Calvin and Hobbes

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Calvin and Hobbes is a comic strip written and illustrated by Bill Watterson, following the humorous antics of Calvin, an imaginative six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his energetic and sardonic—albeit stuffedtiger. Syndicated from November 18th, 1985 until December 31st, 1995, at its height Calvin and Hobbes was carried by over 2,400 newspapers worldwide. To date, more than 30 million copies of 18 Calvin and Hobbes books have been printed.

The strip is vaguely set in the contemporary midwestern United States, in the outskirts of suburbia (West, 1989). Calvin and Hobbes themselves appear in most of the strips, though several have focused instead upon Calvin's family. The broad themes of the strip deal with Calvin's flights of fantasy, his friendship with Hobbes, his misadventures, his views on a diverse range of political and cultural issues and his relationships and interactions with his parents, classmates, educators, and other members of society. The dual nature of Hobbes is also a recurring motif; Calvin sees Hobbes as alive, while other characters see him as a stuffed animal, a point discussed more fully below. Unlike political strips such as Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury, the series doesn't mention specific political figures, but it does examine broad issues like environmentalism and the flaws of opinion polls (Astor, 1989).

Because of Watterson's strong anti-merchandising sentiments (Dean, 1987) and his reluctance to return to the spotlight, almost no legitimate Calvin and Hobbes licensed material exists outside of the book collections, but collectors do collect items that were offically approved for marketing purposes[1]. One notable exception to the licensing embargo was the publication of two 16-month wall calendars for 1988–1989 and 1989–1990.

However, the strip's immense popularity has led to the appearance of various "bootleg" items, including T-shirts, keychains, bumper stickers, and window decals, often including obscene language or references wholly uncharacteristic of the whimsical spirit of Watterson's work.

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Calvin and Hobbes took many wagon rides over the years — this one showed up on the cover of the first collection of comic strips.

History

Calvin and Hobbes was first conceived when Watterson, having worked in an advertising job he detested, began devoting his spare time to cartooning, his true love. He explored various strip ideas but all were rejected by the syndicates to which he sent them. However, he did receive a positive response on one strip, which featured a side character (the main character's little brother) who had a stuffed tiger. Told that these characters were the strongest, Watterson began a new strip centered around them. The syndicate (United Features Syndicate) which gave him this advice actually rejected the new strip, and Watterson endured a few more rejections before Universal Press Syndicate decided to take it (Christie, 1987; Dean, 1987).

The first strip was published on November 18th, 1985 and the series quickly became a hit. Within a year of syndication, the strip was published in roughly 250 newspapers. By April 1st, 1987, only sixteen months after the strip began, Watterson and his work were featured in an article by the Los Angeles Times, one of the nation's major newspapers (Dean, 1987). Calvin and Hobbes twice earned Watterson the Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year award from the National Cartoonists Society, in 1986 and 1988. Before long, the strip was in wide circulation outside the United States; for more information on publication in various countries and languages, see Calvin and Hobbes in translation.

Watterson took two extended breaks from writing new strips—from May 1991 to February 1992, and from April through December of 1994.

In 1995 Watterson sent a letter via his syndicate to all editors whose newspapers carried his strip. It contained the following:

"I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. This was not a recent or an easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted however, and 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 Universal Press Syndicate will continue.
That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I'll long be proud of, and I've greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity."

The 3150th and final strip ran on Sunday, December 31st, 1995. It depicted Calvin and Hobbes outside in freshly-fallen snow, reveling in the wonder and excitement of the winter scene. "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy!" Calvin exclaims in the last panel. "Let's go exploring!"

Syndication and Watterson's artistic standards

From the outset, Watterson found himself at odds with the syndicate, which urged him to begin merchandising the characters and touring the country to promote the first collections of comic strips. Watterson refused. To him, the integrity of the strip and its artist would be undermined by commercialization, which he saw as a major negative influence in the world of cartoon art (West, 1989).

Watterson also grew increasingly frustrated by the gradual shrinking of available space for comics in the newspapers. He lamented that without space for anything more than simple dialogue or spare artwork, comics as an art form were becoming dilute, bland, and unoriginal (Astor, 1988; West, 1989). Watterson strove for a full-page version of his strip (as opposed to the few cells allocated for most strips). He longed for the artistic freedom allotted classic strips such as Little Nemo and Krazy Kat, and he gave a sample of what could be accomplished with such liberty in the opening pages of the Sunday strip compilation, The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book.

During Watterson's first sabbatical from the strip, Universal Press Syndicate continued to charge newspapers full price to re-run old Calvin and Hobbes strips. Few editors approved of the move, but the strip was so popular that they had little choice but to continue to run it for fear that competing newspapers might pick it up and draw its fans away. Then, upon Watterson's return, Universal Press announced that Watterson had demanded that his Sunday strip be guaranteed half of a newspaper or tabloid page for its space allotment. Many editors and even a few cartoonists, such as Bil Keane (The Family Circus), criticized him for what they perceived as arrogance and an unwillingness to abide by the normal practices of the cartoon business—a charge that Watterson ignored. Watterson had negotiated the deal to allow himself more creative freedom in the Sunday comics. Prior to the switch, he had to have a certain number of panels with little freedom as to layout (due to the fact that in different newspapers the strip would appear at a different width); afterwards, he was free to go with whatever graphic layout he wanted, however unorthodox. His frustration with the standard space division requirements is evident in strips before the change; for example, a 1988 Sunday strip published before the deal is one large panel, but with all the action and dialogue in the bottom part of the panel so editors could crop the top part if they wanted to fit the strip into a smaller space. Watterson's explanation for the switch:

