Six months ago, I published two articles discussing CALVIN AND HOBBES. One of them happens to be my single-most read article on this site, as well as among the top three most-read pages in the history of LET US NERD, and the other one ranks within the top 10.
[Actually, for those curious, at the time of this writing LET US NERD has published over 460 articles since its launch. Seeing them ranked from most to least read, I was truly honored to have written 4 in the top 10. That two of them should be about CALVIN AND HOBBES and the other two about BATMAN definitely says something].
I truly had no idea there were so many CALVIN fans out there. The strip ran only a decade, from 1985-1995, which is nothing compared to the longevity of other strips. And yet, well, it’s got as big as fanbase as BATMAN! When I discovered it as a kid, I felt it was something private, something only I knew about. Other people would occasionally see the daily strip in the newspaper, but couldn’t really appreciate them. You needed the books to really see the scope of the story arcs and Bill Watterson‘s ability as a writer. When the strip ended, it was a huge deal. In fact, it’s probably the only real time I can think of where a comic strip had the equivalent of a Series Finale. Normally strips only ended when their creator passed away or retired. When that final strip ran on New Year’s Eve of 1995, I remember going to the supermarket later that day and seeing the strip hung up by the cash register. I still have saved away the original newspaper page that printed that final strip.
The following year, when IT’S A MAGICAL WORLD, the final book-collection, was published, I read it with melancholy. There is one Sunday strip in it that, to this day, I have never read. I put that page aside and said “I’m not going to read this one strip until I’m on my death-bed. That way, all my life there will always be one final CALVIN AND HOBBES strip I haven’t read.” Man, I really hope that strip turns out to be worth the wait when they day comes for me to read it.
But as I got older, I met more fans, though often I found that my fellow classmates only appreciated the strip on a superficial level, liking only the humor and slapstick elements, and I never found a fellow fan who fully appreciated the philosophy and intelligence there. Sometimes I even met fans who lamented that there had never been a movie or animated series. I wanted to smack them and go “Any TRUE fan would know why there wasn’t any and know exactly why Watterson made that decision.” I also still get upset when I see bootlegged images, including the infamous meme of Calvin urinating. Growing up, my town’s local diner had such an image up on the wall, much to my disapproval.
Yet while I’ve always agreed with Watterson’s decision and respect his artistic integrity, I do have to admit that one nice thing about movies and TV is that they have a way of unifying a fanbase. PEANUTS may be a long-running comic strip, but I’d be willing to bet all I have that the majority of us came to discover Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the gang from the TV-specials. When I think of Charlie Brown, I immediately hear Peter Robbins’s voice, hear Vince Guaraldi‘s music, and think of the Great Pumpkin and Christmas specials. I mean no disrespect to Charles M. Schultz, but I would argue that it’s animation director Bill Melendez who contributed more to our collective memories of that franchise.
The release of the documentary DEAR MR. WATTERSON last year was a watershed moment. For the first time in history, there was a CALVIN AND HOBBES movie! And we fans had something that unified us, a movement that communicated a message: this fanbase is huge and still exists. When I met the film’s director, Joel Schroeder, at the film’s Q&A, I mentioned this to him; that he had created what this franchise had always needed. The film is now available on Netflix Instant Streaming, and I found I appreciated it a lot more on the second viewing. I predict it’s a film that, like strip itself, will grow in reputation over time.
And then, in only the last few months, the news broke that Watterson had emerged from the ether of anonymity to guest-illustrate several strips of PEARLS BEFORE SWINE. Watterson is back in the limelight, and CALVIN AND HOBBES-fever is as strong as ever. Calvin, you’re as big as Batman!
As I mentioned in that most-read and still controversial article of mine, Calvin is always alone and has strained relationships with everyone in his life. The best children’s stories, from RETURN TO OZ to the work of Roald Dahl, are the ones that remember how unpleasant the reality of childhood can be, and how the most beautiful world is the one we occupy inside. I conclude this article with not one, not two, but as many of my favorite strips as I could find. Enjoy!