I owe a great part of who and what I am today to “Calvin & Hobbes”, the comic strip by Bill Watterson that ran from 1985 to 1995. See, here’s something you didn’t know about me: I wear black X-Men speedos under my clothes all Tuesdays, and over my pants on Wednesdays.
Additionally, when I was a kid, I was extremely obsessive about the most arbitrary shit. One day out of nowhere I’d become interested in wolves, so I would learn everything there was to know about wolves. Then, it was tornadoes. Then it was volcanoes. Then it was outer space and astronomy. I used to jump ship from one topic to the next like a crazy person, reading books, drawing, yapping everyone’s ears off about it before moving on to the next topic.
But “Calvin & Hobbes” was my one constant obsession. My grandfather on my mother’s side loved that shit and kept a few books in his house, which we visited for Christmas almost every year. My first contact with the dynamic duo that taught me everything I needed to know about life was sometime around 1994 at the tender age of 8, when the translated books in Spanish began making their way to
These books were very different to the ones you could buy in the Mexico ,
though—they were these tiny two-strips-per-page things, and only had about 40
strips each. US
|My Spanish books looked like the ones at the top.|
My grandfather had his own collection of the English books, but at that point I wasn’t allowed near them (my grandfather was awesome but, like me, sort of a grump). He also had some of the cheap Spanish paperbacks elsewhere in the house, and one day my eldest brother showed one to me. Skimming through the book, I found it barely interesting and cute at first. Calvin was definitely a fun character I could relate to and boy did I love Hobbes—that tiger was and still is a role model.
I read the three books my grandfather had over there in a few days (which covered, roughly, the entirety of the first book released in 1997), never really seeing a whole lot of the depth the strips are known for. See, a lot of it is lost in translation, and well, I was 8 years old. I loved it because the relationship between Calvin and Hobbes was so intoxicatingly dynamic, their adventures so relatable and inspiring, the sense of humor so perfect, the setting was a place I yearned to live in (I lived in nasty Mexico City, without forests, snow, or anywhere to explore); basically, the most shallow aspects of the strip hit my sensibilities with great precision.
I started collecting the English books despite barely speaking English at all. It’s funny—every time someone asks me how I managed to learn to read and write so well in English, having never lived in an English-speaking country, I always say “It’s thanks to Calvin & Hobbes.” These books taught me a lot about life, friendship, loneliness, family, human relationships, philosophy, growth and imagination, but holy shit did they also teach me English. Maybe it was the constant repetition in my head (again, I read these all the time). I don’t know.
Every Christmas, I’d ask Santa for a new “Calvin & Hobbes” book (I have such a perfect memory of unwrapping “Revenge of the Baby Sat” on Christmas Day 1996, when I was 10—I had broken my arm two days prior, so I remember fumbling with the wrapper and uncovering the classic back cover drawing. It was also a constant gift from my parents on my birthday, and whenever my dad went to the
business trip—it was a gift I no longer needed to ask for; my parents knew I
wanted it, and it was something that, unlike random toys or videogames, they
were very happy to always get for me. US
I completed my collection when my grandfather passed away and left all his “Calvin & Hobbes” books (the English ones I wasn’t allowed to touch) to me. This was a big deal and made them all the more valuable because other than the stuff he left for my mother and her brothers, he had only left "by name" some stuff to my eldest brother, whom he loved disproportionately more than the rest of his brood; I thought it was legit bizarre that he had the presence of mind to leave his books to me. Many of the books this great man left me I already owned, and had already collected all the strips through the larger collections like “Essential”, “Authoritative”, et al, but I got a lot of the smaller ones I had never found, like “Weirdoes From Another Planet” or “Yukon Ho!” (remember I live in
and this was before Amazon). Mexico
For that, I am eternally grateful to my granddad. If it wasn’t for him, I would’ve never found out about C&H and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have collected the beautiful first editions that still sit over my desk.
There was a very strong feeling of void when I suddenly came to the realization that I had run out of books. I read that Bill Watterson had stopped writing strips before I even learned that the series existed, and years later I was finished. Again, this was before Amazon. I could only get new books every several months. I could always look forward to more, and then suddenly I was reading this:
|Ouch, my feelings!|
I was about 15 years old when I read those final lines of the final book. I was still a kid going through the hard times of the teens, and I couldn’t help but feel that a huge part of my life would be missing from that point on. I tried to fill the void reading a lot of similar comics. “
” was fun. I didn’t really get “The Far Side” back then. “Mafalda”
was also entertaining. Garfield
But none of these replacements ever came anywhere near “Calvin & Hobbes”’ magic. I didn’t know back then how endlessly re-readable these strips were, so I felt like I would never again get any new feelings or thoughts from “Calvin and Hobbes”. Wrong.
