from Isolation. By Cathy Guisewite.
Andrews McMeel. $14.99.
Not to Get into Heaven: Berkeley Mews Comics. By Ben Zaehringer. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The thought might arise
from the picture of Electra on the cover of Cathy Guisewite’s Scenes from Isolation, but it really
should relate to the picture of Cathy
on the cover. And, for that matter, to Guisewite herself (since the cartoon
Cathy was always Guisewite’s alter ego). The comic strip Cathy ended its 34-year run in 2010, but obviously the COVID-19
pandemic again put Guisewite in touch with her inner “aack” (hey, it put everybody in touch with inner “aacks”).
The result is this little hardcover sort-of-gift book, “sort of” because you
may have to spray, wipe, disinfect or otherwise decontaminate it, depending on
what the advice of the day may be, before you can give it to anyone else, so
you are probably better off just keeping it for yourself. In some ways, the
book’s cover picture neatly encapsulates the whole thing: Cathy and Electra are
in bed, covers pulled up all the way, with Cathy holding a sign saying “Is It
Over Yet?” and Electra, who is looking at a cell phone that presumably is
displaying a news feed, thinking the single word, “Nope.” Finding humor in a
pandemic’s daily miseries, large and small, is quite a feat, and Guisewite has
done so, thanks to her longstanding ability to have cartoon Cathy go into
conniptions over every little thing and some not-so-little ones. It is the
little miseries of decidedly not-so-little ruination of so many aspects of
everyday life that are in the forefront of Scenes
from Isolation. Each page here is a single panel with the words “Scenes
from Isolation” at the bottom, with a heart to the left and right of the words
– a hopeful heart, hopefully. One page, titled “Morning Meditation,” shows
hyper-frazzled Cathy with wipes and antibacterial spray exclaiming, “When this
is over I am never cleaning anything again!!” Another has her doing a “pandemic
Google search” for “How to sue the perky woman in the ‘How to Cut Your Own
Hair’ YouTube video.” Another shows her with a presumably now-empty container
of mint chip ice cream, saying, “Every single thing takes longer except doing
that which I will regret.” Then there is “A Covid Confession: I can type in all
23 digits of my credit card including expiration date and secret code from
memory, but no longer know the phone number of any friends.” And there are
occasional poems here, too, such as “A poem of Monday morning: Lots to fear,/
Much to dread,/ We all deserve medals/ for getting out of bed.” And there are
some panels that perfectly encapsulate both the trials of the pandemic and the
realities of being stuck at home: Cathy bemoans the reality that “every day I
wear the same outfit, eat the same food, and whimper to go out,” while Electra,
right next to her and with little hearts above her head, celebrates, “She’s
becoming a dog!!” Well, yes, doggone it, that is how things feel, or felt for a while, or might feel tomorrow –
and with precious little to smile or laugh about as the pandemic drags all of
us through a second miserable year, an occasional dose of Scenes from Isolation may do us a lot more good than whatever
medical or health prescription someone-or-other is promoting at any given time.
There are other amusing ways of handling pandemic life, of course, such as pretending none of the daily depredations exists. Ben Zaehringer helps that approach along with How Not to Get into Heaven, a set of cartoons as up-to-date (that is, Internet-based) as Guisewite’s are old-fashioned (that is, originally in newspapers – remember newspapers?). Zaehringer’s book requires a lot of back-and-forth flipping: the table of contents explains exactly what each page is an example of “how not to” do something-or-other, but that explanation is missing from the pages themselves, so the way to read this is to look at the table of contents, see what page a phrase refers to, turn to that page, chuckle or laugh or groan as appropriate, turn back to the table of contents, and repeat ad infinitum. Or for 128 pages, anyway. So “How Not to Initiate Contact” shows scientists saying “no!” to Mars Rover, which has found an alien and is humping its lower appendage, as dogs often do. “How Not to Give Flowers” starts with “she loves me/she loves me not” and ends with all the flower petals gone, with just a stem available for giving. “How Not to Go to the Ball” has the fairy godmother transforming Cinderella’s rags into beautiful clothing – which Cindy promptly brings to a consignment shop. “How Not to Post a Warning” shows a sign saying “Danger – Quicksand” slowly sinking into (what else?) quicksand. “How Not to Serve Zombies” has two of the undead attacking the brains of a waiter, who is saying, “I suggest you pair with the Riesling.” And “How Not to Invent the Wheel” has the traditional caveman inventing a wheel that rolls away down a hill, so he cleverly makes his next one square. Replete with pop-culture and Disney-culture references, and filled with characters of all sorts (a robot that does homework poorly, a magician sucked into his hat, parents with a diaper spreadsheet, and several mixed-up Santa Clauses), How Not to Get into Heaven does not contain any page labeled “How Not to Find This Stuff Funny.” And that is probably just as well.