Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Calvin and Hobbes

I fell in love with Calvin and Hobbes the first time I read one of Bill Watterson's stunning cartoons.  Over the years my love affair deepened.  I bought all of the books as they became available.  I still reread them and the smaller portion and I quote them at each other.

They are a joy on many levels and for many reasons.  The drawings are a delight.  In turn I have empathised with rebellious Calvin - and his poor put-upon parents.  He made his teacher's life hell.  Calvin loves nature and hates organised games - except Calvin Ball which has only one rule - that it cannot be played the same way twice.  And in Hobbes, he has the best friend anyone could ever ask for.  Someone to fight with and fight for.  Someone to have fun with, and a companion on the darkest days.  An alibi - and a scape goat.  Some of the cartoons are hilarious, others moving and/or thought provoking.

When Watterson stepped aside and retired the series in 1995 I grieved.  Twenty years on, my love affair with Calvin, and more particularly with Hobbes continues.

Watterson has always shunned publicity, and stayed out of the public eye when ever possible.  He gave his last interview to a journalist in 1989 and last spoke publicly in 1990.  Essentially he has out-done Greta Garbo. 


To me at any rate, the quirky charming characters are much more important than his personal life.  Just the same I wondered whether he had a Calvin in his life - or had perhaps been a Calvin.  So I was more than happy to be given his biography.


Except that when I started reading it I discovered that Nevil Martell, the author of the biography, had never met Watterson, never spoken to him - or even exchanged emails.  Not for lack of trying, but still...  And Watterson's family and friends respect his barriers and give only very limited information and interviews.

As a result, it is a biography with holes in it.  Information chasms.  I did learn that Calvin is entirely a feat of imagination.  There is no tear-away terror in Watterson's life who inspired Calvin's creation, and the man himself was a well behaved child rather than a rebellious non-achiever.

I also learnt that the absence of Calvin and Hobbes memorabilia and spin-off products is deliberate.  Watterson refused to licence products, and with the exception of a couple of calendars (which Watterson drew the images for) the books and the cartoons are all there is.  Which I respect, while hypocritically admitting that I would happily drink from a mug with either Calvin or Hobbes on it.

There was one element of the book which floored me though.  Martell seemed to think it was a big issue - and it had never occurred to me.  His question was:  Is Hobbes a tiger, or (his words) a doll?

Of course Hobbes is a tiger.  A ferocious tiger.  Some days an attack tiger, other days a big pussy cat.  Who happened to be Calvin's very best friend, loved tuna, comic books and couldn't be trusted not to draw moustaches on the super-heroes. 

Reluctantly I will also admit that Hobbes is also a stuffed toy.  I know which perception I prefer though.  I am very, very grateful that my mind is more flexible than my body and that it happily accepts two contradictory realities simultaneously.

I gather that Watterson has turned his considerable talents to painting.  I wish him well - and would love (when he is ready) to see some of his work.

120 comments:

  1. It was sad when he retired. That was one of the greatest strips ever made. And in the days of materialism and memorabilia craze, I respect that he never allowed any. (Although I hated those rip-off decals that showed a boy who looked like Calvin peeing.)
    Hobbes is a tiger, stuffed or not! (Besides, boys don't play with dolls.)

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    1. Alex J. Cavanaugh: I read about those decals in the biography - but have never seen one. Luckily. I loved the early episode where Calvin tells his father he has caught a tiger and asks what to do with it. Stuff it is the answer - and the new block shows Calvin offering more and more tuna to Hobbes.

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    2. I was angry when I first saw one of those decals. Still hate them.

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    3. Guyana-Gyal: I hadn't seen them until a blogging friend sent me one yesterday. Hiss and spit. And then a family member told me of one that depicts Calvin praying at a cross. Which also made me very unhappy.

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    4. Yeah… I've seen the cross one fairly frequently. Nauseating.

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    5. Paper Chipmunk (aka Ellen): Shudder.

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  2. I am unfamiliar with this strip but he sounds interesting, would be wonderful to see what he paints.

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    1. Linda Starr: I gather he is a perfectionist and destroys a lot of his work. Hopefully not all of it. If you get the chance, track some Calvin down. It is a hoot.

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  3. This is so interesting. I certainly understand his desire to be left alone. A true introvert if I ever heard one.

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    1. Birdie: And such a creative, imaginative introvert. I hope he has found a measure of peace in his life.

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  4. "... a Calvin in his life - or had perhaps been a Calvin." I suspect we all have one or the other, or both, which may account for the character's remarkable popularity. A wonderful post, EC!

