Monday, February 1, 2010

Calvin and Hobbes

Recently, Bill Watterson gave an interview to the Cleveland Plains-Dealer.  For those who don't know, Bill Waterson was the creater of the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes", and was one of the top five influences in the development of my personality/sense of humor  (the other four influences being my parents, SNL, Jim Carrey, and Bill Cosby).

I still have all of the Calvin and Hobbes comic books and anthologies that I poured through during my youth.  I even have the final Sunday comic strip tucked into one of them, and I'll occasionally stumble into it when thumbing through my books (which the past few times has been when I've been boxing up my books for a move and I have to talk myself off the ledge of getting rid of them).  I remember cutting that final comic strip out of the paper as if it was an obituary of a close friend.  I kept it for multiple reasons.  I believe at the time I had the thought that maybe years down the road it would be a collector's item and I'd be the only person who kept the final strip from the newspaper.  I also kept it because it was such a big influence on who I am as a person.

I always respected Calvin and Hobbes for saying words like "mauled".  Garfield never said "mauled".  Family Circus NEVER said "mauled".  I loved that there was dark humor, there were fart jokes, and there were touching moments.  I loved the world of fantasy that Calvin lived in.  I would often find myself being jealous of Calvin, because his imagination was so much more vivid and creative than mine.  I lived vicariously through him.  I loved that his snowmen turned into zombies.  I loved Calvinball.  I loved how his babysitter tormented him and he her.  I loved how he had multiple people who were his arch nemesis.  And I loved how Bill Watterson wasn't afraid to change up the pace of the strip from one day to another.

This strip gives a good idea of the different levels of emotion and pacing that Bill Watterson used from day to day.

From the chaos Calvin caused his mother to the frustration he encountered in school.  From dealing with a bully to destroying his house.  And then...calm.  He would find his peace by being outside with Hobbes.  There would be days when Calvin would be flying through outer space battling monsters, and the next series of panels would feature the simplicity of leaning against a tree with his best friend on summer vacation.  Pure genius.

So I was excited to gain more insight into why Bill Watterson decided to call it quits.  
This isn't as hard to understand as people try to make it. By the end of 10 years, I'd said pretty much everything I had come there to say.
It's always better to leave the party early. If I had rolled along with the strip's popularity and repeated myself for another five, 10 or 20 years, the people now "grieving" for "Calvin and Hobbes" would be wishing me dead and cursing newspapers for running tedious, ancient strips like mine instead of acquiring fresher, livelier talent. And I'd be agreeing with them.
I think some of the reason "Calvin and Hobbes" still finds an audience today is because I chose not to run the wheels off it.
I've never regretted stopping when I did.

 And he's exactly right.  While it's taken me 15 years to understand, I too am glad he put away the pen and paper when he did.  Whether it's John Elway, "Seinfield", or "The Far Side", I'll always appreciate those that went out on top more, leaving me wanting more, more than those that are still trying to relive/reclaim glory days gone by, even if the creative juices have long dried up (Brett Favre, "Scrubs", and "Peanuts" come to mind).

In the comic strip world, there are the classics (Family Circle, Peanuts, Garfield, Beatle Bailey, etc.) that have been around for decades.  Their appeal is the safety and consistency.  They are there every morning to greet you with your morning coffee and give you a nice chuckle before you start a new day.  And yet, they haven't been relevant for most of that time, because they haven't had anything relevant to say.

On the other hand, younger/hipper strips (Zits, Pearls before Swine, and Foxtrot) are more relevant because their characters are modern and are able to talk to a modern audience.  And, like The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes before them, these comic strip authors are willing to take chances with their characters.  I appreciate that.

At the end of his run, I was crushed that I wouldn't be able to read any more new Calvin and Hobbes comics.  Yet, today, I still love Calvin and Hobbes as much as I did that final Sunday 15 years ago.  Because Bill Watterson was willing to walk away, his creation sticks with me to this day.

On December 31, 1995, this comic was the last "new" strip featuring Calvin and Hobbes.

And, fifteen years later, it's still as fresh as fallen snow.  Genius.

(H/T The DC Trawler)


(New Feature Alert)

Best song iTunes shuffled me while I wrote this post"Wheels" by Foo Fighters
Looking forward to:  Texas Hold'em at the Horse Shoe Casino this weekend
Thinking back on:  wife and my first trip as a married couple (not counting our honeymoon) was to Las Vegas.  She won $50 in video poker the first night we were there.  I won $100 in video poker, and used that money to enter my first Texas hold'em tournament.


  1. Great post. I always liked looking through your Calvin & Hobbs and Foxtrot comic books. That's cute that you cut out the last new C&H comic strip. Its a really good one, very fitting.

    Also, I'm diggin the new feature.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I have never really read comics in the paper much, but do enjoy far side or calvin and hobbes occassionally.

  3. I never read comics as a child and still don't appreicate that kind of humor as an adult. However, it is nice to see that you appreciate it so much. -Rach

  4. I always loved Calvin and Hobbs especialy when Hobbs turned back into a stuffed animal whenever anyone else was around. Also how he became spiff in space battling alien creatures then it returned to having his teacher towering over him getting after him about his spelling