10/12/2005

Poynter Online - Calvin and Hobbes, All Over Again

A 22-pound package of joy arrived at our front door. No, it was not delivered by the neighborhood stork, but rather by the man in the big brown truck.

It was the arrival of the long-awaited and anticipated three-volume set of every Calvin and Hobbes comic strips ever published during its much too-brief life. Every one of them, from 1985 through 1995.

But first a personal disclaimer. Years ago I was asked what I thought of Calvin and his imaginary Tiger playmate and without hesitation, I answered, "It is the best comic strip ever." And that wasn't an easy thing to say because I have always thought of Charles Schulz as a true genius and his Peanuts as a strip whose images and words and gentle humor and wisdom will echo in our hearts and minds for years and years beyond its existence.



I have equal respect for the works of Garry Trudeau, who, with Doonesbury, brought an exciting and biting and thought-provoking brand of commentary to what we used to call the funny pages, following in the footsteps of the brilliant Walt Kelly and Pogo. The same for Gary Larson, whose Far Side panel was as original and side-splitting as any that have graced the pages of newspapers. And for Berke Breathed and his original Bloom County, but not today's pale imitation of himself, and also for Aaron McGruder and Boondocks, when he really works at it, which is not often enough, and Scott Adams and Dilbert and Jim Davis and Garfield. And let's not forget the realistic family life in Lynn Johnston's For Better or Worse, the angst and anxiety of Cathy Guisewite's Cathy, especially in the early years, and the wonderful sarcasm and insight of the late Jeff MacNelly's Shoe, which isn't what it used to be....

one of the Sunday strips in Volume 3. Calvin starts the conversation. "Isn't it strange that evolution would give us a sense of humor? When you think about it, it's weird that we have a physiological response to absurdity. We laugh at nonsense. We like it, we think it's funny. Don't you think it's odd that we appreciate absurdity? Why would we develop that way? How does it benefit us?" Then Hobbes answers, "I suppose if we couldn't laugh at things that don't make sense, we couldn't react to a lot of life." Then you see Calvin all by himself and he says, "I can't tell if that's funny or really scary."

As Calvin grew more and more popular and appeared in more and more newspapers, Watterson became more reclusive. "As happy as I was that the strip seemed to be catching on," he writes in his intro, "I was not prepared for the resulting attention." He moved out West, got an unlisted number, refused to give interviews. He was isolated from his readers and he says now that he was drawing Calvin primarily to entertain his wife...

Today, Watterson has switched to fine art.

But he always will be remembered for the little guy and his stuffed tiger who, on our comic pages, became his real-life pal.

Through Calvin, "I learned about what I love," Watterson says in the book. "Imagination, deep friendship, animals, family, the natural world, ideas and ideals ... and silliness."

And we learned with him. With this collection we can learn again, as can the children who may have missed the originals, and our grandchildren.

Just as Charles Schulz did with Peanuts for 50 years, Watterson did with Calvin and Hobbes. He never forgot what it was like to be a kid. He understood the fears and hopes and imagination of children. Watterson did it in adult language, but he always captured those emotions in strip after strip.

Watterson once said this about Peanuts, "It may seem strange that there are no adults in [the] Peanuts' world, but in asking us to identify only with children, Schulz reminded us that our fears and insecurities are not much different when we grow up." There were adults in Calvin's world, but they were strictly supporting actors.

And just as I said about Mr. Schulz at a celebration of his work several years ago, Watterson brought a little bit of psychology, a little bit of philosophy, and a whole lot of the human condition into the pages of our newspapers.

Poynter Online - Calvin and Hobbes, All Over Again

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