Book Review: The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (1990)

I bought this book at a garage sale some time ago to sell on eBay. It didn’t sell, so I read it. The hardback edition came out in 1990, 14 years ago. You want to feel old? Calvin would be in his early 20s today. No doubt he’d have given up Hobbes by now, unless he were a developer or a cartoonist and he kept Hobbes around to decorate his workspace.

I like Calvin and Hobbes, the cartoon. I liked this collection. Calvin and Hobbes were pretty popular in their day (Watterson, the cartoonist, discontinued the strip in the 1990s). Actually, they became so culturally iconic that even today, ten years later, you can go into an auto parts store and by unlicensed and unofficial decals depicting Calvin urinating on an automotive logo of your choice (Ford seems rather popular). Have you noticed that the last of the iconic cartoons, Dilbert, stems from the 1980s. Remember the 1980s, when iconic cartoons abounded? You couldn’t help but bump into The Far Side, Bloom County, Garfield, or Calvin and Hobbes apparel or pop-cultural references. Heck, even Cathy was touted as some zeitgeist for single women. Can you think of any cartoon created in the last decade that has captured that wide of an appeal? I couldn’t. I guess it’s the same thing television suffers; the fragmentation of the audience. Or perhaps it’s the decline of the newspaper. Or maybe they just don’t make them like they used to.

So what about Calvin and Hobbes made it successful? I reckon the use of an imaginative six-year-old gave Watterson the opportunity to take on very adult themes and to make them simple. When cutting through the normal nuance and adult-thinking, Calvin could mutter a throw-away punchline that would clarify an issue the way no six hundred word editorial column or two hundred page political book could. Watterson also built in great latitude when he made Calvin an imaginitive six-year-old; his incarnations as Spaceman Spiff, Stupendous Man, and Calvinosaurus keep the material fresh and interesting for the reader, and they probably kept the cartoon fresh for the artist.

By all means, enjoy the book if you’re a Calvin and Hobbes fan. If you’ve never read them, you damn kid, check it out. The material’s not dated and will last a couple of decades. By 2060, though, it will be as accessible as Andy Capp or Snuffy Smith.

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