The Zombies Ate My Brains

Rescuing what might remain of the grey matter.

Calvin and Hobbes Retire – from the Archives

Look what I found! While rummaging through my old photos, I stumbled across a newspaper clipping of an article I wrote in 1995. It was the first piece I had published and for which I received payment. (It was also the last.) What is particularly important to me is that I had misplaced the digital version. Now, almost 20 years later I can record it here. 

The London Free Press, Saturday, November 25, 1995

OLLY-WOLLY POLLIWOGGY UMP-BUMP FIZZ!

The rallying cry to Calvinball will be heard no more after December 31, 1995. Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes will retire the 10-year-old comic strip.

The recent announcement stunned me. It was not unlike those terrible, dreadful calls from doctors or police constables. “Ms. Wilson? I’m sorry, but  I have bad news…” Calvin and Hobbes are terminal, their days are numbered.

The youngster and his tiger have been a part of my daily routine since they were introduced to the funny pages. First, I flick through the news sections. Then I turn to the comics for distraction and soothing. In the daily paper, I skip Watterson’s panel and I read it last. On Saturday, I deliberately read the coloured comics from back to front. More often than not I am rewarded with a belly laugh, a rueful smile, and occasionally, a sniffle. Poignant, irreverent, and raucous: these are the moments I cherish.

The irony of this situation overwhelms me. Consider the following: Calvin’s namesake is the 16th century theologian whose creed states a person can do nothing to prevent outcomes. All in life is preordained. Hobbes, who in Watterson’s words has “a dim view of human nature” is named after a 17th century philosopher. The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia describes the philosopher’s portrait of human life as “bleak” and “nasty, brutish, and short.” One might conclude that Watterson gave us fair warning right from the start.

Cartoonist Bill Watterson

Cartoonist Bill Watterson

Watterson stands apart from most cartoonists in many ways. Included in his contract was provision for two nine-month sabbaticals. Only two other cartoonists, Garry Trudeau and Gary Larson, have taken time off work. He has no staff. He uses basic tools: sable brush, and pen and ink. Every word and every drawing is his. Simple. He is intensely private, rarely grants interviews and does not belong to the National Cartoonist Society.

What is most frustrating is that I understand and respect Watterson’s decision. His relationship with the publishing syndicate has been hostile and bitter. Very early they recognized the potential for profit and battled vigorously to benefit. He would not compromise the nature of his characters by merchandising them. After five years defending his principles, he was prepared to quit. In response, the syndicate re-negotiated his contract and returned the licensing rights to the artist.

November 18, 1985 is the day Calvin and Hobbes first appeared in print. A decade later their creator has emerged, exhausted from grappling with instant celebrity and demands for artistic compromise, to announce their retirement.

I am broken-hearted. I want to kick and wail and complain. It is agonizing to turn to the funny pages and watch the strip continue as if nothing has changed. I look for signs that Watterson is wrapping up. Nothing. Calvin blithely continues his egocentric crusade. I know, I know, I hear you say, “Get a life!” I have a life, and it is going to suffer a loss at the end of the year. Permit me, please, to honour the six-year-old Calvin within: I WANT TO BE CRANKY!

This is too, too sad. I need distraction. Allow me to digress to happier times and to share some of my favourite bits. Remember the struggle for blanket superiority in Calvin’s bed?

Move over, Mr. Mosty Toasty!

And how about the time Calvin and Hobbes boogied through an entire Sunday panel. (Apparently, many people favour this contribution. These are the illustrations that appear illegally on T-shirts.)

Finally, my all-time favourite. Picture it. Calvin steps outside his house, dressed for winter. Suddenly his face contorts. He covers his nose and mouth with his mittens. In the final panel he looks at you and asks,

Don’t you just hate it when your boogers freeze?

Watterson successfully dealt with themes that are rarely found in the funny pages. In one series, Calvin finds an injured baby racoon. Mom helps him bring it home, but she knows that there is little hope.

The next day, Calvin learns from his dad that the little creature has died. Dad tries to comfort him, telling him that they did everything that they could. Calvin understands, but he still wants to cry, because,

Out there he’s gone, but he’s not gone inside me.

I understand why Watterson is retiring and I admire him for following his ideals.

Understanding doesn’t make me feel better, though. Soon, out there, when I turn to the comics section, Calvin will be gone. Inside me, I will yearn for his charm, humour, and humanity.

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Photo Credit http://photos.cleveland.com/plain-dealer/2013/02/watterson.html

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19 replies

  1. Wonderful – I’m so glad you found this, not just for posterities sake but it is well worth the read.

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  2. Calvin and Hobbes was and always will be my favorite comic strip. I actually met him once, in a suburb if Cleveland. He was introduced as Bill, and no mention was made by him or anyone else that he was anything more than a suburbanite. I didn’t find out until he left that I was in the same room with someone I worshipped.

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  3. Thanks, Maggie, I really like that. I, too, am a diehard Calvin and Hobbes fan. Hey, check out this comic: http://zenpencils.com/comic/128-bill-watterson-a-cartoonists-advice/ It’s done by an Australian artist who takes famous, and sometimes not so famous, quotes and creates a cartoon around them. In this one he uses a quote from Bill Watterson and copies his drawing style in honor of Calvin and Hobbes.

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  4. … even though I never saw this cartoon …

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  5. I love Calvin and Hobbes! I periodically reread my collections, so I could not believe it when you noted it’s been almost 20 years since he stopped writing. I still have a laminated copy of his last strip among my papers. The way he dealt with topics-big and small-was great.

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    • Hello! Thanks so much for stopping by to say “hey”! I know what you mean about that big “two-oh”. It took me by surprise when I read the timeline on the newspaper clipping. This habit of speaking in decades is just a bit off-putting. And I thank you, too, for the follow!

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  6. Which reminds me – I used to have a few books which were compilations of his comic strip. I wonder where they are? I must go hunting in the bowels of the basement at some point today!!

    If I had to pick one line out of this post, it would be … reading from back to front?!!!!! STOP THE PRESSES! Are you serious? There are TWO OF US OUT THERE WHO DO THIS?!!!! I do this with any printed material – magazines, newspapers, even books … I like to reading the ending before I read the book. I just have a need to know 😉

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    • No way! Back to front? This is getting really woo-woo, Joanne! I’m grinning ear-to-ear, but the hair is standing on the back of my neck, too! 😀

      Just to add a wrinkle to the “joined at the cyber-hip” conceit: I know exactly where my collection of every single one of his books is stored. Last time I saw them, the books were being carried into a used book store in London. sigh I’m torn about that, trust me.

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  7. I miss Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts new ones since they are all repeats and Charles Schulz is gone and why does time seem to fly by so fast? 🙂

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  8. With the encroaching snow, I’ve threatened to do a Calvin out there — create a whole lotta grotesque snowmen across the end of the driveway. I figure the snowplow drivers and/or the sidewalk plowers later in the week might appreciate it. A chill just went through this room when I realized I’m not SURE where my Calvin and Hobbes books are……

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