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    1. Geo.: I was quite surprised to learn that Watterson apparently had neither. There were strong elements of his father in Calvin's dad though...

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  5. Well, he's a fierce tiger alive toy! :) I love Calvin and Hobbes too. That's good stuff. :)

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    1. mail4rosey: I would love to have a Hobbes. Really, really love to have a Hobbes.

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  6. The characters and their creator, very intriguing. I've never read the strip. Will go back now and try to find them.

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    1. Strayer: I hope you can track some down. I think you would get a lot of fun from him. I read somewhere (I think) that there are still more than a million of the books sold each year, and the cartoons are being published in over 50 countries.

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  7. I too love Calvin and Hobbes, I always think of hobbs as a fierce tiger but just sometimes turns into a pussycat or cuddly toy for a while.
    Merle........

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    1. Merlesworld: Oh good. Someone else who didn't need the either or approach.

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  8. My papaw, God rest his soul, LOVED Calvin and Hobbes :) this made me think of him.

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    1. Optimistic Existentialist: My father died before I found Calvin. I am almost certain that he would have loved him too. My partner's father certainly did.

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  9. Oh, I read a lot of "Calvin and Hobbes" when I was younger (They're called "Kalle och Hobbe" in Sweden by the way). I just loved Calvin's wiew on things, especially when he was in a bad mood. As a bonus, Calvin's dad looks like a cartoon version of my dad.

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    1. CrimsonAnna: I still read him, and still enjoy him. I really loved his snow creations (among other things). One of my brothers is an insane keep fit cyclist - there is certainly some of Calvin's father in him.

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  10. What beautiful sentiments of a much loved, wonderful duo and their creator.
    I really like that Watterson didn't go down the commercial route.
    But, I agree, even a "limited edition" one-off line of mugs might've been nice.

    Hobbes is most definitely a clever, cheeky, charming tiger!

    I imagine them always hugging (fuzz therapy), forever friends, never growing up and never growing old.
    Some things in life should never change...


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    1. Vicki: Oh yes. Best friends forever, with the next adventure around the corner. I am not at all surprised that you loved them too.

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  11. I have every single boom of Calvin and Hobbes, I've re-read them a billion times too. They are the finest comfort blanket there is when you feel crap I find, and yes, Hobbes is a tiger, just one who can do a cracking impersonation of a stuffed toy hahaha. Few things in this life have had me laugh as much as those books and I'm also glad he didn't sell the merchandising rights, it keeps the original drawings real and fresh. If I start making mugs, I make you one with them on first! The book sounded a bit sneaky, a bit of a cheat really. Still info can be interesting in parts that way all the same.

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    1. All Consuming: Calvin can (and does) brighten the crappiest day here too. Love him. And have no shame about it.
      Of course Hobbes is a tiger. The author of the biography was a fan, so I really can't understand how he questioned it. And yes, it was in some ways a cheat of book. Definitely a cheat of a biography.

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  12. I didn't read any, but, it is too late now though.

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    1. Bob Bushell: You could, perhaps, still enjoy the pictures.

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    2. Yep, I enjoy the pictures EC.

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  13. Calvin and Hobbes were a favourite of mine as well.

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    1. Delores: I don't know anyone, though they must exist, who discovered them and DIDN'T love them.

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  14. A fascinating post and I am also a lover of Calvin and Hobbes. The book sounds interesting even with holes. I wonder if an autobiography will be done by Mr. Watterson or a member of his family one day. I would wait in a long line for that one.

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    1. DeniseinVA: I suspect his privacy is much more important than the fame. And, while I would love to know more, I respect his integrity.

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  15. I've never heard of Calving and Hobbes. I see there is a tumblr devoted to it, calvinhobbesdaily.tumblr.com/

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    1. Andrew: Thank you for that link. Did you have a look at them, and did you see the charm?

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  16. i'm pretty sure i have read some calvin & hobbes but i dont remember much about it........
    thats another thing for the "to do" list :)

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    1. kylie: Only if you want to. There is too much on the to do list for most of us already. And should is a word I use to beat myself with - and suspect I am not alone.

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  17. I've always loved what Calvin did with his snowmen! Such mayhem. Hobbes is indeed the best friend one could have...and I just realized that Death shares some of his personality traits. :D

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    1. River Fairchild: The snowmen were brilliant weren't they? How I would love to see a street full of them. You are right about your Death too - he does indeed have some of Hobbes characteristics and charm. No wonder I love him.

