Started in 1985, Calvin and Hobbes has been published in more than 2400 newspapers and has sold more than 45 million book copies. The immense success of the comic strip is particularly owed to powerful mix of creative responsibility by Watterson and the timeless nature of the commentary that the strip seeks to make on the world around the reader.
The primary burden of each comic strip is that it has to entertain, Watterson argued throughout his career. With this primary objective set in place, the ability to preach and profess while maintaining the creative integrity is a task easier said than done. Watterson refused to sell the soul of the comic strip for as long as he could muster his creative spirits and gave up on the strip when he wanted to. Simultaneously, he restricted further continuation of the comic while refusing to merchandise it as well.
The strip begins with no particular familiarization with the characters and grows on its own as the characters in the strip are ones that are easily relatable to by the readers.
A whiny little kid, a tiger that falls prey to his tuna trap, and dad who isn't particularly popular among the people he parents and a mom who devotes all her time straining her vocal chords, the characters are all set in a common background to create feelings of empathy.
The action is almost immediate, with Hobbes remaining in a constant duality of anthropomorphism and Calvin constantly provoking action either by creating unending menace or adding a whole new perspective to the scene.
From a mother who stays at home and a dad who gives up ambition for the family, the comic constantly uses characteristic stereotypes to generate the reader's interest.
And yet, the comic remains far from being just about a six year old who talks to his tiger.
Watterson has brilliantly added another layer to the strip by deliberately distancing the perceived level of intellect in the actions and words of the characters, Calvin and Hobbes in particular.
So even though the action depicts a lazy wasted afternoon under the tree, Calvin ends up questioning life itself, leaving the reader groping for answers. The conversations are deliberately written in bold facing, to emphasize the higher degree of intellect that flows from the little child and the soft toy.
The text style is inherently linked to the message being conveyed, with larger bold text fonts used for stronger expressions of rage and longer text lengths used to express the time spent in the conversation.
Calvin and Hobbes at the cursory glance seems to be the routine tale of a hyperactive and extremely creative child who refuses to see the world as others tell him to.
Torn between two extremes of reality, Calvin often resorts to actions that nobody else seems to comprehend and in the process leaves the readers in splits. But the greater learning from the comic comes from decoding the subtle commentaries that Watterson makes on the society and its strange ways, by a potent combination of Calvin's alternative to everything that exists and Hobbes acting as the sarcastic soldier in every venture.
The comic strip explores diverse topics such as the flaws in the current education and political systems, critical reviews on visual and written creativity, with a pint of romance and lots of dinosaurs, aliens, superheroes, and snowballs that turn the comic into a different ball game all together. Yes, like Calvinball.
The monotony in our education system and the futile attempts of educationists at teaching the child rather than learning together depicted in the strips day after day has made me understand the world around me much better.
Watterson uses the rude and extremely short tempered nature of the ever complaining child to say things that an adult refuses to acknowledge as a result of social conventions and etiquette.
Extremely subtle commentaries on the philosophy of the meaning to life have been made constantly, both directly and indirectly throughout the comic. Calvin at various points ends up questioning the essence of life largely in solitude with Hobbes or by trying to avoid wasting effort in daily chores or homework by arguing on existential questions with Mom or Miss Wormwood.
In this continuous search, Calvin leaves us continuously seeking answers by asking questions humans have stopped asking themselves because, as most philosophers put it, it is no more the path of least resistance.
The major critical statements on art and creativity come through the various experiments that Calvin undertakes to make his routine less mundane. The Snowmen are described as Avant-garde art which constantly end up as grotesque figures as Calvin sees himself as the sole guardian of true remaining art as he looks at all other regular snowmen.
The most important lesson in all these mischiefs is the ability to think of a new way at all times to create havoc all around the house by using the same cardboard box. The box becomes an object in several of Calvin's master plans, as a transmogrifier, then a duplicator, a time machine, the box of secrecy among others. Extremely mature business outlook comes out as Calvin decides to put his box to use to earn a few bucks. From selling happiness for 10 cents to charging people to first drink his dirty lemonade and then charging them to not, Watterson makes us aware of shocking truths about the market, especially when he uses examples such as selling insurance and duping people into believing that they were buying a great idea for a buck.
Calvin and Hobbes is a once in a lifetime phenomenon which has completely changed my perspective towards the world around me. I have become mesmerized by a family for ten years and yet remain oblivious of their names. A lot of things have come alive as I try and see it through the eyes of a six year old I used to be. Professors appear as witty aliens who are out to get me, and monsters routinely creep under my bed, not because I am losing my grip on reality, but because I chose to make this more real. Calvin and Hobbes is my life, for now and forever.
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