The best thing about it was its sense of wonder that I haven't found since in any other comic strip. There was an amazing level of detail in the drawings, too, and the flights of fancy into Calvin's imagination were just astonishingly nifty. I used to say that Watterson was one of the few real artists doing comics, and so it wasn't too much of a nasty surprise when he quit to do fine art. (I occasionally fear that Amano will do the same thing) Looking all that detail Watterson put into a single panel, you can see it must have taken a lot of time and effort, and maybe he couldn't satisfy both muses at once. Anyway, I really miss Calvin and Hobbes.

Calvin and Hobbes is, without a doubt, one of the greatest comic strips of all-time.  It was drawn by Bill Watterson from 1985 until he got really bitter and disappeared out of the public eye in 1996 (at which time the strip was carried by over 2,400 newspapers). You can go read old C&H strips at http://www.calvinandhobbes.com.



The Characters (just short bios, see the individual character nodes for more information)

Calvin
Calvin is a six-year-old boy, and is the main character of the comic strip.  He lives at home with his parents, Calvin's Mom and Calvin's Dad.  He has a stuffed tiger named Hobbes, who he believes is real and with which he converses and interacts.  He has an overactive imagination, and just about every comic strip has some element of fantasy in it.  Calvin is rambunctious, getting into trouble frequently and often breaking everything remotely breakable in his parents' house.  He is extremely smart, but his imagination and immaturity make success in school impossible.  He represents the piece in all of us that wants to stay a kid forever--and who can blame him?

Hobbes
Hobbes is a stuffed tiger that comes to life whenever only Calvin is around.  Hobbes is the voice of reason (Calvin's dramatic foil), usually trying to talk Calvin out of harebrained ideas that usually culminate in something blowing up or sending the two of them hurtling off a large cliff.  Loves tuna fish.  Although they fight often, Hobbes is a perfect best friend and companion.  He is usually lying in wait for Calvin when he returns from school, to pounce on him with a giant hug as his own peculiar show of affection.

Bill Watterson says: "I don't think of Hobbes as a doll that miraculously comes to life when Calvin's around. Neither do I think of Hobbes as the product of Calvin's imagination...Calvin sees Hobbes one way, and everyone else sees Hobbes another way."


Calvin's Mom
Always around, trying to make sure Calvin doesn't blow up the house or do something equally catastrophic.

Calvin's Dad
Works as a patent lawyer.  Most often seen sitting at home, trying to get Calvin to build character or giving him ridiculous and completely wrong explanations of how something in the world works.  (The world was black and white)

Susie Derkins
A girl in Calvin's class.  Calvin is constantly trying to gross her out at lunch or throw snowballs at her (because he has a crush on her, of course).

Miss Wormwood
Calvin's first grade teacher.

Rosalyn
The Babysitter.  The strips in which Rosalyn came to babysit are some of the best in the series, IMHO.

Moe
The Bully.  Not very bright.  Always after Calvin's lunch money.

Spaceman Spiff/Stupdendous Man/Tracer Bullet
Three of Calvin's alter egos.  Spaceman Spiff is Calvin's daydream-self, off fighting frightening aliens on strange planets.  Stupendous Man is Calvin's disguise outfit when he needs to do something incognito, such as thwarting Babysitter Girl's evil plans.



Other Calvin and Hobbes nodes:




On a personal note...I grew up with Calvin and Hobbes--I was 5 in 1985 when the strip began and 16 in 1996 when it concluded--and I think for a lot of people in my generation it represents our innocence lost more powerfully than any serious medium ever could.  Calvin was what we all wanted to be, wasn't it?  The perfect kid.  Evil plots to escape our teachers and babysitters, transporting ourselves back in time to hang out with dinosaurs for an afternoon, with a best friend that never betrayed us, never told on us, never was too busy for us.

