Once upon a time in the north of England..
During the summer holidays my parents would often leave my brother and myself at Nana’s house while at work.
There was only so many times you could watch repeats of 1960’s Batman and investigate trinkets inherited from her father’s travels in Asia, nick-nacks from a bygone age when Britain had an empire, and the sale of ivory products was a thing.
In her lounge sat a rocking chair as the centrepiece, made from a solid hazelnut coloured wood, for the rakish body of an eight-year-old, to sit on you felt all powerful, like a king on his throne, overseeing the contents of the whole room.
Besides the chair sat a magazine rack, it’s fibourous structure containing titles like Woman’s Own, Readers Digest and other assorted titles typically read by widows of a certain age.
This is where I discovered a copy of The Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book. I have no idea of why my Nana owned this book, but I’m assuming it was for the same reasons I was about to fall in love with this newspaper comic strip.
It was so clever, it introduced me to lots of more new adult words to get my head around, like sarcasm, which my naïve brain thought sounded like a perfume, until my mum corrected me.
The book contained lots of insight from the author Bill Watterson, before DVD commentary was a thing. As a child, I never really read this, instead focusing on the funny cartoons, but years later could appreciate this, getting a fascinating look into the creative process, and the politics behind creating a newspaper comic strip.
As a fan, this helped you understand Watterson’s well know artistic integrity behind his creation – it’s worth noting he never ‘sold out’ despite plenty of offers to merchandise. Thank god really, otherwise we might now be witnessing Disney bleeding Calvin and Hobbes dry in some soulless reimagining where we see an adult Calvin encounter his childhood imaginary friend.
You could see that Calvin and Hobbes was more than your average comic for the funny pages, designed to force out some cheap joke by the third panel. In the 10th Anniversary book, you get some of Watterson’s battles with newspapers to change the standard layout to tell his story.
The reader reaps the rewards though, as we see comic strips capturing the reality of Calvin’s imagination, distant planets, dinosaurs, a day time TV soap opera, or a lawn featuring a myriad of bizarre snowman creations.
My small influential brain was hooked with these images, reading the whole book in one sitting, an impressive feat to be able to consume the attention of someone so young, for so long.
The content was above everyone else, the humour was so sophisticated. If Bill Watterson was a stand-up comic he’d be George Carlin, while his competition would be more in the league of the Ernest films
Within his work, Calvin and Hobbes shared a glorious level of knowledge, and life lessons which I share with you today.
Behold, the wisdom of Calvin and Hobbes:
Suzie, as well as being a love interest, and point of conflict for Calvin to deny this, is a foil to Calvin’s free going nature. She functions well in the school world, of conformance and grades, but in some ways, you realise Calvin’s philosophy will make him a better survivor in the adult world.
Whereas Suzie is such a Mary Sue, that she’s an archetype for suffering from imposter syndrome, due to having to live up to constant high standards.
As children we have such a high level of imagination, which Watterson captures perfectly with Calvin. As we grow, we lose that sense of creativity and fun that our ability to think beyond our set beliefs makes us not try anything different from societal expectations.
This strip highlights our importance to stop thinking in dull cliches, even if it means bordering on the absurd… besides we all know we’d watch a movie about a T-Rex in an F-14!
This strip is poignant due to it being the last ever Calvin and Hobbes published. I wonder if Watterson wrote this as commentary, about his own decision to retire the strip. The virgin untouched snow, being the unknown where life would take him next.
Each day offers new possibilities for us to go exploring. Go get it!
Appreciation of some of the subject matter increases as you age. It doesn’t seem that long ago I was killing boredom in that rocking chair waiting to go home. One of life’s great injustices is we don’t get to appreciate the carefree years being a child offers.
What I would give for that opportunity! The funny thing is Calvin, realises the foreboding repetitiveness and responsibility adulthood offers, yet still opts to spend his remaining free time watching TV.
For a comic in the funny pages, Calvin and Hobbes could get quite dark – I mean a panel featuring a sketch of a dead bird?
The message here is simple, life is short and we take it for granted, though I do like the joke around Calvin’s hopeful optimism having it all it figured out when we became adults. The truth is we’re still just as clueless.
I think all of us like to think we have an unappreciated genius about us, that is just misunderstood by the rest of society who just don’t get it.
Really though, we’re not, we’re just average.
I like that Watterson is able to summarise how our economy works between the haves and have-nots in a Sunday strip.
Here you have Hobbes playing by the rules, and getting ahead from his work ethic. But Calvin (who could easily represent the irresponsible elites), gets a bailout to help cover the losses rather than taking responsibility for the debt like any average worker.
No matter how many times we think we’re beating the system, there is always someone raiding the bank to return the balance.
Calvin’s approach to solving problems is correct. If you want to achieve something it’s all about one paragraph at a time, one day at a time, one assignment at a time…
Sometimes though when you go through this process, you realise the goal isn’t worth it, and like Calvin, you think “am I really bothered about this…” and toss the textbook away to focus on other interests.
My mum cut this one out of a newspaper. We used to have a cat who was a vicious bugger, he’d claw the flesh off your hands if you tried to pet him while asleep.
The lesson here is simple, let people have their space, or face the peril of getting scratched.
This strip pre-dates the Internet, yet you can relate to the attention seekers looking for validation. For this they are entitled, and ungrateful, make unreasonable request meaning they don’t get any further support, and hence wallow in being unloved.
We spend so much time wishing for things that we think will make us content, we don’t appreciate what we already have. If we took more time to examine our surroundings, we’d realise happiness is readily available.
I think this sums up one of the biggest flaws of the self-improvement movement. I really dislike how many gurus force a blueprint of what success is, they are trying to force what “good” is, and sell the solution to people who have been told their life isn’t to the standard.
“I refuse to be victimized by notions of virtuous behaviour” is a wise approach. We already know that Calvin is a free spirit who doesn’t go by societies expectations, he applies this to self-improvement, refusing to let the judgements of others, make him feel inferior, hence he doesn’t feel the need for bettering himself.
Once upon a time in the mid-west…
My brother would spend his days playing with the other children in the neighbourhood, who I would avoid because they were too boisterous and loud, much preferring the quietness of my own thoughts.
When put like this, I begin to understand why I related to the boy from Ohio and his tiger friend so much.
The story telling of Calvin and Hobbes was so good, that you couldn’t help feel a tinge of sadness for Calvin when you realise how different and outcast from the other kids his age, that his best friend is really his tiger teddy brought to life by his vast imagination.
The true reality is, you are just reading a newspaper comic, but for it to get you thinking so deeply about the welfare of a fictional boy, illustrates the magic of Bill Watterson to be to get his readers engaged with his creations, in such a manner they are remember foundly, nearly 30 years since the last strip was released.
To this day whenever I read the wisdom for Calvin and Hobbes, I still feel that warmth and comfort from a simpler time, flicking through the pages of a compilation annual rocking on my nana’s chair.
Wishing you the best in your success
James @Perfect Manifesto
Calvin and Hobbes was created by Bill Watterson. This post features images copyright to the author. I recommend continuing to support him by buying one of the compilation annuals.