I took a sabbatical after resolving a long and emotionally draining fight to prevent Calvin and Hobbes from being merchandised. Looking for a way to rekindle my enthusiasm for the duration of a new contract term, I proposed a redesigned Sunday format that would permit more panel flexibility. To my surprise and delight, Universal responded with an offer to market the strip as an unbreakable half page (more space than I'd dared to ask for), despite the expected resistance of editors.
To this day, my syndicate assures me that some editors liked the new format, appreciated the difference, and were happy to run the larger strip, but I think it's fair to say that this was not the most common reaction. The syndicate had warned me to prepare for numerous cancellations of the Sunday feature, but after a few weeks of dealing with howling, purple-faced editors, the syndicate suggested that papers could reduce the strip to the size tabloid newspapers used for their smaller sheets of paper. … I focused on the bright side: I had complete freedom of design and there were virtually no cancellations.
For all the yelling and screaming by outraged editors, I remain convinced that the larger Sunday strip gave newspapers a better product and made the comics section more fun for readers. Comics are a visual medium. A strip with a lot of drawing can be exciting and add some variety. Proud as I am that I was able to draw a larger strip, I don't expect to see it happen again any time soon. In the newspaper business, space is money, and I suspect most editors would still say that the difference is not worth the cost. Sadly, the situation is a vicious circle: because there's no room for better artwork, the comics are simply drawn; because they're simply drawn, why should they have more room?
(from Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995, 2001, Bill Watterson, p. 15)

Despite the change, Calvin and Hobbes remained extremely popular and thus Watterson was able to expand his style and technique for the more spacious Sunday strips without losing carriers.

Since ending the strip, Watterson has kept aloof from the public eye and has given no indication of resuming the strip or creating new works based on the characters. He refuses to sign autographs or license his characters, staying true to his stated principles. In previous years, he was known to sneak autographed copies of his books onto the shelves of a family-owned bookstore near his home in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. However, after discovering that some people were selling the autographed books on eBay for high prices, he ended this practice as well.

Merchandising

Bill Watterson is notable for his insistence that cartoon strips should stand on their own as an art form, and he has resisted the use of Calvin and Hobbes in merchandising of any sort (Christie 1987). This insistence stuck despite what was probably a cost of millions of dollars per year in additional personal income. This also explains why the strip has never been made into an animated series.

Except for the books (see below) and two extremely rare 16-month calendars (19881989 and 19891990), virtually all Calvin and Hobbes merchandise, including T-shirts as well as the ubiquitous stickers for automobile rear windows which depict Calvin urinating on a company's or sports team's name or logo, are unauthorized. After threat of a lawsuit alleging infringement of copyright and trademark, some of the sticker makers replaced Calvin with a different boy, while other makers ignored the issue. Watterson wryly commented "I clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo." [2] Some legitimate special items were produced, such as promotional packages to sell the strip to newspapers, but these were never sold outright.

Style and influences

Calvin and Hobbes strips are characterized by sparse but careful draftsmanship, intelligent humor, poignant observations, witty social and political commentary, and well-developed characters that are full of personality. Precedents to Calvin's fantasy world can be found in Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts, Percy Crosby's Skippy, Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County, and George Herriman's Krazy Kat, while Watterson's use of comics as sociopolitical commentary reaches back to Walt Kelly's Pogo. Schulz and Kelly in particular influenced Watterson's outlook on comics during his formative years (Christie 1987).

Notable elements of Watterson's artistic style are his characters' diverse and often exaggerated expressions (particularly those of Calvin), elaborate and bizarre backgrounds for Calvin's flights of imagination, well-captured kinetics, and frequent visual jokes and metaphors. In the later years of the strip, with more space available for his use, Watterson experimented more freely with different panel layouts, stories without dialogue, and greater use of whitespace.

Watterson's technique started with minimal pencil sketches (though the larger Sunday strips often required more elaborate work); he then would use a small sable brush and India ink to complete most of the remaining drawing. He was careful in his use of color, often spending a great deal of time in choosing the right colors to employ for the weekly Sunday strip.

Art and academia

Watterson has used the strip to criticize the artistic world, principally through Calvin's unconventional creations of snowmen. When Miss Wormwood complains that he is wasting class time drawing incomprehensible things (a stegosaurus in a rocket ship, in fact), Calvin proclaims himself "on the cutting edge of the avant-garde". He begins exploring the medium of snow when a warm day melts his snowman. His next sculpture "speaks to the horror of our own mortality", inviting the viewer to contemplate the fleeting nature of life, much in the vein of Ecclesiastes. Over the years, Calvin's creative instincts diversify into sidewalk drawings ("suburban postmodernism").

Watterson also directed criticism toward the academic world. Calvin writes a "revisionist autobiography", giving himself a flame thrower; he carefully crafts an "artist's statement", knowing that such essays convey more messages than artworks themselves ever do. ("You misspelled Weltanschauung," Hobbes notes.) He indulges in what Watterson calls "pop psychobabble" to justify his destructive rampages and shift blame to his parents, citing "toxic codependency". Once, he pens a book report entitled, "The dynamics of interbeing and monological imperatives in Dick and Jane: a study in psychic transrelational gender modes". Displaying his creation to Hobbes, he remarks, "Academia, here I come!" Watterson explains that he adapted this jargon (and similar examples from several other strips) from an actual book of art criticism (Tenth Anniversary Book, p. 184).

