The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
by Bill Watterson

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Andrews McMeel: Kansas City, 2005

3 volumes of illustrations:
491 & 479 & 481 pages

January 2013


First we must appreciate that The Complete Calvin and Hobbes is a giant collection of comic art. This is the entire set of Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes daily and Sunday cartoons which began in 1985 and ran in newspapers for ten years. This set is a nice match for Gary Larson's The Complete Far Side.

These cartoons have been collected in a numerous assortment of smaller books over the years. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes has them all in one place. What a wealth of science fiction and fantasy in graphic format! Hobbes the thoughtful companion to Calvin (to others, Hobbes appears to be a simple stuffed tiger) is at the heart of Calvin's world. That realm bears a family resemblance to that of Lewis Carroll's classic Alice in Wonderland: time and space, gravity, proportion: many aspects of reality seem maleable with the right attitude and viewpoint — that's Calvin's, of course, at least for a while.

The adventures of Spaceman Spiff, Calvin's most frequent alter ego, frequently phase in when Calvin is bored out of his mind in school. These interleaved mindsets are great and provide an alternate plane of levity, although the adults which appear in them, transfigured into horrible aliens, wouldn't be appreciative if they could see into his mind. They're already sufficiently appalled by the visible actions of Calvin's Earthly avatar. Calvin and Hobbes invent a variety of games, of which the most memorable is Calvinball with its variable rules. A growing wintertime menace, in addition to downhill sled runs, are the snow goons. Calvin's parents, neighbor girl Susie Derkins, teacher Miss Wormwood, Rosalyn the babysitter: all are thoughtfully realized and presented. There are lots of dinosaurs.

The drawings are vivid and expressive, often graphically playful. Watterson adds an interesting discussion about his personal approach to cartooning, and on cartooning in general. Don't miss it.

With all this material in just three volumes, we need to note one drawback: these are big, solid, quite heavy books. Archival paper, sturdy binding, room for larger versions of the daily cartoon strips, larger versions of the Sunday color funnies (dailies and Sundays are mingled chronologically), plus independent multi-page color cartoon stories — excellent but weighty material when gathered together. These volumes are most comfortably browsed when spread on a table in front of the reader. They're heavy for a lap, and awkward in most other arrangements.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes will provide any fan with many hours of enjoyment. My personal favorites? Way too many to list, and there are quite a few strips whose themes or dialogue repeatedly come up in casual conversation. If a single sequence comes unbidden to my mind most often, it perhaps is the eight-day series on Calvin's school assignment to write a report and give a talk, his topic being bats. With Hobbes' help, he develops "Bats! The Big Bug Scourge of the Skies" (27 October 1989 - 4 November 1989), in which he presents one fact (wrong) and one illustration (more wrong, if possible).


© 2013 Robert Wilfred Franson

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