I love Calvin and Hobbes. A lot. I learned to read when I was four years old, and the very first thing I remember actually reading was Calvin and Hobbes, on our living room floor, in the Sunday comics. The strip had just come out around that time, and I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading compilation books, as well as the daily strip in the newspaper.
I learned a lot of new words from Calvin. I picked up on new ideas from Hobbes. I gained understanding about social mores from seeing how Calvin's contemporaries reacted to him and saw a lot of my dad in Calvin's own father.
I was 13 when Bill Watterson hung it up for good, and I put his last strip ever on my bedroom wall, where it hung until I went to college. I own several of the strip collections, though I do not own The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. As I've read every single strip multiple times, I find different wise phrases pop into my head at appropriate moments (see this week's thought). Calvin and Hobbes are as much a formative part of my life as anything else.
So when I heard that some guy was writing a book on Bill Watterson and his fairly popular strip titled "Looking for Calving and Hobbes", I was very interested and very concerned all at the same time. The reason why is articulated in the first chapter of the book, which you can get in .pdf format by e-mailing email@example.com. The book can be pre-ordered from Amazon here.
Initially, I told my friends about the project with equal amounts of boastfulness and fear. I was happy, because this was the gig of a lifetime, but I was afraid of what my peers would make of my work.Because while they said, “Of course I know who Bill Watterson is! Calvin and Hobbes was the best comic strip ever!” I could read between the lines. What they were really saying was, “If you screw this book up, you will be pissing on some of the fondest memories of my youth. Don’t *&@I#? with my inner child . . . I will not be amused!”
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
What made Calvin and Hobbes so great? I maintain that the comic strip is so univerally loved because Watterson is a rare breed of genius... extraordinarily talented in both writing and art, he was able to combine both of those abilities into something that worked very, very well.
And as I've discovered, maintaining a high level of excellent work for a long time is very, very hard. Watterson took two sabbaticals and eventually hung it up after only ten years. Bill Amend of Fox Trot moved to Sunday-only strips. Gary Larson of The Far Side stopped after 15 years. Meanwhile, inane comics like Garfield and The Family Circus extend on forever and ever, mainly, I believe, because it's easy to churn out mediocrity for decades on end.
So I thank Bill Watterson for the gift he gave us and do not begrudge him his retirement or his much-valued privacy.