Calvin and Hobbes was a daily cartoon strip, created by Bill Watterson. It ran for just 10 years, between November 1985 and December 1995, and it was, and remains, awesome. I first discovered Calvin and Hobbes in my 20s, and immediately started collecting the books of collected works. I instantly fell in love with them and was distraught when Watterson retired the characters. Over the years, I’ve tried to share Calvin and Hobbes with my daughters, but to no avail. So I thought I’d share some of my favourite bits with you, instead…
To be fair, it isn’t just me who loves Calvin and Hobbes. The strip is commonly cited as “the last great newspaper comic”. And it wasn’t just me who was gutted when the comic ended. In fact, there has been a fan-driven sequel to the comic called Hobbes and Bacon. This features Bacon, the daughter of Calvin and Susie. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when I discovered this. But I’ll circle back to Hobbes and Bacon at the end.
But who are Calvin and Hobbes? Well, Calvin is a six year old boy who is friends with his stuffed toy tiger, Hobbes. To Calvin, Hobbes is a living anthropomorphic version of a tiger. To everyone else, Hobbes is just a stuffed toy. And their personalities couldn’t be more different. Calvin is an overactive, excitable little grot who is as selfish as any six year old should be. Hobbes is a voice of wisdom, calm and reason, quite often a very sardonic voice of wisdom, calm and reason…
And it’s often through this interaction of personalities that Watterson is able to make some inspired observations. He achieves the same through interactions with other characters, like Calvin’s mum and dad. Also, Calvin’s teacher and classmate, the aforementioned Susie.
Not that everything has to be inspired observation. There’s plenty of day-dreaming fantasy, as well as classic physical comedy…
Basically, there’s something for everyone.
Hence the success at the time, and the enduring appeal ever since.
Anyway, I’ve re-read all my Calvin and Hobbes books and picked some of my favourite strips. I’ve tried to group them into categories, just to make life easier. I hope you enjoy:
The Perils of Childhood
Maybe it’s just because I can relate to this, because my report cards were never all that they might have been. But, equally, I always tell the girls that I don’t mind what grades they get, as long as they feel they’ve done their best. The reality is, though, everyone involved knows that there are certain levels of expectations…
And, after the crying stops, you ask, “Why didn’t you stop? I was shouting for you to stop…!” To which the reply is invariably, “I couldn’t hear what you were saying.” The reason for this, as it turns out, was that their version of Hobbes was telling them to hurry up.
In that moment of weakness, when you cave… You live in hope that your child will see the error of their ways and do the right thing… Nope! Never going to happen.
I love this one for the pure child-like joy of it.
For all those parents, like me, who particularly enjoy torturing your offspring, this is worth bearing in mind…
The Perils of Adulthood
It’s funny how some things never seem to change. We still have some variation of this theme in our household about once a week.
I had something witty to say about this, but I can’t remember what it was…
It’s so true, though. Everyone seems to look back at their childhood as being this wonderful and simple time, full of nothing but ease and contentment. But does anyone actually remember thinking like that, at the time? Does anyone recall a time they though, ‘Wow, that weekend will be one of the highlights of my life.’? I certainly don’t.
And this is why there are so many ‘self-help’ books on how to be a parent. Not that I’ve actually read any of them. I mean, whoever wrote the book either made it up as they went along, or they relied on someone else’s work. Or, even worse, they were an academic…! My point is, we all have to make it up as we go along. And it’s hard being an adult.
Isn’t it amazing just how much your kids can drive you to distraction, at times? Yet you still end up loving them.
I sometimes wonder how Watterson would have Calvin and Hobbes react to Social Media and Streaming Services. Things have certainly not become more balanced and well reasoned in the last 30 years.
This is the first of the Calvinisms that have stuck with me for most of my life. Whenever I’m asked a question with a breathtakingly obvious answer, this panel always pops into my head… And I’m forced to respond accordingly.
This strip includes another Calvinism that I trot out quite regularly, particularly on the hockey pitch: “If it wasn’t for gravity, you couldn’t even hit the ground!” Brilliant. Admittedly, I most often use it on myself, after I’ve missed yet another sitter. However, that isn’t my favourite bit of the strip, it’s actually his mum’s reaction to his news. It’s almost a Hobbes response.
Because here’s my third Calvinism. And, I must confess, I immediately started using this on my own mum, at every available opportunity. Mind you, “Beats me, weren’t you listening either?” is still a dangerous response to give to your mum, even when you’re in your 20s…
This strip is one I remember every time that I’m brave enough to stroke a cat’s belly. Many times has my hand been shredded because I went for one stroke too many.
Calvin and Hobbes has always had a subtle undercurrent of politics within it. As the 80s moved into the 90s and the strip got closer to its end, the political elements seemed to become more pointed. Watterson was focusing less on Calvin and Hobbes and more on the world at large. A surprising number of Watterson’s talking points are still relevant today.
One of the areas that Watterson often touched on was the environment. Typically from the point of view of Hobbes, who was the voice of nature. While the focus of this particular strip is fly tipping, the sentiment is just as applicable to fossil fuels and plastic pollution.
This time the strip is from Calvin’s perspective. We’ve allowed everything to become so polarised that there’s no easy way back. Largely, because we’re all behaving like six year olds…
I had an epiphany like this, when my girls started school. Before school they had such individual, unique personalities. But school sure knocks the edges off all that. The girls are, of course, still their own people. They’re still individuals. But they’ve also been brought very much into line. I was quite upset for quite a long time when this started happening but what are the options?!
I like the way this strip is put together: with all the subtlety of a brick!
As I’ve got older, this has bugged me more and more. In the strip, Calvin refers to a ‘month of frenzied consumerism!’ Oh, how I miss the time when it was only a month. It’s closer to three months, now; a whole season! Well, I suppose, and as the song goes: “tis the season to be jolly…”
Alright, this isn’t actually physical humour, per se, but I had to include it somewhere, because it’s one of my favourite strips of all time.
Now this is physical humour! It’s also another of my all time favourite strips. It’s just about perfect.
In this one, it’s the interplay. The whole thing is just so well constructed.
Again, just a wonderfully constructed strip. And there’s so little dialogue, or even drawing, involved. Yet still so funny.
But it was for things like this that I wanted to get the girls interested. I had this vague idea that they would end up doing overly dramatic things, like this, that only I would understand the meaning of. Still, at least Julie doesn’t make eggplant casserole…
And there you have it: ten books of Calvin and Hobbes collections, whittled down to a couple of dozen of my favourite strips. I’ve had to leave out soooo much that I wanted to include. And, of course, I haven’t done Bill Watterson’s decade of effort the justice it deserves.
So, maybe, I should leave that to him:
Because after 10 years of work, Bill Watterson’s last ever Calvin and Hobbes comic strip was this one:
But, while Watterson might have finished with Calvin and Hobbes, the fans hadn’t…
In 2011, cartoonists Dan and Tom Heyerman produced a comic strip they called Hobbes and Bacon. Sadly, it only ran for four issues but it was brilliantly done. In reading up for this post, however, I’ve discovered that other fans have taken up the mantle. A number of people seem to have done a multitude of strips. I can’t speak to the quality of these, yet, as I haven’t had time to look. But I will. And I’m hopeful.
One thing I did find, though, was a Hobbes and Bacon Facebook page. It has more than 12,000 followers! I probably shouldn’t admit it, but I shed a tear when I found this…
But I hope that you now understand why I still love Calvin and Hobbes. It was funny, well drawn and insightfully written. It’s also still remarkably relevant today.
I just wish there had been more of it.