October 28, 2021


Calendars (page-a-day for 2022): Non Sequitur; Dilbert. Andrews McMeel. $15.99 each.

     Sometimes all you want to get the day going is something amusing. In the past, that might have come by getting a morning newspaper and turning to the comics page. Now, though, even if you do still get the newspaper, you may well be online before having a chance to look at it – and therefore bogged down in the everyday morass of nastiness, inaccuracy, petulance and general mulishness that seems to make up so much of Internet communication (or miscommunication) nowadays. What you need is something to lighten the day before you get stuck wading through the muck of the online world – and even before you get to your newspaper, if you still have one. What you need, in short, is a day-to-day calendar focused on funny stuff. To the rescue come some top cartoonists who made their reputation in, yes, newspapers, but whose words and drawings are readily available in full-color calendars that let you see one panel or one panel sequence per day (on weekends, one per two days) and get your day going with a small dose of hmmmm on wry.

     Wiley Miller has been doing Non Sequitur since 1991 and shows no sign of slowing down – and no sign of diminishing the wit and social satire (generally pointed but comparatively restrained, non-Internet-style social satire) for which this usually-single-panel strip is known. Non Sequitur means “it does not follow,” which means you cannot predict on any day what the next day will bring – a very fine recipe for calendar use indeed. Actually, through the years, Wiley (as he signs his cartoons) has developed a few continuing characters whose adventures do follow for several days, but if the strip is no longer fully reflective of its title, it is as trenchant and funny as it has always been. Wiley tunes in quite well to societal trends, as in one panel showing both apes and the people watching them at the zoo looking at electronic tablets as one woman comments, “No, I don’t think that’s how Twitter got started, but I wouldn’t doubt it, either.” Another panel shows Santa Claus at a bar, obviously having had a tipple or two, as one patron tells another, “I think the trick to keeping the Christmas spirit alive year-round is to never watch the news.” Another panel, one of a number in the 2022 calendar relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, shows a man holding a 10-foot pole outside his house as his wife says, “No, dear – doing social distancing since 1992 just makes you a curmudgeon, not a visionary.” And then there is the panel with three side-by-side non-operating restaurants, the first with a sign saying “closed,” the second with one saying “very closed,” and the third with one saying “rated most closed in the city” – as a man walking by tells his companion, “Yeah, but it’s nice to see they haven’t lost their competitive spirit.” Sometimes Wiley prefers to deal not in the ups and downs of everyday life but in eternal verities, as in a panel showing St. Peter in the clouds, behind a lectern bearing the sign, “No religion beyond this point” – as one new arrival at the gates of Heaven tells another, “I always wondered how they could achieve peace and tranquility here for an eternity.” Back on Earth, there is a book-and-news store with a sign in front saying “Warning: Thought May Be Provoked Inside,” with one passerby saying to another, “I miss the time when it said ‘Welcome.’” Add to these varied observations the occasional recurring-character sequence, generally centered on preteen cynic and would-be super-manipulator Danae, and you have a calendar whose biggest flaw is the likelihood that you will want to look at multiple pages immediately to increase your dose of Wiley-ness. Resist the temptation if possible, though: it’s worth waiting a while (or a day, anyway) for more Non Sequitur.

     Wiley looks at pretty much anything and everything in his strip, while Scott Adams focuses on a single topic: office life. And he has been doing that since 1989, indicating that the more things change – including all sorts of corporate trends that come and go, and even the work-from-home phenomenon associated with COVID-19 – the more some things, such as dysfunction in the workplace, remain the same. The characters in Adams’ Dilbert are all dysfunctional in different ways, which is why he can vary the strip so well by simply playing specific ones off against each other. By now, characters’ personalities are so well established that pretty much anything any of them says makes sense in context. Thus, when the Pointy-Haired Boss starts talking to eternal intern Asok about “employee engagement,” it is inevitable that one thing the PHB will say is, “I expect a higher level of irrational enthusiasm for the endless string of thankless tasks you call your job.” When Dilbert tells a marketing person the correct engineering-related way to look at the headphones the company makes – they “are the best in the industry” – it is inevitable that the marketing guy will say, “Our marketing campaign will focus on how they cure brain tumors and raise your IQ.” When Dilbert discovers that one product’s name is offensive in the Elbonian language and explains that to the PHB, of course Dilbert will have learned that Elbonians “only have seventeen words, and nine of them are insults.” Dilbert’s rarely seen mouth appears, unsurprisingly, when a fellow wage slave says “let’s plan a huddle to ideate around that opportunity,” leading Dilbert to scream that he has “jargon poisoning.” It also makes perfect sense that ever-cynical Dogbert is hired as “the world’s most evil marketing expert” after the competition releases “a product that makes our product look like it was designed by chimps” – so Dogbert advises “accusing them of crimes they didn’t commit.” And then there are the Dilbert “meta” strips, in which characters know, or almost know, that they are cartoons. In one of those, Dilbert invents “an A.I that can create comic strips,” and the PHB says “no machine will ever match the creative genius of human cartoonists” (Adams’ plug for himself there!) – so Dilbert shows an example “about a guy who thinks his boss is dumb,” and inevitably the PHB says, “No one wants to read that.” But lots of people who have bosses, are bosses, used to have bosses, are considering having bosses, or might someday be or have or deal with bosses, will want to read Dilbert – and a daily dose of Adams’ workplace not-quite-insanity may be just what you need to make the rest of the day seem rational by comparison, if not quite as amusing.

No comments:

Post a Comment