October 01, 2020


Calendars (page-a-day for 2021): Non Sequitur; Medical Cartoon-a-Day. Andrews McMeel. $15.99 each.

     Since 2020 has been, Lord knows, as unfunny a year as pretty much anybody can remember, it is only natural to want a great deal more amusement in 2021. Nobody can promise that, of course (darn it). But some page-a-day calendars from Andrews McMeel can at least guarantee a small dose of lightness every day of the year, which means that if you tear off the previous day’s page in the morning of the next one, you get to start that day with a smile. What you do with it later, or what it does to you, is a matter beyond the scope of any calendar to arrange. Let’s take what we can get, though, and one thing we can get every year with great regularity and enjoyment is the exceptionally well-drawn, socially observant Non Sequitur, which is often wry but never mean-spirited (hey, you try that: it’s not easy). Created by Wiley Miller, who uses the single name Wiley, the comic strip – most often a single panel, which adapts particularly well to the page-a-day calendar format – claims through its Latin title that “it does not follow,” meaning there is no continuity from day to day. That is not quite true: certain sequences follow the misadventures of a little girl named Danae and her extended family (which includes a “pygmy Clydesdale” horse named Lucy). When Danae and Lucy and others appear, the single panel is subdivided into four, and those four-panel groupings tend to extend over multiple days – as in one offering for 2021 in which Danae falls down the proverbial rabbit hold and, unlike Alice in Wonderland, finds it occupied not by a white rabbit but by an identity-stealing hacker. This is not Wiley’s only nod to modern technological foibles: one day’s panel shows Moses bringing two tablets, as in electronic tablets, down to his people, creating understandable bewilderment. But there is much more here than fantasy-world and biblical matters. Wiley has a way of handling real-life seriousness with skewed humor, as in a panel featuring a corporate boardroom, showing the traditional chart pattern moving downwards, with the chairman listening while being told “critical mass” is approaching regarding “Board members to be held accountable for CEO’s decisions” (and sure enough, most of the chairs around the table are unoccupied). Then there is a variation on the traditional psychiatrist-with-patient-on-couch scene, in which the patient is a pachyderm and the doctor is asking, “Did you ever consider that you’re the elephant in the room?” And the traditional scene at the altar, above the caption “full-disclosure wedding vows,”  where the officiant is saying, “I now pronounce you husband and oversight authority.” And the panel showing “The Willful Ignorance State Fair,” complete with signs pointing toward the “Chocolate Weight Loss Booth” and “Fried Health Food.” That particular cartoon also includes one of Wiley’s periodic forays into a touch of sociopolitical commentary: one sign points toward the “Trickle Down Wealth Ride – Perfectly Safe!” You don’t have to accept the critique to find that amusing – which is one thing that makes Non Sequitur special, since it simply refuses to be nasty even when it has ample opportunities to be. Wiley’s humor is a gift you can give yourself all year with this calendar.

     However, Non Sequitur paints matters of amusement with such a broad brush that it may be a little too non-specialized for anyone who needs a dose of day-in, day-out humor in a specific field. Healthcare is even more in need of a touch of the funny now than usual, which is where Jonny Hawkins’ Medical Cartoon-a-Day calendar comes in. Hawkins is not even close to the artist or wordsmith that Wiley is, but for those suffering daily through everyone else’s suffering, that may be exactly the point in the coming year. It is nice to have something simple and straightforward when everything medical is even more complex and convoluted than usual, and that is what Hawkins offers through his series of one-panel one-liners. It might not seem funny to look at a hospital admissions desk behind which a woman is sitting and telling someone who just came in, “You’re right, Mr. Grant, healthcare costs are skyrocketing and are already astronomical” – but the scene takes on an amusing coloration when you notice that Mr. Grant is an astronaut wearing a spacesuit. Elsewhere, a doctor and nurse stare disapprovingly at a pharmacy wall sign offering “Nacho Cheese Flavored Meds!” Then there is the distinctly overweight fitness-band-wearing man telling his wife, “I get ten-thousand steps in just walking back and forth to the refrigerator.” And the self-proclaimed medical “super-specialist” who announces, “I deliver babies and pizzas.” And the drawing of a stress clinic right next to a “mothers-in-law club” – and yes, that’s unfair, but it is intended to be in good fun (for anyone who remembers what that means). Then there is the cardiologist who is almost late for surgery because he drove and “all the arteries were clogged.” And the dog doctor telling his canine patient with a memory problem, “Bone loss is common at your age.” And the chicken reading a book called “Fear of Frying” – and although that one doesn’t quite fit the “medical” theme, most here do, such as the one that shows a patient arriving on the roof of a trauma center, being brought by “the new Medi-Vac Drone.” In this cartoon world, it also makes sense to see someone who appears not to feel very well going to the “Entomology Division” and finding room doors labeled “Bugs That Are Going Around,” “Butterflies in Stomach,” and “Ants in Pants.” There is nothing particularly profound or even very meaningful in the Medical Cartoon-a-Day calendar, but for anyone involved with healthcare who has been finding a laugh, or even a chuckle, dismally hard to come by recently, this little daily dose of the upbeat may be just the thing to make the days of 2021 at least a bit lighter than those of 2020.

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