28 September 2015

Review: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, Book One: 1985-1987 by Bill Watterson

Comic trade paperback, 359 pages
Published 2012 (contents: 1985-87)

Acquired December 2014
Read August 2015
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, Book One: 1985-1987
by Bill Watterson

Calvin and Hobbes is one of those things I don't ever remember not knowing. The strip began syndication only five months after I was born, and I remember both reading it in the newspaper-- my parents always said it was the only thing on the comics page worth reading-- and having a number of collections lying around the house. I don't think we had a comprehensive collection, though, so I was curious to see if reading the first volume of the complete strips-- a gift from those same parents-- would reveal any I didn't remember. There were some, but not a lot.

Anyway, this was a total delight. Surely some of that is nostalgia, but most of that is that these really do hold up: Bill Watterson is consistently funny. There are a lot of other good things going for these comics, but more than anything else, the frequency with which I laughed out loud-- once per week of strips at least-- is the most noteworthy. It's amazing to think that they're almost thirty years old now because no newspaper comic strip I've read since comes even close to matching the regular humor of Calvin and Hobbes.

Watterson treads a fine line with Calvin as a character, and it's impressive how he never descends into caricature. Calvin has an active imagination on one hand-- but on the other, he refuses to read in favor of the television. This is no overdone romantic idealization of childhood; in many ways, Calvin is really rather awful!

It's interesting to see the strip begin to take shape here: Calvin is a member of the Cub Scouts (which I think gets dropped later on), Calvin and Hobbes play actual sports, albeit creatively (there's no Calvinball yet), and the large, fanciful storylines I remember so well only really begin to emerge near the end of the book. Though the cardboard box makes some early appearances as a time machine, it's nowhere near as extended as what we'd see later; in fact, the biggest storyline here is (I believe) a miserable camping trip undertaken by Calvin and his family where it just rains nonstop-- this is one of the few occasions in the book where the Sunday strip is smoothly integrated into the storyline. (Nicely, the book places Sunday strips out of publication order occasionally to improve reading experience.)

It probably would surprise no one who knows me that on this reading I had a great appreciation for Calvin's long-suffering parents, especially his father, who reminds me of my own with all of his off-kilter explanations about how the world works and his claims that any form of suffering is justified because it builds character. I look forward to seeing the strip as it develops; even if I've read them all before, I know I've never read them all in the proper order, and it's a great journey to undertake again for the first time.

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