In times of stress, I look to a few different sources for comfort, and one of the sources that makes me most happy is Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes comics. (I have already reviewed two of Watterson’s collections: Scientific Progress Goes “Boink” and Something Under the Bed is Drooling.) This time, for your entertainment, I’m presenting Weirdos from Another Planet, which I believe was the first C & H collection I ever bought!
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Bill Watterson – Weirdos from Another Planet (1990)
For those who don’t know Calvin and Hobbes, it was a daily newspaper strip written and drawn by Watterson (who is notoriously reclusive), which featured the antics of a hyperactive kid, Calvin, and his stuffed tiger-slash-imaginary friend, Hobbes. Calvin’s name invokes the “fire and brimstone” religious theologian, John Clavin, who believed in predestination; while Hobbes’s name invokes Thomas Hobbes, the British philosopher who argued that humans are essentially self-oriented, selfish, and cruel. (Perhaps the names are coincidental?) Calvin, the kid, is the perfect embodiment of imagination unchained. He is contrary, easily bored, cruel at times (especially to his female rival, Susie), a holy terror to his poor parents, and lives a majority of his life in a fantasy world or monsters, aliens, and distorted physics. Hobbes (who is, perhaps, Calvin’s slightly more civilized side) is Calvin’s most frequent playmate---and the “person” who Calvin usually blames whenever he gets caught doing something horrible.
This particular collection has a number of recurring motifs in it that I find amusing: Calvin as monster (as he stomps around the house, destroying toys, and even biting his mom on the leg); or Calvin and Hobbes inventing complex games and then cheating at them as much as possible while playing; or the incredibly clever episodes in which Calvin harangs his father with talk of “popularity polls” and suggests that he might not get “re-elected” as Dad in the next election cycle---IF he doesn’t do something drastic (like cancelling mandatory school attendance…) Another hilarious series of strips in this book (remember, these were presented as dailies, originally, so the stories unfolded over the course of a week in your local paper) is the arc in which Calvin decides he’s going to fix the leaky upstairs faucet---and it all goes, predictably and remarkably, wrong! The best sequence in this story shows Calvin’s parents sitting on a couch, their faces growing more and more worried, as Calvin, all casual, rummages in the kitchen (“off camera”) saying things like, “La da dee dee da / I think I’ll get a bucket / Dum de doo… / … / No cause for alarm… No need to panic… I just want a few buckets. La la.” And his parents face each other and both yell, “YOUR turn” (p. 80). It’s a perfect example of what parenting can be like!
I read these comics, originally, when I was a teenager, and I loved them then. Now, as a forty-something-year old with kids of my own, I can see the stories from a different perspective, but I still love them! Watterson has created a nearly perfect character in Calvin---who ISN’T evil, necessarily, but whose world view is so distorted and self-directed that his actions can APPEAR to be evil, if we look just at what he gets up to. There is another fantastic strip in this collection, which perfectly demonstrates what I’m driving at, where Susie is drawing on a sidewalk with chalk, and Calvin comes up and seems genuinely interested in what she’s doing. Susie says he can draw too, if he wants, and Calvin says, “Gosh. I’ve never been a vandal before!” And Susie says, “This isn’t vandalism. It washes right off!” and the next panel shows Calvin dropping the chalk and walking away (p. 86). He’s not evil---he’s just interested in testing the limits of what society finds acceptable. He’s an explorer who loves excitement and has very little time for the mundane and commonplace!
And, probably the most important thing about this book, his antics are hilarious. Watterson’s expression of a kid’s reality is dead on (from what I remember and, sort of, still experience: see my art and writing…) Calvin’s loneliness is assuaged by his tiger buddy, his boredom is decreased through his flights of fancy, and his curiosity is piqued whenever something feels dangerous or disgusting. We can laugh at his schemes (seeing them for the futile efforts that they are) and not feel bad as we cheer him on in whatever anti-social activity he’s engaged in at the moment, because we know he’ll be okay in the end. (It’s comforting...) (If you're old enough, you can also empathize with the parents---and feel glad YOUR kids were never quite that rambunctious!)
This is a fun book, a funny book, with excellent and expressive artwork, and perfect facial expressions---and the whole thing has a very realistic feel to it, despite the fantasy elements. It seems to be an ACTUAL look inside a kid’s brain, which can be a very interesting place to peer! If you’ve never read a C & H story before, I highly recommend them (ALL OF THEM), and (as I’ve probably said before) if you HAVE read Watterson’s works, isn't it time to read them again??? (WARNING: Not for boring, rule abiding, stick-in-the-mud types! Everyone else will think these books are a HOOT!)
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
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