August 22, 2019


Calendars (wall for 2020): Farmer’s Market; It’s All Good; Heart and Brain. Universe/Andrews McMeel, $14.99 (Market); Andrews McMeel, $14.99 each (Good, Heart).

     One of the pleasures of wall calendars is their artistic enhancement of whatever wall they hang on: suddenly a bare space reflects your pictorial taste while also giving you an at-a-glance look at the month and at any notes you may have made or appointments you may have coming up. In fact, some wall calendars reflect your taste in, well, taste – such as Farmer’s Market, every page of which displays a mouth-watering display of homegrown or homemade goodies of one sort or another. The art here, by John Burgoyne, makes everything look absolutely scrumptious: a whole set of oranges and tangerines one month offers a brilliant splash of orange and similar colors, while a portrayal of cooking greens makes flat-leaf spinach, collards, curly kale and other green-colored vegetables appear delightfully appetizing. Everything here looks just delicious, with the art showing more-perfect fruits and vegetables than cooks are likely to encounter in real life – for example, a kind of idealization of summer squashes in one month, Latin American vegetables in another. The shapes and colors are genuinely artistic and beautifully arranged and juxtaposed, and the selection of items to put on display is very well done. One month, for example, features exotic mushrooms, including blewit, fairy ring, pioppini and others than may well be unfamiliar even to many cooks but that here look truly tantalizing; another month is called “rustic bread shapes” (after all, farmers’ markets sell more than produce!) and includes ciabatta, boule, baguette and others. What is particularly nice about Burgoyne’s prints is that you do not have to be a dedicated “foodie” to enjoy them: even if you do not care for, say, eggplants, the display of a dozen types of them in many different colors turns part of your wall into an art gallery. As for where to hang this calendar – well, the kitchen is an obvious place, but the shapes and colors will actually enhance any wall space in any room.

     The It’s All Good calendar by Thaneeya McArdle fits anywhere, too, but only if you find a place where both its art and its sentiments mesh with your décor. This is a positive-thinking, 16-month calendar that offers 13 homespun, upbeat sayings rendered in elaborate splashes of colors and shapes – the It’s All Good title itself for September-December 2019 and 12 sayings for the individual months of 2020. The loops, whorls, swirls and intensely bright colors will hark back to “flower power” art of the 1960s for some and will simply be a relentlessly bright-and-light approach for those who do not remember that time period (or do not remember it fondly). For those who do recall the Age of Aquarius, one month proclaims, “Love without Limits,” and another (bedecked with butterflies and flowers) urges, “Let Yourself Be FREE.” McArdle’s style is immediately recognizable on every calendar page, but McArdle – who was born in 1979 and therefore certainly does not remember the Sixties – keeps things varied and interesting by altering her mix of colors, her size and style of letters, and the shapes she uses to communicate her positive messages. “Start Where You Are,” for instance, has the four words running vertically from the top of the page within a ribbon or tube that extends beyond the page’s upper limit and past its lower margin – and while the ribbon/tube is mainly white inside, so the letters stand out, the rest of the illustration is a darker, multicolored, vibrant  mixture of flower petals, teardrops and similar shapes, and even a butterfly. In contrast, “Do What You Love” presents the four words prominently and rather starkly, mostly in italics, in shades of orange/red, against a dark brown background with blue and green stripes framing it to the left and right. Of course, this calendar is only for someone for whom the sentiments resonate – you will be looking at each of them for a month, after all, and at the It’s All Good phrase for four months if you start using the calendar at its earliest point. But who doesn’t need a little uplift? And why not get it each time you glance at a nearby wall? You can even create your own additional page to put up anywhere you like: the calendar includes a bonus black-and-white page by McArdle, without dates, offering the sentiment, “Love Blooms Here” – with flowers everywhere that can be colored exactly as you like, whenever in the year you choose.

     In a way, wall calendars represent a merger of the practical (the neatly laid out dates, each with space for little notes) and the emotional (the art that appears above the dates and sometimes below them as well). You might say that wall calendars are a combination of brain and heart – but you don’t have to say that, because Nick Seluk has said it for you in his Heart and Brain wall calendar. Seluk has one of the cleverest comic-strip ideas of recent times, the sort of notion that you look at and wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It seems obvious but has never been put together this way before: the ongoing conflict between the human heart (emotion-driven, seeking pleasure before anything else, doing whatever is necessary to obtain immediate gratification) and the human brain (planning for the future, figuring things out logically, keeping the impulse-driven heart under control to the extent possible). Actually, in Seluk’s concept, these are not exactly human organs: they belong to “the awkward Yeti,” a blue-furred, anxiety-packed humanoid character about whom it is not necessary to know anything in order to appreciate the Heart and Brain dynamic. What Seluk has done so well with these characters is to keep them true to their clichéd roles while giving them, well, character of their own. They are constantly at odds but are, after all, in the same body, and therefore have no choice but to come to some sort of rapprochement, however unwillingly. Seluk actually peoples his Heart and Brain comics with other organs as well (which means that “peoples” is scarcely the right word), and this calendar shows that in one illustration: the lungs hand a ball labeled “O2” to Heart, who exclaims, “I love it! I’m going to share it with EVERYONE!” And of course that is just what real, honest-to-goodness hearts do by pumping oxygenated blood through the entire body. Clever! So is the rest of this calendar, which features a large heart-and-brain illustration atop each month; a four-panel sequence above September-December 2019, this being another 16-month calendar; and a multi-panel strip running along the bottom of each page for the year 2020 beneath the month’s dates. Occasional character illustrations within the date grid enliven the proceedings further. There is something endearing as well as silly about everything Seluk does with these characters, starting with their appearance: Heart looks sort of like a heart, is red, has huge eyes, and is almost always accompanied by a butterfly that stands, in part, for his flightiness; Brain looks sort of like a brain, is pink, and has no visible eyes, instead wearing glasses with square-to-slightly-rectangular frames. Sometimes these characters get along, as in the December illustration showing them ice skating, with Heart exuberantly pulling Brain into the air as the butterfly hovers between them. But more often, the two have conflicts that every human with a heart and brain will recognize. Heart makes a bad decision and reminds Brain that Brain is supposed to stop him when he is wrong – but when Brain tries, Heart exclaims, “I’m never wrong!” Heart tries to get Brain to pay attention to a large pile of green balls labeled “good,” but Brain is fixated on a single black ball labeled “bad.” With a mess everywhere, Brain tells Heart that chores cannot be put off forever, to which Heart replies, “I have to try!” The amusement of the Heart and Brain calendar is tinged with just enough wisdom and silliness to make this a great choice for any possessor of a heart, brain, and sense of humor – a combination that will surely help anyone get through 2020 or any other year.

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