As I find myself becoming more Calvin's Dad than Calvin nowadays, I take solace in knowing that Calvin is always somewhere inside me no matter how deeply buried it might seem.  All I need do is open up the pages of any Calvin and Hobbes anthology--or just look at any of the walls in my bedroom, where I have dog-eared and yellowed old strips taped up almost everywhere--and peer into his wide, innocent, rambunctious six year old eyes.

And maybe into my own.

The beauty of Calvin and Hobbes begins with the names.

Calvin and Hobbes were named for a pair of philosophers, Thomas Hobbes and John Calvin.

Now, most would agree that the comic Calvin was generally quite cynical, realistic, and pessimistic (all in a nice way, I love his vision - particularly the snowmen and the strips where he worked to convince his dad that fatherhood was an elected position).

You can also agree then that the comic Hobbes had a fairly light-hearted worldview, sharing, thoughtful, and generally positive.

In the philosophy world, the roles are reversed. Hobbes is generally considered to be much closer to the comic Calvin's worldview, and the philosopher Calvin is much more positive, pious, and patient.

The ironic humor begins, you see, right from the moment you pick it up...

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of Calvin and Hobbes is that Watterson takes a very dim and vague view of reality.

The only time in the strip where there is no element of fantasy is when something really bad has happened... And I think I have seen only a few such strips (such as when Calvin lost Hobbes).

For instance, take Hobbes. Those who say he's a stuffed tiger who comes to life really miss the point. It's more a matter of, and I'm paraphrasing Watterson here, Calvin seeing Hobbes one way, and everyone else seeing Hobbes a different way.

And this theme is explored throughout the series. Very often, humor comes because of the conflict between Calvin's worldview and his parent's worldview - he may see aliens, octopi, and other strange creatures where his parents see some snow, or rocks, or even nothing. Calvin's snow sculptures are definitely outside the realms of plausibility, but it doesn't matter in the strip, because the strip is not concerned with reality, except as it appears in the eye of the beholder.

This is, for me, one of the main charms of the strip - that it shows different world views co-existing, often in fun, although not necessarily funny, ways. Calvin and Hobbes was not great because it was funny, but because it was fun, engaging, unique and memorable.

My favorite Calvin and Hobbes strip

In the first panel, Calvin is writing at his desk. Above his head float words, in a child's scrawl, obviously showing what Calvin is writing. He's written a tongue-twister: "How many boards would the Mongols hoard, if the Mongol hordes got bored?"

In the second and third panels, Calvin takes on a frustrated, disgusted scowl while looking over what he wrote, then crumples the paper up and throws it away.

I've always found this particular strip absolutely hilarious. I find the rhyme that Calvin writes very clever on its own. Since the first time I read it, the combination of mocking an instantly recognizable rhyme and outdoing it pun-wise has seemed to me, to use a silly phrase, devastatingly clever. How does someone, thinking of that old tongue-twister, connect it with the Mongol hordes? It's the kind of joke you can't reproduce by trying to write one. Somehow, the fact that Calvin disagrees with me makes it even funnier. I suppose what's so funny to me is the irony that this rhyme, one of the funniest and cleverest things I've ever read, is depicted as so hated by its author - if Calvin weren't a fictional character, I'd never have even read the rhyme.

I don't remember if Bill Watterson commented on this strip in the Tenth Anniversary Book, but I get the impression that it was intended as mainly a commentary on that experience we all know: You create something, or you have an idea. You think it's awful. Everyone else loves it. I wonder, though, if Watterson tried to come up with an excellent joke for Calvin to write, for the irony value of it, or if he wrote the "Mongols" rhyme previously, and was as displeased with it as Calvin was.

A thought on their names

Taltos noded: (cut up a bit for brevity)
Now, most would agree that the comic Calvin was generally quite cynical, realistic, and pessimistic. You can also agree then that the comic Hobbes had a fairly light-hearted worldview, sharing, thoughtful, and generally positive. In the philosophy world, the roles are reversed. Hobbes is generally considered to be much closer to the comic Calvin's worldview, and the philosopher Calvin is much more positive, pious, and patient.