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  18. I can't wrap my head around not wanting to merchandise. If I created a loveable character, I'd merch it up more than The Simpsons ;)

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    1. Michael D'Agostino: I think Bill Watterson says it better than I can. 'Actually, I wasn't against all merchandising when I started the strip, but each product I considered seemed to violate the spirit of the strip, contradict its message, and take me away from the work I loved.'

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    2. "But that all changed when someone showed me the design for a new box of cereal called Hobbes-Os."

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    3. Michael D'Agostino: Breakfast cereal? WTF? Shudder. And his and spit.

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  19. I recently found a large Calvin and Hobbes book during my clean up for the move. I gave it to my 7 year old grandson. I think he is ready for it.

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    1. Sue in Italia/In the Land of Cancer: I hope your grandson loves it, as I do, and as so many others do.

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  20. I have always been a fan of Calvin and Hobbes too! When my nephew, Calvin, was born 14 years ago I bought him every Calvin and Hobbes book I could get my hands on as additional gifts for birthdays and Christmas. :) I see Hobbes two ways too! I find it interesting that there is a biography written based on so little information (no interviews with Bill Watterson). But, It sounds like there was a little new info found within the pages.

    Calvin and Hobbes crack me up. Love the pictures and the words. :)

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    1. Stephanie@Fairday's Blog: I hope your lucky nephew relishes his name sake. And doesn't copy too many of his stunts.
      I suppose that a lot of biographies are not written while the subject is alive, so there are no interviews. But there are letters to and from the subject, and people willing to talk. This one was more of a tribute than a biography I think. Still some interesting information though.

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  21. My youngest son loved C and H!!! I respect the creator for holding the line on making their faces and personalities common common.

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    1. Bookie: I admire his integrity too. And respect him for looking after himself and walking away. And regret that he felt he had to.

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  22. I adore Calvin and Hobbes, and Hobbes is most definitely a tiger. I think the snowmen are my favorites.

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    1. mshatch: The snow goons and the snowmen were very special indeed. So were the achaeology strips. And the dinosaur ones. Oh hell. I loved them all.

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  23. It just crossed my mind Hobbs might be a pooka, incarnate. I never considered him either a tiger or a toy. Hobbs just is.

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    1. Joanne Noragon: A pooka works too. And a pooka that could take the shape of a tiger has a lot of charm for me.

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  24. I absolutely love Calvin and Hobbs, too. Your post made me wonder if it even matters what the truth is. We all need these guys, even today, to be what we imagine them to be. Best to you! :-)

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    1. DJan: Perhaps there are as many Calvins and as many Hobbes as there are readers. And yes, I certainly have a need for them.

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  25. Watterson sounds like a fascinating man, a treasure really when so many people are eager to lap up all the glory they can heap upon themselves.

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    1. kim: A man of talent, dedication and integrity. What's not to like?

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  26. That sounds like a great book to read. Thanks! I LOVED Calvin and Hobbes and like you, would gladly drink from a mug! As a young child, long before Calvin and Hobbes existed, I had my own Tiger...his name was Tony. I carried that thing everywhere and to me it was absolutely alive. We had the greatest adventures. :-)

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    1. 1st Man: Of course Tony was alive. And from the sound of it as much your friend as Hobbes was to Calvin. Which is lovely. Do you still have him?

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    2. You know, my Mom kept it (as Mom's do) and I know it's in storage. I think one of these days I need to get that out and put it on the bed at the farm. The new adventures of Tony on the farm! :-)

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    3. Ist Man: The new adventures of Tony on the farm sounds BRILLIANT.

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  27. Many people look at success and fame as something to aspire to, yet , from what I see, it can be terribly crippling. Ten years of writing a very popular strip might have robbed the author of what he valued most, but we will probably never know.

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    1. Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe: I suspect that you are right. And love that Watterson had the strength to walk away and, as I have said in response to other comments, regret the necessity.

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  28. It is truly remarkable that he created such an amazing body of work, and then quietly walked away. Turning away untold riches by refusing to license... It does make me incredibly curious about such a man. i'm mostly glad that he gave us Calvin and Hobbes...

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    1. daisyfae: I am very, very glad to have been given Calvin and Hobbes. I would like the see what he is working on now though...

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  29. I don't know anyone who DOESN'T love Calvin and Hobbes. They're probably out there. I haven't collected any of the books, although I'd like to, I may start searching for them. I've collected some of the cartoons from newspapers and they're stuck on my kitchen walls, others I've collected via google and printed, in black and white, they're destined for poster boards which will be framed. (and hung if I can find the space). One of my favourites is a grown up Calvin watching his little daughter walking off with Hobbes in hand.

