14 March 2016

Review: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, Book Two: 1987-1989 by Bill Watterson

Comic trade paperback, 351 pages
Published 2012 (contents: 1987-89)

Acquired December 2014
Read January 2016
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, Book Two: 1987-1989
by Bill Watterson

This volume picks up shortly before Christmas 1987 and carries through until the final day of December 1989, giving us just over two full years of comics, and three whole Christmases. The winter strips are some of the most iconically Calvin and Hobbes, of course; everyone who reads it remembers those horrific snowmen, and there's a lot of good stuff about Calvin's attempts to be good for bad reasons. I was surprised at a couple timeline references; it's specifically said to be 1988 at one point, and at another, Calvin recalls the horrific ever-raining camping trip of the previous year, both of which seem like they call attention to Calvin's unchanging age. There's also some subtle retconning going on in this volume: more than one reference indicates Hobbes has been around since Calvin was a baby, which was clearly not the case in Book One.

The regular vacation storylines are joined by a number of more imaginative storylines in this volume, such as the sequence where Calvin and Hobbes travel to Mars, or (one of my favorites), the one where in the course of an evening of attempted math homework, Calvin's gravity reverses and then he expands to be larger than the Earth. But despite these flights of fancy, many of the volume's standout storylines are more mundane: Calvin failing to write a report on bats ("BATS AREN'T BUGS"), Calvin anticipating a beanie from cereal proof-of-purchases, and Calvin's uncle visiting (I think he never appeared after this, which makes sense, because his character didn't really offer anything other authority figures in the strip didn't). Best of all are a number of babysitting storylines, culminating in the epic one where Calvin locks Rosalyn out of the house for the night. This volume also sees the debuts of Stupendous Man, arch-nemesis of Mom-Lady, and the secret society of G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy GirlS).

There's also an increased focus on Calvin's parents as individuals, who I am more interested in now that I read this as a thirty-year-old married man instead of a ten-year-old kid. We see that Calvin's mother feels like her husband does very little work around the home. We also get a number of Calvin's dad's terrible explanations for things, like where the sun goes when it sets, or why old photos are black and white. And his claiming the family will just steal another family's Christmas tree after New Year's to save money is hilarious. There's also the storyline where the family home is broken into while they're on an overnight trip to a wedding; Calvin gets some focus, since Hobbes was left at home and can't be found at first, but much more of the storyline is about the unsettling feeling of your home being invaded, and (unusually) we get several Calvin-less strips in a row as his parents deal with these feelings.

Watterson's art also increases in quality here: there are some good uses of shading in the daily strips. Furthermore, he begins experimenting with combining panels, especially in the Sunday strips, which gives much more room for his artwork to shine. I know later this becomes commonplace, but here it's restricted to three or four Sundays-- all of which make an impact.

As always, these are consistently laugh-out-loud entertaining. It was also striking to me how much less saccharine Calvin and Hobbes was than many of its modern tributes and imitators; a number of the strips are devoted to how Calvin would rather watch cartoons than do anything imaginative or interesting!

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