Overall, Watterson's satirical essays serve to attack both sides, criticising both the commercial mainstream and the artists who are supposed to be "outside" it. Walking contemplatively through the woods, not long after he began drawing his "Dinosaurs in Rocket Ships Series", Calvin tells Hobbes,

The hard part for us avant-garde post-modern artists is deciding whether or not to embrace commercialism. Do we allow our work to be hyped and exploited by a market that's simply hungry for the next new thing? Do we participate in a system that turns high art into low art so it's better suited for mass consumption?
Of course, when an artist goes commercial, he makes a mockery of his status as an outsider and free thinker. He buys into the crass and shallow values art should transcend. He trades the integrity of his art for riches and fame.
Oh, what the heck. I'll do it.

Such sentiments echo Watterson's own struggles with his Syndicate over merchandising issues. In a sense, they are the comic-strip equivalent of such Frank Zappa songs as "Absolutely Free" (We're Only In It For The Money, 1968) and "Tinsel Town Rebellion" (1981).

Passage of time

When the strips were originally published, Calvin's settings were seasonally appropriate. Calvin would be seen building snowmen or sledding during the wintertime, and outside activities such as water balloon fights would replace school during the summer. Christmas and Halloween strips were run during those approximate times of year.

Although Watterson depicts several years' worth of holidays, school years, summer vacations, and camping trips, Calvin is never shown to age nor have any birthday celebrations (the only shown birthday was that of Susie Derkins). This is fairly common among comic strips; consider the children in Charles Schulz's Peanuts, most of whom existed without aging for decades. Likewise, the characters in George Herriman's Krazy Kat celebrate the New Year but never grow old, and young characters like Ignatz Mouse's offspring never seem to grow up. Since this is such a common phenomenon, readers are likely to suspend disbelief, as most of them do about Calvin's precocious vocabulary, accepting that he "was never a literal six-year-old" (Tenth Anniversary Book).

The main characters

Calvin

Named after 16th-century theologian John Calvin (founder of Calvinism and a strong believer in predestination), Calvin is an impulsive, imaginative, energetic, curious, intelligent, self-centered, and often selfish six-year-old. Despite his low grades, Calvin has a wide vocabulary range that rivals that of an adult as well as an emerging philosophical mind. Watterson has described Calvin thus:

  • "Calvin is pretty easy to do because he is outgoing and rambunctious and there's not much of a filter between his brain and his mouth." (Williams, 1987)
  • "I guess he's a little too intelligent for his age. The thing that I really enjoy about him is that he has no sense of restraint, he doesn't have the experience yet to know the things that you shouldn't do." (Dean, 1987)
  • "The socialization that we all go through to become adults teaches you not to say certain things because you later suffer the consequences. Calvin doesn't know that rule of thumb yet." (West, 1989)

Calvinistic predestination as a philosophical position basically entails the idea that human action plays no part in affecting a person's ultimate salvation or damnation. Calvin's consistent gripe is that the troublesome acts he commits are outside of his control: he is simply a product of his environment, a victim of circumstances.

Calvin commonly wears his distinctive striped shirt. His last name is never mentioned in the strips.

Hobbes

Hobbes is Calvin's tiger who, from Calvin's perspective, is as alive and real as anyone else in the strip. He is named after 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who had what Watterson described as "a dim view of human nature." He is famous for his claim that humans' natural state is a state of war, where "the life of man [is], solitary, poore [sic], nasty, brutish, and short." Hobbes is much more rational and aware of consequences than Calvin, but seldom interferes with Calvin's troublemaking beyond a few oblique warnings—after all, Calvin will be the one to get in trouble for it, not Hobbes.

For the most part, Calvin and Hobbes converse and play together, reveling in what is ultimately a deep friendship. They also frequently argue or even fight with each other, though their disagreements are generally short-lived. Often Hobbes ambushes Calvin with an energetic pounce-and-tackle attack, which leaves Calvin bruised and scraped up but not seriously harmed. Hobbes takes great pleasure in his demonstrations of feline prowess, while Calvin expresses keen frustration at his inability to stop the attacks or explain his injuries to his skeptical parents.

Watterson based some of Hobbes's characteristics, especially his playfulness and attack instinct, on his own pet cat, Sprite. Hobbes takes great pride in being a feline and frequently makes wry or even disparaging comments about human nature, declaring his good fortune to lead a tiger's life. In Calvin's philosphical ramblings, it is evident that Hobbes is usually Bill Watterson's voice on the subject, whereas Calvin usually seems to echo the sentiments (or lack thereof) of modern America.

Interestingly, Hobbes almost never calls Calvin by his name. Instead, he simply uses pronouns when speaking to his human counterpart.

Hobbes' reality

From Calvin's point of view, Hobbes is a walking, talking, bipedal tiger, slightly taller than Calvin and full of his own attitudes and ideas. But when the perspective shifts to any other character, we see merely a stuffed tiger. This is, of course, an odd dichotomy, and Watterson explains it thus:

When Hobbes is a stuffed toy in one panel and alive in the next, I'm juxtaposing the "grown-up" version of reality with Calvin's version, and inviting the reader to decide which is truer. (Christie, 1987)

Many readers assume that Hobbes is either a product of Calvin's imagination, or a doll that comes to life when Calvin is the only one around. However, both of these theories are incorrect. As Watterson explains in the Tenth Anniversary Book, "Hobbes is more about the subjective nature of reality than dolls coming to life": thus there is no concrete definition of Hobbes' reality. Watterson explained: "Calvin sees Hobbes one way, and everyone else sees Hobbes another way." Hobbes' reality is in the eye of the beholder.

