Calvin and Hobbes
Calvin and Hobbes
By Bill Watterson
Despite Calvin and Hobbes' mere ten year run, it remains one of the most fondly remembered and influential comic strips ever created. At its peak in 1995, Calvin and Hobbes was syndicated to over 2,400 newspapers around the world. This makes it one of the most successful strips in history, as selling to even 1,000 papers is a very rare occurrence.
Calvin and Hobbes captured the essence of childhood like no other strip except for Peanuts. It featured Calvin, a young boy of about seven, and Hobbes, an anthropomorphized tiger who may or may not have been imaginary. It was never made clear whether Hobbes was real or just a product of Calvin's vivid imagination, and that was the primary hook or gimmick of the strip. When Hobbes was with Calvin, he was shown as a real tiger and was quite large. When Hobbes was with others, he was often portrayed as a small stuffed tiger. Calvin's parents are never named in the strip, and only a few other regular characters appeared such as Susie, a girl in Calvin's class, and Rosalyn the babysitter.
Although it's difficult to accurately compare the popularity of earlier strips such as Popeye or Li'l Abner to more contemporary ones, there are only a few late 20th century strips in the same category as Calvin and Hobbes such as Peanuts, Garfield and Dilbert. The unique thing about Calvin and Hobbes is that the authorized exploitation of the strip was entirely limited to the publication of the strips as book collections. The cartoons are currently being reissued and re-syndicated to newspapers, but there never was, and probably never will be, any licensed merchandise since Bill Watterson is vehemently against such commercialization.
Artistically, this opposition to any licensed material is perhaps understandable--there have been many questionable licensed products involving comic strip characters--though this has ultimately limited the exposure of the strip to new audiences. This is regrettable since the strips remain as fresh and relevant today as when they were first created ten to twenty years ago. Luckily new audiences still have access to the book collections which continue to sell well, and the recent publication of The Colmpete Calvin and Hobbes has no doubt generated new interest. But what percentage of fans, and more importantly potential fans, never read such collections because they don't know they exist, or have never even heard of Calvin and Hobbes?
When a strip appears regularly, in a newspaper or on the internet, if its good enough it has a tendency to slowly grow on its readers to the point where it becomes part of the daily ritual.
The old Calvin and Hobbes comics are being re-syndicated to papers, but since there is no new content, comparatively few papers seem to be buying. Without the strips or the characters constantly in the media, will the impact of Calvin and Hobbes remain as strong a generation or two from now as it is today?
There are many older strips that, despite their contemporary success, remain all but forgotten today. Pogo is a remarkable good strip, yet how many people, even among comic strip fans, have never heard of it, never read it , or only have the vaguest recollections of it? Krazy Kat was a strip of immense creatively, yet it was not that successful even in its day. Sixty years later most people don't even know it existed. It's unfortunate many strips have such short life spans, but some strips such as Calvin and Hobbes deserve immortality. Whether or not it will achieve that, we'll have to wait and see.
Feb. 4, 2006