Calvin and Hobbes is a comic strip written and illustrated by Bill Watterson, following the humorous antics of Calvin, an imaginative six-year old boy, and Hobbes, his energetic and sardonic—albeit stuffed—tiger. The pair are named after John Calvin a 16th century French Reformation theologian, and Thomas Hobbes, a 17th century English political philosopher. The strip was syndicated daily from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995. At its height, Calvin and Hobbes was carried by over 2,400 newspapers worldwide. To date, more than 30 million copies of the 18 Calvin and Hobbes books have been printed, and popular culture is still replete with references to the strip.The strip is vaguely set in the contemporary Midwestern United States, on the outskirts of suburbia, a location probably inspired by Watterson’s home town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Calvin and Hobbes appear in most of the strips, while very few focus on other members of Calvin’s family. The broad themes of the strip deal with Calvin’s flights of fantasy, his friendship with Hobbes, his misadventures, his views on a diverse range of political and cultural issues and his relationships and interactions with his parents, classmates, educators, and other members of society. The dual nature of Hobbes is also a recurring motif. Calvin sees Hobbes one way (alive), while other characters see him as something else (a stuffed animal). Even though the series does not mention specific political figures like political strips such as Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury, it does examine broad issues like environmentalism and the flaws of opinion polls. A number of cartoons feature Calvin announcing the results of “polls of household six-year-olds” to his father, treating his father’s position as though it were an elected political office.
Because of Watterson’s strong anti-merchandising sentiments and his reluctance to return to the spotlight, almost no legitimate Calvin and Hobbes merchandise exists outside of the book collections. Some officially approved items were created for marketing purposes and are now sought by collectors. Two notable exceptions to the licensing embargo were the publication of two 16-month wall calendars and the textbook Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes. However, the strip’s immense popularity has led to the appearance of various “bootleg” items, including T-shirts, keychains, bumper stickers, and window decals, often including obscene language or references wholly uncharacteristic of the whimsical spirit of Watterson’s work.
That’s one of the remarkable things about life. It’s never so bad that it can’t get worse.”Main Characters
Calvin Named after 16th century theologian John Calvin, Calvin is an impulsive, imaginative, energetic, curious, intelligent, and often selfish six-year-old, whose last name the strip never gives.
Despite his low grades, Calvin has a wide vocabulary range that rivals that of an adult as well as an emerging philosophical mind. “You know how Einstein got bad grades as a kid?” he says. “Well, mine are even worse!” He commonly wears his distinctive striped shirt. Watterson has described Calvin thus:
Calvinistic predestination as a philosophical position basically entails the idea that the human action affecting a person’s ultimate salvation or damnation is predestined. Calvin’s consistent gripe is that the troublesome acts he commits are outside of his control: he is simply a product of his environment, a victim of circumstances.
He does frequently escape from his environment into elaborate fantasy worlds of his own creation; one of the strip’s recurring devices is the humorous juxtaposition of Calvin’s fantastic perception with the quotidian viewpoint of other characters. On many occasions, Calvin sees himself in one of his many alternate guises: as the superhero Stupendous Man, the astronaut and explorer Spaceman Spiff, the private eye Tracer Bullet, and many others.
… and Hobbes
Hobbes is Calvin’s stuffed tiger who, from Calvin’s perspective, is as alive and real as anyone in the strip.
He is named after 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who had what Watterson described as “a dim view of human nature.” Hobbes is much more rational and aware of consequences than Calvin, but seldom interferes with Calvin’s troublemaking beyond a few oblique warnings – after all, Calvin will be the one to get in trouble for it, not Hobbes. Hobbes also has the habit of regularly stalking and pouncing on Calvin, most often when Calvin returns home from school.
From Calvin’s point of view, Hobbes is an anthropomorphic tiger, much larger than Calvin and full of his own attitudes and ideas. But when the perspective shifts to any other character, readers see merely a little stuffed tiger. This is, of course, an odd dichotomy, and Watterson explains it thus:
When Hobbes is a stuffed toy in one panel and alive in the next, I’m juxtaposing the “grown-up” version of reality with Calvin’s version, and inviting the reader to decide which is truer.
Although the first strips clearly show Calvin capturing Hobbes by means of a snare (with tuna fish as the bait), a later comic (1 August 1989) seems to imply that Hobbes is, in fact, older than Calvin, and has been around his whole life. Watterson eventually decided that it was not important to establish how Calvin and Hobbes had first met.