Saturday, April 12, 2008

I really couln't think of a title, but does 'Bill Watterson's the Best' suffice? Hmm.

On November 18, 1985, when people picked up their copy of The Daily and saw this strip, I wonder if they knew that they were witnessing a turning point in comic history, one where a comic strip would be elevated to a new league of its own, have a cult following, and make people of all ages turn first to a certain page in the newspaper every morning with an excitement that is unparalleled. Calvin and Hobbes has done all that, and more. It's easily one of the funniest, most poignant, ingenious and popular comic strips to hit newspapers and books in decades. Bill Watterson's creation not only put his characters on the map, it also dared us to look at ourselves and children everywhere in a new light. He managed to distil the very essence of twentieth century childhood, with a fresh dose of humour and light-speed perspective that's almost impossible to find anywhere else, and in any other medium.

Calvin, named after John Calvin, a 16th century theologian, is arguably the protagonist with a difference- he effortlessly manoeuvres between being a six-year-old with a vivid, colourful and irrepressible imagination and a philosophical genius whose brilliance is impossible to argue with. Calvin is the walking talking embodiment of the typical human psyche, and in essence a good kid who just wants things to go his way, like most people. He also has three alter-egos....

Stupendous Man is Calvin's most powerful alter ego, who can turn back time and attempt to defeat all monsters and villains. However, Calvin comes back to his mild self when he realises Stupendous Man cannot get him certain things, like a day out of school! Spaceman Spiff is a superhero that travels to various other planets, fighting aliens that are mock ups of people in real life. His adventures usually occur when he's day dreaming in class, and end when his teacher, Mrs. Wormwood, a.k.a the alien guard, capture him. Tracer Bullet, the detective, is the third.

Hobbes, Calvin's pet tiger is named after Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century Philosopher and is Calvin's sidekick in every way possible. The gimmick of the strip lies in Calvin seeing hobbes as a real tiger, and other people viewing him as a stuffed doll. This signifies that people view things differently, one of Watterson's key ideas about life that permeated seamlessly into the strip. Hobbes was always Calvin's voice of reason, even though he never parented him. He was calvin's partner in crime, conviction and curiosity. Hobbes either supported calvin or quietly undermined his efforts, through his somewhat sarcastic side. Their relationship stood the test of time, patience, fantasy and everything else.

The strip's multifaceted charm was enhanced by all the other characters, particularly his all-american parents, who do their best to raise a normal, healthy kid. Their trials and tribulations with calvin's eclectic interests and quirky behavior bring a grin to everyone's face, as they attempt to handle their adorable, sometimes manic son. They even developed a sense of humour that allowed them to feature on strips without calvin, and still live up to the entertainment quotient.

Susie Derkins, named after Watterson's wife Beagle, is the new, smart girl in class that Calvin likes, which he refuses to admit. Instead, he reacts by constantly plotting against her, by forming a group- G.R.O.S.S (Get rid of slimy girls), throwing snowballs at her and torturing her with disgusting information that he makes up. Hobbes, however, likes girls and dresses up for them, making sure he treats them well. Few comic strips bring out the boyish reaction to girls better than this one does.

Calvin's babysitter, Rosalyn, is the only person he fears, and this indimidating relationship brings out the worst in Calvin. She also has to undergo his manic behaviour like everyone else. Mrs Wormwood, his exasperated teacher, is usually the one who wakes him up from his flights of fancy, while Moe is the big bully at school. These supporting characters add a touch of reality to the strip, while maintaining its surreal child-like perspective.

What makes Calvin and Hobbes truly revolutionary however, is Bill Watterson's visually intensive art. His characters display a myriad of expressions, and hence convey their personalities and humour even before we read. His attention to detail, be it the T-rex, water splashes, or facial expressions of disgust, love, loathing and sarcasm is what makes the characters come alive. His strip looks so compelling that it commands interest, even before you begin reading.

Calvin and Hobbes has stood the test of time. Everyone who reads it can see a bit of themselves in every character, and that makes it easy to identify with. Bill Watterson created a whole new world, a world of personalities so distinct and fun, that he received numerous offers for merchandising, publication and even a movie, all of which he turned down. The essence of the strip lies in its ability to interact with you on paper, the words in capitals, the drawing in black and white. Few other strips possess that striking balance, between being appealing and being resourceful at the same time. Life lessons and thoughts could not have been packaged in a more delightful, hilarious and wacky way. It makes for a great read, for anyone, anytime, anyplace, and in any mood. That's what truly makes every strip a collector's item.

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