One day in the fall of 1985, a small boy captured a tiger in a trap (using a tuna fish sandwich as bait, of course). The newspaper-reading public was immediately enraptured, first in the United States and then around the world, without yet understanding that they were witnessing the birth of the last great newspaper comic strip in the form’s history. That strip was Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes,”
I am having an internal debate as to whether or not I should download Joel Allan Schroeder’s slight but agreeable documentary “Dear Mr. Watterson” or should I wait (and HOPE AND PRAY) that it comes to our local theater PORTSMOUTH MUSIC HALL.
I was already in college when Calvin first came out. Who couldn’t relate (or want to relate) to him? There was even a weekly discussion group on the Philosophy of Calvin and Hobbes. (Hey- we were young and in school- It was our job to over think). I do not believe I’ve ever heard anyone explore the question of why these two beloved characters are named after such forbidding figures in the history of British moral and political philosophy.
It’s hard to imagine a reader who doesn’t know this, but Calvin is an imaginative, inquisitive and entirely reckless boy of about 6 or 7, and Hobbes is his somewhat more prudent tiger companion, who often functions – albeit ineffectively – as Calvin’s conscience or superego. (To adults inside the strip, Hobbes appears to be a stuffed toy. We, and Calvin, know different.) Their adventures, set entirely in a mythic Middle American landscape that’s partly “Peanuts” and partly “Huckleberry Finn,” range from the straightforward, realistic and sentimental (setting aside the question of how “realistic” a comic strip can ever be) to the satirical and the flat-out surreal, even the postmodern and the meta-textual.
Perhaps you remember the T-rex who sometimes ran roughshod over the playground during school recess, or the vicious and dangerous “snow-goons” summoned to life in winter. Calvin can never resist mashing the button on the Transmogrifier (although it’s never a good idea), and neither could Watterson, who might draw an entire Sunday strip in “neo-cubist” style, or in hilarious imitation of long-gone story comics like “Mary Worth.” As with Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts,” there are very few direct references to the world outside of childhood, although the strip always had a large adult audience and Calvin and Hobbes’ philosophical disputes play very differently to audiences of different ages. But you don’t need to understand the pop-culture or political context of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s to enjoy “Calvin and Hobbes,” which may be why children (my own included) eagerly devour it today.
My daughter was born a few months before the last Calvin and Hobbes was published. She was recently home from the University and it made me smile to see her sitting by the fireplace reading one of the Calvin and Hobbes collections.
Like many parents- my son WAS/IS Calvin. With a tremendous imagination and the ability to find trouble while bringing a smile to my face and tear to my eye.
At times both my wife and I would be put in a situation where we had to scold the kids- and then went to our room so they wouldn’t see us laughing!
It would be hard for another comic that could possibly bring the level of ART, HUMOR and THOUGHTFULNESS.
In a later Post I may put put my favorite comics up.
- ‘Dear Mr. Watterson’ Review (freebeacon.com)
- Dear Mr Watterson is a love letter to Calvin & Hobbes (io9.com)
- ‘Dear Mr. Watterson’ Seeks the Reclusive Calvin and Hobbes’ Creator (Review) (popmatters.com)