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August 11, 2008

Calvin and Hobbes

I’ve always loved the newspaper comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.  I have bought several of the treasuries, which compile some of the best strips.  But I’ve always been left wanting more.  There’s just something about the kid and his stuffed tiger/imaginary friend that comforts me.

Calvin is the highly-imaginative, philosophically-minded 6-year old protagonist, who, along with his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, could discuss broad-ranging political ideals one minute, and lament the fact that his lucky rocket ship underwear can’t make a bad day good the next.  Although Hobbes is a stuffed tiger, Calvin sees and speaks to him as a real creature.

Hobbes is Calvin’s sounding board, the super-ego to Calvin’s id.  Hobbes mostly questions the antics of Calvin, even though he sometimes sinks to Calvin’s level of immaturity.  He’ll question why he and Calvin are riding their sled down a steep, snow-covered bank at top speed, never putting a stop to the action himself.

The fact that Bill Watterson, the strip’s creator, author, and artist, refused most attempts to commercialize Calvin and Hobbes just makes it that much sweeter.  Watterson believed that any attempts at cheap commercialization would diminish the integrity of the strip, reducing the spirit of the characters involved to simple commodities to be bought and sold.  Other than a few book treasuries of the strip, there are no stuffed Hobbes toys, or Calvin and Hobbes coffee mugs, or Underoos, or whatever other cheap product corporate America wants to sell you.  Watterson was able to keep the quality of his strip high throughout it’s entire run by not selling out.  He viewed the comic strip as an art form, to be appreciated for what it was.  It was his art, not simply his path to fortune and glory.  His devotion to his characters and to the subject matter shines through in every panel.

That is why I love this strip.  It’s simply too bad that Mr. Watterson decided to leave the game in 1995.  He left it in typical fashion, with a beautiful, simple full color strip.  In it, Calvin and Hobbes go outside after a perfect white blanket of snow has fallen.

Last Calvin and Hobbes strip

Last Calvin and Hobbes strip

You couldn’t ask for a better ending to 10 years of fantastic art.  Not only does Watterson seem to be saying goodbye to his audience as he boldly looks toward his own unknown future, but he seems to be prodding us to continue on ourselves, to go explore and create our own future.

As I said, I’ve purchased a few of the treasury books over the years, devouring every morsel on every page.  But until recently, there haven’t been any real collections of everything Calvin and Hobbes.  In 2005, the complete collection was released in a great, 3-volume boxed edition.  If you treasure the dedication Bill Watterson showed to his creation, I highly suggest you buy this set.  From the first strip, where Calvin catches Hobbes in a tiger trap baited with tuna, to the last, you won’t be disappointed with this purchase.  You can pick it up at Amazon for $94.50 here.

If you can’t afford the collection, or if you’re more of a casual reader, you can check out Marcello’s homepage, which collects every strip from the full 10-year run and presents them in an easy to access web page.  Although I’d prefer it if you bought the full collection because I think Bill Watterson should be rewarded for his work, the digital collection is nice if you just want a quick glance.  Marcello even offers the complete collection available for download as a 105MB zip file, if you’re so inclined.

As someone who has loved Calvin and Hobbes for as long as I can remember, I would like to say thank you, Bill Watterson.


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