August 29, 2019


Calendars (page-a-day for 2020): Non Sequitur; The Little World of Liz Climo; Medical Cartoon-a-Day. Andrews McMeel. $15.99 each.
     One of the longstanding traditions of page-a-day calendars is to offer something light and/or witty every day in the form of a cartoon – sometimes by an artist tackling multiple topics, sometimes by a cartoonist focusing on a single subject. The nice thing about this is that it brings a known sense of humor every day  to one’s desktop, dresser, kitchen counter, end table, or wherever these stand-up calendars may be placed, creating a small element of both predictability and humor in days that may otherwise be both humorless and unpredictable. The only difficulty lies in choosing a particular one of these daily-page offerings (usually with a single page for both Saturday and Sunday): the choice depends on one’s individual sense of humor and sense of the world. Luckily, there are so many excellent cartoonists out there, and so many first-rate calendars showcasing their work, that there really is something for just about everyone. Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur, for example, is one of the cleverest and most neatly drawn cartoon sequences around, and even though the title means “it does not follow,” Wiley’s followers (there are many) have no trouble following his particularly, peculiarly out-of-kilter worldview and the characters through which he expresses it (some of which, the comic’s title aside, do recur). One thing Wiley (who goes by that name rather than “Miller”) does repeatedly is to imagine aspects of modern life being projected back to “caveman” days. Thus, “the birth of social media” shows one primitive-looking man who has just clubbed another over the head and who now explains to two listeners, “I call it ‘instant messaging.’” Yep – that’s often the effect of IM today. And then there is a panel called “the dawn of the boardroom,” in which cavemen stand around an obviously nonfunctional square wheel as one of them, clearly the boss, says, “What’s important here is that it came in under budget.” Again, that is adept social commentary, highlighting the modern (and, alas, longstanding) tendency to measure exactly the wrong thing. Also here is a panel featuring two traditional-looking sidewalk newsstands, one label “Facts” with no one paying attention and the other labeled “Shmacts” with a big crowd in front of it. Umm…yep. That panel is on the same wavelength as one showing two people in front of a store labeled “Outrage Inc.,” which has a sign outside reading, “Spring Line of Talking Points Coming Soon” – the man in the couple is telling the woman, “See? We still have things manufactured in America.” That one manages to make a comment in several areas at once. For something a bit lighter (well, usually), there are sequences involving Lucy the pygmy Clydesdale and Danae, Willy’s cynical little-girl anti-heroine – two of the few recurring characters (as opposed to recurring character types, of which there are many) in Non Sequitur. Wiley’s wit and humor pervade the pages of this 2020 calendar and are a great recipe for enjoyment for anyone sharing his skewed sense of strangeness and penchant for periodic political jabs.
     For those for whom Wiley may be a wee bit too sociopolitical in orientation, who figure there is enough of that sort of thing in the real world and an additional smidgen from a daily calendar page is just too much, there are plenty of alternatives. The Little World of Liz Climo, for example, is also filled with occurrences that “do not follow,” is also very funny and offbeat in its outlook, but generally manages to make its contact with reality weird without making it politically correct (or, for that matter, politically incorrect). For example, Climo shows a briefcase-carrying anteater arriving home, obviously after a day’s work, to find a note: “I’ll be home late. Dinner is on the table.” And on the table there is – an ant farm. Well, that makes perfect sense once you accept the idea of anteaters having office jobs. Then there is the dinnertime scene of a rabbit and a bear, the rabbit saying, “I made us a healthy dinner” and the bear saying, “I had a terrible day.” So the rabbit removes the tablecloth, on which two small plates of food have been resting, showing that the table itself is actually a stack of boxed pizzas, and saying, “Don’t worry. I have a backup dinner.” (And yes, it should be “healthful” dinner, but hey, no one is perfect – certainly not cartoonists.) Then there are the two characters in the water, with one of them spotting a fin moving toward them and saying, “OMG! SHARK!!!” To that, the other character responds, “Dude, we’re sharks.” And so they are: “Oh. Right.” Elsewhere, there is the sloth with a to-do list: “Hang from a tree branch. Relax.” Yes, that will do it. And there is the piglet saying, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!” to a groggy sow who asks what time it is – the reply being, “It’s 4 a.m. Will you make me breakfast?” That is about as humanlike an interchange as will be found in any cartoons featuring nonhuman characters. The Little World of Liz Climo mixes and matches these various animals, and others, in situations both likely and unlikely, using their interactions not so much to shed light on human society as to make it easier to handle the everyday oddities of the human world. Not a bad way to start every day.
     Wiley and Climo set their sights on human foibles of all sorts, but some page-a-day calendars have a narrower focus – or rather a more-precise one. Jonny Hawkins’ drawings for Medical Cartoon-a-Day can be a great way for people in the healthcare field – or people who have health challenges that they must face each day – to make life a little bit lighter. One cartoon shows an “A.D.D. Clinic” outside of which an enterprising person has set up a stand selling fidget spinners. One has an M.D. who is clearly no longer young saying he likes being a geriatric doctor because his patients call him “kiddo.” One shows the entrance to a maternity ward: a set of doors bearing the word “PU-U-U-SH.” Then there are the side-by-side medical offices of an orthodontist (labeled “we got your front”) and a chiropractor (“we got your back”). And, in a separate cartoon, there is a podiatrist’s office with a parking spot in front that is marked “toe-away zone.” An occasional cartoon offers self-reflection of a sort: “Which path less traveled should I take, the osteopath or the psychopath?” A lot of these cartoons are determinedly old-fashioned, but some have up-to-date themes, just to keep things interesting: one has a hospital patient falling onto a just-arriving, unattended gurney marked “Uber,” and another has a doctor telling a patient, “Yes, it’s an out-patient procedure. Actually, I can do it with my smart phone.” And then there is the comment on a current nutritional focus, with a doctor saying to a patient, “You’re starting to grow gills. Ease up on the fish oil.” A lot of the humor here, however, is timeless, as in a panel showing the desk of a respiratory therapist with three boxes of papers on top: “In,” “Out,” and “In Again.” There are occasional animal cartoons here, in one of which a snake is told, “I’m afraid you have athlete’s belly.” And, rarely, there is something genuinely serious, which is all the more meaningful because of its rarity: a Memorial Day cartoon shows “Veterans Memorial Hospital” with the flag in front at half-staff, and the entire caption reads, “Never forgotten.” By and large, though, the idea of Medical Cartoon-a-Day is to keep things light and amusing. As with page-a-day calendars in general, the notion here is that life may be serious, any given day may have its own heaping helping of uncertainty and difficulty and unpleasantness, but there should be at least one thing on which people can count every day of the year for a smile.

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