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Comic delight

February 5, 2021

Back in the stone age, when I was in college, eons before people walked around with powerful computers the size of Pop Tarts in their pockets, I would read our university newspaper, The Daily Egyptian. It was a satisfactory read.

Published every weekday by our undergrad Journalism and Communications majors on campus, it did a decent job of summing up newsworthy events, covered what was happening with our sports programs, reviewed concerts and other artistic endeavors, and always carried ads for local bars and pizza places. Best of all, it was free–a broke college student’s favorite price.

It also had a page devoted to comics. Not a big one. Just a few very well chosen strips, along with a crossword puzzle and movie theater listings. It helped pass the time before my GE-B 201 class, ominously titled ‘Survival Of Man’ would start every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9am.

It was here, in some auditorium in the Agriculture Building, I was introduced to the comic masterpiece Calvin And Hobbes. Calvin being a precocious, mischievous and adventuresome 6 year-old boy and Hobbes his sardonic stuffed tiger who comes to life in Calvin’s creative mind. Set in suburban America somewhere, the strip would focus on Calvin’s relationship with his tiger friend, often including his wry and witty mom and dad, classmates Susie Derkins and Moe the bully, his teacher Miss Wormwood and his dreaded babysitter, Roslyn.

Written by Bill Watterson from 1985 to 1995, the comic strip was unique in capturing the humor in philosophical quandaries, public education, environmentalism and opinion polls–subjects not normally discussed by a small child and his anthropomorphic stuffed animal friend. But to read these three or four-cell strips day after day, week after week, I got to fall in love with Calvin and Co.

He’s usually a little brat. But he also could display remorse, sorrow and guilt–things not typically considered funny. And Hobbes often provides him with blunt honesty, wisdom and solace even when Calvin is at his worst–just like a best friend would.

That’s where the delight in this artform is for me. It’s brilliantly written. Not simplistic at all. Bill Watterson wrote the comic for adults, or at least people who could perceive nuance. And when I heard that Watterson was going to stop drawing the comic, I was heartbroken. But when I found out the reasons why Watterson was stopping (lack of creative control, uber-strict formatting restrictions in newsprint, the incessant desire by others to profit off of merchandising the characters), I totally supported his wish.

Today, Calvin and Hobbes exists in rerun format in a few dozen newspapers across the country. Moreso, each comic, from beginning to end, is available in book form. And I have every one of the books. My son Drew loves reading them, too. I saw him thumbing through one of the compilations that I hadn’t read in years, so I picked it up. Ten minutes later, I had to force myself to put it down and get back to doing what I was doing. Now timeless, it still makes me smile with delight just the same as it did when I was a freshman in college.

I had this specific strip taped to my refrigerator of my off-campus apartment for years.

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