Sometimes, life just doesn’t make sense, offering those wtf moments in my day where I am confounded to no end. Why do we drive on a parkway but park on a driveway? What would happen if Pinocchio said “my nose will now grow”?
Maybe such anomalies aren’t really thought-provoking as much as frustrating logical parodoxes and aren’t worth our precious time being mulled over. But trying to think certain things through occasionally throws life into a new perspective. I mean, what if you really are just a reflection of the man in the puddle?
I was planning on this post being a crazy inception-like discussion of mind-bending conundrums but soon realized that not only would it be inefficient and inconclusive (much like me waving my arms wildly and spouting utter nonsense), but it would be more interesting to talk about something more concrete. So, I felt that since I mentioned Calvin from “Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson in my previous post, I’d talk a little bit more about that.
How does stuff not making !@#$ing sense relate to “Calvin and Hobbes”? Good question. For those of you who are not entirely familiar with one the most beloved comic strips of the 20th Century (I’d be shocked if you weren’t), “Calvin and Hobbes” is a strip that follows the richly imagine adventures of Calvin and his trusty tiger, Hobbes. Bill Watterson obviously had something more in mind when he gave his two lead characters the names of great, but edgy, philosphers. Watterson’s Calvin, a fractious young boy, was named after the stern philosopher John Calvin (though this version of Calvin was free-spirited, crazily imaginative and, for all his rebelliousness, a generous soul) and Calvin’s best friend tiger, named after Thomas Hobbes, was tall, civilized, endlessly friendly, rich in companionable qualities and eternally bonded to his best friend (quite the contrast to our “life is solitary, nasty, brutish and short” Thomas Hobbes).
Since 1985, “Calvin and Hobbes” had graced daily newspaper for ten years before Watterson decided to put his pen down. The voluntary ending of successful comic strips is something new, according to Watterson. More typically, a strip ceases production only when it’s such an anachronistic, formulaic, and irrelevant shadow of itself that readers abandon it (and thus, the death of the strip).
“Calvin and Hobbes” stopped appearing in the daily comics in 1995, a decision that Watterson admirably made for fear of having the strip coast into halfhearted repition, as so many long-running strips do. Watterson said:
I was ready to pursue different artistic challenges, work at a less frantic pace with fewer business conflicts, and not incidentally start restoring some balance to my life. “Calvin and Hobbes” was in over two thousand papers and I felt confident that I’d done the best comic strip I could do. It seemed a gesture of respect and gratitude twoard my characters to leave them at top form. I like to think that, now that I’m not recording everything they do, Calvin and Hobbes are out there having an even better time.
I found this excerpt in the Introduction of Watterson’s “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes”, a collection I proudly keep on my bookshelf (totals to ~1500 pages worth of Calvin and Hobbes) and was deeply affected by Watterson’s commitment and fondness for his characters. For those of you interested in anything art-related or are a fan of Watterson’s strip, I highly recommend at least taking a peek at the introduction if you get the chance.
Reflecting upon his work in the introduction he wrote to “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes“, Watterson observed that his two protagonists revealed different facets of his own personality. Calvin generally voices what Watterson considered his immature side, often echoing the sentiments Watterson saw prevalent in modern America. (“The consumer is always right”; “There has to be a way to cram more violence into ninety minutes”; “Hold on, I need to inflate my basketball shoes.”) By contrast, Hobbes offers a voice of ironic maturity — though he is himself far from immune to silliness.
Watterson is actually described as notoriously reclusive in real life, so it’s fascinating to through his introduction and comic, the author reveal a personable person not normally shown. Within these pages, he discusses the story of an ornery artist’s battle to explore his craft within the claustrophobic confines of a few inches of newsprint space. Watterson fights the strictures of brutal daily deadlines, skirmishes with editors to win more space for his often graceful Sunday pages, slugs it out with his syndicate to keep his creation from being reduced to a stuffed doll. The later strips begin to dwell obsessively on the horrors of our dumbed-down commodity culture, and there’s something poignant about the artist’s hopeless struggle to work within the confines of mass culture while simultaneously critiquing it. This book collection is truly a testament to Watterson’s dedication and to the medium’s ability to keep reinventing itself against all odds.
I may have gotten slightly sidetracked from this post’s topic, but people still remember “Calvin and Hobbes” because it was never worse than good, and was often simply brilliant. It parodied the issues of the day, the materialism, the greed-is-good cynicism, the pointlessness of television, the rampaging egos, the growing crassness of public intercourse, the bad behavior, our infinitesimal place in the universe. This is where “Calvin and Hobbes” comes in the picture.
The constant sarcasm, imaginative discussions and out-of-this-world analogies on all of life’s idiosyncrasies from the perspective of a child truly made this strip unique and resonate among its readers. Watterson was never afraid to question certain things both in his own life and in Calvin’s world. A generation earlier, “Peanuts” reshaped the comics world by imagining children with interior psychological lives in a neighborhood devoid of adults, while “Garfield” by Jim Davis observed the solitary life of Jon Arbuckle (as well as the cat Garfield), single and in the middle of a mid-life crisis.
I’ve been a fan of “Calvin and Hobbes” ever since I was a little kid. Even now, I chuckle inwardly as I flip through the many pages that reveal Watterson’s subtle youth and genius. In his very last strip on December 31st, 1995, Calvin sleds off the page with Hobbes exclaiming, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes Ol’ Buddy…Let’s go exploring!” and despite all crazy things that real life throws at us, the only way to understand the confusing parts is to live life some more.