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"Calvin and Hobbes" – A Tribute to the Legendary Comic Strip
“Calvin and Hobbes” was a comic strip that ran in newspapers between 1985 and 1995. It was phenomenally popular and had a profound effect on many readers. Despite ending nearly seventeen years ago, Calvin and Hobbes’s popularity has endured. The strip was created and drawn by the reclusive but brilliant comic strip artist Bill Watterson. An intensely private man, Watterson has carefully stayed out of the limelight since his retirement.
“Calvin and Hobbes” is one of the few pieces of art or entertainment that can truly appeal to any age group. I first started reading it when my babysitter bought me the book collection “Revenge of the Babysat” when I was ten. It is probably the only thing I liked at that age that I still enjoy now. I have known “Calvin and Hobbes” fans with ages ranging from small children to elderly folks. Let’s take a look at what makes “Calvin and Hobbes” special.
The characters –
Calvin – The protagonist of the series, Calvin is a six year old with an amazingly brilliant imagination and a vocabulary that is superior to most adults. Strangely, he is completely inept in school – especially math – despite his obvious intelligence. Calvin is not intended to be a realistic six year old, but many kids will be able to identify with his plights – hating school, getting in trouble with his parents, and having a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with the neighborhood girl, Susie Derkins.
Along with Hobbes, Calvin has many other seemingly imaginary adventures that are understood differently by him than by the adult characters (and usually Suzie). He encounters aliens, makes duplicates of himself, transforms into animals, time travels, expands to a giant size, and shrinks to the size of a bug – among many, many other things. He imagines himself in many different roles – a film noir private detective (Tracer Bullet), a daring space explorer (Spaceman Spiff) and a superhero (Stupendous Man). While it’s obvious that these adventures are products of the imaginative mind of a six year old, they seem genuine to Calvin. Nothing will convince him that his experiences aren’t “real” and the skepticism of adults frustrates him. One of the strip’s key themes is the subjective nature of reality.
My favorite strips are the ones in which Calvin builds gloriously sick and twisted snowmen. One scene has a snowman bowling with another snowman’s severed head. Another has a snowman impaled with a tree trunk. Calvin tries to convince Hobbes that his work is worthy of artistic acclaim. This is another recurring theme in the script – the pretensions of the art world. Calvin argues that he is a misunderstood genius and that his snowmen “art” is too sophisticated for the masses. He claims to Hobbes that he is torn between preserving his artistic vision or selling out and creating regular, mainstream snowmen to appease the public.
Hobbes – Hobbes is Calvin’s seemingly imaginary best friend. Although his age is never stated, he appears older and more emotionally mature than Calvin. Hobbes appears as a stuffed animal to everyone else, but to Calvin he is a live anthropomorphic tiger. Hobbes has a dry, sardonic sense of humor. He usually behaves in a slightly more logical and sensible manner than Calvin, although he can also be remarkably naïve about certain things. Hobbes’s subjective nature is one of the most distinctive aspects of the strip. Watterson deliberately never explicitly states whether Hobbes is just an imaginary friend or a magical stuffed animal that comes to life. For the strip’s purposes, it really doesn’t matter what Hobbes is and the reader shouldn’t dwell on it.
Hobbes is much larger, stronger, and faster than Calvin. He loves to spring through the front door and pounce on him when he gets home from school. He gives Calvin someone to rant to, even though Hobbes often disagrees with his point of view. Although he often mocks Calvin, Hobbes has great affection for him. Hobbes’s feline agility was reportedly inspired by cats that Watterson owned.
Calvin and Hobbes’s relationship relates to several other themes that appear in the strip – the importance of close childhood friendships, the search for meaning in life, and the necessity to sometimes just be still and absorb the world around you.
Suzie Derkins – Suzie is Calvin’s opposite. She is responsible, does well in school, and is terrified of getting into trouble. However, she lacks Calvin’s creative genius. Suzie wants to be friends with Calvin, but they become enemies after Calvin rejects her for the crime of being a girl. She settles for trying to outwit Calvin, which she often does, although Calvin sometimes gets the better of her.
Calvin’s Mom – The mom doesn’t have a proper name, because, as Watterson states in the books, she is only important as Calvin’s mom. She is often exasperated by Calvin’s antics and spends most of the strips reacting to Calvin’s exploits in hilarious ways. She wishes for private time to pursue her hobbies, but often has little opportunity before Calvin creates another mess for her to clean up.
Calvin’s Dad – The dad is obsessed with Calvin “building character”, which to him means never raising the thermostat, going on long, uncomfortable camping trips, and waking up at 5:00 in the morning. He sometimes mentions that he would rather have had a dog than Calvin. The dad has some fun cycling strips, but like the mom his main role is to react to Calvin’s antics in amusing ways. Calvin believes his dad is an elected official and continually warns him that he is doing poorly in polls of household six year olds. The dad loves to give his son hilarious pseudoscientific explanations for things like how the sun rises and sets, ATM machines, and how their garage door works.
Rosalyn – Rosalyn is Calvin’s babysitter. She has a very antagonistic relationship with Calvin and they often play cat and mouse games with each other when she tries to put him to bed. The two seemingly resolve their differences in their final strip together, when Calvin teaches her Calvinball – a game where the only rule is that you can’t play it the same way twice.
Miss Wormwood – Calvin’s first grade teacher, Miss Wormwood seems discouraged by her job and ready for retirement. Having Calvin as a student certainly doesn’t help her attitude.
Moe – A cruel, vindictive bully, Moe is the only truly “bad” character in the strip. He’s big, dumb, and mean. There really isn’t anything more to him than that.
“Calvin and Hobbes” has a plethora of memorable sayings. Watterson was great at creating memorable dialogue. Here are some of my favorites.
You know how Einstein got bad grades as a kid? Well mine are even worse!” – Calvin
“As you can see, I have memorized this utterly useless piece of information long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system. Congratulations.” – Calvin
“Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligence life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us. “ – Calvin
“If people could put rainbows in zoos, they’d do it.” – Hobbes
“History is the fiction we invent to persuade ourselves that events are knowable and that life has order and direction. That’s why events are always reinterpreted when values change. We need new versions of history to allow for our current prejudices. “ - Calvin
“It’s not the pace of life I mind. It’s the sudden stop at the end.” - Hobbes
“I'm yet another resource-consuming kid in an overpopulated planet, raised to an alarming extent by Madison Avenue and Hollywood, poised with my cynical and alienated peers to take over the world when you're old and weak. Am I scary, or what?” - Calvin
“I like maxims that don’t encourage behavior modification.” – Calvin
“I suppose if we couldn't laugh at things that don't make sense, we couldn't react to a lot of life.” – Hobbes
“I think your train of thought is a runaway.” – Hobbes
“Kid, anyone but your real mom would have left you to the wolves long ago.” - Mom
“The sun sets in the west. In Arizona, actually, near Flagstaff. That’s why the rocks there are so red.” – Dad
If you haven’t read this strip, I highly recommend checking it out. “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes”, a huge three volume hardcover set, includes all of the strips from the series. It’s quite expensive, but worth it.