Comic fans everywhere have a stack of books. Sometimes it’s manageable. Sometimes it isn’t. It sits, judging you for your choices, when in reality it is just hurt, hurt that it is made up of books that haven’t been read yet, maybe never will.
This is Read Pile, where we make that pile smaller, one book at a time, and we make our other pile, our Read Pile , a little bit bigger. Wait—
This week we’re joined by “wannabe writer” Saffina Jinnah (https://twitter.com/saf15?s=21) who I discovered through a recent piece on SKTCHD. It’s good! Check it out. Today, she brought the evergreen The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes.
$6.50 for Life Lessons from a Tiger
Calvin and Hobbes brought wit and wisdom to the masses for a decade (1985 to 1995). It started before my existence and ended at a time when I had the great responsibility of caring for my tamagotchi.
I first stumbled across Calvin and Hobbes in the massive local chain bookstore in my teens. At the time, the store was rife with inviting seats and cushy sofas scattered through the store for you to casually plop down on to peruse through your potential purchase. Or for me, to lust after the $39.99 (at the time) 250-page illustrated snow-fight-and-water-balloon-filled treasure that would never be mine. This was quite the price tag for a 13-year-old! However, I soon found that the local library carried a few volumes, so I could soon read it well past an acceptable sleeping hour and analyze the drawings and conversations. Sadly, it was no surprise that they were constantly out on loan or on hold. Suffice it to say, I would not be clutching this beauty anytime soon.
When my mom dropped me to the bookstore, it was usually so she could work. It was prefaced with warning of strangers, weirdos, and perverts that may all lurk beyond the bookstore doors(not the dinosaurs and aliens that hid within). Hence, I spent several hours wandering and meandering every section, always retreating to a corner in the comics section to disappear into a volume. We didn’t have cell phones then, so I often lost track of time and my mom had to come in and find me. By a certain point, she knew exactly where to look! It was always a great day even if I left empty-handed, I made a lot of friends in the pages.
Now, fifteen years later, wandering my favourite local bookstore, I could not believe my eyes. Books were already stacked to my chin ranging from Roald Dahl’s The Twits, to The Bronte Sisters, when I decided to do one more quick lap. “Humour.” I did brief scan of the section. There it was, The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes. I stared in disbelief. I put my stack down and flipped it open. I already started reading the first page before I realized I could purchase it. It was mine. Someone else already had the pleasure of being immersed in this boy and his tiger’s world and now it was my turn. It was $6.50. A steal for something that would bring joy, laughter, and insight. I couldn’t wait to devour it (I did wait 15 years). This volume was particularly exciting as it contains seven pages of clever poetry with accompanying illustrations taking us through Calvin’s typical day.
This find in general was kind of extraordinary. Though the comic is still available for purchase at bookstores and online, reprints are essentially the comic’s legacy. Bill Watterson has never licensed the strip or any of the characters. As such, you will never see an action figure, stuffed tiger, or even a greeting card. Watterson was the sole author of Calvin and Hobbes; he had no other editors or artists contribute. Comics are one of very few forms of art in which the artist may connect with his audience and readership without any interruption or influence. Perhaps this is what makes Calvin and Hobbes so special.
As I have gotten older, I have gotten more into comics, but Calvin and Hobbes is one that has stayed with me from childhood to adulthood. Though I only flipped through some pages whilst curled up in the bookstore, the sentiments resonated.
These themes of love, family, and friendship are broad but abundant. Calvin and Hobbes even takes us to Mesozoic era and through outer space as his alter ego The Incredible Spaceman Spiff – Interplanetary Explorer Extraordinaire to Stupendous Man as a superhero saving us from a totalitarian system of rule. These encounters allow us to ponder the meaning of life and reality, all while sledding off a snowy cliff.
The comic is focused on a typical nuclear American suburban family and primarily on the mischievous six-year-old boy and his anthropomorphized sardonic tiger stuffed animal. Yet it transcends borders for me as a South Asian Canadian female from a single parent household. The lessons seem universal from age 14 to 34. Bill Watterson shared what it is like to live in a world where to be anyone outside of the ordinary and expressing your true self is often penalized. I realized Calvin was only himself in the worlds he conjured up with his best buddy. It reminds me of the pressure society places on girls and women to behave a certain way and meet a certain standard. How do we define normal? How do we define success? Do I dare to do something different? Where can you be your authentic self and with who? Hobbes is who we are all looking for. Hobbes is someone outside his immediate or extended family who accepts him and allows Calvin to be his most real self.
Calvin and Hobbes is bursting with imagination as well as human frustration and emotion. “But here I am, and I’m not having the time of my life! Valuable minutes are disappearing forever, even as we speak! We’ve got to have more fun! C’mon!” Relevant at age six with your stuffed animal and at age 34 with your best friend.
You probably already know about them, but while you’re here, you should check out Women’s History Month on the site, which has been fantastic all month! There’re plenty to choose from, (Sara Century wrote one! One’s about Annie Wu! Kathryn Immonen!!!) and they’re all worth reading. Give ‘em a look!