Calvin & Hobbes was around for just 10 short years, but it influenced a generation of kids who grew up reading about a young boy and his pet tiger, who all the adults thought was a stuffed toy but who we all knew was totally real. Its creator, Bill Watterson, demanded total control over the strip and its merchandizing, never allowing stuffed toys to be made, as he felt that would “answer” the question of Hobbes’ reality. (Still, can we talk about how desperately I wanted my own Hobbes as a child?)
That kind of stubborn resolve can only last so long, and after a decade he retired the characters. Fans have been aching for more ever since. Here are five gift ideas that might soothe the ache, if only for a little while:
The Complete Calvin & Hobbes, by Bill Watterson: If you’re like me, you already own well-worn copies of more than a dozen Calvin & Hobbes collections released over the years, but for the true connoisseur, accept no substitute: the massive collection (weighing in at over 14 pounds in paperback) includes every single strip ever published, as well as all of the bonus color artwork and stories created just for the oversized reprint collections (I still have much of the rhyming bedtime horror story “Something Under the Bed is Drooling” committed to memory). But the real treat is Watterson’s own reflections on and recollections of select strips—the closest he’s ever come to writing his own autobiography.
Looking for Calvin & Hobbes, by Nevin Martell: As it did on many of us, Watterson’s creation had a profound effect on Martell’s childhood. Eager to explore just why he found the comic exploits of a boy and his tiger so meaningful, the writer set out to discover more about the life of their creator. Unfortunately, as most of us know, Watterson has become an almost Salingeresque recluse since ending the strip in 1995, and Martell doesn’t have much luck in finding out new information about his life—or landing that elusive interview (the majority of the Watterson quotes come from the series’ tenth anniversary book). Still, this is an interesting investigation into the Calvin & Hobbes phenomenon, featuring both Martell’s own reflections and those of Watterson’s friends and colleagues, including other cartoonists, artists, and writers like Dave Barry, Brad Bird, and Harvey Pekar.
The Best of Mutts, by Patrick McDonnell: In many ways, McDonnell’s strip, about a cat named Mooch and a dog named Earl, is a kinder, gentler thing than Watterson’s, but it shares a delight in breaking the conventions of newspaper comics, freeing its characters from the confines of the traditional panel to wander across the page. The two strips also share an affinity for absurdist humor and occasional philosophical musing. This “best of” collection provides a strong introduction to a delightful strip.
Cow & Boy, by Mark Leiknes: Here’s a comic from which you can draw a straight line back to Calvin and his tiger—the adventures of an imaginative young boy and his talking cow. This is the only strip I’ve read that comes close to balancing all the different elements that made Calvin & Hobbes so great: memorable characters, subversive humor, surreal sight gags, nostalgia for childhood, pathos, and philosophy.
Liō: Happiness is a Squishy Cephalopod, by Mark Tatulli: The best Watterson strips journeyed into the twisted landscape of Calvin’s imagination, where Spaceman Spiff battled giant dinosaurs on alien worlds or killer snowmen came to life. But Liō is like Calvin & Hobbes totally loosed from reality—according to its creator, all the crazy things that happen to the young protagonist (which frequently involve ghosts, monsters, alien invasions, and giant squid) really happen. Tatulli allows most of the stories and sight gags to play out without dialogue bubbles, resulting in a very different experience from Calvin & Hobbes that nevertheless feels very faithful to its spirit.
How are you filling the tiger-shaped hole in your life?