I can recall one night when I was very small. On this night I was running around the house with a number of objects making whooshing and booming sounds. When my older sister asked me what I was doing, I of course replied that was fighting a war. When she asked who I was fighting, I explained to her, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, that I was fighting an invisible enemy. Some years later, I developed a habit of running around outside, lost in my own little world, basically talking to myself. My cat often sat in the grass and watched me, presumably either entertained or deeply confused.
To me, these moments define my childhood. I didn't grow up in a neighborhood with very many kids, and so I was left with little to entertain myself but my own imagination. As such, I never really identified with any of the kids on TV shows, who always traveled in groups and behaved less like kids and more like miniature adults. For the longest time, I thought I was unique, possibly crazy, and, of course, alone.
Years later, I discovered Calvin and Hobbes.
|Obviously. What other sound would it make?|
It was mostly by accident that I found the comic, since I didn't read it until years after it had left syndication, so I don't recall ever seeing it in a newspaper. I remember seeing mention of the author dying online (which is odd, since he's still alive), and a few days later, on a whim, I checked out a book of Calvin and Hobbes strips from the library. The rest, as they say is history.
Calvin and Hobbes is, without a doubt, one of the most perfectly constructed comics of all time. Bill Watterson did what, to my knowledge, no one else has ever succeeded in doing-- he has captured the absolute essence of childhood. Calvin is not just a miniature adult. He is, without a doubt, a child. Yes, he often launches into philosophical musings and possesses an oddly high vocabulary, but his base personality remains childlike. He is impetuous and impulsive and curious. He hates school and often struggles with his grades, and yet he can tell quite a lot about dinosaurs and snakes and such. When his parents wonder about how he can know so much about dinosaurs, but can't do well in school, Calvin replies with a gem of wisdom that all children know but adults somehow seem to forget: because school is dull, and dinosaurs are most certainly not.
Calvin is an outcast. He is not part of any group and is seen as strange by most others. The closest thing he has to an actual human friend is Susie, who finds him weird and gross. Calvin's greatest friend in the world is Hobbes, his stuffed tiger. While we are shown that Hobbes is a toy multiple times, for the majority of comic strips, we see Hobbes only through Calvin's eyes, and Calvin doesn't see a stuffed tiger. He sees a real tiger who walks on two feet, imparts wisdom, and loves the ladies (which Calvin simply cannot understand). Indeed, most of the comic is taken up by Calvin's daydreams and imaginary adventures, to the point that, at times, it becomes difficult to tell where dream ends and reality begins.
All comics require two things to succeed: good writing and good art. The art in Calvin and Hobbes is easily distinguishable and not at all difficult to make out, and as such facilitates the story. The writing in Calvin and Hobbes features snappy dialogue and the characters all play off each other's personalities. Much of the humor comes from seeing how these characters interact. For example, Calvin's dad often makes things up just to mess with Calvin, while his mom is simply desperate to get the kid to behave.
In any work of fiction, the characters are important. Without characters, stories really don't mean anything. Each character in Calvin and Hobbes has a distinct personality. Susie is more mature than Calvin, Ms. Wormwood is a no-nonsense teacher, Moe is the dumb-as-bricks bully, Rosalyn has her hands full as Calvin's babysitter (and is paid extra for her troubles), and Calvin's parents are just plain tired.
Calvin is regarded as strange by nearly everyone. When he builds snowmen, they are almost always in gruesome poses or have strange deformities. One strip featured his parents walking down the sidewalk, looking at a number of snowmen, only to come upon one with two-heads. His dad remarks: "You can always tell when you get our house." Calvin wants adventure. He doesn't want to be trapped in the real world and do what everyone else is doing. He wants to be unique, and escape to fantasy. This is emphasized by the shifts in the art style. While the real world is drawn in a fairly generic comic strip style, the sections that are set in Calvin's imagination are much more vibrant and colorful. For a six-year-old, he is surprisingly cynical.
There are few characters I relate to more.
Calvin and Hobbes reminds us of what our childhoods were like. It reminds us of just how difficult growing up is, and how simple life was when we were small. It reminds us that the world is a strange and scary and wondrous place. It reminds us of just how much is out there. Calvin and Hobbes teaches us the lessons we knew as children, and somehow forgot when we grew up. It's a great big world out there, and Bill Watterson invites us to explore it.