Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book review - Complete Calvin and Hobbes

Here's a review I wrote for the Jester in Dec 2005. Doesn't time fly!

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes: Vol 1,2 and 3
by Bill Watterson


Postmen of the world rejoice – another fantastically heavy cartoon collection has arrived to aggravate your back problems! Weighing in at a hernia inducing 23 pounds, The Compete Calvin and Hobbes does exactly what it says on the tin… er… cover; gathering together every one of the 3,160 strips Bill Watterson produced in a rather spiffy three volume slipcased set. Hard to believe that we haven’t had any new material from Watterson since December 31st 1995, but here we are 10 years later and his creations are still as popular as ever, captivating readers and influencing fellow cartoonists the world over.

So what is it about Calvin and Hobbes that merits such a lavish retrospective and more to the point, is it worth fifty quid? In a word, yes. In two words, yes indeed. For anyone who doesn’t know about the strip (hang your head in shame!), it follows a 6 year old named Calvin and his imaginary stuffed tiger Hobbes – on the surface a very simple premise, but transformed by Wattersons lively art (it actually feels like he had fun drawing the strips) and his terrific writing. He balances the need to be funny and actually have something to say very well and it’s sometimes the strips that forgo the punchline or gag-a-day that stay with you the longest. A series of strips where Calvin finds an injured animal and copes with loss and another one recounting the aftermath of a burglary revealed a depth and subtlety to the writing usually missing from the comics page.

Wait… wait… It wasn’t all death and anti-social behaviour, mind you! Watterson has also crafted just about one of the consistently funniest strips around. Calvin’s transmogrifier/time machine/duplicator (a multi-tasking cardboard box), the G.R.O.S.S (Get Rid Of Slimy girls) club, and his never-ending battle with the babysitter have all produced genuine laugh out loud moments. Where did these ideas come from? Watterson admits the two characters are “pretty much a transcript of my mental diary. Their emotional centres are very true to the way I think. Hobbes has got all of my better qualities and Calvin got my ranting escapists side”. Watterson’s psychiatrist may have a few things to say about that, but I’m just happy that we got a classic strip out of it.

I’ve already mentioned the quality of the artwork and it’s really shines in the Sundays. Clive Collins made mention of this in one of his earlier columns [in the Jester] and I have to concur; freed from the restrictions of the daily strips and overcoming the previously rigid format of Sunday strips, Watterson lets his imagination loose with wonderful results. He reveals “Having become enthralled with George Herriman’s Krazy Kat full page Sunday strips for the 20’s and 30’s, I proposed changing my Sunday strip format so that I could design my panels with a similar freedom.” After initial outcries from newspaper editors who assumed Watterson’s ego was out of control, he eventually got his way. “I doubled my efforts to make the Sunday strips special” he said, “The last few years of the strip, especially the Sundays, are the work I’m most proud of.”


All good things come to and end however, and after ten years at the top of his game, Watterson called it a day. He’d said all he wanted to say and perhaps it’s for the best - if his heart wasn’t in it, who knows how the strip may have suffered. As it stands, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes is a fine collection and worth a place on anyone’s bookcase. Currently available for around 50 pounds from Amazon, but if your wallet doesn’t stretch to that amount, it’s worth considering “The Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary book” or the “Calvin and Hobbes Sunday Pages 1985-1995”, both have interesting notes to accompany most of the artwork, with the Sunday Pages including many reproductions of the original art, complete with whiteout and pencil marks. Go get’em Tiger!

[2009 update - It seems the Complete Calvin and Hobbes is now £65 on Amazon, though a bit of shopping around will probably save you a few quid]

2 comments:

Spencer said...

Totally agree. This masterpiece has been gathering dust on my Amazon wishlist for far too long. Calvin & Hobbes is a work of sheer genius, and I was only re-reading the 10th Anniversary book again the other morning to soak up Mr W's words. I love your Hobbes too! Very cool. I have been itching to break open my Sculpey and sculpt myself a Calvin & Hobbes....

TimHarries said...

Hi Spencer. It's certainly one to get if the budget allows. As I said in the review, the Sundays Collection is also well worth a purchase.

Hope to see your C&H sculpture sometime soon! :)