Monday, April 5, 2010

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, one of my favorite morning traditions was to read the comics section of the newspaper my parents subscribed to.  I barely tolerated the boring and ancient strips like Beetle Bailey, Blondie and Family Circle, occasionally chuckled at Garfield, loved the quirkiness of The Far Side, but saved the best for last.  Calvin and Hobbes was always the best of them all, whether it was funny or poignant.  Sometimes both.  When Bill Watterson announced his hiatus from cartooning for nine months, I didn't know how I could stand waiting that long.  When he came back, it was with the most beautiful spreads, unbelievable colors and a structure unlike anything else.  When shortly after his hiatus Watterson announced the retirement of Calvin and Hobbes, I was devastated.  I did not want this good thing to come to an end.

A few years ago, my kids were re-reading my husband's collections of Fox Trot and ripping the covers and dog-earing the pages from use.  The thought came to me that I ought to get them some Calvin and Hobbes books from the library and see what they think.  The copies we checked out must have been read a dozen times each in the few weeks we had them from the library.  They guffawed and howled with laughter, they came running to read me passages, they needed dozens of words explained to them, and then acted out their favorite strips as an impromptu play.  My memories of joyful morning readings came flooding back and I couldn't believe it took me that long to introduce them to Calvin, Mr. Spittle, Moe the bully, the myriad of snowmen, and Hobbes.  Ah, Hobbes.  I had wished so many times that he was my best friend.

Biographies have been written before where the subject declined to tell their story, but poor Nevin Martell had his hands full in writing anything about Bill Watterson in his biography, Looking for Calving and Hobbes. In addition to being violently opposed to syndicating his comic strip or syndication in general, Watterson is a fiercely private person.  His family and friends have closed ranks around him, making it nearly impossible to find any personal information about him.  When Watterson was writing Calvin and Hobbes, he rarely was interviewed and never showed up for awards given to him.  Despite all these obstacles, Martell has written a wonderful biography of the creator of this iconic strip.  He explores Watterson's childhood, education, a brief career as a editorial cartoonist, and then his time as the genius creator of a decade worth of amazing comic strips.  Martell explores his own love of the strip and how it was part of his own life.  The interviews he was able to get from editors and some friends were filled with compliments on Watterson's talent and process, but it was all slightly tinged with sadness over Watterson's refusal to be interviewed by Martell.

Despite that bittersweet aspect, I loved reading this book.  I loved learning more about how Calvin and Hobbes came to be and I loved hearing a fellow fan enjoy the process of finding out more about Bill Watterson.  It was an enjoyable read and filled me with nostalgia.  I still love reading comics and though my list is pretty short of what I read regularly, the closest I've found to the greatness of Calvin and Hobbes is Sheldon by Dave Kellett.  He seems to channel that sense of fun that Watterson was a master at.  Plus, Kellett is an independent cartoonist, not syndicated by any newspaper and still popular and putting out collections.  I think he and Watterson could have been kindred spirits had the internet been around for Calvin and Hobbes.  Sheldon is always the last comic I read every morning so that it lingers with me, kind of like saving dessert for last. As much as I miss my buddies Calvin and Hobbes, reading Sheldon brings a little of that excitement for comics back to me.

I've got a project this week to help my kids spend their birthday money on  Guess what they want to buy?  As many Calvin and Hobbes books as their money will get them.  Not a bad choice.


  1. Oh how I love Calvin and Hobbes. We always had a copy of one of the books sitting on the back of the toilet at my house. And there was always a scuffle over the Sunday comics just so we could read Calvin and Hobbes and Fox Trot. As soon as I make my way through the stack of books I have now, I'm going to read this one.

  2. I am not a big comic strip fan, but Calvin and Hobbes is the exception. We have a couple of books at home and my kids have recently discovered them. I don't know how much of the humor they get, but I was tickled to recently clean up a pile of drawings and find "Help, I'm a bug" written on one of the sheets of paper.