Remember a time when you didn’t have an iPhone or iPad when you were settled on the toilet for the long haul? Most people growing up with out these time distractions did not have the Internet at our finger tips so we had to improvise. Most people had a good book, puzzle, magazine, or worst case, the dreaded shampoo bottle to act as a diversion. For myself growing up I had a luxury item in my bathroom for when I needed it, a wonderful comic book titled “Calvin and Hobbes.”
One of the most astounding and acclaimed strips of the era, Bill Watterson created a epic narrative that primarily follows two characters and their journeys. Calvin, named after theologian John Calvin, a sixteenth-century religious reformer well know for his doctrines of election and predestination also known as Calvinism. Calvin in the comic is a six year old boy with a vivid imagination and a habit of getting into trouble and adventure. The comic centers around Calvin and his adventures with his partner in crime Hobbes, a stuffed pet tiger. Hobbes, named for philosopher Thomas Hobbes, famous for his claim that humans’ natural state is one of war, and that the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes is Calvin’s stuffed tiger and best friend and with Calvin’s unique imagination comes to life. For a young boy growing up, the stuffed animal you own becomes apart of you and your buddy during your adventures.
Susie Derkins is one of the most important characters within the story. Susie is also six years old and regularly is the target of many of Calvin’s pranks. Susie often subverts Calvin’s attempts to cause mischief and is not afraid to confront and clobber Calvin. Hobbes does have a crush on Susie which causes problems in the Get Rid Of Slimy GirlS Club run by Calvin and Hobbes. She has many similarities to Calvin and introduced a strong female character to the series.
Calvin and Hobbes does have several other characters which I am not going to fully bother explaining or going into detail except for his parents. Out of all the other characters, Calvin and Hobbes would not be as warmly and touching without Mom and Dad in the picture. Mom and Dad endure alot of Calvin’s pranks and outbursts however they are still loving and caring towards their son. There is a wonderful series of strips where Calvin looses Hobbes and his Mom and Dad go out into the pitch black wilderness to find Hobbes. Strips like these help children and parents alike understand that even through all the mischievous and naughty things they might do, they can still be loved and wanted. It is actually Calvin’s outbursts to them that helps show this because in one strip they are spanking him for throwing water on them and the next strip is Mom bringing Hobbes in from the rain. No other comic series shows this as well as Calvin and Hobbes.
Calvin is characterized by his imagination, philosophy, extensive vocabulary, social awkwardness, and mischievous behavior. His imagination much like mine growing up takes on many different stories. Within the comic Calvin takes on several unique and creative personas. Calvin uses these personas to deal with everything that a six-year old encounters like bullies, first crush, the babysitter, loosing a friend, home being broken into, camping, school, monsters under the bed, and many more.
Spaceman Spiff, the amazing space explorer who always seems to crash land on desolate planets and battle aliens. These loosing battles always seem to be against his teacher, his mom, or the dinner his mom has prepared. As a kid who always loved space and science, these strips were always enjoyable to myself and made me wish space travel was more accessible today. The worlds and creatures Calvin comes up with are beautifully designed and his tactics for eliminating the aliens should be in the “Art of War.”
Stupendous Man is one of Calvin’s most interesting personas where Calvin turns into a superhero that is constantly unsuccessful. This is personally my favorite of the characters Calvin’s imagination devises, between the artwork and the epic fails such as when he gets stuck in a locker makes for a hilarious character. Who doesn’t imagine themselves with superpowers, able to take-on the most difficult of enemies and save the day.
Calvinosaurus is one of the various dinosaurs Calvin imagines through out the comic. T-Rex like in nature, Calvinosaurus occasionally hides and attacks his mother. Growing up I would occasionally act as a raptor myself and chase my brother and friends around the playground. I quickly grew out of this but it always was something I related to very well.
Tracer Bullet, is another one of the more common personas but I never cared for the stories or strips where he appears. Tracer Bullet is a film noir private detective that reminds us of the old 1920’s and 30’s mystery comics. Now as I go back and read these strips I understand better why I didn’t care for them much; they have more mature themes and mimic Dick Tracey which is something I just never enjoyed.
Other than Calvin’s many personas, there are several running gags that are well written and would last for several strips creating a wonderful story. Calvin also has many different inventions and devices he has procured that show off his imagination even more. One of the most popular running gags is the snowman gag where Calvin and Hobbes would create distinct and sometimes graphic snowmen. These snow creations cause traffic to slow down on the block and regularly get on Dad’s bad side. Alot of the creations are targeting dad either by interfering with getting to work or by showcasing his parenting style.
One of the hallmarks of Calvin and Hobbes are the wagon and sled rides off into the distance. There are a decent number of these strips yet each one is unique and different. These rides portray a sense of adventure and risk while at times questioning the reason for doing it in the first place.
My personal favorite of the running gags are the snowball and water balloon fights. These are two things I loved growing up and seeing how hard Calvin prepares and plans for success he ultimately will overlook something and blunder. Hobbes regularly betrays or attacks Calvin but yet they remain the best of friends, talk about forgiveness.
There are many other different stories and gags within the comic and all of them are wonderful and clever but I want you to explore and experience them for yourself. I do want to mention also that not only was Bill Watterson a wonderful writer and story teller but also a great artist. Watterson did all the strips himself and would create special water-colored strips for the Sunday and special editions of comics. These colored strips nourish the already amazing narrative that is being told. The use of color and space is a real treat to our imaginations when we bring our thoughts on Calvin and Hobbes to life.
These strips ran from November 18, 1989 to December 31, 1995 with only a few sabbaticals during the run of the strip. In the six years that the comic ran, a total of 3,160 strips were conceived. Even with the large number of strips and stories that we told we still want more. Back around 2011, “Pants Are Overrated” did a small tribute series to Calvin and Hobbes called Bacon and Hobbes. In this story, Calvin is an adult and married the love of his life Susie Derkins. Susie and Calvin had a daughter named Bacon (best girls name ever!) and Calvin introduces Bacon to his long time buddy. I wish there were more of these strips because Bacon is such an interesting character but it is a tribute and does give us a glimpse into the future.
One of the most unique things about this series is that Calvin and Hobbes is not commercialized like many other comics. Watterson did not want toys, movies, and things of that nature to be produced because he though it would cheapen the franchise. Many people complained that there was not a Hobbes doll on the market that could be purchased. His reason behind this is pretty interesting, he thought that any stuffed animal can fill the void of a Hobbes doll because it is up to the child’s imagination. I strongly agree with this though and also I am glad that Calvin has not turned into a movie or tv show that would corrupt my childhood. We have the comic strips and wonderful collectors books that show case the strips wonderfully. That is all we could ask for but if you want a doll there are instructions online and all you have to do is make it yourself.
After reading pretty much every strip one thing is certain, Watterson is clearly an intellectual and he didn’t hesitate to deal with deep philosophical and existential material in Calvin and Hobbes. The wide range of stories and locations in the strips help bring up political, social, and theological issues to other strips that bring up the joys and horrors of growing up. Calvin and Hobbes is a strip that can be read for years to come and still bring up discussions in a family of current events.
Now I have included many more of my favorite strips for you to enjoy along with the others in the post. I love going to gocomics.com to read them online and that is where I got all of these from.