Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sledding About Calvin and Hobbes

The last Calvin and Hobbes strip, December 31, 1995.

My eight-year-old has taken to carrying a copy of Revenge of the Babysat with her to school and holding forth to a small group of kids on the yard before the bell rings. She reads like her dad—scanning the text to herself once and only reading aloud once she's got it. She has a real gift for dramatic reading. I especially like her voices for Calvin's parents. Droll for the father, a little insouciant for the mother.
It's worth it to think a moment about Calvin's world. Without being overly nostalgic, Bill Watterson creates a scene of unbelievable hijinks and freedom that just doesn't exist now, not for my kids at least. I'm not sure I want them to rig a bucket of water over the bedroom door as protection against monsters, but I sure love it when Calvin does and that his mother gets doused.
And the pair of them, the boy and his tiger, are one of the classic comic duos, a lá Woody Allen and Tony Roberts:

Calvin: I have a hypothetical question. Suppose a kids at school called me a nasty name...Should I kick him real hard in the shins?
Hobbes: No, I don't think violence would be justified.
Calvin: Here's another hypothetical question. What if I already did?

Watterson's affection for the ultra-imaginative Calvin, who turns bathing, bedtime and meals into epic battles with sharks, monsters and super-villains, is not outdone by his affection for Calvin's parents. They're lovably snarky and ironic with their six-year-old. We can see where he gets it from from the dad's sideways glance. The mom lets it loose when things break down or when Calvin outright ignores her.
Best of all are Calvin's philosophical musings while careening down a snowy bank on a sled, Hobbes doing all the reacting from behind. My favorite was a Sunday strip from December, 1988.
From the front of the sled, Calvin wonders aloud whether being good only in order to get more loot at Christmas counts as truly being good. All he's doing is saying he can be bribed. He wonders if that's good enough, or does he need to be good in heart and spirit. As they crash into a tree and go flying, Calvin asks if he really has to be good or does he just have to act good. Hobbes, covered in snow, says in Calvin's case, Santa will have to take what he can get.
And then there's little stuffed Hobbes whenever anybody else is around.
Thanks Bill Watterson for keeping it real. Oh, and for never selling out to product merchandising.

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