What can I say about Calvin and Hobbes? It’s one of the essential comic books, on par with, if not better than, other all-ages masterpieces like Peanuts, Carl Barks Disney books, Pogo, Krazy Kat, and Bone. It’s one of the most beloved comic strips out there, and it’s one of those comics that you can single out as an example of the comics medium that’s undeniably good to people who say comics aren’t real art. Adults love it, and ten year olds love it. Calvin and Hobbes lasted about a decade, and since it ended, a lot of reprints have been published, and out of all of the books, it’s very possible that The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book is the best.
The book contains about 2 years’ worth of Sunday comics, each in color. With most newspaper comics, the colors are either unchanging or arbitrary, but Bill Watterson put a lot of time and effort into choosing the colors for Calvin and Hobbes. He chooses colors to create the right mood for the strip and to produce something aesthetically pleasing. In the process, he overlooks continuity, as in some strips the background will be white in one panel and blue in the next. In Krazy Kat, the backgrounds were different in just about every panel. It’s by no means a flaw that the colors change–just the opposite. The change means the artist is using the comics medium to its full potential. Comics don’t require realism, and are better off without.
Also, because these are the Sunday issues, you can expect there to be a lot of Calvin’s delightful dream sequences, such as ones where his desk at school becomes a dinosaur or where he turns into the caped superhero Stupendous Man. My favorite by far is Spaceman Spiff. The book starts out with a spectacular Spaceman Spiff adventure rendered in watercolors.
This is a book I’d highly recommend for adults, but even more so for children. Some parents were greatly opposed to Calvin and Hobbes back when it appeared in the paper, and that’s a position I just don’t understand. There’s so much out there a thousand times worse than the harmless adventures of a six year old and his stuffed tiger doll. This is a book that kids actually enjoy reading. To put it in perspective, think of one of the most famous children’s books of all time, Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll wrote the book after he realized that kids found the moralizing endings to stories boring, so he instead wrote his classic without condescension or obvious messages. Calvin and Hobbes does the same thing. It meets kids on their level, and never speaks down to them. What’s better, it doesn’t insist on insulting their intelligence. It’s not a dumbed down book. Instead, it’s a very intelligent series that kids will feel smarter for reading. Sure, they may not get the references, such as a strip that mentions the classic author Franz Kafka, and they probably won’t realize that the main characters are named after the theologian John Calvin and the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, but I think kids will like that they’re reading something that expects them to know things. Too many kid’s books are written as if they expect the readers to be thoughtless.
At first, it seemed unnecessary for me to write this post, since Calvin and Hobbes is so well-liked, but I’ve noticed that more and more papers are no longer running repeats of the old strips, yet they still run Peanuts. I think the reason for this is space: Calvin and Hobbes is a big comic strip, and newspapers want room for newer stuff. It’s never too late to get into Calvin and Hobbes though, and the idea of a child growing up without ever reading it is, to me, tragic.
Read my essay about helping kids pick out comics.
The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book is currently on sale at Amazon for $10.57.