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    1. River: There are a few people who read this post who have never come across them. Which surprised me a little.
      The grown up Calvin watching his daughter walk off with Hobbes is one I have never seen. Where did you find it? I have never seen one where Calvin is older than six.

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    2. I have a couple with a grown up Calvin, I think I found them via google, I'll check my file and email them to you.

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    3. River: Thank you. I love them. More thought provoking, and moving ones.

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    4. PS: I think they are tribute images rather than Watterson originals - but they still have charm.

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  30. Our son (now 31) still quotes from C&H on occasion, and has the complete set also. I wish I liked them as much as he does (and you do) but I do enjoy his enjoyment of them. Wikipedia has a very comprehensive article on the comic strip and on Bill Watterson, if you haven't already had a look. The article on Mr. Watterson mentions that he wrote a brief autobiography in the late 1980's - a "tongue-in-cheek" work, which I hadn't known before.

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    1. jenny_o: I had seen the Wikipedia article - and would love to read that tongue in cheek autobiography. And even though you don't love Calvin and Hobbes as your son and I do - you still get pleasure from him. Second hand - but pleasure.

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  31. Oh dear C and H are unfamiliar to me but it sounds so interesting.

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    1. Margaret Adamson: They are interesting. And charming. And frequently very funny.

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  32. How very interesting. I, too, love Calvin and Hobbes. Another book I'll have to get my hands onto. Thanks, EC. :)

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    1. Lee: There are a lot of us who love them aren't there.

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  33. Floating into my mind is Christopher Robin's final conversation with Pooh, about their always being together, wherever theyare. And that, without any need for analysis, is why such friendships endure. I'm happily convinced Hobbes is a proper tiger.

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    1. dinahmow: Calvin and Hobbes have a very similar conversation. And I have no doubt that their friendship is eternal. Despite the odd disagreement. Of course Hobbes is a tiger. A tuna loving dancing tiger. With pointy bits in a lot of places.

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  34. Contradictory realities are the stuff of life. I remember when Mr. RK told me that this guy had never licensed anything...and thinking how pissed off I'd be with the Calvin pissing stickers if I were him.

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    1. Riot Kitty: I understand he is more than a little peeved at them. I hadn't seen them until a blogger sent me one. And my nephew's wife tells me that there is a Calvin praying at a cross sticker too. That one is soooo wrong.

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  35. I read this post right through with so much interest and was delighted with the way you described the cartoon characters and your love for them and their author. I have never been a fan of Calvin for some reason and can't explain why but you have made me see him and his friend in a different light now. (I think Calvin may have reminded me too much of a grandson of mine who rubbed me up the wrong way on many occasions when he was young).
    Phil always loved Mr Magoo (I think I got that right) and we both loved The Perishers but have not seen either for many years, more's the pity.

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    1. Mimsie: A Calvin in the family is a very, very scary concept. With very little humour attached. If you saw a resemblance I am not surprised you had difficulties.

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  36. Calvin and Hobbes are the best. The cartoons can be found in cyberspace and Ron and I used to read and re-read them and laugh a lot. If you are not familiar with the cartoon you must find a few to read and rejoice in the antics of the pair.

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    1. Grannie Annie: I am not at all surprised to find so many other fans. I have introduced Calvin to a number of people, and they too have loved him.

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  37. I'm with you. Calvin was the bomb. (I think it was crafted after me...ya...I was ADD and evil to the core as a 6 year old.)

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    1. Author R. Mac Wheeler. Definitely the bomb - though I will admit to some sympathy for his (and your) parents.

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  38. Thanks for the introduction. I had no idea who they were.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. A Cuban in London: Track them down if you can. There is a lot of charm - and some wisdom too. And hilarity.

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  39. I always thought of Hobbes in the same way I think of Winnie the Pooh. Sometimes an animal, sometimes a stuffed animal. Depending on Christopher Robin's whims.

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    1. Dawn@Lighten Up!: I know which reality I prefer. By a long shot.

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  40. I like to think of Hobbes as real. Lovely post - I'll put that on my reading list now.

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    1. Lynn: A real Hobbes is a comfort in a sometimes dark and scary world. I think everyone should have one.

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  41. I saw your "Calvin and Hobbes" post in the blog reader for Trainride... and had to jump over as I, too, am a big fan and I was even more excited to learn of the biography and then I was let down to know it's limitations. Hobbes is real, either way.

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    1. sage: Welcome and thank you. The biography did give me some new information - just not as much as my greedy self wanted. And I am glad for another vote in favour of Hobbes reality.

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  42. It's sad that we've regressed from Calvin and Hobbs to Sponge Bob, Dora, and -I don't know- Justin and Selena.

