(Disclaimer: all images in this post are the property of / creation of Bill Watterson. All hail.) 

If I had to think back to the origin of my fascination with comic books, it didn’t come from superheroes. It didn’t come from dark, gritty graphic novels, or from webcomics, or anything of that nature.

It came from a newspaper.

bill watterson

A year after November, 1985 a daily comic strip by a man named Bill Watterson was running in 250 newspapers nationwide. The strips often tackled the daily antics of Calvin, a mischievous, imaginative, and surprisingly philosophical six year old and his sarcastic, equally philosophical best friend / stuffed tiger Hobbes, Granted, I wasn’t even a thought in either of my parents’ lives at this point. I was only 2 when the strip’s syndication ended in 1995.

Calvin and Hobbes is often considered the holy grail of Sunday strips, the pinnacle of the funny pages, and is without a doubt one of the most enduring tales in the world of graphic novels. It’s one that I can still stay up late and flip through time and time again, no shortage of humor from the last time, not an ounce of boredom, and not a sliver of the wit lost. Watterson himself was actually one of the inspirations of Gavin Aung Than’s Zen Pencils comic I mentioned in my post from last week.

But why does this comic resound with so many people? Why has it endured the test of time? What makes it so special?

Calvin-and-Hobbes-Euphoria

Imagination is Everything

Did you read that strip above? That’s a six year old and his stuffed tiger. Those thoughts are astronomically complicated / sarcastic / hilarious to be coming from these characters. And that’s just it. The antics of Calvin and Hobbes almost always come back around with something more than a weak-ass feel-good moral. They discover real life lessons. They grow together as friends. They learn about hardship, girls, the world’s expectations, and the importance of the simple things. You’d be hard-pressed to flip through a C&H compilation and not find at least 2 dozen strips that relate to your life.

But the comic isn’t all heavy thinking and life pondering. A lot of it is goofing off: sledding, building (demented) snowmen, starting clubs, making forts, and torturing the babysitter are all included in this package. I’m sure you’ve all seen the bumper stickers and the shirts and that dorky shit with a demented Calvin-lookalike peeing on things or flipping the bird, but that shit’s all bootleg. Bill Watterson never, to this day, has sold merchandising, film, tv, or any type of rights for C&H.

In some panels, Calvin is Spaceman Spiff, getting into and out of trouble in far-off galaxies. In others, he’s Stupendous Man, saving the world from total annihilation. In others, he flips the role – he’s a Godzilla-sized six year old terrorizing the town! He’s a t-rex rampaging through modern-day museums. Calvin’s imagination takes us everywhere we could ever possibly hope to go. Give he and Hobbes a cardboard box, and hilarity is bound to ensue.

lolwat

Memory Lane

The funny thing is, I can’t remember why I first picked up a C&H book. My memory of it is hazy. I remember being at my public library when I was only in grade school. I had rode my bike across town to get there, and I think I was looking in the section to see if I could find some old Garfield or Peanuts books to see what the fuss was about. As I searched the shelves, I stumbled on something I was unfamiliar with. Calvin and Hobbes? Curious.

A few flips through the book, and I decided it was coming home with me. The panels I read were funny, but not in a lame Family Circus kind of way. The humor was smart, not dumbed down or cheap. I took it home, read it, and immediately went back to retrieve the other 3 or so that were there.

Calvin and Hobbes books were the only books I ever did the quintessential “flashlight-under-the-covers” routine for. I would stay up and read them until my eyes got droopy. I remember the immense disappointment I felt when I had ran through all the library had to offer me. Fast forward some decade-and-a-half or so years, and I’m in college, on a date at a bookstore with a certain T.Hust (you’re all jealous), and while looking through a section of adolescent lit, what do my eyes fall on?

The “kid in a candy store” didn’t have shit on me. If I had bought that book any faster, it would have caught fire. Going back and reading through it again, I know my nostalgia lens hasn’t compromised my feelings about this comic strip. If anything, my age and experience have allowed me to better understand jokes that would otherwise soar over my head.

calvin-hobbes1Whether you’re a fan of comics or not, I know for a fact when sifting through a newspaper in a waiting room, you jump to the comics section. As of late, there might not even be one in your local paper. They’ve gotten smaller and smaller with the passage of time.

If you haven’t ever experienced the antics of Calvin and Hobbes, please do. All at once the scholar, the artist, the child, and the adult in me light up when I read C&H. To me, something that powerful, something that has that effect on a person, is something everyone should experience at least once.

Pulchra memoria

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Comments
  1. angietemple says:

    I wondered when you were going to bring Bill Watterson into your project!!!

    I am so glad you did! His work is just so genuine. It has touched the lives of millions. From a mom’s perspective Calvin is just the kind of boy you want to raise. A boy who is unpredictable but who also has an endearing personality full of creativity, spunk, innovation, tenderness, even love for his family and friends.

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