This is true; however, each character has a striking similarity to his namesake, as well as the ironic contrast to the two philosophers.

Looking at Calvinism*, the theme of religious predestination is important - it typically leads to a view among the members of a Calvinist sect that they are predestined to salvation, and anyone who disagrees with them is destined for damnation. Calvin certainly holds the belief that he is destined for greatness and most everyone else is inferior to him - he says almost exactly that in many strips.

Hobbes, on the other hand, certainly does not have the cynical outlook of Thomas Hobbes - unless you consider that Thomas Hobbes' idea of man as a fundamentally savage, animalistic creature applies only to man, that is, humanity. Hobbes, as an intelligent, communicative tiger, agrees with Thomas Hobbes that humans are brutes; he thus concludes that himself, tigers, and in fact other animals in general are superior to man, especially in the area of civilized behavior.

*By "Calvinism" I mean not the beliefs of the man but the behavior of those groups, mostly people of certain Protestant faiths, who follow an interpretation of John Calvin's ideas. The Dutch Boers in colonial South Africa are perhaps the most extreme example of this type of interpretation taken to its self-serving extreme.

Bill Watterson has released several Calvin and Hobbes "collections," that is, books filled with all of the strips that appeared in newspapers. In addition, he has released several treasury collections, each of which simply contain all of the strips from two of the books mentioned above, as well as featuring a new comic at the beginning. This comic isn't a standard strip, but is usually a long story or poem (The Essential Calvin and Hobbes, for example, is prefaced by A Nauseous Nocturne, a poem that has incredible watercolor art).

The books, in order of release, are:


The treasuries that have been released: (in order)



In addition, Watterson has released two other books that fit into different categories.

The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book is a collection of Sunday strips that covers most of the span of the first 5 or 6 books. It also includes special strip at the beginning, though it is short.

The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book was released by Watterson in order to try to explain things a bit. It includes many strips, accompanied by the authors explanation of how it affected the strip and why he drew it. It also explains the characters, and how they were created. It also is a fairly good indicator of the reasons for Bill Watterson's retirement.


One thing that should be noted is that beginning with the release of The Days are Just Packed, the books took on a new shape and size. Before, because of the way in which the sunday strips were created, the books were shorter in both height and length. They crammed three regular strips per page, and one Sunday strip on each page. Beginning with The Days Are Just Packed, however, he had won his fight with the syndicate, and was able to draw his Sunday strip just about any way that he wanted. This led to the bigger books that would fully show the new sunday strips. They only have two of the regular strips per page.

Calvin and Hobbes is not just a comic strip. It is a window into which we can see ourselves, doing the things we do every day. Bill Watterson is not just a comic writer, he is a philosopher with a pen. His strip characterizes a fresh perspective of the world, as well as being a story about a boy and his tiger. Calvin and Hobbes reveals truths of life from a genuine angle.

Bill Watterson was born in 1958 and grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He read comics as a kid, and his favorites included Krazy Kat, Pogo, and Peanuts. In his college days at Kenyon, Watterson drew political cartoons, following in the footsteps of Jim Borgman, who was (and still is) a prominent political cartoonist. Watterson drew cartoons at Kenyon College every week for all four years of his enrollment.

Right after his graduation, Watterson was offered a job with the Cincinnati Post as their editorial cartoonist. The deal was, they could hire him or fire him after a trial of six months. During that time, Watterson was told to write about local issues in Cincinnati, which he wasn’t familiar with, and the editor only published what he thought was the absolute best of his cartoons. This meant that about four-fifths of his ideas were rejected. Things obviously weren’t working out, so he was fired after the six months was up.

Next he tried submitting several of his cartoon strip ideas to syndicates, but the only one that caught anyone’s attention was a strip in which Calvin and Hobbes were minor characters. United Features Syndicate wanted Watterson to develop the little boy and his tiger, and turn that into a cartoon. Although he was a little reluctant, and not sure whether they would be able to hold a strip by themselves, Watterson began drawing Calvin and Hobbes in 1985 (Christie).

