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411 Comics Showcase – Calvin & Hobbes

December 23, 2016 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

First off, happy holidays! Whatever you’re celebrating, I hope it’s a joyous occasion. We could all use something to be happy about after 2016.

I wanted to do something different for this edition of comics showcase. While there is no shortage of Christmas-themed comics, they’ve never really resonated with me. For me the holidays have always been about nostalgia and childlike wonder. In that spirit, I think it’s appropriate to leave superheroes behind for a week and get into something else I love.

Few things are as near and dear to me as Calvin and Hobbes, a newspaper comic strip written and drawn by Bill Watterson from 1985 to 1995. Calvin is a precocious six-year old troublemaker, and Hobbes is his stuffed tiger and best friend. The strip is concerned with Calvin’s everyday life at home, school or in his imagination. Aside from the titular pair, the cast includes his long-suffering parents and teacher, school bully Moe, and Susie Derkins, a girl who he has a mostly antagonistic but occasionally friendly relationship with.

Given the nature of newspaper strips, most of them are simple jokes or dry observations of the human condition. Watterson was clearly inspired by Charles Schultz and his Peanuts strips, but Watterson tended to have Calvin be more mischievous and chaotic than Charlie Brown and friends. Whether it’s through roller coaster wagon rides, nihilistic snowman art, or the adventures of the intrepid explorer Spaceman Spiff, Calvin’s worldview had a lot more edge, as befitting the years in which the strip was published.

Hobbes was designed as a foil to Calvin, sort of working as an audience reaction to the insanity. Thoughtful, sarcastic and compassionate during crucial moments, Hobbes is like a less annoying Jiminy Cricket, voicing his reasonable concerns but letting Calvin make his mistakes. After all, he was just a stuffed animal. That was evident whenever someone other than Calvin was in frame. I think this was a smart creative choice, as while we as readers knew Hobbes wasn’t real, what mattered was that he was real to Calvin.

Calvin’s parents also have distinct personalities that play off of their child well. His dad is always the first thing that pops into my head when I hear the phrase “building character”. The Mom tends to be more active in the care of Calvin, dealing with the daily struggles of getting him to take a bath, eat his veggies, or keeping him from jumping off the roof. I’m also a fan of their interactions with each other, which usually involves stressful bouts of arguments that are hilarious and witty.

Calvin and Hobbes is something that I think I appreciated more the older I got. While its charm was hardly lost on me as a kid, Bill Watterson had a tendency to use a lot of philosophical discussion that was a bit above my eight year old intellect. So re-reading yields fun bits, like seeing Pascal’s Wager applied to Santa Claus. I know for a fact that reading contributed to expanding my vocabulary, meaning I actually managed to learn something.

My experience with Calvin and Hobbes is mostly through collections. In fact, they were probably the first comic books I ever owned. Not a bad start to what became a lifelong passion.

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Check me out here to see my star ratings for over 650 films. I have reviewed every movie I’ve watched since mid-August, and recent additions include Sully and 2016’s The Magnificent Seven. I’ve also watched a couple of holiday movies: Scrooged and The Santa Clause.

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Michael Ornelas and I write weekly on 411, taking turns introducing each other to films the other hasn’t seen. Last week, Michael tortured me with The Star Wars Holiday Special. This week, we celebrate the holidays properly with A Christmas Story.

What are your fondest memories of Calvin & Hobbes, or any other newspaper comics?