To this day, 19 years after that first brush with Calvin and Hobbes, I read the books every year. It’s not tradition; I genuinely find new laughs, new insights, new stories and in general new beauties every time I read them. Any new experiences I gather in one year are reflected in every re-read, and my appreciation changes. When I was a kid I related to Calvin. As an adult I relate to Hobbes. I’m sure that when I have kids I’ll also relate to Dad.
What’s most amazing is that in 10 years and so many strips, Bill Watterson never dropped the ball. Sure some strips were a bit bland or corny, but they were never bad like “
” could be. That’s why it’s so hard to come up with favorites,
let alone rank them. Garfield
But here is my attempt. If I can think of others, I will be adding them.
Captain Napalm Gets It (“There’s Treasure Everywhere!”)
I always loved to see Bill Watterson flex his artistic muscle and draw outside of the regular “Calvin & Hobbes” style. In particular I loved the scenes in which we saw Calvin read his superhero comic books. This was an interest I didn’t share with Calvin, but they were always fun to read, especially when they were part of a story (like Hobbes spoiling every issue of the hilariously named “Captain Steroid”, and Mom growing concerned). This one in particular was memorable for me because I remember thinking “Holy shit, that is violent!” when I saw Whatsherface blow a hole through Captain Napalm’s spine.
Calvin’s Typical School Day (“The Days Are Just Packed”)
One of those strips I didn’t think much of when I read the first time, but found extremely complex as I grew. The symbolism used here to describe how Calvin sees his every day in school is absolutely brilliant, and ripe for a shitload of thought. I also really love the conclusion—another little detail to describe just how lonely Calvin really is, and how important Hobbes is in his life.
“Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons”
Ah, the Calvin & Hobbes horror movie. Almost everything that involved Calvin and snowmen was gold. This was a long-ish arc, but it was seventeen levels of fucking awesome. The designs of the Snow Goons, the panel showing them ‘attacking’ the house, and how Calvin finally kills them was brilliant. I also loved Calvin’s parents reaction at the end of the arc. Man, those two deserve a medal.
“RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, CALVIN!” (“Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat”)
Any strip which ended with Hobbes chasing Calvin in the last panel was gold for me because I always loved to see Calvin either outwitting or showing Hobbes up in some way or another. This one was a lot of fun because I remember laughing out loud. Who doesn’t hate to be woken up from a beautiful dream?
The Transmogrifier Gun Fight (“
Anything that had anything to do with the transmogrifier was an immediate favorite of mine (the “elephant” arc was adorable) because they were always fun and dynamic. This one was when the transmogrifier debuted as a gun (it was originally, like most of Calvin's inventions, a cardboard box) and what happens is just perfect. Calvin asks to be transformed into a pterodactyl, but Hobbes fucks up and turns him into a chicken. Thus begins another classic Calvin and Hobbes fight but here instead of kicking dirt at each other, they transform the other into increasingly insulting forms (though the crocodile was awesome). What’s great is that the fight is just the first half of the story—it continues as Calvin is stuck as an owl, which brings its own dashes of funny and cute.
The Dead Bird (“The Days Are Just Packed”)
This one speaks for itself. The first and final frames are hauntingly beautiful. The pondering is heart-breaking and profound, and the zinger is amazing. “I suppose [death] will make sense when we grow up,” says Calvin. “No doubt,” Hobbes replies, showing us that he doesn’t really know the world a whole lot more than Calvin does. It sucks to think that, even as grown ups, none of it makes sense to us.
These are the moments that show you why “Calvin & Hobbes” is so highly regarded. The philosophical implications given in just these few frames are tremendous. The famous “raccoon” story arc is another great example of the strip exploring the topic of death with a lot to say and few words. It’s beautiful and sad (“Don’t you go anywhere!”).
Dad Loves Biking (“The Days Are Just Packed”)
Calvin’s dad = my dad. Seriously, even physically. I always thought it was uncanny how much our parents were similar, and this strip is a hilarious reminder of that fact. My dad is/was more into jogging, but also loved biking despite awful, awful conditions.
Hobbes’ Pointy Ends (“
One of the first comics I read when I started collecting the books in English. I love it when Hobbes shows his wild, feral side. It’s easy for Calvin to forget that Hobbes is still a tiger, so it’s particularly hilarious to see him pounce on Hobbes and getting mauled for his troubles.