Watterson named Calvin after the French theologian John Calvin, who was one of the most influential Protestant Reformers of the 16th century (Calvin, 754). Hobbes was named after Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher who challenged the existence of God (Hobbes, 959). Just from their names, an educated reader can tell that there will be some conflict between the two characters.

Immediately, Calvin and Hobbes was a hit. “After less than three years in syndication, Calvin and Hobbes was appearing in more than six hundred newspapers, and Something Under the Bed is Drooling: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection stayed on bestseller lists for almost a year.” (Contemporary)

Calvin is a six year old boy with a hyperactive personality and imagination. He loves dinosaurs and outer space, and his pet stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who are inseparable. Calvin is generally known as a “wild child,” but he has a soft side, too, even if he doesn’t realize it. Calvin is also somewhat of an artist, sculpting extravagant snowmen tableaus. He doesn’t have any friends in school, mainly because he doesn’t see things the way anyone else does. In school he just sits in class all day, waiting for the bell.

Hobbes is Calvin’s best friend, a stuffed tiger who only Calvin sees as a real, animate playmate. Hobbes tends to be the voice of reason for Calvin, but goes along on many of Calvin’s adventures anyway. Hobbes is also a source of conflict for Calvin, especially when Calvin gets home from school, and Hobbes is ready pounce on him at high speeds.

Together, Calvin and Hobbes often play outdoors in the woods, constantly discussing, testing, and learning about philosophy, human and animal nature, scientific theories, and friendship. Whenever Calvin gets in trouble, Hobbes is there to comfort him; and whenever Calvin is feeling calm, Hobbes is there to make him paranoid, often by pouncing or threatening with claws and teeth. The two are certainly friends, and if anything, the rough spots make them closer.

Calvin’s parents, known only as Calvin’s Mom and Dad, are never so far as regretful that they had a son, but they often come close to thinking that. His dad works in a patent office, and so he spends his days at work, but his mom stays at home, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and doing whatever else needs to be done at home. With Calvin at home, his mom's job can be twice as trying as his dad’s.

Susie Derkins is the closest thing Calvin has to a human friend. Although Calvin thinks of Susie as an enemy, and Susie thinks of Calvin as a jerk, they both have some deep romantic feelings for the other. Susie is also Calvin’s counterpart, thinking on the liberal end, but less radically, and striving to be a good pupil in school.

Several of the major themes in the comic, including Calvin’s wagon, sled, and snowmen are used as ways for Calvin to express himself, or ways for Watterson to express himself. Calvin often makes snowmen as pieces of art, usually making statements with them, especially bogus statements. Watterson uses Calvin’s wagon or sled (depends on the season) to give a visual to Calvin’s philosophical conversations with Hobbes. For example, as Calvin discusses decision-making and consequences, he makes a right turn in his wagon, which leads them off a cliff.

Calvin has a less metaphorical relationship with his bike, as the two are sworn enemies in Calvin’s imagination. Every chance the bike gets, it runs him over. Calvin is showing a classic childhood fear of a bicycle in these strips.

Calvin’s human enemies take on familiar forms. Moe, the school yard bully picks on Calvin outside and in gym. Moe seems to be the only one who is actually hostile toward Calvin without provocation. He is portrayed as a slow-moving, dimwitted neanderthal, because that is how Calvin sees him. Every child has been bullied, and Calvin is no exception.

In the classroom, Calvin never pays attention, and his grades show it. He can’t stand his teacher, Miss Wormwood, and she tries her hardest to hide the fact that she can’t stand him.

Calvin also vehemently objects to going to his doctor. Fearing needles, amputations, or malpractice of some sort, Calvin does everything he can to the affect of seriously upsetting his physician.

