkiness, sweetness, or aspiration to one or the other.
As with the animals, so with calendars featuring the animals. There is certainly no doubt as to how Dan DiPaolo thinks about cats: the word “snarky” is right there in the title of his 2020 wall calendar. And cats do have a well-deserved reputation for tolerating humans rather than engaging fully with their Homo sapiens companions. On the other hand, cats do not have a reputation for wearing purple sunglasses and sipping from a mug that bears the words, “I’m a lot of work,” which is how the cat on the front of the 2020 A Year of Snarky Cats calendar appears. Early purchasers of the calendar get plenty of time to form a special bond with this particular DiPaolo cat, since this is a 16-month calendar (September 2019-December 2020) and the front-cover cat adorns the page showing all four months of 2019 that the calendar displays. Humans who eventually tire of being stared down by this particular cat may be eager to turn to the January display even before the start of the new year, just to get some relief – which, however, is not forthcoming: it features a slit-eyed reclining cat glancing off to one side, beneath the words, “I’ll just be over here, judging you. So be nice.” Wow – a full year of cat condemnation! Who could possibly want anything more? Well, cat owners – and perhaps a few people who want to be reminded of the reasons they do not own cats – will find plenty to enjoy, or at least put up with, in A Year of Snarky Cats. Each month features a different DiPaolo drawing and different words that cat fanciers (and probably cats themselves) will find very apt indeed. These range from February’s forward-facing, yellow-eyed white cat saying, “Nope, not today,” to December’s Santa-hat-wearing-but-sly-looking black feline commenting, “I chase stuff that twinkles.” Cat owners will find plenty here at which to chuckle or to which to respond with a wry laugh, including one remark that pretty well sums up the entire human-feline relationship, at least where possessions are concerned: “What’s yours is actually mine. How many times do we need to go over this?”
We tend to think of dogs as being nicer than cats, or at least more accommodating. But surface-level fawning may conceal a rich and varied interior life, as readers of Peanuts learned time and again when Snoopy would refer to owner Charlie Brown only as “the round-headed kid” but had no trouble figuring out whether, on a given day, to battle the Red Baron, transform himself into Joe Cool, perch vulture-like in a tree, take a few turns on the ice (doing either hockey or figure skating), run for political office, or otherwise behave in a distinctly non-beagle-like manner (at least as far as humans know). During the half century in which Charles Schulz created Peanuts, Snoopy’s character grew and changed and managed to become both more and less doglike at the same time – just one of the remarkable elements of this strip, which is 70 years young as of 2020 and continues to delight readers even though Schulz died in 2000 at the age of 77. Snoopy’s extensive fantasy life is only mildly present in the 2020 Peanuts wall calendar, with Snoopy appearing just five times in the 13 large illustrations (13 because this too is a 16-month calendar covering the last third of 2019 and the entirety of 2020). What is especially interesting about this particular calendar is that it shows how well Schulz, whose dialogue was always exceptional, could communicate entirely without words. The large illustrations here are silent, leaving it up to Peanuts lovers to fill in, remember, misremember, or make up the dialogue. One panel shows Snoopy and Charlie Brown, both wearing winter hats, looking off to the right and staring at – what? Snoopy is holding a hockey stick, if that helps. Another shows Snoopy holding his water dish upside-down above his head – which means the dish is empty – while Woodstock sits nearby on the ground, looking even more befuddled than usual because – why? Was he just now under the dish, or in it, or what? The meaning of some panels is clear enough: the only one with letters in it, a sound rather than a word (“BONK!”), shows Schroeder pulling his piano away from Lucy, who is flipped upside-down and has obviously just made one of her usual over-affectionate comments or has managed to insult Beethoven. And some panels need no explanation whatsoever, such as the one for December that shows Snoopy reclining in his famous pose atop his doghouse, which is bedecked with Christmas lights. Snoopy is not much like a real dog – he was, in the early days of Peanuts, but Schulz moved him further and further from “dogness” over time, and in so doing accentuated some canine features while giving Snoopy a personality all his own. The thing is, just as cat lovers and people who know just why they are not cat lovers can enjoy DiPaolo’s snarky cats, so dog lovers and people who are canine-deprived can enjoy Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang. Either of these calendars makes a delightful wall hanging for late 2019 and all of 2020. And of course those who are undecided between cats and dogs – or who prefer, say, axolotls – can get both the DiPaolo and Schulz illustrations and hang them in different rooms. Or in the same room, facing each other in suitably competitive spirit.