Calvin and Hobbes; Icky Little Boys and their Enduring Appeal

11 Jun

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I grew up on tales of icky little boys. Tales of our older brother who had unfortunately matured to less rambunctious activities by the time we were old enough to take note of what was happening… tales of Dennis the Menace… tales of William Brown…

My own father had grown up reading Richmal Crompton’s William Brown and Hank Ketchum’s Dennis the Menace. Consequently we were introduced to their antics at a very early age.

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Young girls they say, will out-grow their crushes. And you can only have one ‘True Love’ in a lifetime. They were wrong.

I would like to confess my undying love and fascination for three males who have heavily influenced my life. Too bad they are all fictional; Dennis the Menace, William Brown and Calvin. Rather ironically, I never took to the real-life icky little boys in school. I was too busy playing ‘Susie’ of the C&H series to their Calvin. The irony was somehow lost on me then. But come to think of it, though they brought worms to school, threw spitballs and grossed me out in other ways, they were not quite as cute as Calvin. Or maybe it was just me. It always irritated me no end that they were usually also teacher’s pets.

just william

Anyway, they didn’t have cute, tufty sticking out hair like my heroes. How by the way, did Calvin, William and Dennis manage to have hair like that when school regulations ensured that all hair, boys or girls’ have to be neatly combed back? Never mind! I can’t imagine them without those trademark tufts now.

Dennis the Menace taught me that adults might pretend not to like kids, but they liked us anyway. William Brown taught me that ‘two negatives make a positive’ and that you can generally make a good thing out of conning your teenage sister’s ardent admirers. Too bad I didn’t have an older sister to test this out on. And Calvin… Calvin taught and continues to teach me various life lessons that make more and more sense whenever I revisit them.

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He was just another kid to be admired and laugh with (rather than at), when I discovered him, rather late in my reading career, in early adulthood. The first Calvin and Hobbes story I read made no sense at all. So there was this kid with a big cat (which he called a tiger) and they were playing with a big, empty box. Suddenly there was a huge elephant in the room, they were using big words like ‘transmorgrifier’ and the house was a mess because of the elephant in the room, making Calvin’s mom mad.

I had to have someone explain it to me.
“It’s a kid with a very big imagination. Almost all the stories are based on his imagination.”

Ah, now that made sense. I knew all about kids with overactive imaginations that adults couldn’t relate to. I had been one myself.

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Back to the books I went and from there on, never got out. Whether it was outwitting his mother or schoolteacher, making Susie’s life miserable or having philosophical conversations with his pet tiger Hobbes, Calvin is in a class of his own.

Prom Invite

Just when you’d have thought the icky little boy kid stereotype had been worked to death, Bill Watterson came along and raised that bar to a whole new level. Calvin is not just a six year old terror with antics designed to amuse. He and Hobbes are probably the most under-rated philosophers of our time. But then, that is not an accident. Bill Watterson, the creator behind them, is another under-rated philosopher of our times. He quit his syndicated cartoon strip of C & H, at their peak in popularity, in order to go philosophize in solitude. C & H fans have never yet recovered from the disappointment or the hope that he will yet reappear, to give them more tales of their favourite six year old.

As a matter of fact, both the main characters in C & H are named after philosophers of an earlier era that Watterson admired. Calvin is named after the 16th century theologian, John Calvin who lent his name to the Protestant Christian branch of ‘Calvinism’. He like Martin Luther, was famous for rebelling against the Catholic Church and the arbitrary strictures of authority of his day.
Hobbes was named after the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, known as one of the founders of modern political philosophy, and an early champion of individual rights / equity of people, at a time when these ideas were considered radical. He is an apt namesake for the wittily sarcastic tiger Hobbes because according to Watterson, he had a ‘dim view of human nature.’ A characteristic that Calvin’s soft toy exhibits abundantly if rather subtly.

Together, these two did for their readers what their erstwhile namesakes could not; making philosophy easy and accessible to the average reader. Not to mention fun and memorable. A study of the original Calvin’s or Hobbes’ doctrines might give some less-scholarly types a headache, but who among those die-hard fans of C&H won’t remember at least one comic strip by heart because it resonated so well with them? As a matter of fact, we can recall several.

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Most of the problems, characters, and situations we face in life have been addressed brilliantly by Calvin and his tiger. Whether it is writing academic reports using meaningless big words, because that would ensure better recognition, or pondering the meaning of life – or the existence of God!

It’s a comic strip series that will resonate with you, both on good days and bad. Calvin’s bite sized pieces of wisdom never fail to find their mark. It’s something I often turn to whenever I am feeling blue. Somewhere in there, this six year old terror will have some nugget of wisdom to comfort me, no matter what my problem is. And that’s a tall order to fill for a six year old. Somehow though, Calvin and Hobbes manage to do it as effortlessly as they do their sledding over hills and vales.

sled

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