In one story line, Calvin and his parents go to a wedding and have to spend the night in a hotel. Calvin forgets to bring Hobbes along, and gets mad at his parents for not turning around to get him. Calvin also gets worried about Hobbes as the trip progresses. When the family gets home, they discover that the house had been broken into and some of their things were taken. Hobbes ends up being safe, but Calvin’s parents don’t feel safe that night. Calvin is so relieved that Hobbes is okay that he is perfectly happy, until he realizes that the TV was stolen (Revenge, 69-71). This is an excellent example of how Watterson is able to put the characters in different situations, and have them react to their surroundings as if they were real. It also shows a truth of human nature in that we take things for granted, and when they aren’t there anymore, that’s when we realize what we had.

Several of the stories revolve around Calvin and his baby-sitter, Rosalyn. In one particular episode, Calvin steals the notes that Rosalyn is studying and pretends to flush them down the toilet after locking himself and Hobbes in the bathroom. The whole cartoon is very real, and you can connect with Calvin, and even Rosalyn, a minor character. Eventually, Calvin comes out of the bathroom and Rosalyn catches him. He gets in enormous trouble with his parents, and Rosalyn asks for more money than usual (Revenge, 35-38).

Unfortunately, due to Calvin’s behavior, many, if not all, of the other characters rarely come off in their best light. We only ever see their reactions to Calvin, and, well, they’re scarcely good ones.

Another cartoon depicts Calvin walking outside with an umbrella. As it begins to rain, Calvin unfolds the umbrella, sets it on the ground, and plays in the little pool of water (Indispensable, 63). This is a classic, if slightly exaggerated, example of child behavior. He doesn’t care about getting wet, he likes getting wet. Children stomp in puddles all the time, but Watterson drew Calvin taking it to another level, because it should be funny as a comic strip, and Calvin is a very eccentric child anyway.

However, Calvin doesn’t always act this childish, even if he’s doing childish things. One comic shows Calvin and Hobbes in the woods, near a small creek. Hobbes asks what calvin is doing, and Calvin says that he is looking for frogs. Hobbes asks, “How come?” and Calvin answers, “I must obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul.” (Tenth, 196) Calvin’s large vocabulary is due mainly in part to Watterson’s favor of using cumbersome words to “articulate stupid ideas.” (Tenth, 196) Other examples of this include Calvin’s book report, which is excessively written, “The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives In Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes,” and Calvin’s acceptance of modern day psychology, “My family is dysfunctional and my parents won’t empower me! Consequently, I’m not self-actualized! My behavior is addictive functioning in a disease process of toxic codependency! I need holistic healing and wellness before I accept any responsibility for my actions!” (Tenth, 184) In these examples, however, Watterson is expressing his distaste of “politically correct, New Age, academic jargon and art speak” and “pop psychobabble.” Either way, Calvin has a rare ability to express exactly what’s on his mind.

So exactly what does all this mean? Well, simply, this is just an illustration of how real Bill Watterson has made Calvin and Hobbes. Using this cartoon, we can picture ourselves in some of the exact same spots and see how ridiculous one point of view may turn out to be.

We also realize that many of the things we may have done and been embarrassed of as children, others have done as well (I’m not alone on this, am I?). Calvin reminds us that we can all be children at times, with self-centered thinking, crazy ideas, and common foibles.

Calvin and Hobbes may just be a cartoon, but Watterson tells a story that we all know. The loner child, with a great imagination and a million ideas a minute, talking to his best friend who know one else can see may not be as far from the truth of our own childhood as we might think at first. This work of art can really tell what is to be human, but it is occasionally written between the lines.

Works Cited:

Christie, Andrew. “Interview with Bill Watterson.” Honk Magazine. Rpt. online. Internet.

Contemporary Authors Online , Gale, 2003. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center . Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC

Goetz, Philip W. Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol 2. Calvin, John. Chicago, 1990. p 754.

Goetz, Philip W. Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol 5. Hobbes, Thomas. Chicago, 1990. pp 959-60.

Watterson, Bill. The Revenge of the Baby-Sat. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1991.

Watterson, Bill. The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1992.

Watterson, Bill. The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1995.

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