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Book Review

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Have You Had Your Dose Of Character Today? 

The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, by Bill Watterson (Andrews & McMeel, 1995)

Calvin & Hobbes. The mere mention of this treasured comic strip brings a smile to the face of all who know it. The hilarious misadventures of Calvin and his tiger Hobbes rang true to many of us in our younger years, and they are just as moving when revisited now. The life lessons and reflections in this comic are strikingly relatable. Do you ever think about Bill Watterson, the man behind Calvin & Hobbes, and wonder at his understanding of human nature and life in the modern world?

As it turns out, Bill Watterson is a remarkably private man, noteworthy for an artist whose work is beloved by millions. He has rarely granted interviews and – rather famously – never allowed companies to license his work, other than two calendars produced in 1988-1990 and a rare textbook called Teaching With Calvin & Hobbes. (That’s right; if you own one of those bumper stickers or T shirts with Calvin & Hobbes on it, it was made without his permission!). So we are left to glean what we can from his occasional forays into the public eye.

One of the best sources I have found for insight into Mr. Watterson’s mind have been the essays and paragraphs he contributes to the anthology The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book (Andrews and McMeel, 1995). Here he talks at length about the shrinking space for comics in the newspapers, his reasons for avoiding licensing, and his battle with publishing syndicates to bring the classic Sunday strip back to its former size and glory. Bonuses include insight into his characters’ origins (did you know Hobbes was named after a 17th-century philosopher with low expectations for human nature?) and the mysterious rules of Calvinball (hint: there’s only one).

But perhaps the biggest thing that becomes clear after reading this anthology is that Calvin & Hobbes was no fluke. It was not the work of someone who got lucky and stumbled on a sweet spot that resonated with audiences everywhere. Calvin & Hobbes was a direct reflection of its creator: a man who stood steadfast by his values, in a world where it rarely  made financial sense to do so. He believed in his work so strongly that he refused to present it any other way. These strong convictions about art, life and friendship made their way into the strip and into our collective subconscious in a remarkable, unforgettable way. And maybe that’s why it’s so satisfying to read this anthology.