Sunday, February 26, 2012

Forever is a boy and his tiger....

Classic Calvin and Hobbes scenario
Every now and then I get an attack of missing Calvin and Hobbes. I can’t believe that this strip has been retired for fifteen years. I still wish I could open the pages of the newspaper and find adventures featuring Calvin and his best buddy arguing, playing and philosophizing: doing their thing. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like this strip, and if you disagreed with me and proclaimed that you don't I would just assume you don't like comic strips in general.

I think my main reason for adoring it is because the strip’s creator Bill Watterson is a genius. I know people often use that word carelessly, but it is the strongest descriptor I have to represent my feelings for this man. Different people may have different views of what genius is but Bill Watterson often made me believe I was witnessing it in his work. My reasons? Watterson was able to take the deceptively simple life of a six year old and present complex messages in a way which were not obtrusive and obvious and which rang true whenever you read them.

You know sometimes, you see something clever, and you think, “I could have thought of that myself, but it is very good.” For me with Watterson I was more likely to think, “How did he possibly come up with that?” His ideas were amazing, and I felt awed and humbled when I saw them because I felt I could never have come up with a similar concept or present them humourously, not if I thought for a decade. Aren’t we supposed to be awed in the presence of genius? I know I often was.

Maybe Bill Watterson had trouble with his creation after all.
I also liked that Watterson firmly eschewed commercialism. Calvin often displayed the traits about commercialism that Mr. Watterson deplored. However, one fascinating aspect of this element of Mr. Watterson’s philosophy was that he lived the viewpoint he preached! (And we all know that this is not a common thing!) If you’ve ever wanted to buy a Calvin and Hobbes shirt, video game, toilet paper holder or cell phone cover, you will be unable to find anything official. Why not you ask? It’s because Bill Watterson did not appreciate how commercialism can cheapen a product, and he decided against it, and years later he’s stuck to his word! Like most geniuses, he expressed himself more succinctly than I.
"Actually, I wasn't against all merchandising when I started the strip, but each product I considered seemed to violate the spirit of the strip, contradict its message, and take me away from the work I loved. If my syndicate had let it go at that, the decision would have taken maybe 30 seconds of my life."

While doing research for this post, I noticed that some people seemed to take issue with Watterson for making this decision, but I cannot fault him. While some people grumble now, quite a few I suspect would have been on his case about “selling out”. I find I have to admire someone who sticks to their principles, principles with noble motivations on top of that. I cannot grumble about that.

Of course, my real initial adoration for Watterson arises from his most popular creation. We all know them and love them.

No one is safe from Calvin
Calvin – a precocious six year old too wise beyond his years, but who is grounded by a childlike love of fun and danger, a limitless imagination and often the loneliness of a sensitive child

Hobbes – his inseparable and cheerful companion, Calvin’s other half. Sometimes a sensible friend; sometimes a wild beast; sometimes a cunning opponent

Mom and Dad – the down to earth parents, caught up in raising a son who they know very well and yet cannot know entirely

 Susie – another lonely child, with a snap cracker strength

 Roslyn – the dreaded and clever and able babysitter

The universal appeal of the strips is more than evident. Many people often express nostalgia for Calvin and Hobbes. The pages of the newspapers have not been the same since they left. Not only are they emptier, but even to an amateur like me, you can see other strips which draw from Watterson’s style and ideas. Clearly I’m not the only one who is awed by this man’s work. The fan art at the link below highlights the fact that Calvin and Hobbes may be gone, but they are still missed, and from some of the themes in the pictures, we see what people miss: the camaraderie between the boy and his friend, the uninhibited fun they used to have and the unlimited imagination which pervades their world.

I feel that it is safe to say that I’m not the only one who misses Calvin and Hobbes and misses the opportunities we had to wander with them in the world Watterson had created. It’s no wonder that some of us keep wanting to go back there. They came alive to us so vividly that they can’t completely go away. To paraphrase A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie-the-Pooh, in the enchanted place Bill Watterson created, a boy and his tiger will always be playing.

What did you like best about Calvin and Hobbes? Do you miss them? What's your favourite Calvin and Hobbes comic strip? If you have a link to it, post it in the comments. And if C&H isn't your favourite comic strip, what is?

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