Stories for Adults Too
Some comics are memorable for their artwork. Others are known for their witty jokes, relatable characters, adventurous stories, or deep messages. The brilliance of Calvin and Hobbes is that it not only possesses all of these elements and more, but it also manages excellence in all of these facets. The artwork is stunning, especially in the Sunday strips. The drawings and progression of plot is so good that the characters seem to move. The characters touch deep emotions, the jokes are hilarious, and the stories are fun, interesting, and compelling.
Six-year-old Calvin, the protagonist, is almost always accompanied by his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. The latter is apparently sentient, although in the strip universe this is perceived by Calvin alone. The strips, originally published daily in newspapers around the world, are four-panel black and white on weekdays, larger and full color on Sundays. They feature a small collection of characters, including Calvin’s parents, his classmate/love interest/enemy, Susie Derkins, his thick-skulled school bully classmate, Moe, and his teacher, Miss Wormwood. The characters never age, and no storyline persists for more than a few weeks of strips; most stories are contained within one strip. It is easy to pick up any strip from the course of publication and jump right in.
The main draw is the personality of Calvin. While at first glance just a hyperactive, weird, misbehaving child, Calvin truly is so much more. Calvin is adventurous and full of energy: He runs through the woods along with Hobbes, explores the endless outdoors for hours on end, races through treacherous wilderness on his toboggan or wagon (depending on the season). Calvin is creative: He embarks on crazy imaginative journeys in a cardboard box, daydreams about his alternate ego Spaceman Spiff, builds provocative snowmen, plays Calvinball (with different rules every game!). Calvin is curious: He spies on Susie, hides from monsters under his bed, and ponders about the eternal mysteries of human existence and the universe. And Calvin is clever and argumentative: He sends desperate letters to Santa. He argues with his parents about watching television, eating Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, bath requirements, and bedtime. He even regularly reports to his Dad on how he is faring in the latest “polls” of the children in the household (i.e. Calvin).
The heart of the strip lives in its innocence and in the unwavering friendship of a boy and his stuffed tiger. At the end of the day, Calvin is good-hearted and wants to do the right thing. He sees the world through his own spacey daydreams and imagination, but deep down he is just a regular kid with an admirable zest for life and a capacity to care for others. These qualities are ultimately what Calvin and Hobbes is all about.
I became acquainted with the funny, adorable, adventure-filled, innocent, philosophical, colorful, life-changing comic strip that is Calvin and Hobbes only last year. Enough people described the work as worthwhile, so I decided in March 2015 to methodically consume it cover to cover. With just over 3,000 strips (published in newspapers between 1985 and 1995), it is possible to finish in roughly 15 weeks by reading only 30 strips a day. After a few months of diligent routine, I had completed this wonderful literary achievement.
While all of the strips are great, the quality (in terms of story, artwork, emotion, and humor) picks up in the comics that were published after the author, Bill Waterson’s, first sabbatical. These later comics are catalogued in the horizontally-shaped collection books titled The Days Are Just Packed, Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat, There’s Treasure Everywhere, and It’s a Magical World. Any local library has these collections, and each collection has only a few hundred strips each. You can easily read through one of these books in a few relaxing sittings. It’s a great place to start, since there is no overarching chronological story (the characters more or less stay the same throughout the span of the strips). If you fall in love with Calvin, go on to the other post-sabbatical books. By that point you’ll be well on your way to a full read-through. All of the strips are printed in a two-volume set called The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. Alternatively, eight softcover books also cover the entirety of Calvin and Hobbes.
Surely there are many other children’s stories which readers of all ages would appreciate. One such classic that comes to mind is The Little Prince. In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s bestselling parable, a pilot crashes in the Sahara desert and meets a small boy who, through his stories and questions, conveys some very important life lessons. The Little Prince (who has a starkly different personality from Calvin’s) has a quality that most people lose as they grow up: Imagination. This idea surfaces in the novella through several different stories and metaphors.
From the beginning of the story, The Little Prince is about seeing deeper. It opens with the author describing how, as a child, he enjoyed drawing an elephant inside a snake. All of the adults in his life were able to see only the outer surface of the drawing, and thought that it was a illustration of a hat. But the Little Prince comprehends the truth, even if the latter is not provable scientifically. This is a major lesson in the story, which, along with its other morals, makes The Little Prince a gem from start to finish.
The Little Prince touches on many important messages, and is impressively profound in all of them. It is softly critical of how “grown-ups” are interested only in quantifying issues and analyzing people on a superficial level, without actually caring about what really matters. The pilot learns how children like the Little Prince look up in wonder at the world, rather than looking down at their newspapers or their work (translate to today: looking down at their electronic devices). The boy describes his devotion to his flower on his home planet, and how love is something that requires work and is hard to attain. The characters even deal with the difficult subject of death, and how to possibly view the latter in a positive way.
This novella is not so long. It is significantly shorter than Calvin and Hobbes. Even if read slowly (which it should be), The Little Prince for an average-paced reader should take only two or three hours to finish. The fox, perhaps the most interesting character in The Little Prince, shows up only near the end. If for nothing else, it is worth reading the entire story just for his famous lines (for example, “One sees clearly only with the heart”). Saint-Exupéry’s subtle but pretty drawings, which are printed in almost any edition, add to the emotion and wonder of the parable.
The Little Prince would consider me a misguided grown-up for trying to categorize and explain why he is amazing. So I’ll stop here. But I implore all to read the story and be inspired, to recapture that childlike sense of wonder, and to imagine.