Hundreds of comic strips have been published in newspapers. The majority are terrible, and almost all the rest are mediocre. There have been maybe four or five good comic strips in the history of the world. So saying that Calvin and Hobbes is the best comic strip ever doesn’t really hold a lot of weight.
Calvin and Hobbes ran from 1985 to 1995. Bill Watterson drew thousands of strips, and while I wish like hell that he would come back and draw more, it’s probably best to reflect and be thankful for what he’s done.
Calvin and Hobbes came at a time when the comics medium needed it the most; almost everyone before Watterson attempted to copy the success of Peanuts by imitating the deceptively simple style and focusing on the funny animals like Snoopy that would bring in the money. Unfortunately, comic creators missed the mark on the aspects of Schulz’s strip that actually should have been followed, mainly the philosophical themes and the down-to-earthiness. As a result, comics once again became gag-a-day strips rather than an artistic medium, and there was a shift from children characters to teenagers and adults.Watterson reminded us that newspaper comics don’t have to be bland, crude drawings, funny animals can have deeper personalities and insights in life, and that it was still possible for a strip to successfully explore philosophical themes without feeling tacked on. And yes, comics about children can still be great.
It was so successful that even Charles M. Schulz gave his approval in a foreword to one of the book collections.Calvin is a bratty, precocious 6-year-old who lives in a slightly different, more exciting reality than everybody around him, full of alien visitors, dinosaurs, and parental cooking so awful that occasionally it tries to eat him. Hobbes is his best friend; to Calvin, he’s a walking, talking tiger. Surprisingly, to everyone else he’s not only an inanimate plush toy, but looks different when he’s immobile than he does when he’s alive, despite the fact that in Real Life there are lifelike stuffed animals that look nothing like their real counterpart.
As if Calvin’s life wasn’t exciting enough, he also often imagines himself to be someone more glamorous, like sci-fi adventurerSpaceman Spiff, world-weary private eye Tracer Bullet, Super Hero Stupendous Man, or a Tyrannosaurus rex. Calvin’s non-dinosaur-and-alien-related moments are often much more philosophical than a six-year-old generally appears, and Watterson directly acknowledges this in several anthologies and interviews. To Watterson, Calvin is a tool to subtly mock the modern age in its myriad forms — Calvin creates snowmen that resemble pretentious postmodern art sculptures, rails against the modern world’s hyper-commercialized state while indulging in it like the worst six-year-old, and occasionally questions the justification for humanity’s continuing existence while gazing at a piece of trash carelessly discarded in the woods.
At the same time, Calvin perfectly portrays the realistic child genius- one moment casually articulating concepts he won’t cover in vocabulary tests until high school, the next throwing a temper tantrum because they’re out of his favorite cereal. One of the most important (or perhaps that should be least important) parts of the strip is that the reality of Hobbes’ dual nature and the many adventures and misadventures he and Calvin share is frequently left ambiguous. Watterson has described the matter as being a non-question: This is not a strip about a young Reality Warper going on magical adventures with a stuffed animal that comes to life when no one else is looking, nor is it as simple as a boy with a stuffed tiger and an overactive imagination. This is a strip about the world seen through Calvin’s eyes.
Calvin and Hobbes has not been created in many years, but it is still as fresh today as it was back in the 1980’s. That is the genius of the cartoon’s creator. Watterson drew the comic in a way that made Calvin seem real. Since Hobbes was real to Calvin, he was also real to us. To Calvin, Hobbes is a real tiger, a cardboard box is a cloning device, a wagon driven off a ramp can fly to Mars, and mutant snowmen can stage a rebellion against their creator. And that is all that matters.