October 14, 2021


Calendars (page-a-day for 2022): Medical Cartoon-a-Day; Teacher Cartoon-a-Day. Andrews McMeel. $15.99 each.

     We live, it seems, in a singularly humorless age. Humor requires incongruity, weird juxtapositions, exaggeration, deviation from a shared sense of normality. But in the current ugly, constricted, straitjacketed “woke” world, where hordes of the ignorant and vicious hover in anticipation of destroying any vestige of amusement that might conceivably offend someone or something (or might have done so many decades in the past), it is distinctly difficult to offer anything that might be funny to a mass audience – because a tiny minority, emboldened by the Internet and delighted with societal schisms, stands ready to shred not only the (allegedly) amusing material but also the (allegedly) well-meaning creators of it.

     One way to cope with a life of drab, ugly, permanent seriousness and unending outrage is to perk things up with distinctly old-fashioned  cartoons that, while scarcely groundbreaking (and in fact basically “retro” in both style and substance), can at least bring a smile to get the daily drudgery started. Two calendars featuring single-panel drawings by Jonny Hawkins fit this particular bill very well. Focusing on two specific areas of life, they use distinctly old-fashioned art of a type that used to be common in magazines (when magazines were common!) and very mild punchlines that are sometimes punny, sometimes wry, often simply silly, and not likely at risk of offending the ever-present guardians of enforced unamusing conformity.

     Medical Cartoon-a-Day and Teacher Cartoon-a-Day have been around for years, the first labeled “a daily dose of humor” and the second “a daily lesson in humor.” The covers of the boxes in which the 2022 versions are packaged neatly encapsulate all the pages inside – one page per weekday and one for each weekend. The Medical calendar has a doctor (the initials “MD” appear on a wall plaque) telling a bird that is sitting on an exam table that it has “gull stones.” The Teacher offering shows an old-style, book-filled school library (the word “Library” is on the open door) in which an obviously befuddled student is sitting, surrounded by papers, as the librarian asks, “Who keeps putting the math books in the horror section?” It is highly unlikely that anyone could possibly take offense at the Medical cartoon, although there is probably someone out there ready to object, vociferously and probably profanely, to the Teacher cartoon for “denigrating” an all-important STEM subject. Luckily, unless you have one such inquisitor observing each daily page turn of the calendar, you can probably enjoy Hawkins’ mild humor without endangering your reputation or career.

     The Hawkins cartoons both look and sound retro, and that is a big part of their simple charm. They are neither great art nor great jokes, but they offer uncomplicated smiles and a daily dose of amusement that will be more than welcome throughout 2022. The Medical calendar actually has a page on which a doctor is telling a patient, “A person who spreads optimism is contagious” – about as old-fashioned a notion as you are likely to see anywhere. Other cartoons have no messages beyond fun. One shows a corridor with a Mayo Clinic sign and a box on the wall labeled “in case of emergency break glass” – inside the box is a jar of Miracle Whip. Another has a practitioner telling a patient, “Four out of five doctors recommend you stay far away from the one dissenting doctor.” One has a doctor telling a patient, “We don’t need a full MRI – just a kitten scan,” which is amusing for anyone who knows about CAT scans. One has an assistant in a burn ward telling the physician, “Jack B. Nimble is here again, Doctor” – a nursery-rhyme reminder. On very rare occasions, Hawkins goes beyond old-style humor and easy jokes here, creating something genuinely touching, as in a panel showing a little boy, a tear on his face, saying to a woman with a tear on hers, “Thanks for walking Grandma to heaven” – the woman’s briefcase bears the word “Hospice.” That is far more thoughtful and sensitive than most of the once-over-lightly cartoons in the Medical calendar, and all the more moving because it represents such a big change of pace.

     The Teacher calendar has nothing that instructive, but Hawkins is more inclined to be mildly satirical here, as in a panel showing a disheveled man asking for money by telling a well-dressed passerby, “Do you remember me? I was your economics tutor.” And there are a few attempts to take a serious topic and lighten it a bit, as in a panel showing a man, Sisyphus-like, rolling a huge stone uphill, explaining, “I chose this instead of having to pay off massive student debts.” There is also an occasional panel showing awareness of the world in which today’s educators operate, such as the cartoon in which the principal asks the guidance counselor, “How many of them say they want to be social media stars?” More often, though, what holds sway here is mild humor and mild puns, as in a scene outside a church where one person says to another, “The Reverend used to be a geometry teacher. That’s why he goes off on so many tangents.” Nothing in Hawkins’ Medical and Teacher calendars produces an old-fashioned guffaw, but many of the panels produce an old-fashioned smile and a sense that there remains a place for mild amusement in a world that often seems so intensely opposed to the notion that someone, somewhere, might be having fun.

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