The Austin Chronicle

Exploring Calvin & Hobbes

A museum exhibition catalog examines the beloved comic strip and the man behind it

Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, June 12, 2015, Arts

Exploring Calvin & Hobbes

by Bill Watterson
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 160 pp., $19.99 (paper)

When comic strips cease, they die. Syndication, that which brought them into mass culture via newspapers, keeps Charlie Brown alive and kicking, only he's not. Day after day, week after week, year in and year out – the pulse of the panels matches ours. Its seasons are our spring, summer, and fall. That grind ultimately halted Calvin & Hobbes at 10, 1985-1995. "Time off and reruns were not allowed in [the early] days," laments Bill Watterson in a rare Q&A at the heart of Exploring Calvin & Hobbes. Subtitled "An Exhibition Catalogue," this addition to a bestselling series of adventures with a 6-year-old and his stuffed tiger follows a retrospective of Watterson's comic gold mine at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University, which houses the author's Calvin & Hobbes collection. See? A museum piece. And yet, 35 pages of the notoriously press-shy Watterson equals a full-on autobiography about a humorist whose universality finally mirrors that of his base inspiration, Peanuts. A boy and his beagle paved the way for a kid and his feline. "Peanuts made me want to be a cartoonist," he opens the Inspiration chapter, reprinting Snoopy, Pogo, Krazy Kat, Flash Gordon, Doonesbury, and Bloom County ("A fun rival strip, and I used it to spur myself on"). We also learn what we knew all along ("Hobbes was as much my alter ego as Calvin was") and suspected: "The running joke in the strip, where the dad talks about 'building character,' is my dad all through." A kitty named Sprite is outed as well. Ultimately, there's the obvious. "The characters were very alive to me," says Watterson simply, and the Calvin & Hobbes strips that follow, grouped by "Seasons," "Devices," "The Meaning of Life," "Sundays," etc., bear that out with a perennial wit and wisdom that can tickle you 'til your eyes water. Calvin & Hobbes turns 30 this year, but marks 20 winters since the pair's final sled liftoff. Even in a museum, that's life.

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