Calvin and Hobbes is a very popular cartoon strip that was first syndicated in newspapers in 1985. The ongoing story focused on two characters, a defiant, imaginative, genius six-year-old named Calvin, and his 'homicidal psycho jungle cat' (or stuffed toy tiger) named Hobbes. Since the strip's first appearance, its creator Bill Watterson has published 18 collections of Calvin and Hobbes strips that appeared in the newspapers1. It ran for just over ten years, starting in November 1985 and ending on 1 January, 1996.
This comic was commended for reviving a focus on illustrations. Watterson's landscapes, woods and even dinosaurs were drawn with an attention to detail in contrast to many of Watterson's contemporaries who at the time focused almost exclusively on the dialogue. Watterson also used his comic to convey poetry, heartfelt metaphors and surprisingly philosophical concepts.
Watterson was considered one of the few cartoonists with artistic integrity left. The ideals of old-fashioned cartoons and integrity even cropped up in some of his work during battles with his syndicate. He never gave interviews and refused to licence his creations2. Compare this stance with that of Jim Davis, whose Garfield seemed ubiquitous for many years thanks to (some might say excessive) merchandising, or Scott Adams, creator of the cartoon strip Dilbert, who has been quoted as saying 'I wouldn't do Dilbert if it didn't pay.'
'...Why are we here?' 'Tiger food'
Hobbes is named after the 17th Century philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, and somewhat modelled after Bill Watterson's cat, Sprite. In the very beginning, the tiger wasn't meant to be a regular character, but it ended up working very well, so Hobbes stayed.
Hobbes is sometimes shown as a stuffed animal, usually when people other than Calvin are around, and as a real tiger when it's just Calvin. Watterson explains:
The so-called gimmick of my strip - the two versions of Hobbes - is sometimes misunderstood. I don't think of Hobbes as a doll that miraculously comes to life when Calvin's around. Neither do I think of Hobbes as the product of Calvin's imagination.... Calvin sees Hobbes as one way, and everyone else sees Hobbes another way. I show two versions of reality, and each makes complete sense to the participant who sees it. I think that's how life works. None of us sees the world exactly the same way, and I just draw that literally in the strip.
Hobbes: 'How's business?'
Calvin [Sitting at a box that offers 'A swift kick in the butt, $1.00']: 'Terrible.'
Hobbes: 'That's hard to believe'
Calvin: 'I can't understand it, everybody I know needs what I'm selling!'
Calvin, named after the 16th Century theologian John Calvin, is a misbehaving genius. He explains the philosophy behind baths, but can't do his maths homework. Calvin is in truth a very basic child. He has an incredible imagination, but refuses to do anything approaching work and wants everything his own way - just like most other six-year-olds.
Calvin is a victim of rampant commercialisation. He has offered a bowl of tapioca pudding to the television as a symbol of his brain and has been noted to say things like 'This is my favorite deodorant commercial'. He subscribes to Chewing magazine and loves 'Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs' cereal. His parents try to keep him from being too commercialised, grilling out instead of going to McDonalds.
Sometimes, Calvin takes a large cardboard box and turns it into an advanced machine - for example, a cloning machine, a 'transmogrifier' or a time machine; he has been known to plot against his long-suffering babysitter, Rosalyn; he rides his wagon around the woods, and plays 'Calvinball'3'.
Calvin employs his vivid imagination in a number of ways. He regularly transforms himself in his mind into three alter egos:
In case you're wondering...
S for stupendous! T for Tiger, ferocity of! U for Underwear, red! P for Power, incredible! E for Excellent physique! N for ...um... something... hmm, well I'll come back to that... D for Determination! U.. for... wait, how do you spell this? Is it 'I'?
Stupendous Man is Calvin's imagination played out in the real world. Occasionally, he'll change into his costume and try to save the day. This is the only one of Calvin's characters in his mind that actually exist.
Spaceman Spiff is Calvin's idea of a superhero in the mould of Flash Gordon. He travels to various planets with inhabitants whose names start with the letter 'Z'. Often, the 'Z' aliens end up being people in real life, painted over as a daydream. Often these adventures take place when he's at his school desk (which in his mind doubles up as an intergalactic space-pod) and the 'missions' are sometimes curtailed when Spiff is captured by an alien guard (or, more accurately, removed from class by his teacher, Miss Wormwood) and presented to the alien King (or 'the principal4').
Tracer Bullet is a detective. He is modelled after old 'Film Noir' thrillers of the 1950s. His cases occasionally reflect what's actually happening to Calvin in the 'real' world.
Calvin's parents were never named in the strips - as with other characters, their names are merely how Calvin himself knows them, in this case, 'Mom and Dad'. His mother is very frustrated with Calvin; in trying to raise him well, she constantly fights him to behave, asking him to clean his room, bathe or do his homework. She tries to be patient, but seems annoyed more than not. His Dad always tries to help Calvin 'build character'. He does this through taking him on camping trips and other various tortuous activities. He also stresses his ideas of traditional life, in his views on television, transit or commercialism.
Susie Derkins, named after Watterson's wife's beagle, is a neighbour of Calvin. Susie is the smart girl in class, serious and very honest. She appears to have some feelings for Calvin in earlier strips, before revulsion takes over. Calvin constantly plots against her, smacking her head with a snowball, locking her in a closet, or even forming a club against her. This club is called 'GROSS' (An acronym for Get Rid Of Slimy girlS). Calvin tortures her psychologically as well; he likes to tell her what's in his lunch ('Look, a thermos full of phlegm!'), but Susie gets him back in a more civil manner, by stealing his tiger and forcing him to participate in dollies' tea parties, or just by doing better than him at things he likes.
Hobbes and Calvin have opposing views of girls. Hobbes considers himself a gentleman and dresses up for girls. He likes girls, despite his status of First Tiger and President of GROSS. Calvin obviously won't admit that he likes Susie, though he clearly has a mild crush. He often accuses Hobbes of being a traitor, and demotes him from his peak role in GROSS as Supreme Dictator for Life.
Calvin's elderly teacher - named after the apprentice devil is C S Lewis's The Screwtape Letters - Miss Wormwood, has to endure a lot. She has to deal with Calvin to begin with, she smokes too much, and wants to retire. She is consequently a very unhappy person.
His babysitter. Calvin hates her. She takes advantage of his parents because they can't stay home every night, charging them a very large fee. Rosalyn is probably the only person Calvin is afraid of. In fact, the reason she became a semi-regular character is that Watterson liked the way she intimidated Calvin.
Moe is the basic big, ugly, dumb bully of school. Moe, the big jerk, calls Calvin 'Twinkie', demands Calvin's toys and hurts him for little or no reason. As Calvin says, 'Never argue with a six-year-old who shaves.'
The Strip Ends
When the strip ended, it created a lot of mixed feelings. People were sad to see it go, but didn't want to see the quality dip. Most agree, however, it ended on a good note5.
The comic has been survived from its last publication by many websites and a cult following for years. Its impact has been enormous on cartoons and its readers. In fact, children have been named after the characters. One h2g2 researcher was named after Calvin, though no children named Hobbes have been reported yet.