“Words fail me.” (“Something Under The Bed Is Drooling”)
More transmogrifying action. It felt like some sort of milestone to see Calvin finally know what it feels like to be a tiger—his favorite animal. Calvin’s tiger form is one of the cutest damn things Watterson ever drew, and the entire arc was rich with jokes and fun situations. I was particularly taken aback by the resolution. Calvin kinda decides that he’s not cut out to be a tiger, and goes back to being human (after Hobbes again fucks up and turns him into a big frog). Great stuff.
Rosalyn Plays Calvinball (“It’s A Magical World”)
It always felt that “It’s A Magical World” was trying to tie some stuff in Calvin’s life into neat bows for their send-off. My favorite was without a doubt the final Rosalyn story arc. I always felt bad for Rosalyn, even as a kid myself. She was a poor teenager trying to make ends meet, and was constantly stuck with a super smart kid who wouldn’t stop torturing her (I always found it odd that Hobbes never thought “Hey, bro, how about we give her a break?”).
That’s why I really loved that their last time together actually involved them not only standing each other’s presence, but having fun with one another. Calvinball itself was always great, but this instance was also very sweet.
Long Hair = Hairy Monster (“
There was also a werewolf strip in the first book, which I liked, but this one was glorious. Boy, Calvin and I sure had similar imaginations.
Hobbes Can’t Play Poker (“There’s Treasure Everywhere”)
Again, it’s always fun to see Hobbes being an animal. It’s always funny to see him unable to control himself in certain situations despite his obviously brilliant mind. Other instances of this involve his incessant sleeping, his instinct to pounce on Calvin all the time, breakfast on the go, and more.
Why this strip? It’s fucking hilarious. I love Hobbes' expression in the last frame. He's genuinely confused.
Cryptic Insults (“Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat”)
In retrospect, I can’t believe I didn’t see the twist coming, but I do remember thinking “Oh wow it was Hobbes all along?!” when I first read it. Everything about this arc was amazing, from the brilliant set-up, to the funny conclusion (Poor Suzie; I love her even if she hasn’t been mentioned in these favorites; she was almost always involved in the "G.R.O.S.S." stories which I don't really love). I liked Hobbes skull logo so much I kept drawing it on every single notebook I owned when I was in 3rd grade. The teacher once even asked me what the hell they were.
Hobbes and Moe (“
We all knew bullies. I fucking loathed Moe and just cringed every time he appeared. That’s why I was extremely excited about the prospect of Hobbes eating the shit out of that dude. Why hadn’t Calvin done that before?! Never had I wanted to see something happen more than I wanted to see Hobbes maul Moe.
I know it was the perfect way to end it, but I felt cheated when I first read it and found that Hobbes didn’t actually touch Moe, even if Calvin does end up winning in the end.
Being Miserable Builds Character (“ADMKMSG”)
This is the time Calvin & Hobbes made me laugh the most. Ever. Calvin mocking his dad was hilarious, but Mom literally rolling on the floor laughing at his kid’s mockery just sold it for me. It was so rare to see Mom laugh, let alone laugh with Calvin.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” (“Calvin & Hobbes”)
Reading this strip just now made me laugh again because of how well it reflects some of our worst nights as kids. This hit home with me because a similar thing happened to me and my cousin (my best friend when we were kids) a million billion times. Watterson’s comedic timing is at his very best in this one; the punchline is perfectly delivered, and tells an entire story with very few words. Laughs. Everytime.
“Let’s go exploring!” (“It’s A Magical World”)
The most interesting thing about this script is that when I read it, I didn't know it was the last one. However, I immediately inferred it. That's how cleverly written it is; without any sort of context, the sense of hopeful finality is there, planted on every single panel. There really isn’t a lot to be said about the final strip in “Calvin & Hobbes”. No one has ended his magnum opus with such perfection and elegance. The art is beautiful, the words are poignant, the conversation is hopeful. Yeah, it’s really difficult to see Calvin and Hobbes literally sled away from us towards a world of possibilities, but if that was the last thing I would ever see of them, I’m happy.
It’s amazing what Watterson did and more importantly, how he protected it. I know you want more “Calvin & Hobbes”, but aren’t you glad it wasn’t milked to the point of absurdity like “
” was? We
had 10 years and 3,160 strips. 3,160 strips we can re-read forever. I cannot
thank Watterson enough for this. I know I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for