In the yearly war for your wall, who is the fairest of them all?
More than 5,000 titles makes for a crowded field, but before you dismiss calendars as frivolous female-geared consumer products (an estimated 76% are purchased by women) that add to deforestation, consider that they are a multibillion-dollar seasonal business that unscientifically declares what's on our minds most.
Calendars--good ones and not--are an ingenious yearly aerial view of American culture.
"People love images, it's just a fact," says Marc Winkelman, president of the Calendar Club, a 400-store chain based in Austin, Texas, that actually specializes in calendars. This year the company, started in 1993, became affiliated with book giant Barnes & Noble. "People figure, if I'm going to look at something all year, it'd better be something I like looking at and thinking about."
The name comes from the medieval Latin calendarium ("interest register" or "account book"). It wasn't until the late 19th century when the Iowa-based Murphy Co. combined advertising and reproductive fine art for a snappy business gift.
Further progress came in the late '70s, according to the Calendar Marketing Assn. of Libertyville, Ill., when calendars were plastered with cultural icons and societal obsessions. After all, who could long be satisfied with free insurance company and dental date books--yuck.
This year, everyone from Jesus to Jimi Hendrix has a place on someone's wall, desk or computer top (the high-tech, CD look-alike plastic "jewel-box" is the newest calendar form, to be followed soon by "Mousers," mouse pad calendars).
Here, based on interviews with buyers at leading chain stores, are some of the best-selling titles (we'll leave it to you to draw the cultural lessons).
* "Anne Geddes" (Cedron, $12.95)
Australian photographer Anne Geddes, who seems to have the best-selling calendar of the season, has hit the perennial magnet: cute kids dressed as something else. Geddes' images gained a huge boost when People magazine asked how she gets babies dressed as bumble-bees to sit in flower pots and Oprah had her on air for a chat. Winkelman says he expects to sell "at least 100,000" before the season is over.
* "The Far Side: Off the Wall" (Andrews & McMeel, $9.95)
Even though cartoonist Gary Larson hasn't turned out his gooney 'toons for two years, fans still chug up his material. "People still want that weird humor," says Michael Nonbello, editorial director of the calendar division at Andrews & McMeel. Larson's desktop calendar, culled from unpublished work, appeals to men as well as women, which may have something to do with its popularity for the past decade.
* "Elvis: The Wertheimer Collection" (Graphic De France, $11.95)
Numerous Elvis hopefuls have hit the market, but this stark, 1956 black-and-white series by photographer Alfred Wertheimer is the winner--for now. Wertheimer didn't even know his subject when he accepted the freelance assignment from RCA, but this is Elvis as the public generally likes its kings: slim, cocky, ambitious, sexy and ready to take on the world.
* "Dilbert: I Admire Your Ability To . . . " (Andrews & McMeel, $9.95)
Corporate employees swear that cartoonist Scott Adams has spies in their company, so well does Dilbert Dogbert and his pointy-haired boss capture the daily dysfunctions of the workplace. This is the perfect tool to mark the date for the next nonsensical or inconsequential departmental meeting.
* "Angels 1997" (te Neues, $10.95)
The proliferation of last season's angels has calmed down a little this year, but not entirely; many still hope in their power. These pre-Raphael paintings appeal "to the traditional angel lover," says Sara Crocker, merchandise manager of the Calendar Club. Today, she says, angels are being challenged by personal growth gurus such as Deepak Chopra.
* "William Wegman: Man's Best Friend" (Abrams, $10.95)
Although it looks like photographer Wegman is torturing his fabulous Weimaraners in these whimsical, odd-ball portraits, in reality he's been fussing over his pets for nearly 20 years. His love shines through as he snaps the dogs in preposterous poses: lounging in director's chairs or dressed up as Cinderella's fairy godmother.
* "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 1997" (Little Brown & Co., $14.95)
Since the ogle calendar is a staple, Sports Illustrated's wild success with its yearly swimsuit edition seemed a natural pairing. One of the few old-fashioned spiral-bound wall calendars left (consumers prefer spiral, retailers display-easy flat), it features tame monthly installments of megamodels Kathy Ireland, Tyra Banks and Stacey Williams.
* "Curious George: Into Mischief" (Graphic De France, $11.95)
The little rambunctious monkey, introduced in 1941, is experiencing a big renaissance in books, posters and gift wrap. You can view George each month in a new chunk of curiosity-caused chaos.
* "David McEnrey Classic Cats" (Graphic De France, $11.95)
A Hollywood-ized cat in star frame sunglasses graces the cover of this feline series. You'll find cats in the usual poses--crawling out of a hat, lazing in a chair. This is the cat calendar cat lovers love to give and get.
* "Jeff Foxworthy: You Might Be A Redneck If . . . " (Longstreet, $9.95)
. . .You repaint your pink flamingo every spring--but not your house. Comic Jeff Foxworthy teams up with cartoonist David Boyd to sort out his brand of witticism and wisdom.
Are calendars going to the rednecks and the dogs?