Calvin and Hobbes follows the humorous antics of Calvin, a precocious, mischievous, and an adventurous six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his sardonic stuffed tiger. Set in the contemporary suburban United States, the strip depicts Calvin's frequent flights of fancy and his friendship with Hobbes. It also examines Calvin's relationships with family and classmates, especially the love/hate relationship between him and his classmate Susie Derkins. Hobbes' dual nature is a defining motif for the strip: to Calvin, Hobbes is a living anthropomorphic tiger; all the other characters see Hobbes as an inanimate stuffed toy. Though the series does not mention specific political figures or current events, it does explore broad issues like environmentalism, public education, philosophical quandaries, and the flaws of opinion polls.
At the height of its popularity, Calvin and Hobbes was featured in over 2,400 newspapers worldwide. In 2010, reruns of the strip appeared in more than 50 countries, and nearly 45 million copies of the Calvin and Hobbes books had been sold.
Calvin and Hobbes were conceived when Bill Watterson, who was working in an advertising job he detested, began devoting his spare time to developing a newspaper comic for potential syndication. He explored various strip ideas but all were rejected by the syndicates. United Feature Syndicate finally responded positively to one strip called The Doghouse, which featured a side character (the main character's little brother) who had a stuffed tiger. United identified these characters as the strongest and encouraged Watterson to develop them as the center of their own strip. Though United Feature ultimately rejected the new strip as lacking in marketing potential, Universal Press Syndicate took it up.
Launch and early success (1985-90)
The first strip was published on November 18, 1985, in 35 newspapers. Watterson was warned by the syndicate not to give up the day job yet, but it wasn't long before the series had become a hit. Within a year of syndication, the strip was published in roughly 250 newspapers and was proving to have international appeal with translation and wide circulation outside the United States.
Although Calvin would undergo continual artistic development and creative innovation over the period of syndication, the earliest strips demonstrate a remarkable consistency with the latest. Watterson introduced all the major characters within the first three weeks and made no changes to the central cast over the next 10 years.
By April 5, 1987, Watterson was featured in an article in The Los Angeles Times. Calvin and Hobbes earned Watterson the Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society in the Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year category, first in 1986 and again in 1988. He was nominated another time in 1992. The Society awarded him the Humor Comic Strip Award for 1988. Calvin and Hobbes have also won several more awards.
As his creation grew in popularity, Watterson underwent a long and emotionally draining battle with his syndicate editors over his refusal to license his characters for merchandising. By 1991, Watterson had achieved his goal of securing a new contract that granted him legal control over his creation and all future licensing arrangements.
Creative control (1991-95)
Having achieved his objective of creative control, Watterson's desire for privacy subsequently reasserted itself and he ceased all media interviews, relocated to New Mexico, and largely disappeared from public engagements, refusing to attend the ceremonies of any of the cartooning awards he won. The pressures of the battle over merchandising led to Watterson taking an extended break from May 5, 1991, to February 1, 1992, unprecedented in the world of syndicated cartoonists.
During Watterson's first sabbatical from the strip, Universal Press Syndicate continued to charge newspapers full price to re-run old Calvin and Hobbes strips. Few editors approved of the move, but the strip was so popular that they had no choice but to continue to run it for fear that competing newspapers might pick it up and draw its fans away. Watterson returned to the strip in 1992 with plans to produce his Sunday strip as an unbreakable half of a newspaper or tabloid page. This made him only the second cartoonist since Garry Trudeau to have sufficient popularity to demand more space and control over the presentation of their work.
Watterson took a second sabbatical from April 3 through December 31, 1994. When he returned, he had made the decision to end the strip. In 1995, Watterson sent a letter via his syndicate to all editors whose newspapers carried his strip announcing his plans to end the strip by the end of the year. Stating his belief that he had achieved everything that he wanted to within the medium, he announced his intention to work on future projects at a slower pace with fewer artistic compromises. The final strip ran on Sunday, December 31, 1995. It depicted Calvin and Hobbes outside in freshly fallen snow, reveling in the wonder and excitement of the winter scene. "It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy... Let's go exploring!" Calvin exclaims as they zoom off over the snowy hills on their sled, leaving, according to one critic ten years later, "a hole in the comics page that no strip has been able to fill.
Calvin, named after the 16th-century theologian John Calvin, is a six-year-old boy with blond, spiky hair and a distinctive red-and-black striped shirt, black pants, and sneakers. Despite his poor grades in school, Calvin demonstrates his intelligence through a sophisticated vocabulary and philosophical mind. Watterson described Calvin has having "not much of a filter between his brain and his mouth", a "little too intelligent for his age", lacking in restraint and not yet having the experience to "know the things that you shouldn't do." The comic strip largely revolves around Calvin's inner world, and his largely antagonistic experiences with those outside of it (fellow students, authority figures and his parents).
From Calvin's point of view, Hobbes is an anthropomorphic tiger, much larger than Calvin and full of independent attitudes and ideas. When the perspective shifts to any other character, readers see merely a stuffed animal, usually seated at an off-kilter angle and blankly staring into space. The true nature of the character is never resolved, instead as Watterson describes, a 'grown-up' version of reality is juxtaposed against Calvin's, with the reader left to "decide which is truer".
Hobbes is named after the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who held what Watterson describes as "a dim view of human nature." He typically exhibits a greater understanding of consequences than Calvin, although rarely intervenes in Calvin's activities beyond a few oblique warnings. The friendship between the two characters provides the core dynamic of the strip.
Calvin's unnamed mother and father are typical middle-class parents. Calvin's father is a patent attorney (like Watterson's own father) and his mother is a stay-at-home mom. Watterson says, "As far as the strip is concerned, they are important only as Calvin's mom and dad." Like many other characters in the strip, they are relatively down to earth and their sensible attitudes serve as a foil for Calvin's outlandish behavior. Watterson says some fans are angered by the sometimes sardonic way that Calvin's parents respond to him. Watterson defends what Calvin's parents do, remarking that in the case of parenting a kid like Calvin, "I think they do a better job than I would." Calvin's father is overly concerned with "character building" activities in a number of strips, either in the things he makes Calvin do or in the austere eccentricities of his own lifestyle.
Susie Derkins, who first appeared early in the strip and is the only important character with both a first and last name, lives on Calvin's street and is one of his classmates. Her last name apparently derives from the pet beagle owned by Watterson's wife's family.
Susie is polite and studious, and she likes to play house or host tea parties with her stuffed animals. However, she is also depicted playing imaginary games with Calvin in which she is a high-powered lawyer or politician and he is her househusband. Though both of them hate to admit it, Calvin and Susie have quite a bit in common. For example, Susie is shown on occasion with a stuffed bunny rabbit named "Mr. Bun." Susie also has a mischievous (and sometimes aggressive) streak, which can be seen when she subverts Calvin's attempts to cheat on school tests by feeding him incorrect answers, or when she clobbers Calvin after he attacks her with snowballs. Susie also regularly bests Calvin in confrontations such as their water balloon and snowball fights, employing guile or force. Hobbes often openly expresses romantic feelings for Susie, much to Calvin's disgust. Calvin starts a "club" (of which he and Hobbes are the only members) that he calls G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy GirlS), and while holding "meetings" in Calvin's treehouse or in the "box of secrecy" in Calvin's room, they usually come up with some way to annoy or discomfit Susie, most of which backfire on them completely. In one instance, Calvin steals one of Susie's dolls for ransom, only to have Susie retaliate by nabbing Hobbes. Watterson admits that Calvin and Susie have a nascent crush on each other and that Susie is inspired by the type of woman whom Watterson himself found attractive and eventually married.
More to come.