When Calvin & Hobbes first appeared in 1985 it caused a sensation. Bill Watterson's 'sort of' 6 year old and his not so imaginary tiger friend were unlike anything seen in comics before. For 10 years Watterson wrote with style, grace and humour about childhood, adulthood, human nature, friendship and the power of imagination.
Calvin & Hobbes was also the first comic to make an impression on me. As a child I just thought it was funny. As a teenager I came to appreciate Watterson’s wit and wisdom. As an adult I greatly admire his gift for poking fun at the frailties of human nature. The wonderful thing about his work is that it can do all this and still be funny.
More than a decade after Watterson’s retirement there is still a large and active fan community for his work – a community that communicates primarily online. My own love of Calvin & Hobbes, combined with the knowledge of the vast amount of information available about the comic strip online, made Bill Watterson’s most famous creation an obvious choice of topic for my report.
When planning this presentation I first tried out several of the comic strip creation programs listed at Dogcogroo but found that Toondoo and Pixton were inconveniently slow to load and operate (at least on the Polytechnic net connection). Kerpoof wasn’t set up to do everything my presentation required and ComicsSketch required drawing skills I don’t have. Additionally, a comic strip format isn’t ideal for a presentation that has a large amount of text.
By the time I’d tried and discounted all these programs there was too little time left to learn my way around another new program, so I put aside thoughts of creating a presentation with Tabblo (for now) and settled for a PowerPoint slideshow.
A lot of what you see here came from a couple of particularly good sites maintained by dedicated fans who are committed to celebrating Calvin & Hobbes. My standby net searching technique of identifying a couple of genuinely good sites out of the results of a basic search and seeing which sites they linked to proved useful, as did checking the links to legitimate, independently verified sources that were cited at the bottom of the Calvin & Hobbes wikipedia page. That was how I found online newspaper articles about my chosen topic. The official Calvin & and Hobbes page on the Andrews McMeel website (Andrews McMeel is the publisher of Calvin and Hobbes) was also helpful.
The images I’ve used were mostly sourced from online fan sites, which tend to have plenty of graphic content as might reasonably be expected of websites about a comic strip. The image that forms the background for this slideshow is the front cover illustration from ‘The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book’. Many different people have scanned and uploaded this image, but I found this copy on the blog of a fan of the comic. If I’d wanted I could have scanned the picture from my own copy of the book.
Insofar as my primary goal was to fulfil the requirements of the assignment while learning more about Calvin & Hobbes, and its creator Bill Watterson, while enjoying the process, I certainly achieved my aims.
I learnt things about Watterson that I hadn’t previously known and discovered an excellent archive of his cartooning work prior to Calvin & Hobbes.
I learnt the basics of using several multimedia tools I hadn’t previously heard of but intend to learn more about, particularly Tabblo, and honed my Powerpoint skills.
‘ The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book’ contains an extensive introduction by Watterson in which he explains how he became a cartoonist, the inspiration behind Calvin & Hobbes and his observations on the comics industry in general. It also contains many of his favourite strips with personal commentary from him. I have my own copy.
While writing this report I hardly used it at all.
Although Calvin & Hobbes first appeared in newspapers on November 18, 1985 and was enjoying a hundreds strong circulation (and a feature article in the Los Angeles Times) less than two years later, its rise to cult status coincided closely with the spread of the internet and the popularisation of social networking sites. Consequently online sources of information on Calvin & Hobbes are significant and fairly easy to find – something I anticipated when I selected my research topic. A couple of particularly well researched fan sites and some online newspaper articles that were written in 2005 when a complete collection of the Calvin & Hobbes strips was released were also very helpful.
Calvin & Hobbes is a comic strip, written and drawn by Bill Watterson, syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate and later published in book form by Warner Books and Andrews McMeel Publishing. The first strip appeared on November 18, 1985, the last on December 31 1995.
It quickly became immensely popular with readers and at the time Watterson stopped drawing the strip it ran in more than 2400 newspapers and was published in several dozen countries. Sales of the printed collections are well in excess of 30 million and a complete collection of the strips, bound in hardcover, that was released in 2005 became the most expensive (and heaviest!) publication to appear on the New York Times best seller list.
Watterson used the strip to mercilessly lampoon politics, the arts, academia and public affairs. Calvin’s adventures often functioned as metaphors for Watterson’s own conflicts with the syndicate that published his work. See the next page for examples.
Watterson’s cultural commentary Calvin’s snow sculptures were Watterson’s way of lampooning the Art world.
More Commentary This strip is a fair example of Calvin’s academic misadventures, though by no means the most outrageous (he once dressed up as his superhero alter-ego ‘Stupendous Man’ in order to take ‘Calvin’s’ test with the aid of his ‘Stupendous knowledge’). Strips such as this made Calvin & Hobbes popular with teachers at all levels of education – I remember attending a university lecture as a child, in a class my mother was taking, and seeing the lecturer use a Calvin & Hobbes strip to illustrate a point.
Calvin is a spectacularly imaginative, hyperactive, uninhibited 6 year old who often speaks as though he has a genius level intellect and has swallowed a thesaurus (Watterson has stated that Calvin ‘has never been a literal six-year-old). His imagination and recklessness get him into extraordinary adventures.
Calvin has cloned himself, turned himself into several different animals and travelled through time, all with the aid of the same cardboard box. He has also been to Mars, but that trip that required his red wagon.
Hobbes is his best friend, a wise, funny, clever tiger who is seemingly a figment of Calvin’s imagination – except that he frequently criticises Calvin’s behaviour, questions Calvin’s morals and undermines Calvin’s plans. He also has a remarkable physical impact on Calvin’s life (frequently pouncing on Calvin and knocking him over) for an imaginary friend.
Bill Watterson has always been focused on maintaining the integrity and believability of his characters and resisted every attempt to merchandise them. He once famously refused to meet with Steven Spielberg when the director contacted him about a possible collaboration. This led to a serious and ongoing feud with the syndicate that owned the rights to the strip. After this was resolved Watterson found himself in conflict with newspapers and other cartoonists when he wanted to deviate from the standard layout used by Sunday edition comic strips. It is believed that these were both factors in his eventual decision to retire on cartooning. When the last Calvin & Hobbes strip appeared Watterson released this statement:
"This is not a recent or easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Andrews McMeel Universal (AMU) will continue."
There was supposed to be a video of two people making a Calvin & Hobbes collage out of post-it notes here, but the video wouldn’t work. Instead enjoy these two Calvin & Hobbes tributes that were created by a fan of the series just this year and posted on his livejournal blog.