A Study in Stripes: Thoughts on Finishing Calvin and Hobbes

So this weekend I finally turned the last page of my complete collected edition of Calvin and Hobbes. And for the first time in my months as a columnist for iFanboy, I can say that there will be little science this week, and much more emotion.

This collection has been with me for a while. It’s not a book I read every day, which is why it took me literally years to finish all three volumes. However, there are circumstances when the iFanboys recommend reading a trade one issue at a time and letting things gestate a bit before moving on to the next part of the story, which is what I feel like I let happen here. I read Calvin and Hobbes after long days of adulthood when escapism in its purest 4 panel form was what I needed. And in that regard the collection never let me down. Never.

Believe it or not, there are people in this world that didn’t read Calvin and Hobbes when it was syndicated, and maybe never even went back to read a collection, thus they have never experienced the glory the rest of us hold dear. If you, the reader, are one of the unitiatied, I will refrain from the always annoying freak out statement of “You never read [blank]!!!” because that’s just pointless and crass. Instead I invite you to explore the world of Calvin and Hobbes, much of which can be found online, or just continue reading here and see if my feelings sound congruous to your own.

Ultimately, the story of Calvin and Hobbes is a story of friendship, imagination, adventure and childhood. Outside of the occasional camping trip the universe of Calvin and Hobbes exists exclusively in the home, neighborhood and school. And yet, those in the know are aware that there are days when Calvin is a dinosaur, or Stupendous Man patrols the skies or Spaceman Spiff crash lands on a hostile world yet again. Those flights of fancy so easy for the bombastic and precocious Calvin remain the envy of adults grounded in the real world.

And the craziest part of it all is that I see Calvin as real. I hear his voice as clear as a friend I’ve actually known for years. Every time he shouts a declaration of self-importance I know exactly what each syllable would sound like. Conversely, Hobbes is silent. Hobbes, for me, has no voice. If I heard Calvin behind me on a street I feel like I’d turn around knowing it was him, but Hobbes is vocal void. I suspect it’s partly because I never had an imaginary friend as a kid. I know the voice of Hobbes is really heard only by Calvin, so it’s almost an intrusion to hear him myself. I see his words as Calvin hears them and it’s enough.


It’s kind of amazing the mythic status Calvin and Hobbes now occupies. A huge part of it is the J.D. Salinger like personality of Bill Watterson. This is to say nothing that diminishes his incredible deftness as a storyteller and artist. But it’s also because Watterson never cashed in on his potentially lucrative creation. In that, he remains as true to his ideals as Calvin, leaving both he and his creation purer for it. Calvin would never sell out for the crowd, and having a creator love him enough to agree is a rare gift to the fans.

And I will just go ahead and admit it, when I read the last strip I teared up. How could I not? Since there is no set continuity per se I will go ahead and talk about what happens. Basically on Dec. 31st 1995, as a new year dawns, Calvin reminds Hobbes of all the possibilities for adventure and discovery in the world, then they sled together off the panel for the last time. It is an ending sublime yet pregnant with possibility.
 

 

Many have theorized what became of the pair past that panel. A popular one is that the narrator from Fight Club is Calvin as an adult, and Tyler Durden is the resurrection of Hobbes. It is a sexy and interesting hypothesis, not without evidence but also kind of cynical. And that’s life to a certain extent, joyous childhood followed by the pragmatism of age. The theory is fun to entertain but I’ll gladly reject it simply based on its potential to taint the watercolor world Calvin lives in.

My personal preference is that Calvin grew into the teenaged Jeremy from Zits. I know the creators of Zits are, or at least were, friendly with Watterson. And barring the continuity issue that Calvin and Hobbes existed as a comic strip within the world of Zits, to me it seems reasonable that Calvin would become a surly yet ultimately hopeful and ambitious teen. Maybe Suzie grows up into Sarah and they finally kiss on the couch while she’s babysitting a less cumbersome child than Calvin ever was. Probably not though, cause girls are slimy.


Then again, it’s probably best to just let Calvin be. It seems cruel to force him to mature past his prime. His manic 6 year old personality is in some ways fine just the way it is. The raw emotion of his face never fails to make me smile, and while I sympathize with his parents, at the same time I kind of hope my own son has that same lust for life displayed by this golden-haired zealot. I’m sure the parents in the crowd will tell me how foolish I am to hope for anything near a Calvin-esque offspring, but in a way I’m simply embracing my own naiveté with the thought that the future will be infinitely better than the present. Just like Calvin would.

And I think that’s ultimately my point. There are days when the snow falls that we should grab the sled instead of the shovel. Days where we should be our own best friend. Invent a sport just for our own amusement. And just recognize the occasional futility of being overly civilized. That’s the lesson I’ve taken from Calvin and his friend Hobbes. And while I guarantee I will reread the entire series again (maybe even to my own little Calvin) until that time I smile a sad smile at not having that boy and his tiger around anymore.
 


Ryan Haupt is hoping his advisor doesn’t notice the transmogrifier he built in the corner of the lab. Hear him break down the non-imagined science every week on Science… sort of.

Comments

  1. AshtonAdams AshtonAdams says:

    Has it been that long since the strip ended?!? Wow I feel old.

  2. They still reprint it in my newspaper, and I pore over it. One of the greatest comic strips of all time!

  3. Malecema Malecema says:

    I go back and re-read the volumes I have every once in a while and they never fail to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.  I stopped reading newspaper strips shortly after this ended because nothing comes close to the level of quality this one had.  