Sometimes Hobbes breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the reader, such as when Calvin tries to parachute from his house's roof ("His mom's going to have a fit about those rose bushes"). On other occasions, it is difficult to imagine how the "stuffed toy" interpretation of Hobbes is consistent with what the characters see. For example, he "assists" Calvin's attempt to become a Houdini-style escape artist by tying Calvin to a chair. Calvin, however, cannot escape, and his irritated father must undo the knots, all the while asking Calvin how he could do this to himself. In a rare interview, Watterson explained his approach to this situation:

Calvin's dad finds him tied up and the question remains, really, how did he get that way? His dad assumes that Calvin tied himself up somehow, so well that he couldn't get out. Calvin explains that Hobbes did this to him and he tries to place the blame on Hobbes entirely, and it's never resolved in the strip. Again I don't think that's just a cheap way out of the story. I like the tension that that creates, where you've got two versions of reality that do not mix. Something odd has happened and neither makes complete sense, so you're left to make out of it what you want. (West, 1989)

In another story, Susie has to stay at Calvin's house after school because her parents are working late. Calvin only finds this out on the way home and when Calvin and Susie reach the house, Hobbes is waiting by the door for Susie and wearing a tie. But the question is, how is Hobbes wearing the tie? Another instance of ambiguity is a strip in which Calvin imagines Hobbes and himself on the front page of many newspapers after winning a contest. Although these newspapers are clearly a figment of Calvin's imagination, Hobbes appears in "stuffed" form. Once, Calvin attempts to capture a picture of Hobbes pouncing on him. Calvin's father assumes Calvin just threw Hobbes up in the air, a viewpoint to which Hobbes takes great offence. Calvin and Hobbes also spend an afternoon taking a multitude of Polaroid pictures of Hobbes making various faces. To the pair of them, every picture is different, but to Calvin's father, it looks like Calvin just took a whole roll of his stuffed tiger sitting on the ground.

Many people feel that the blurred reality between Hobbes' two forms is both amusing and philosophical. Hobbes is often the voice of reason, contrasting Calvin's manic impulsiveness. Readers are left to wonder if this rationality is in Hobbes as a distinct personality, or in Calvin as a kind of conscience.

Supporting characters

Recurring characters

Calvin's family

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Calvin's unnamed parents, usually referred to only as "Mom" and "Dad".

Calvin's mother and father are for the most part typical Middle American middle-class parents; like many other characters in the strip, their relatively down-to-earth and sensible attitudes serve primarily as a foil for Calvin's outlandish behavior. Both parents go through the entire strip unnamed, except as "Mom" and "Dad", or such pet names as "hon" and "dear".

Calvin's father is a middle-aged patent attorney who is portrayed as an upstanding middle-class father, as his son might see him. An outdoorsman, he enjoys bike rides and camping trips, and insists that these activities, like Calvin's chores, "build character". When Calvin asks him questions, he often makes up outlandish answers, such as:

Calvin: "Why does [the sun] move from east to west?"
Dad: "Solar wind."
Calvin: "Dad, what makes wind?"
Dad: "Trees sneezing."
Calvin: "Really?"
Dad: "No, but the real answer is more complicated."
Calvin (later, to Hobbes): "The trees are really sneezing today."

The character is closely based on Watterson's own father, who was also a patent attorney, and often told his family how so many unpleasant things "built character". The actual caricature is rumored to be a self-portrait of Watterson himself, minus his facial hair. Watterson has said that he identifies more with this character than with Calvin.

Calvin's mother is a stay-at-home parent who is frequently exasperated by Calvin's antics. On the rare occasions when she is not reacting to Calvin's misbehavior, she seems to enjoy quiet activities, such as gardening and reading. She occasionally uses parenting methods that seem unconventional; in one Sunday strip, she allows Calvin to smoke a cigarette in order to teach him how unpleasant smoking can be. She also usually seems sympathetic towards her son's relationship with Hobbes, and a few times has found herself speaking to Hobbes as well.

Upon occasion, Watterson takes the time to flesh out the two parental characters. One example is a storyline in which the family returns from a wedding to find their house broken into. For several strips, Calvin and Hobbes fade into the background as Mom and Dad reflect on the impact of the event.

Calvin's parents drive a purple hatchback similar to an early 1980s Honda Civic or VW Rabbit. The car is the setting of family trips, and is occasionally the victim of Calvin's mischief, such as when he pushes the car into a ditch or attempts to sell it.

Calvin also has a maternal grandmother and maternal grandfather. A grandfather who smokes is also mentioned, but it is unclear whether he is the maternal or paternal grandfather; none appear in the strip, and are only rarely mentioned in dialogue. Calvin also has an Uncle Max, who was present in half a dozen strips; Watterson decided not to bring him back because he came to feel that Max was a character without much potential, and also because of the problems involved in Max not being able to call Calvin's parents by their first name; he often referred to Calvin's father simply as "Bro".

Susie Derkins

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Susie Derkins, Calvin's classmate.

Susie Derkins is a classmate of Calvin's who lives in his neighborhood. She first appeared early in the strip as a new student in Calvin's class. In contrast with Calvin, she is polite and diligent in her studies, and her imagination usually seems mild-mannered and civilized, consisting of stereotypical young girl games such as playing house or having tea parties with her stuffed animals. "Derkins" was the nickname of Watterson's wife's childhood pet, and he liked the name so much he named a character after it.

