October 08, 2020


Calendars (wall for 2021): Carbe Diem! The Art of David Olenick; Suki the Adventure Cat; Mutts. Andrews McMeel, $14.99 each (Carbe, Suki); Abrams/Andrews McMeel, $14.99 (Mutts).

     The choice of a wall calendar for the coming year is different from the choice of a desktop planner, which is primarily a functional book and only secondarily an artistic one, and also different from the choice of a page-a-day calendar, whose relatively small size and frequent changes of display mean that if any particular page misfires in its effect, there will be another one soon enough. Wall calendars, though, take up prominent and highly visible space in a home or office (or home office), and each display confronts the viewer for an entire month, so every one of them had better be something worth living with for one-twelfth of the year. Fortunately, there is no shortage of 2021 wall-calendar choices created or distributed by Andrews McMeel, which means there are plenty of ways to make your walls attractive for a year that will hopefully be much pleasanter than the year 2020 has turned out to be.

     As a matter of fact, you can start decorating your walls with an eye toward a better future immediately if you choose new calendars from David Olenick or landscape photographers Martina Gutfreund and Kenneth Hildebrandt – because their offerings are 16-month wall calendars, with the final four months of 2020 on one page and individual pages for each month of 2021. If your tastes resonate to these forms of expressiveness, you can indulge them as soon as you like. Olenick’s calendar is called Carbe Diem! It is a celebration of contemporary absurdities in the form of talking carbohydrate-rich foods (most of the time) and various shapes or critters (the rest of the time). Olenick likes to draw huge googly eyes on pretty much everything, and he manages to make them amusingly expressive in a wide variety of ways. For example, one month in the calendar features the all-too-familiar admonition to “Eat Your Greens!” But this is no typical guilt trip: all six smiling green foods are sweets, from a hard candy to a lollipop to a frozen ice pop. Another month has a similar urging: “Eat More Hole Foods!” But notice the spelling “hole.” The recommendation this time is coming from a smiling, pink-icing-with-sprinkles doughnut. A big, happy slice of cake shows up on this calendar as well, saying, “Shut up. It’s my cheat day.” Now that’s a message for a full month! And there are non-carb comments here as well, such as the especially clever one that goes with the four-months-of-2020 page. It shows two metal screws, one of them having gone fully down into a surface and one still sticking most of the way out of it – with that one saying, “Sorry, I screwed up.” That’s punny as well as funny. And then there is the December cartoon of two Christmas tree bulbs, one green and one red, with the following dialogue: “‘Working over the holidays?’ ‘Off and on.’” That takes a moment to register and is just right when it does. The amusements here are chuckles rather than belly laughs, and they are all good-humored and not a bit snarky or sarcastic – making them a real relief from far too many comments on far too many events of everyday life.

     Another way to get beyond everyday living is to join Suki the Adventure Cat on a photographic journey to – well, to 13 different beautifully pictured places, one for the last four months of 2020 and the rest for the months of the new year. Suki is a Bengal cat with striking green eyes and an expression that always says, “I am attentively looking around and studying this place and finding it fascinating.” This is a completely wordless calendar, and its beautiful landscapes are as big an attraction as Suki is. Suki’s humans are Canadian, and a number of the photographs accordingly show the cat amid Canadian scenery, but this feline is definitely a world traveler – or at least, for 2021, a traveler around North America (Canada, the U.S., and Mexico). One photo shows her beautifully framed by one of the famous stone arch formations in Utah. Another portrays her on a Mexican beach, with palm trees picturesquely displayed in the background. One of several photos from Alberta, Canada, shows Suki amid a field of yellow flowers that contrast interestingly with her tawny coloration. Another, especially striking pose in Alberta has Suki perched atop a rock outcropping with a beautiful blue lake behind and beneath her and mountains farther in the background – and with Suki’s upward gaze making it look as if she is searching the skies. Somewhat similarly, there is a Suki pose at Dead Horse Point, another attraction in Utah, but in this case the background is a set of canyons and arroyos that are typical of the area and that complement Suki’s coloration to very fine effect. Gutfreund and Hildebrandt have obviously taken Suki to plenty of places that are highly attractive on their own – and adding Suki to the geography produces an effect beyond the landscapes themselves, one that cat lovers will enjoy as wall art throughout the coming year.

     Combine cartooning in the Olenick mode with a cat in the Suki mode and you get something a little bit like Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts, one of the great comic strips of recent times and the most animal-friendly of them all. The cat Mooch and dog Earl are the central characters in this tremendously charming, heartwarming and exceptionally well-drawn strip, in which McDonnell shows, again and again, how carefully he has studied not only the history of comics and cartoons but also a considerable amount of museum-worthy fine art. These soft-pedaled, exceptionally well-drawn tributes to great art of all kinds show up primarily in the Sunday “title panels” of Mutts, which unfortunately do not always show up in the 700 newspapers that run the strip. Those start-of-strip panels connect only slightly with the story lines of the Sunday strips and are expendable if papers, which are shrinking at a continuing and alarming rate, do not wish to run them, for reasons of space. But book collections of Mutts, of which Andrews McMeel has published many, are very much enhanced by these panels – and the 2021 Mutts calendar from Abrams offers a full year of them. McDonnell is often inspired by Oriental art, as in a wonderful panel based on Hokusai’s “The Great Wave,” which McDonnell renders with his character Crabby the crab within the wave’s curl. Western art gets its due as well, as in a beautifully drawn bedroom scene, featuring both Earl and Mooch, that pays tribute to Van Gogh’s “The Bedroom.” In fact, McDonnell’s inspirations are legion: one delightful panel shown in the 2021 calendar features Earl, Mooch and several other Mutts characters posed in front of seven stylized cobras and an equally stylized sunburst, the whole thing having been inspired by the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s album cover for “Axis: Bold as Love.” Art is where you find it, and McDonnell finds it everywhere – and makes it his own through his exceptional drawing skill and unusual attentiveness to form, color and detail. He is himself a remarkable artist whose medium just happens to be comics. The 2021 Mutts calendar offers a full year of large-size Sunday title panels combined with a generous number of complete Mutts strips contained within each month and carefully positioned on each full-month-of-dates page. The combination is just delightful, giving lovers of cats, dogs, comic strips, fine art, artistic skill, and animals in general a year-long visual feast – more than enough pleasure, hopefully, to balance whatever trials and tribulations 2021 may bring, which (also hopefully) will be far fewer than those dumped on the world’s doorstep in 2020.

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