July 29, 2021


Calendars (wall for 2022): Heart and Brain; Adulthood Is a Myth—A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Calendar; The Good Advice Cupcake. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 each.

     There is nothing unusual about wall calendars that feature comic strips and cartoons: they have been around for many years and have generally been designed to provide a touch of pleasant humor, or perhaps uplift, whenever you look at them. But some comics by today’s cartoonists are edgier than most of those of the past. This is the Internet age, after all, and many comics now get their start online – and the result is calendars that are edgier as well. Furthermore, a few 21st-century cartoonists have actually hit on topics that offer a touch more depth than comics usually do, and that translate well to wall-calendar format on a visual basis while also offering material that is a bit more thoughtful than average. Nick Seluk’s Heart and Brain is a good example. On the surface, it is very funny indeed: Seluk creates cartoon versions of a heart, with huge eyes and perpetual emotional attraction to instant gratification; and a brain, which wears rectangular eyeglasses and is always trying to analyze situations, plan ahead, and avoid the consequences of too much emotional attachment to momentary interests. Seluk also peoples the strip (“organs the strip” is closer to the truth) with cartoon versions of the lungs, tongue, eyes, liver, gall bladder, etc., giving each a personality reflecting the real-world functions of the real-world organs. Heart and Brain remain the center of the strip, though, and Seluk is effective at finding the many, many ways in which we everyday human beings are constantly pulled hither and thither by the conflicts inherent in having both emotional drive/attachment and intellectual concern/ability. The 2022 Heart and Brain calendar deals with the thought-vs.-emotion conundrum throughout every month – for 16 months, actually, since (like other Andrews McMeel wall calendars) it starts in September 2021, with the last four months of the current year appearing on a single page before the one-month-per-page layout starts in January. A perfect encapsulation of the heart-brain dichotomy is the four-panel September 2022 illustration, in which Heart wants Brain to channel Heart’s creativity into “something” that Heart “can’t really explain,” that is just “kind of a feeling” that Brain needs to make “tangible” – with the proviso that “it needs to be perfect or I will be very upset.” That is Heart and Brain in a nutshell. Some other months also offer four-panel interactions between the primary characters, with other body parts – tongue, muscle, lungs, stomach – showing up from time to time. And some months use only a single-panel illustration, which can be just as effective, amusing and thought-provoking as the four-panel series. In one of those, for April, Heart stands at one side of the panel with a few balls or balloons labeled “pro,” while Brain stands at the left with a much larger collection of them labeled “con.” Brain says, “Now do you see why it’s not the right decision?” And Heart answers, “I demand a recount!” Again, this is a great example of the underlying truthfulness of the whole heart-vs.-brain duality with which we all live all the time – and at the same time, given the characters’ words and expressions, it is certainly funny enough to provoke a wry chuckle each day of the month.

     Sarah Andersen’s Sarah’s Scribbles comics also exist simultaneously in the real world and the cartoon universe. At its simplest, Andersen portrays the 21st-century life of a twentysomething woman. But things are never quite at their simplest in this somewhat surrealistic strip. And the design of the Adulthood Is a Myth 16-month wall calendar for 2021-2022 is quite unusual. Each page features a large, full-color single panel, within which are nestled multi-panel black-and-white sequences that relate very little (in fact, usually not at all) to the large, color art. This lets Andersen express emotions, thoughts and concerns on, quite literally, two different levels, and the result is striking and a touch odd (a pretty good description of Sarah’s Scribbles in general). The full-color November illustration, for example, shows cartoon Sarah in a riotously colorful kitchen, happily flipping an egg in a frying pan; the four-panel black-and-white strip within the color panel has Sarah arriving in Heaven, where an angel says, “Here’s your dog,” leading cartoon Sarah to ask, “Where’s my cat?” The final, wordless panel shows plenty of cats, apparently dancing in a circle, surrounded by – flames. Who needs words for that? Certainly not cat owners! Then there is the March color panel, showing a very small cartoon Sarah feeding a treat to a snail that sits atop a mushroom – a kind of “Sarah in Wonderland” scene. The four-panel black-and-white strip here has full-size cartoon Sarah watching a TV show and “seeing a still that’s constantly used as a meme” online – and remarking, with wonder, “A meme in its natural habitat.” It takes a bit of thought to “get” that – which is the whole point. And in the February color panel, cartoon Sarah sits in a comfy chair, surrounded by shelves of books (yes, books!), quietly reading. In the two-panel black-and-white insert, Sarah is wondering what language to read Goethe in, given that “I am dumb in 3 languages.” That puncture-one’s-own-pretensions approach is one of the many charms of Sarah’s Scribbles and, as a result, of this calendar – which includes a bonus page of a dozen stickers, suitable for use as reminders or amusements (one shows cartoon Sarah with a stack of cookies taller than she is; one has her in a Halloween costume; one has her playing guitar; etc.).

     Stickers are also an extra feature of the 2021-2022 calendar focusing on The Good Advice Cupcake, a distinct Internet-era creation that goes against the “anything goes, preferably in four-letter words” character of so much Web interaction. Cuppy (whose cat is named Sprinkles) is a pink-topped, huge-eyed, pithy commentator given sometimes to short observations and sometimes to short profane observations in which, unusually for the 21st century, asterisks are used to disguise (admittedly very mildly) the profanity being uttered. Much of what Cuppy says is funny precisely because the profanity is very slightly and very ineptly disguised – in the Internet world, such language is very rarely toned down to even the slightest degree. Whether or not Cuppy is using asterisks, though, the comments and exaggerated cupcake appearance make this calendar fun all year. In June, for example, Cuppy is seen relaxing in a kiddie pool, sporting an obviously unnecessary flotation device and wearing big sunglasses; a wine glass and pizza slice are next to the pool; and the caption is simply, “Living the dream!” The very next month, July, on the other hand, shows Cuppy actually melting (although still smiling) beneath a huge sun, with the caption, “You’re hot as f*ck.” Silliness abounds here: in February, Cuppy is insisting on holding Sprinkles even though the clearly distressed cat is grimacing and has scratched and clawed Cuppy abundantly; here the entire background consists of hearts, and the words are, “You’ll never escape my love.” And then there is April, with Cuppy sitting on the lap of the Easter bunny (in a Santa-like scene) and saying, “Bring me so much chocolate that I pass out.” Cuppy’s mixture of cuteness and almost-foul-mouthed expression may be a bit of an acquired taste, but those who already know the character will certainly enjoy all of Cuppy’s calendar appearances – and those who do not yet know the pleasures of an Internet-based talking confection will find this calendar a pleasant and, really, rather sweet introduction to a pleasant and, really, rather sweet cartoon.

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