Susie and Calvin's relationship is a constant source of tension; she is frequently the victim of Calvin's derision and plots, and is also often willing to retaliate when provoked. Most commonly, Susie will be the target of Calvin's water balloons or snowballs, and he often goes to great lengths to disgust or annoy Susie. Calvin founded his and Hobbes' secret club, G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy GirlS) as a general anti-girl organization, but in practice the club is almost invariably dedicated to pestering Susie specifically.

Watterson admits that Calvin and Susie have a bit of a nascent crush on each other, and that Susie is inspired by the type of women he himself finds attractive (which has led to speculation that Susie is based on Watterson's wife). Her relationship with Calvin, though, is frequently conflicted, and never really becomes sorted out. The love/hate relationship is most obvious in some of the early comics involving Susie and Calvin's relationships, when some punchlines revolved around Susie and Calvin going out of their way to malign each other, followed immediately by each thinking romantic thoughts about the other. Specifically, in an early Valentine's Day strip, Susie seems to appreciate a rather juvenile and insulting card Calvin gives her, and he rejoices when she notices him. Watterson, in retrospect, decided this was a bit heavy-handed and resolved simply let the two characters bounce off each other in future, to the point of practically removing any romantic subtext.

On occasion, Hobbes takes action to attract Susie's romantic attention, often with success, and much to Calvin's chagrin. Although on the surface these scenarios take the form of Hobbes teasing Calvin and showing off his charms, they may be Calvin's way to disguise his own crush on Susie, by pretending that it is Hobbes' crush instead.

Miss Wormwood

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Miss Wormwood, Calvin's teacher.

Miss Wormwood is Calvin's world-weary teacher, named after the apprentice devil in C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. She perpetually wears polka-dotted dresses, and is another character who serves as a foil to Calvin's mischief.

Miss Wormwood is rarely sympathetic to the trouble Calvin has in school, and comes across as a rather strict, dour character. She is quick to send Calvin to the principal's office at the first sign of trouble. She is also a heavy smoker—"Rumor has it she's up to two packs a day, unfiltered"—mixes different stress-related medications, and is waiting for retirement.

Although there is a definite progression of time in the Calvin and Hobbes universe, mainly exhibited by the changing seasons, Calvin (and Susie) return to Ms. Wormwood's first grade class every fall.

Rosalyn

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Rosalyn, Calvin's babysitter.

Rosalyn is a high school senior who occasionally finds herself babysitting Calvin whenever Calvin's parents go out for a night. Rosalyn is the only babysitter willing to tolerate Calvin's antics more than once, and Calvin's parents most often end up paying her extra and in advance, in order to ensure that she will continue accepting the job.

Rosalyn's idea of babysitting Calvin is often to put him to bed at 6:30, and she has little patience for Calvin's attempts to rebel against her. Calvin will often freak out whenever he hears that Rosalyn is going to be babysitting him, in one instance screaming nonstop for an entire comic upon learning of her imminent arrival. These babysitting sessions tend to degenerate into war zones, as Calvin short-sightedly attempts to cause as much trouble as possible for her.

Watterson has said he thinks that Rosalyn is the only person who Calvin truly fears, and, like Susie, she is sometimes willing to sink to Calvin's level to retaliate against his antics. She is frequently able to turn his plots against him, either by cunning, by brute force, or just by waiting until his parents inevitably get home. In one of the later Rosalyn stories, it is revealed that she is also a skilled Calvinball player, much to Calvin's surprise.

Moe

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Moe, a bully at Calvin's school.

Moe is the prototypical bully character in Calvin & Hobbes, "a six-year-old who shaves", according to Calvin. Moe is the only regular character who speaks in an unusual font: his (frequently monosyllabic) dialogue is shown in crude, lower-case letters. Watterson describes Moe as "every jerk I've ever known".

Moe's main function in the strip is to take Calvin's lunch money, harass him in the hallways, and otherwise serve as a source of suffering and unpleasantness. While Rosalyn is frequently a match for Calvin's plans, Moe seems to be the only character capable of frustrating Calvin to the point of absolute resignation; Calvin's rare attempts to retaliate have mainly consisted of mocking Moe with words he can't understand.

Calvin: "The simian aspect of your countenance suggests a heritage unusually rich in species diversity."
Moe: "What?"
Calvin (handing Moe his lunch money): "Here you go. (to himself) That was worth 25 cents."

Minor characters

  • Aliens: Calvin encounters many extraterrestrial life-forms in the course of the strip, usually during adventures as his alter-ego, Spaceman Spiff. Most of these aliens are non-humanoid, bizarre monsters– but they frequently turn out to be merely Calvin's imaginative perception of Susie, or his parents and teachers. Initially, many of the aliens spoke in garbled, somewhat onomatopoetic language, with lines like "Ugga muk bluh Spiff". Later, some aliens' speech balloons contained geometric symbols with unclear phonetic values. In the strip's final year, Watterson drew two stories involving recurring alien characters, Galaxoid and Nebular.
  • Doctor: Calvin occasionally visits his pediatrician, who appears to be a mild-mannered physician with a friendly demeanor. Calvin, however, frequently sees him as a vicious, sadistic interrogator, sometimes visualizing him as an alien or overreacting to his playful diagnoses.
  • Principal Spittle: Calvin's school principal, Mr. Spittle, usually makes his appearance when Calvin has gone too far in testing Miss Wormwood's limits. He is portrayed as the same stale, academic type of character as Miss Wormwood. Mr. Spittle rarely speaks in the strip; typically, he is seen in the last frame looking over his desk as Calvin tries to explain his latest mishap.
  • Classmates: The reader sees various classmates of Calvin, but other than Susie and Moe they are almost entirely anonymous. Calvin seems only vaguely aware of them, but when he does pay attention to them they are always antagonists, as they see Calvin as the misbehaving minority who makes things difficult for the conforming majority.
  • Uncle Max: Uncle Max is Calvin's uncle, his father's brother, who resembles his father with a bushy mustache. Max appears in the strip on only a couple of occasions. Watterson found it difficult to write Max's dialogue without referring to Calvin's parents by name, and also felt that Max just didn't fit in the universe of Calvin and Hobbes, so his existence was limited to a few strips.
  • Mr. Lockjaw: Mr. Lockjaw is the gym teacher and coach of the baseball team at Calvin's school. He is a squat, burly man with little patience for people like Calvin who lack a competitive spirit; when Calvin leaves the team, Lockjaw calls him a "quitter", and this emotional trauma leads to the reader's first encounter with Calvinball.
  • Scouts: Early in the strip, Watterson shows Calvin participating with other children in Cub Scout activities in the woods. Watterson thought at the time that scouting might offer some potential for interesting adventures, but eventually abandoned the idea, considering it uncharacteristic of Calvin to join an organization, and viewing it as a distraction from Calvin's intentionally personal world (much as Calvin himself did).

