Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Calvin and Hobbes

Thirty years ago today, Bill Watterson released his first Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.

For the first time, the world was introduced to a six-year-old-boy and his best friend. I was five and a half when this strip was released. I'm fairly certain I didn't notice it the first time it came out, or even when it first appeared in our local paper. Yet, within a year or so, Watterson and his creation had become a part of my daily routine, and they'd go on to have a profound impact on my life. The story lines are one of the reasons I became a professional storyteller (both as a novelist, and a theatre director).

For ten years, Calvin and Hobbes delighted readers, but it did far more to me, Calvin and Hobbes was an inspiration every day. I would rush downstairs and look for the paper, just so I could read the strip. Calvin and Hobbes was the first thing I read every day. I was roughly the age of Calvin, and of all the characters I've encountered I've never identified so completely with anyone as with him. I was a very lonely child, and spent hours meandering in circles, telling my parents I need time to "imagine." Daydreaming was a 24/7 occupation. Whether in school, at home, or just about any other time, I'd find myself lost in outer space, fighting dinosaurs, or building transmogrifiers. It was at this same time that I discovered books, and my world opened up. It's no wonder that Pratchett, Asimov, Tolkien, Lewis, and Clark became the worlds I devoured. Speculative fiction mirrored my love of imagination and creativity, my incessant and unending daydreams: the way I saw the world.

In many ways, I was Calvin. To be honest, perhaps I still am. The imaginary best friends running around in my head have found their way onto the page, as well as onto the stages I direct. A student today asked me to draw a groundplan for our upcoming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It took me fifteen minutes to draw a complete groundplan. She stared- and said how'd you know what to do so fast? It's there in my head. Same with books- they just pop out.

On a deeper level, I think Watterson first taught me the craft of storytelling, albeit on a subconscious level. At first glance, the comic strips might seem silly or banal, but there are deeper, underlying story lines and themes. Calvin is both idiotic, small minded, and altogether brilliant. Hobbes can be a pacifist, and environmentalist, or a would-be romantic, depending on the arc.

Bill Watterson
In middle school, we were asked to write letters to one person we admired. A lot of people wrote to the President, or to movie stars. I sent a letter to Bill Watterson. His secretary wrote back, or sent a form letter, but to me, he was the hero I admired most.

To this date, I logged on the computer and noticed my avatar is Calvin. There's a Calvin and Hobbes poster, advertising one of the collections, that I swiped from my job at Borders, hanging on the wall beside me. When I'm feeling down, I still pull out a Calvin and Hobbes strip to cheer me up.

And of course, Watterson's also admired for never selling out. It wasn't about the money. He never let people make bad movies or tacky merchandise (merch you see is illegal). He was about the art, and the imagination. I'm not sure Bill Watterson knows I exist, or has any idea how much he impacted me, but someday I imagine him looking at one of my books, and saying- I helped inspire this.


  1. Wonderful, Chris. We used to have Calvin and Hobbs in our daily newspaper, and absolutely loved it. Sadly it's not in there any more.

  2. My dad loved Calvin and Hobbes when he was little, so we have three of his comic anthologies at our house. Whenever I'm home from college for Winter Break, I usually grab all of them and hole up somewhere to peruse them. For a Photography class in high school, we had to recreate a comic strip with real people and I chose one where Calvin's father tells him a scary story to get him to fall asleep. They're just classic, well written and entertaining to look over! :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by Rachael- sounds like a neat project.