As I continue my series, New Year; New Types of Friends, and specifically this subset of friendships from literature, I present Calvin and Hobbes to show how friends help stretch our imagination and expand our creativity. The strip also shows that we need a dose of reality sometimes.
While some people do not consider comic strips part of serious literature, animated stories do have a message to convey to people. The definition of “comic strip” is a series of adjacent drawn images, usually arranged horizontally, that are designed to be read as a narrative or a chronological sequence. The comic strip is essentially a mass medium, printed in a magazine, a newspaper, or a book. Comic strips usually contain text inscribed within “balloons” inside the picture frame that tells an amusing story. But some comic strips aren’t always funny. Most are simply observations about life.
While Calvin and Hobbes does not specifically represent one of the archetypes of friends every man needs (the basis for this entire series and prior posts with examples in politics, sports, TV, movies, and literature), every man does need a good friend who helps him see the possibilities in life. But he also needs a friend to help him see its realities too.
About The Comic Strip
Calvin and Hobbes are commonly cited as “the last great newspaper comic.” Set in the contemporary suburban United States, the comic strip depicts the humorous antics of the title characters: Calvin, a precocious, mischievous, and adventurous six-year-old boy; and Hobbes, his sardonic (grimly mocking or cynical) talking stuffed toy.
The strip describes Calvin’s friendship with Hobbes, who he sees as a living tiger, while all the other characters see him as an inanimate stuffed toy. The strip also examines Calvin’s relationships with his long-suffering parents (the strip’s creator drew Calvin’s father to look exactly like himself, for symbolism), and with his classmates, especially his neighbor Susie Derkins. It brings wit and wisdom to the themes of love, family, friendship, and growing up.
Syndicated in print from November 18, 1985, to December 31, 1995, there were 3,105 strips. In 2010, reruns of the strip appeared in more than 50 countries. There are also nearly 45 million copies of the Calvin and Hobbes books had been sold worldwide.
About Its Creator
William Boyd “Bill” Watterson II (born July 5, 1958) is the author and principal artist of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. He conceived it while working in an advertising job that he detested. He devoted his spare time to developing a newspaper comic for potential syndication. Watterson explored various strip ideas but all were rejected by syndicators. United Feature Syndicate finally responded positively to one strip called The Doghouse, which featured a side character who had a stuffed tiger named Hobbes. United Feature identified these characters as the strongest and encouraged Watterson to develop them as the center of their own strip. Though United Feature ultimately rejected the new strip, Universal Press Syndicate took it up and the strip took off.
The strip, Calvin and Hobbes does not frequently mention specific political figures or contemporary events but it does explore broad issues like environmentalism, public education, and philosophical quandaries. This philosophy reflects Watterson himself, who retained his artistic integrity by refusing to license his characters out to TV and movie studios. Aside from some counterfeit merchandise sold without Watterson’s permission. (Maybe you’ve seen Calvin urinating on your favorite sports team?), Calvin and Hobbes is mostly on the printed page.
The strip abruptly ceased publication on December 31, 1995, when Watterson decided to retire. In the years since the strip’s finale, Bill Watterson has become something of a recluse. He rarely gives interviews or appears in public. This has resulted in intense curiosity about his whereabouts, a subject explored in the 2013 documentary Dear Mr. Watterson, which explored the cultural impact of Calvin and Hobbes. The movie explores how Watterson’s irreverent humor and heartfelt writing turned the comic strip into a timeless classic. Watterson himself did not appear in the film.
Calvin and His Relationships
Calvin has spiky blond hair and a distinctive red-and-black striped shirt, black pants, and sneakers. He is a daydreamer. In a nod to Watterson’s political science classes in college, the boy is named after the 16th-century theologian John Calvin. Despite his poor grades in school, the cartoon Calvin demonstrates his intelligence through a sophisticated vocabulary, philosophical mind, and creative/artistic talent. Watterson described Calvin as having “not much of a filter between his brain and his mouth.” He writes Calvin is a “little too intelligent for his age”, lacking in restraint, and not yet having the experience to “know the things that you shouldn’t do.” The comic strip largely revolves around Calvin’s inner world and his largely antagonistic experiences with those outside his personal space.
Hobbes is an anthropomorphic (attributing human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities) tiger who is much larger than Calvin and full of independent attitudes and ideas. When the scene includes any other human, they see merely a stuffed animal, usually seated at an off-kilter angle and blankly staring into space. Hobbes is based on a cat Watterson owned, a grey tabby named Sprite. His humor stems from acting like a human. He is named after 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who held what Watterson describes as “a dim view of human nature.” Hobbes typically exhibits a greater understanding of consequences than Calvin, but rarely intervenes in Calvin’s activities beyond a few oblique warnings.
Calvin’s unnamed mother and father are typical middle-class parents. They are relatively down-to-earth but their sensible attitudes serve as a foil for Calvin’s outlandish behavior. His father is a patent attorney (like Watterson’s own father). He is overly concerned with “character building” activities in a number of strips, either in the things he makes Calvin do or in the austere eccentricities of his own lifestyle. Calvin’s mother is a stay-at-home mom, who is frequently exasperated and troubled by the boys’ antics. She may be a representation of Watterson’s own mom.
Susie Derkins is a classmate who lives on Calvin’s street. She is the only important character in the strip with both a first and last name. Susie is studious and polite (though she can be aggressive if sufficiently provoked). She likes to play house or host tea parties with her stuffed animals. She also plays imaginary games with Calvin, acting as a high-powered lawyer or politician who wants Calvin to pretend to be her househusband. Much like Calvin, Susie has a mischievous streak. She demonstrated it when she subverts Calvin’s attempts to cheat on school tests by feeding him incorrect answers. She also fights back after Calvin attacks her with snowballs or water balloons.
Hobbes often openly expresses romantic feelings for Susie, to Calvin’s disgust. In contrast, Calvin started a club (of which he and Hobbes are the only members) that he calls G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy GirlS). They hold “meetings” in Calvin’s tree house or in the “box of secrecy” in Calvin’s room to plot against Susie. In one instance, Calvin steals one of Susie’s dolls. He holds it for ransom, only to have Susie retaliate by nabbing Hobbes. The popular belief is that Calvin and Susie are secretly in love with each other.
Although I’m not an avid reader of this comic strip, it does appear that Calvin’s friends and family have a great impact on him. Smart, yet antagonistic, Calvin challenges his fellow students, authority figures, and his parents. He displaces his lack of understanding of any consequences on Hobbes, rather than heeding the tiger’s warnings. Calvin also dreams of a different life than his parents. And he certainly despises Susie’s aggressiveness (though Watterson admits Susie is a reference to the type of woman whom he himself found attractive and eventually married).
For some of these same reasons, many guys become risk averse as they get older. They fall into passivity trying because their dreams get squashed. Other men take too many risks. They never had boundaries or were disciplined for their choices. They lead a haphazard life.
Having a close friend who stretches you intellectually, physically, or even emotionally, is good. So is having a good friend who helps you see the consequences of your decisions. He can help you avoid major disasters in your life. In either case, every man needs friends who help stretch their imagination and expand their creativity.
A GodBuddy can help you dream big and overcome your fears. He will also help you avoid poor risk-taking. He will pray with you when you are facing those big, scary decisions. GBs are one of your best friends and an extremely important part of your inner circle of friends. As Calvin once said about Hobbes.”Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.”
My next few posts are more examples of friendships from the comics.