  4. johnthrax johnthrax says:

    I love the last paragraph, so well put

  5. WheelHands WheelHands says:

    The single greatest strip of all time. I grew up with Calvin and Hobbes, and coincidentally I entered my teens when the strip ended. I still visit my collections once in a great while, but what’s more important is that I carry the heart of it with me always. As a loud, toe-headed troublemaker myself, I’d always indentified with Calvin, and what’s interesting is that while I agree that the strip teaches you to appreciate the world with childlike wonder, it also teaches you that it’s OK to grow up. Because the your tiger will always be with you.

  6. Woomer Woomer says:

    Brilliantly written piece on a brilliant work of art. Thanks, Ryan.

  7. Calvin and Hobbes is one of those things i’ve loved over the years but never gotten anything besides those cheap paperbacks that have been beaten to shame.  I think i need to get these volumes. 

  8. Gilgabob Gilgabob says:

    You hit it on the head Ryan. C&H was a very special strip.

  9. Calvin & Hobbes is as good as it gets. Period.

    Great article! 

  10. s1lentslayer s1lentslayer says:

    This collection has been in my amazon wishlist for a while. I’ll get it one day.

  11. RobotZombie RobotZombie says:

    Anybody for a game of Calvinball for old times sake?

  12. CaseyJustice CaseyJustice says:

    Amazing article, Ryan. Thank you for bringing back all those great memories.

    I dunno about anyone else, but I was basically raised on Calvin & Hobbes. My love of comics (and reading in general), my vocabulary, much of my worldview and philosophical leanings stem from my early days reading this comic. I didn’t always get the jokes (go back and read some of those as an adult, by the way!), but I definitely got how special it was.

    Thanks Ryan.

    Thanks Calvin.

    Thanks Bill.

  13. Crucio Crucio says:

    My wife gave me those Volumes as a gift and it took me over a year to finish them, for me Calvin and Hobbes is the reason I can’t read the funnies anymore. Nothing touches that quality and imagination, I believe it to be the finest expression of that specific medium.

  14. DarthDuck DarthDuck says:

    @RobotZombie  I’ll spot you purple and the first to 17 wins…

  15. Minion Minion says:

    More than any other person, more than any other character, more than any other relative, Calvin has been my role model.

    Sometimes that doesn’t seem like the best thing, but there are days when I would never have it any other way.

  16. Minion Minion says:

    @RobotZombie @Darthduck If you touch the secret base you have to sing “I’m a little Teapot” three times before crossing the goalline.

  17. Agreed–it’s pretty much the only newspaper comic that I’ve ever loved. Gorgeous stuff.

    As for what happens to the pair, while Fight Club is indeed an interesting take, I kind-of like this version better. 

  18. deezer deezer says:

    Wonderful article, I’ve loved the strip since I was a little kid (after it had ended) and still maintain that the collected edition is my favorite Christmas gift in recent memory. I’ve actually enjoyed pulling up the strips for each of my friend’s date of birth and seeing how they fit… it usually works out nicely.
    Damn… now I want to read them again

  19. Ali Colluccio WonderAli (@WonderAli) says:

    perfectly said, Ryan!

  20. An amazing strip and a great article.  I’ll never forget that there was a time when I REALLY looked forward to opening the comics section of the local newspaper and Calvin and Hobbes was the first thing I read every time.

  21. Nick Fovargue Bootmobile says:

    Calvin and Hobbes is easily my favorite comic of any and all kinds. I got this collection as a Christmas gift this past year and my plan is to do the same thing you have done. Read it a few pages at a time whenever I feel in the mood.

    The strip was a big deal to me as a kid and has stayed with me. Reading it all again now it is a thrill to find how much I still enjoy and love both the art and writing of Waterson. I really look forward to passing it on to my son.

    Thanks for the article. Now I am off to read a few more pages with a big, unabashed smile on my face.

  22. gobo gobo says:

    I wasn’t in a rush to read this article… I think of Calvin & Hobbes as “my” thing and I get a little (completely irrationally) jealous when I hear other people talk about their love for it.  It’s one of the most resonant reading experiences I’ve ever had and I vividly remember the day it ended and how sad I was. 

    I’m glad I did though, great article Ryan.  This is one of the most important works in the comic medium and deserves as much praise as it can get.

    (Also: It’s Stupendous Man, not Captain Stupendous ;) )

  23. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Another great piece, Ryan. Love that closing sentiment. 

  24. Ryan Haupt Haupt (@haupt) says:

    @gobo Dammit!! The one time I don’t check my sources…

  25. tomdpimp tomdpimp says:

    The Rules of Calvinball is very complex and prove that Calvin will eventually create a massive Fortune 500 company and then start to crazy power above all else…

  26. gobo gobo says:

    @haupt Maybe you subconciously merged him with the one panel “appearance” alter-ego Captain Napalm?

  27. brattyben brattyben says:

    If you wanna good read, check out Finding Calvin and Hobbes by Nevin Martell.  Explains in great detail what a genius Watterson was and how much he’s contributed to the comic strip in the last twenty.

    What’s amazing is that there is not merchandising (besides illegal ones) for C+H out there.  Only the comic, which to me, is kinda magical in its own right.
    Go read that book…it’s great! 

  28. brattyben brattyben says:

    On a side note, I always thought in rereading Calvin and Hobbes, that Calvin’s parents always seemed too high strung and dismissive.