Recurring themes

There are several repeating themes in the work, a few involving Calvin's real life, and many stemming from his incredible imagination. Some of the latter are clearly flights of fancy, while others, like Hobbes, are of an apparently dual nature and don't quite work when presumed real or unreal.

Calvin's alter-egos

Calvin's hyperactive imagination leads him to imagine himself as other characters with different powers and goals, sometimes vanishing into a fantasy to escape a difficult situation (like a school quiz). It is important to note that Hobbes is not seen taking part in the fantasies involving Calvin's alter-egos, other than criticizing his choice of alter-egos.

  • Stupendous Man - a superhero Calvin often turns into with the help of a mask and cape his mom created for him. This character defends against such terrifying prospects as Rosalyn or, once, Miss Wormwood and the school principal. Calvin only possesses the maroon cape and cowl; his imagination supplies the rest of the spandex outfit.
  • Spaceman Spiff - a space traveller who fights alien monsters on far-away planets, based upon Watterson's earlier attempts at syndicated comics and a parody of Flash Gordon. Often Spaceman Spiff either crashes or has crashed on an alien world.
  • Tracer Bullet - a private investigator. Modeled on "private eye" clichés from film noir and mystery fiction, Tracer Bullet is a tough-guy investigator drawn in a high-contrast art style. Watterson considered this style dramatic but regarded it as time-consuming, so he drew relatively few Tracer Bullet strips (Tenth Anniversary Book).
  • Dinosaurs - Calvin loves dinosaurs; they are almost the only subject he studies of his own free will. This, of course, means that Calvin imagines himself as a dinosaur in many of the strips. Whenever Calvin is pretending to be a dinosaur, he is usually a predator (such as a Tyrannosaurus rex) on the hunt. He has also, on occasion, imagined himself as a 'Calvinosaurus', a monstrous theropod that could apparently devour even the largest sauropods in one bite.
  • Animals - Calvin sees himself in a variety of animal bodies as well, from large mammals to insects. Sometimes this is a result of being transmogrified.
  • Captain Napalm - a superhero who protects "truth, justice and the American Way.” Only seen on one or two occasions and is a satirical Captain America of sorts. Calvin draws this character from a comic book hero, leader of the "Thermonuclear League of Liberty," whose exploits he diligently reads, though he is rarely seen with a new issue of it.
  • God - Calvin sometimes sees himself as (a) God, perhaps as the logical extension of imagining himself a superhero or force of nature. When he does so, however, he imagines himself as a highly vengeful lord of destruction. He does this in several ways — in one strip with the aid of Tinkertoys.

Monsters under the bed

At night, Calvin is constantly terrorized by nightmarish creatures apparently living under his bed. Only Calvin and Hobbes are aware of them (there are occasions on which they attempt to bribe Hobbes into handing Calvin over, often with food). There appears to be no continuing theme to their appearance except that they are very intimidating, but none too bright, and they probably want to eat Calvin.

G.R.O.S.S.

G.R.O.S.S. is Calvin's anti-girl club. The name is an acronym that stands for Get Rid Of Slimy girlS (which Calvin admits is a bit redundant, "but otherwise it doesn't spell anything"). Based in a treehouse, the main objective of G.R.O.S.S. is to exclude girls, mostly Calvin's neighbor Susie. Calvin and Hobbes are its only members, and wear hats made out of newspaper during meetings. Calvin and Hobbes spend most of their time in the club reworking its constitution and arguing about their excessively bureaucratic roles and titles. Because the club exists specifically to harass girls, they sometimes plan missions to do so. After a mission they give themselves medals, regardless of whether they succeed or fail.

Mealtimes

Lunchtime and dinnertime find Calvin eager to share his thoughts about the food he (or anyone else) is eating. Calvin's meals at home are generally depicted as a pile of unidentifiable green goop. Those eating with him are generally repulsed by his colorful descriptions of the cuisine, which is one of the reasons his parents seldom take him to restaurants. Calvin's mother occasionally coaxes him to eat his dinner by informing him that they are serving some outlandish or stomach-turning dish — e.g. monkey brains, toxic waste — which Calvin then eats with relish, though his father usually no longer has an appetite (in the first such comic, however, the parents' roles are reversed). On occasion, his meals are also animate, usually resulting in a fight with said food and leaving a large mess that strains his mother's patience.

