Like many others of my generation, I grew up reading Calvin and Hobbes in the newspaper, and it quickly became one of my favorites. In hindsight, I was much more like Susie (bit of a nerd, teacher’s pet, overachiever) than Calvin, but I loved his imagination and thought he was tremendously funny. And, of course, to me his parents were ridiculous caricatures. I thought the dad, especially, with all his talk of “building character” was just a big goofball. Even three years ago, when I read through the entire ten-year run in about four months, I still related more to Calvin than his parents.
Well, now I’m the dad of a six-year-old daughter who is discovering the joys of Calvin and Hobbes for herself. We have a few of the books which she’s already read countless times, and when we got her another one for Christmas she read it straight through five or six times, squealing with delight. (One of her favorites is the strip where Calvin and Hobbes run the toilet paper into the toilet and flush it repeatedly. I’m hoping she doesn’t try it herself.)
Going back and reading them, I’m discovering the real brilliance of Bill Watterson: I’m finding that I’m actually relating to the adults. They really aren’t two-dimensional characters; on the contrary, a lot of their reactions to Calvin’s shenanigans seem quite familiar. Personally, I think I’m turning into Calvin’s dad: aside from a slight superficial physical resemblance (I have short dark hair and wear glasses), I’ve also become a cyclist in the past few years. His frequent rants about crazy car drivers could be coming out of my own mouth. I make my own kids do stuff in the name of character-building. And honestly, how would you react if your kid hammered nails into the coffee table?
I do like to tease my daughters about things, occasionally to the point of extreme irritation, and I love explaining how things work (although usually truthfully). And that occasional sarcastic streak which shows through usually during Calvin’s poll reports is something I share, too. My attitude towards camping, however, is closer to Calvin’s than his dad’s.
There are a number of comic strips that I used to enjoy when I was younger—I’m ashamed to admit Garfield probably tops the list—but have since outgrown. And there are those that I really didn’t get at all until much later (Zippy the Pinhead, for instance). But Calvin and Hobbes is one of those that has consistently kept me laughing, and I love hearing my own daughter giggling over my old books.
Next time, maybe I’ll explain how reading Doonesbury as a teenager turned me into the only liberal in my family.
Jenny Williams recently wrote an excellent review of Looking for Calvin and Hobbes.
Someday I’ll get myself a copy of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes.
Read Calvin and Hobbes online at GoComics.com.