Dispatches from Suburbia

If I played an instrument, I would have a band called "The Simon Thomsen Sex Tape"; and other musings, rants, and disconnected ramblings.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Calvin and Hobbes, my boyhood pals

"Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us."
-Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip

Last year's Best American Essays contained a piece Jonathan Franzen wrote about Charles Shulz's Peanuts. Franzen writes about keeping the Peanuts treasury on his night stand and, as a child, getting lost in the world of Charlie Brown and Co.

He also delves into Charlie Brown's psyche, and then into the personality and psyche of Shulz himself--all parallel to Franzen's own unique relation to both Brown's and Shulz's insecurities. It is a fantastic essay, one in which I recommend looking up. It is undoubtedly a worthwhile read.

Growing up, I developed my own fascination with another comic strip: Bill Watterson's brilliant Calvin and Hobbes. The magic of Watterson's strip is the same as Shulz's: Deeply imagined characters and an imaginative (sometimes very dark) sense of humor.

I used to save up my allowances to purchase Calvin and Hobbes collections at the bookstore. Chances are, I've read every one of those strips more than once, and if they are any that I've missed, I'd like to know immediately.

I used to be so envious of little Calvin. Why, I wondered, does his backyard open up to this forest wonderland while mine is surrounded by tall cinder-block walls? It wasn't until later that I realized that much of the comic strip's adventurous atmosphere (careening along in a sled or a wagon, treehouse clubs, massive snowball fights) came from Calvin's own imaginative perceptions of his surroundings (which are rendered beautifully by Watterson himself).

Though he's often a problem child, I enjoyed Calvin's company as he enjoys that of Hobbes. As for his parents, I loved them as I love my own. They were sarcastic (his father once mentioned that they should've gotten a dachsund rather than conceive a child) but well-meaning, and they reminded me very much of my parents' "for your own good" approach to child-rearing. I related to Calvin's frustrations with his parents, and upon more recent readings of the same strips, I agree with his parents and applaud their skills at raising a child.

When the strip came to an end some years back, I was heartbroken, as if I'd lost someone very close. I grew infuriated when I began to see bumper stickers using Calvin's image, pissing on the logos of rival teams or car makers. More recently, I've seen his image kneeling before a cross. Neither suits Calvin's personality.

While he was a bratty kid at times, he would never be the angry, evil "pissing" Calvin that gets my blood boiling, and he sure wasn't a saint either.

Whoever began developing these unauthorized portrayals of Calvin does not know him as I do. I highly doubt that they hold the comic strip with the same reverence. They've violated something sacred, something dear to my heart (and to the hearts of many others), but I can rest easy in knowing that this cheap imagery will never be as sacred as my own bond with the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.


At 4:11 PM, Blogger mist1 said...

One of my all-time favorites. I stopped reading the Sunday comics when C & H stopped running.

At 6:52 PM, Blogger Laura said...

I'm not much for comic strips, but it's a shame that they took you favorite character from your comic strip and stooped to making a bumper sticker of him pissing on a vehicle. Sad indeed.

At 10:37 PM, Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

Interesting post. Why should we see Calvin portrayed as a pisscutter? You certainy wouldn't see Charlie Brown's image on a bumpersticker peeing. Who sold out and at what price?

At 1:29 AM, Blogger ShadowFalcon said...

I Love Calvin and Hobbes :-) Garfield has always been my Hero and Peanuts is fantastic but C&H can always make me laugh.

At 6:40 AM, Blogger Bird on a Wire said...

As far as I can tell, Watterson has been fighting this since the "pissing" image began. Unfortunately, the images have circulated so widely that it's been a futile battle.

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Shionge said...

I do enjoy calvin & hobbes too and thanks for sharing your passion with us :P

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Erik Donald France said...

Great post. I never much get into cartoons aside from Peanuts and occasionally Calvin & Hobbes. As historical people, I like Thomas Hobbes better than Calvin, especially his Leviathan, which is awesome: The War of All Against All (i.e. Iraq today): 'No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.'

At 4:14 PM, Blogger Stewart Sternberg said...

I love Calvin and Hobbes and I also have been offended by pissing Calvin. I've seen his image exploited twice this way..first urinating on an auto logo (who the F cares) and second, urinating on the word Iraq. Notice how both of these uses tend to be by people who have a fixation on automobiles and jingoism?

My favorite Calvin moment: Calvin's creation of numerous ominous snowmen which serve to creep out his father as well as to make satirical comment about his current family status.

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