Every week, Bro Down Editor-in-Chief Josh Klein assigns a topic and we all get stupid. With the announcement of the upcoming Calvin and Hobbes documentary, we honor one of the greatest comic strips of all time.
I have a legitimate fear that there is a generation that is alive today that has no idea who Hobbes is. They may know who Calvin is, if only as a watersports enthusiast who hates either Ford or Chevy depending on the region. But his stuffed friend will remain a mystery due to the demise of the newspaper, and in turn, the funny papers. There will be no small child who sits eating a colorful cereal reading the comics on a Sunday morning while his father dissects the sports section and his mother peruses the adverts. There will be no Calvin & Hobbes coffee table book presented at Christmas by a cool uncle who lives on the other side of the country, one that may not know his 10-year-old nephew, but knows a good present when he sees one. And there will certainly be no dorky high school senior who begins every yearbook entry he writes with “The philosopher Paul Gauguin once wrote ‘Whence do we come? What are we? Where are we going?’” and finished with “PS Who the heck is Paul Gauguin?”
And that void will be a shame. Damn you, Internet.
There are tons of deep observations to be made about Bill Watterson‘s classic comic strip, but I prefer to remain on the surface. That is how I experienced the story of Calvin and Hobbes. Finding out they were named after a French and English philosophers was like hearing that the tooth fairy is your mom. To me it was just a great story of best friends. That is the magic of the strip.
The only interaction I have had with Calvin & Hobbes is an improv game called “Calvinball” that we play often here at the old ComedySportz Chicago. The game plays like this: one team improvises a neutral scene and the other team stops the action every once in a while and imposes an improv rule like “the players can only speak when they are physically touching each other” or “Liz can only speak in 4 word sentences” or “Erin can’t speak at all and only communicates through interpretive dance” or “Keith ages by a decade with every new sentence he says.” I think someone explained the title of the game to me is that in the comic, Calvin would sometimes agree to play games but in the middle of the game, he would change the rules to be in his own favor. It is an awesome improv game.
Here’s a problem though: No one in our audience understands how the title of the game relates to the game. You see, everything Josh Klein said is true. No one gets this reference anymore. We’ve attempted to change the title of the game to something less dated. For a while we called it “Punk’d” but now THAT’s dated too.
So. I’m taking suggestions on what to change the name of our improv game to that is relevant to the game but is a contemporary reference. Winner gets a shout out on CSz Chicago’s twitter feed. Ready? Go.
Calvin and Hobbes is one of the rare artifacts that has survived cultural corrosion over the years. There seem to be only two types of people: those that love Calvin and Hobbes and those that haven’t read it yet. But wary to those that forget one of pop culture’s first memes: the Calvin pissing meme.
Bill Watterson, the genius, mustachioed creator of Calvin and Hobbes famously disallowed use of his characters in any and all merchandise. Well that didn’t stop enterprising folks from taking Calvin’s license, adding a piss stream, and laminating that into a car decal. After hours 1 of research, it seems that NASCAR drivers were the first to use these decals. The drivers pasted Calvin urinating on other drivers’ numbers indicating, I can only assume, their dislike of said pissed-on driver. Despite an army of lawyers attempting to shut down the Calvin pee factories, Calvin eventually pissed on all number of things, pro football teams, car companies, and, God forgive us, a cross. 2
But why, you might ask, would Watterson and his mustache have Calvin urinating in a children’s comic strip? Well, those rascals at the Calvin Pee Decal Emporium took an image from this comic of Calvin innocently filling up a water balloon and MS Painted the balloon out and a stream of urine in. How rude. As Calvin said, “It’s no use! Everybody gets good enemies except me.”
I haven’t seen a Calvin decal in years. Hundreds of teams and NASCAR drivers are now, thankfully, unsullied and Mr. Watterson’s lawyers, I suppose, have moved on to greener, less peed-on pastures.
I don’t remember the first time I read Calvin and Hobbes. It wasn’t in the paper. I never was much into the comics page. But for whatever reason, I started buying collections in book form. The names were outrageous. “Scientific Progress Goes Boink.” “Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons.” But after devouring them–I once spent a whole beach vacation reading Calvin and Hobbes–I can’t imagine another way of going about it. I also once tried copying a Calvin and Hobbes strip for an art show entry. I didn’t medal, but I still liked it.
Regardless, the books read more like short-story collections than your typical disposable comic. Watterson hit on that perfect combination of accessibility and intelligence that makes Calvin and Hobbes as interesting to a 30 year-old as it does a fifth grader.
The legacy of the strip has only grown since Watterson left at the top of his game, making Calvin and Hobbes the Barry Sanders of comics.