The Transcendence of Calvin and Hobbes
Posted by WCPLtn
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
I can’t remember the exact date that a smart-mouthed, spiky-haired kid named Calvin and his very real stuffed tiger Hobbes entered my life. I’m reasonably certain that it was not November 18, 1985, as I was a smart-mouthed, big-haired high school sophomore (do the math, Darling Reader) who was more concerned with my reflection in the mirror than with reflection on love, art, theology, mortality, public education, paleontology, environmentalism, and the repercussive effects of human free will.
Calvin and Hobbes was conceived by American cartoonist Bill Watterson and made its syndicated debut on November 18, 1985, and ran until December 31, 1995. The strip follows the raucous antics and adventures of Calvin, a precocious six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his quick-witted toy tiger. The pair was named for 16th-century French theologian John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century English philosopher. Hobbes’ shifting duality is a defining theme of the strip: to Calvin, he is a live, anthropomorphic tiger; to all others (his parents, his archnemesis Susie Derkins, et. al.), he is an inanimate plush toy.
At the height of its popularity, Calvin and Hobbes was featured in more than 2,400 newspapers worldwide. As of 2010, reruns of the strip appeared in more than 50 countries and nearly 45 million copies of the compilation books of the strip had been sold. At the time of the strip’s creation, Watterson was employed in the advertising industry, and detested it, and began to devote increasing amounts of his spare time to cartooning. United Feature rejected Watterson’s fledgling strip, but Universal Press Syndicate took it on. Within a year of syndication, Calvin and Hobbes appeared in approximately 250 newspapers.
From the beginning, Watterson found himself at odds with the syndicate, primarily over the issue of merchandising. Watterson insisted that cartoon strips should stand on their own as a form of artistic expression, and he adamantly refused for the images of Calvin and Hobbes to be used in traditional items for marketing and promotion such as apparel, plush toys, action figures, and the like. Of course, the strip’s overwhelming popularity gave rise to the appearance of various counterfeit items such as window decals and t-shirts that often depicted crude humor, drug usage, alcohol consumption, and other themes that were not found in Watterson’s work. Watterson once wryly commented that he had “clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo.” To that end, almost no legitimate Calvin and Hobbes merchandise exists outside of the book collections. The notable exceptions are two 16-month calendars that were produced from 1988-1990, and a textbook titled Teaching With Calvin and Hobbes, which has been described as the most difficult piece of official Calvin and Hobbes memorabilia to find. Only 8 libraries on the planet have a copy of the book.
Throughout the lifespan of Calvin and Hobbes’ syndication, Watterson took two extended sabbaticals from writing new strips, from May 1991 to February 1992, and from April to December 1994. In 1995, Watterson sent a letter via his syndicate to all newspaper editors whose papers had carried Calvin and Hobbes, informing them that he would cease to publish the strip. The final Calvin and Hobbes strip ran on December 31, 1995. It featured Calvin and Hobbes cavorting in a winter wonderland of freshly fallen snow and pondering the endless possibilities of the day and the year:
It’s a magical world, indeed, Dear Reader . . . let’s go exploring in it every opportunity we get.
Sources and Suggested Reading:
- The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book by Bill Watterson (J 741.5073 WAT)
- The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury by Bill Watterson (741.5 WAT)
- Peanuts, Pogo and Hobbes: A Newspaper Editor’s Journey Through the World of Comics by George Lockwood (070.92 LOC)
- Something Under the Bed is Drooling: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection by Bill Watterson (J 741.5973 WAT)
Viewpoints expressed in this blog belong solely to the author, and are in no way representative of the opinions of WCPL employees, their long-suffering parents, or their pet tigers.