Cardboard boxes

Calvin has an obsession with corrugated cardboard boxes, which he adapts for many different uses. Forms include a Transmogrifier (a device that can change any object into another object), a duplicator (which can make copies of any object), and a flying time machine.

Building a transmogrifier is accomplished by turning a cardboard box upside-down, attaching an arrow to the side and writing a list of choices on the box. Upon turning the arrow to a particular choice and pushing a button, the transmogrifier instantaneously rearranges the subject's "chemical configuration" (accompanied by a loud zap). Calvin makes his first foray into the world of transmogrification when he temporarily turns himself into a tiger, but he found the experience disappointing. Calvin re-uses some of this technology when he cleverly converted an ordinary water gun into a portable transmogrifier gun, a device which saves his life when he found himself falling from high altitude.

The time machine is built by flipping the transmogrifier back so that the opening faced upwards again. One uses it by donning a pair of goggles (in order to "contend with vortexes and light speeds") and climbing into the vehicle. Facing the front makes the machine go forward in time, and facing backwards makes it travel into the past. Calvin and Hobbes discover these time travel mechanics when they attempt to go into the future in order to bring back a few futuristic inventions and patent them in the present, securing a fortune for themselves. However, they face the wrong way and end up in the Cretaceous period, bringing them face-to-face with a very large dinosaur.

Duplicating matter requires a duplicator, crafted by turning the box on its side. Whatever is put in the box will be duplicated with a boink sound (hence the book title, Scientific Progress Goes Boink). Calvin envisions having a small team of duplicate Calvins whom he could send off to school, so he could go about his own business during school days. However, the new Calvins prove to be exact replicas, with the same reluctance to go to school, and thus become difficult to control. Calvin later adds an "Ethicator" switch to his duplicator, allowing a duplicate to be designated "good" or "evil", since he believes that a duplicate of his well-buried "good side" could cause no harm. This experiment is successful at first, with the "good" duplicate willingly doing Calvin's homework and going to school, but soon this adventure too leads to disaster. In consequence, Hobbes remarks, "You're the only person I know whose good side is prone to badness."

Calvin's last cardboard box invention is the Cerebral Brain Enhance-o-tron, which combined with a colander creates a "thinking cap", a garment which enhanced his mental prowess (inadvertently causing his head to swell in addition). Upon activation, this machine goes brzap. Like his other inventions, the Cerebral Enhance-o-tron fails to change drastically his life; even with his "cerebral augmentation", he is unable to write a school report up to Miss Wormwood's standards.

Most of the other characters do not see his inventions as "real". For example, when Calvin transmogrifies himself into an owl or a tiger, his parents do not observe the transformation; only he and Hobbes see the change. This is a similar dilemma to that of Hobbes' existence (see above).

Wagon and sled

Calvin and Hobbes frequently ride downhill in a wagon, sled, or toboggan (depending on the season) and ponder the meaning of life, death, God, and a variety of other weighty subjects as they hurtle downhill. The course of the vehicle and the obstacles that the characters negotiate as they travel frequently serve as metaphors for and parallel the subject of conversation, and the rides almost always end in a spectacular crash.

The wagon temporarily served as a spacecraft when Calvin and Hobbes realized that the human race was laying waste to Earth by polluting it. They decided to go live on Mars, but returned soon after when they realized that the native Martians (or, "weirdos from another planet") were terrified of Earthlings. This may have been a case of rumor preceding them; the prospect of terrestrial life polluting Mars as well as Earth was a bleak one. Although this particular wagon ride did not end in a crash, it once again served as an outlet for a subject matter of importance.

Calvinball

Calvinball is a game played almost exclusively by Calvin and Hobbes as a rebellion against organized team sports (like baseball), although the babysitter Rosalyn plays on one occasion. Participants of Calvinball wear masks; when asked why, Calvin replies that "no one is allowed to question the masks". The rules of the game, besides the soccer ball and wickets almost always used, are invented as they go along, but one consistent rule is that the rules can never be the same twice. Either player may change any rule at any time, so the only way to break the rules is by using one rule twice. Scoring is also entirely arbitrary: Hobbes has reported scores of "Q to 12" and "oogy to boogy".

The reader first encounters the game after Calvin's horrible experience with school baseball. He registers to play baseball in order to avoid being teased by the other boys. While daydreaming in the outfield, he misses the switch and ends up making an out against his own team. His classmates mock him and, when he decides to walk away, his coach calls him a "quitter". That Saturday, Calvin and Hobbes play Calvinball, a game far removed from any organized sport.

Watterson has stated that the greatest number of questions he receives concern Calvinball and how to play it.

School and homework

Calvin hates school and its attendant early-morning risings, irate teachers, homework, and fellow students. Often his mother has to force the unwilling Calvin to go up to the school bus. Occasionally he manages to avoid the bus, and his mother has to chase him down and force him to board or drive him to school. Calvin often waits for the bus with Hobbes and explains why an intelligent boy like himself does not need school. While at school, he commonly visualizes the building as a hostile planet and his teacher and principal as vicious aliens. Calvin usually lacks the company of Hobbes at school. Sometimes Hobbes does his homework and reading while Calvin watches TV or reads comic books. In general, Calvin is depicted as a poor student who is unable to concentrate in class, has difficulty interacting with other students, and struggles with homework. On occasion, he gets good marks and positive feedback for work, but these are usually short-lived victories.

