When Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes debuted on November 18, 1985, his professional peers immediately took notice. The central concept of the strip – that Hobbes, a stuffed tiger, was real to Calvin but to no one else – became more than just a gimmick in Watterson’s gifted hands. It was a launching pad into a brilliantly conceived world of childhood imagination.
Watterson was a versatile draftsman and designer who could seemingly render anything that Calvin would dream up. Anatomically correct dinosaurs, bug-eyed aliens, and oozing gunk flowed from his pen. He expertly captured the shifting perspectives of Calvin’s aerial adventures. He depicted the changing seasons with the balanced hues of his Sunday pages. His characters moved with grace and energy.
The relationship between Calvin and Hobbes alternated between intense competition and cooperative camaraderie. The duo delighted in inventing the ever-changing rules to “Calvinball,” playing pranks on next-door-neighbor Susie, and taking reckless wagon and sled rides.
Bill Watterson left a void behind when he ended Calvin and Hobbes on December 31, 1995. In a relatively brief period of time, he had dramatically demonstrated how a comic strip could challenge the imagination and tickle the funny bone.
The humor in Hi and Lois is more reality based than in Calvin and Hobbes. Over the years, the illusion has been created that the characters are actual people. If their safety is endangered in any way, we are guaranteed to receive letters of protest from readers.
I envy the freedom that Bill Watterson had with Calvin. He could travel through the galaxy as Spaceman Spiff and hack his way through jungles as Safari Al. He vanquished authority as Stupendous Man and battled petty crime as Tracer Bullet, private detective. He defied the laws of physics with his “transmorgrifier” and “duplicator” inventions.
In 2005, I decided to throw caution to the wind and have Ditto sail off a cliff on a sled with his teddy bear just like Calvin and Hobbes.
Our readers allowed us to indulge in this little fantasy and didn’t complain. Chance drew the trees in the background the same way Watterson did and used a thicker pen line to emulate his technique. It was an homage to a master.
An exhibition of Watterson’s work, “Exploring Calvin and Hobbes,” opens at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum on March 22. For more details about this, and a companion exhibit, “The Irresistible Force Meets an Immovable Object – A Richard Thompson Retrospective,” go to: http://cartoons.osu.edu/events/exploring-calvin-and-hobbes/ and http://cartoons.osu.edu/events/the-irresistible-force-meets-the-immovable-object-a-richard-thompson-retrospective/
– Brian Walker