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    1. Rawknrobyn: Nothing has come close to taking their place in my heart and imagination.

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  43. I don't know Calvin and Hobbs at all. I've seen a few pictures over the years but that's it. Interesting to learn more about them through this post!

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    1. LL Cool Joe: I love them, but they are not for everyone. I would be interested in hearing what you thought if you were to explore their world though.

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  44. Mr. L loves Calvin and Hobbs.
    I'm more a Garbo lover myself!! xxx

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    1. My Inner Chick: There is room in my heart for Calvin and Hobbes AND Garbo.

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  45. When Calvin and Hobbes stepped from sight, it truly saddened me. Calvin did things we all would love to try, and Hobbes was by his side. Real or not? It does not matter.

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    1. Susan Kane: It had never occurred to me that Hobbes' reality was an issue. I really was floored when I read the sections of the biography which mused over it.

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  46. There is always room in my heart for Calvin and Hobbes!

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    1. ladyfi: No arguments here. There place is reserved in my heart too.

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  47. Calvin and Hobbes... Pogo... the good ones are now gone. *sigh*

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    1. Jacquelineand...: In this house at least, Calvin and Hobbes are NOT gone. Thankfully. Pogo I don't know - and will have to explore.

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  48. I remember reading them as a kid in the paper--but we don't even get the paper anymore. I do miss the comics! It's funny, but I don't even see papers on my neighbors' driveways, even on Sundays.

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    1. Stephanie Faris: We do get the papers still, but are in the minority here. And everywhere I suspect.

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  49. I LOVE Calvin and Hobbes. There simply aren't any current cartoons that are nearly as good.

    There's a C&H strip on my bulletin board that's been there for many years. It shows a naked Calvin standing in the toilet. He flushes it, then all giggly, yells WHEEEE as he whirls around. Then he walks past his mother with a towel wrapped around his waist, and says, "I'm done with my bath." All his mother says, is "Hm, that was quick."

    Like several others have already mentioned, I especially got a kick out of Calvin's snow creations.

    Happy weekend!

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    1. Susan: I remember that one well. And a number of other bath time gems. Selfish or not, I am still sorry he decided to step aside. And, if we got snow, we would probably try and recreate at least one of his gems...

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  50. So loved Calvin and Hobbes. Hobbes is real, just as Calvin is real. Hobbes was only disguised as a stuffed tiger, necessary in a world peopled by adults. I'm so pleased to find you loved them, too.

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  51. How can one even ask whether Hobbes is a real tiger? Peleeeease... of course he is!!!

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    1. Carola Bartz: It certainly wasn't a question which had ever occurred to me. And yes, he is real. And the best friend Calvin could hope for.

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  52. Coincidentally, someone just the other day emailed me a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that she'd been hanging onto for years. That comic strip has become such a part of the wider culture, even all these many years later. I still often think of my favorite one, which I must've seen years ago but hadn't thought to clip out of the paper. They stuck with you, those strips.

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    1. Paper Chipmunk (aka Ellen): A part of the wider culture which is, in my eyes anyway, worth preserving.

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  53. I absolutely adore Calvin and Hobbes! It's still staple reading in our house and we quote bits to each other all of the time. Recently it was this one - cracks us up every time.

    I know who Calvin was based on - my son! He is so like Calvin that I often wondered how Bill Watterson was channelling him so accurately. As you can imagine, he was a "challenging" child.

    I've seen a few Calvin and Hobbes t-shirts and coffee mugs for sale, but I guess they are all breaching copyright. I had wondered why you couldn't buy a Hobbes. I'd like to have just such a friend. ♥♥

    Anyway, I've added this book to my "to read" list, which is growing at an allarming rate. With today's news about the new Harper Lee book, it's bound to grow longer and longer :-)

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    1. Marie: Yup, that cartoon cracks me up too. And it is entirely accurate about a few of my family members.
      Your son was a Calvin? Oh dear. Funny in retrospect, and fraught at the time I imagine.
      I am thrilled to hear that Harper Lee's first book has been rediscovered. I want it. I will have it. Despite a HUGE unread pile - part of which I have you to thank for...

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    2. I always love the "wtf?" look on Hobbes' face when Calvin spouts forth. Priceless.

      My son has mellowed with age, but he still has a caustic and biting repartee that leaves people speechless. He actually has recently moved to Canberra for work, so watch out! I've always loved a kid with a bit of spunk, even though at times I pulled my hair out and wished that I had a nice, quiet, obedient son who never answered back... still waiting....

      Always happy to add to your "unread" pile - I'm only reciprocating..

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