Calvin and Hobbes books

The books labelled "Collections" form a complete archive of the newspaper strips, except for a single daily strip from November 28 1985. (The collections do contain a strip for this date, but it is not the same strip that appeared in some newspapers. The alternate strip, a joke about Hobbes taking a bath in the washing machine, has circulated on the Internet in GIF format.) "Treasuries" usually combine the two preceding collections with bonus material, and include color reprints of Sunday comics.

A (nearly) complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes strips, in three hardcover volumes, with a total 1440 pages, was released on October 4 2005 by Andrews McMeel Publishing. It also includes color prints of the art used on paperback covers, the story "Spaceman Spiff: Interplanetary Explorer Extraordinaire!", and a new introduction by Bill Watterson, who is now happily teaching himself to paint. Unfortunately, the alternate 1985 strip is still omitted, and two other strips (7 January 1987 and 25 November 1988) have altered dialogue.

To celebrate the release, Calvin and Hobbes reruns will be available to newspapers from Sunday, September 4 2005 through Saturday, December 31 2005, and Bill Watterson will answer questions submitted by readers. [3] [4] Like current contemporary strips, weekday Calvin and Hobbes strips now appear in color print when available, instead of black-and-white as in their first run.

Title Cover Date ISBN Notes
Calvin and Hobbes "Calvin and Hobbes." April 1987 ISBN 0836220889 Collection covering strips from first strip on Nov 18, 1985 — Aug 17, 1986. Original content: Foreword by Garry Trudeau.
Something Under the Bed is Drooling "Something Under the Bed is Drooling." April 1988 ISBN 0836218256 Collection covering strips from Aug 18, 1986 — May 17, 1987. Original content: Foreword by Pat Oliphant.
The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury "The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury." September 1988 ISBN 0836218051 Treasury including cartoons from Calvin and Hobbes & Something Under the Bed is Drooling. Original content: Foreword by Charles M. Schulz and original illustrated poem, "A Nauseous Nocturne".
Yukon Ho! "Yukon Ho!" March 1989 ISBN 0836218353 Collection covering strips from May 24, 1987 — Feb, 1988? Original content: The "Yukon Song".
The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book: A Collection of Sunday Calvin and Hobbes Cartoons "The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book: A Collection of Sunday Calvin and Hobbes Cartoons." September 1989 ISBN 0836218523 Favorite Sunday comics. Ten-page story "Spaceman Spiff: Interplanetary Explorer Extraordinaire!"
Weirdos From Another Planet! "Weirdos From Another Planet." March 1990 ISBN 0836218620 Collection covering strips from Feb, 1988? — Dec 4, 1988.
The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury "The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes." October 1990 ISBN 0836218221 Treasury including cartoons from Yukon Ho! & Weirdos From Another Planet!. Original content: Seven-page story in which Calvin becomes an elephant.
The Revenge of the Baby-Sat "The Revenge of the Baby-Sat." April 1991 ISBN 0836218663 Collection covering strips from Dec 5, 1988 — Sept 1989?
Scientific Progress Goes "Boink" Scientific Progress Goes "Boink." October 1991 ISBN 0836218787 Collection covering strips from Sept 1989? — Jul 7, 1990.
Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons "Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons." April 1992 ISBN 0836218833 Collection covering strips from Jul 8, 1990 — Apr 10, 1991.
The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes "The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes." October 1992 ISBN 0836218981 Treasury including cartoons from The Revenge of the Baby-Sat & Scientific Progress Goes "Boink". Original content: Several illustrated poems.
The Days are Just Packed "The Days are Just Packed." October 1993 ISBN 0836217357 Collection covering strips from Apr 11, 1991 — Nov 1, 1992.
Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat "Homicidal Psyco Jungle Cat." October 1994 ISBN 0836217691 Collection covering strips from Nov 2, 1992 — Aug 29, 1993.
The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book "The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book." October 1995 ISBN 0836204387 Original content: Commentary by Watterson and annotations on individual strips
There's Treasure Everywhere "There's Treasure Everywhere." March 1996 ISBN 0836213122 Collection covering strips from Aug 30, 1993 — Apr 8, 1995. (Some strips from March were in It's A Magical World.)
It's A Magical World "It's A Magical World." October 1996 ISBN 0836221362 Final collection covering strips from Mar 20, 1995 — the last strip on Dec 31, 1995. (Some strips from April were in There's Treasure Everywhere.)
Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995 "Calvin and Hobbes Sunday Pages 1985-1995." September 2001 ISBN 0740721356 Collection of favorite Sundays. Original content: Original sketches and commentary
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes "The Complete Cavin and Hobbes." October 2005 ISBN 0740748475 3-volume set containing all strips (but one). 22.5 lbs. Includes Spiff feature, color prints of other cover art. Original content: Introduction and commentary.

Early books were printed in smaller format in black and white that were later reproduced in twos in color in the "Treasuries" ("Essential", "Authoritative", and "Indispensable")– except for the contents of Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons. Those Sunday strips were never been reprinted in color until the "Complete" collection was finally published in 2005. Every book since Snow Goons has been printed in a larger format with Sundays in color and weekday and Saturday strips larger than they appeared in most newspapers. Remaining books do contain some additional content; for instance, The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book contains a long watercolor Spaceman Spiff epic not seen elsewhere until The Complete, and The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book contains much original commentary from Watterson. Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995 released in 2001 contains 36 Sunday strips in color alongside Watterson's original sketches, prepared for an exhibition at The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library. A children's textbook entitled Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes (ISBN 1878849158) was published in 1993.

See also

References

The following links were last verified 12 July 2005.

External links

Template:Wikiquote

The following links were last verified 11 October 2005.

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