Calvin and Hobbes

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Calvin and Hobbes

Imaginative, hilariously drawn, at times philosophical—all the while retaining a child's perspective—this daily and Sunday comic strip has been compared to the best of the classic comics. Written and drawn by Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes debuted in 1985 and featured the adventures of Calvin, a hyperactive, overly imaginative, bratty six-year-old, and his best friend, the stuffed tiger Hobbes. Other regularly appearing characters included Calvin's stressed out parents; Susie Derkins, the neighborhood girl; Miss Wormwood, the much put-upon school teacher; Mo, the school bully; and Rosalyn, the only baby-sitter willing to watch Calvin.

Part of the charm of the strip was the fact that Watterson often blurred the distinction between what was imaginary and what was "real." Calvin saw his tiger as real. When Calvin and Hobbes were by themselves, Watterson drew Hobbes as a walking tiger with fuzzy cheeks and an engaging grin. When another character appeared with Calvin and Hobbes, Hobbes was drawn simply as an expressionless stuffed tiger. The "real" Hobbes was more intellectual than Calvin and also liked to get "smooches" from girls, unlike the girl-hating Calvin (though both were founding members of G.R.O.S.S.—Get Rid of Slimy girls).

Unlike Dennis the Menace, Calvin and Hobbes went beyond the hijinks of a holy terror. It explored childhood imagination and the possibilities of that imagination. For instance, one of Calvin's chief toys besides Hobbes was a large cardboard box. When it was right side up, the box was a time machine that transported Calvin and Hobbes back to the Jurassic. When Calvin turned it over, the box became the transmogrifier, which could transmogrify, or transform, Calvin into anything he wished. The transmogrifier was later converted into a duplicator, producing lots of Calvins. Imagination sequences such as these have been imitated by other comic strips such as Jim Borgman and Jerry Scott's Zits.

Calvin's imaginary world contained other memorable characters and devices. Calvin became the fearless Spaceman Spiff whenever he needed to escape the doldrums of school or the rebuke of his parents, who clearly loved but did not always like Calvin, a view of the family different from many others seen on the comics page. Calvin would don a cape and cowl and become Stupendous Man. His repertoire also included a tyrannosaur, or Calvinosaur, a robot, and a werewolf. Calvin also liked to sit in front of the television set, a behavior Watterson satirized, evidencing his contempt of television as opposed to personal imagination.

Most of the strips featured Calvin's antics, such as hitting Susie with a snowball or running away from his mother at bath time. Other common gags included his reluctance to eat dinner, his hatred of school and homework, and his antagonism toward Rosalyn. Calvin also enjoyed building deformed or dismembered snowmen on the front lawn. Besides these gags, though, the strip would at times deal with the philosophical nature of humanity as seen by a child and a tiger. Given the names of the characters, this was only to be expected. The comic strip's title characters are named after John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. Calvin was a Protestant reformer famous for his ideas on predestination and the sovereignty of God. Calvin believed men, and children, to be sinners. Hobbes, author of the Leviathan, believed in submission to the sovereign of the state, since he too believed men were evil. Watterson occasionally commented on such issues between his two characters, usually as they headed down a hill in either a wagon or a sled.

Watterson ended Calvin and Hobbes in 1995. Watterson was known to dislike the deadlines, commercialization, and restraints of syndicated comics, which most likely motivated his retirement. While Watterson never permitted merchandising of his Calvin and Hobbes characters, Calvin and Hobbes reprints remained in stores, and Calvin images, though most likely unlicensed, continued to be displayed in cars and trucks. Calvin and Hobbes collections include Something under the Bed Is Drooling (1988), Yukon Ho! (1989), and The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book (1989).

Like Gary Larson of The Far Side, Watterson had a unique honor bestowed on him by the scientific community. On one adventure, Calvin and Hobbes explored Mars. When the Mars Explorer sent back pictures of Mars, NASA scientists named two of the Mars rocks Calvin and Hobbes.

—P. Andrew Miller

Further Reading:

Holmen, Linda, and Mary Santella-Johnson. Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes. Fargo, North Dakota, Playground Publishing, 1993.

Kuznets, Lois Rostow. When Toys Come Alive. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1994.

Watterson, Bill. Calvin and Hobbes. New York, Andrews and McMeel, 1987.

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Calvin and Hobbes

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Calvin and Hobbes