Thursday, January 19, 2012

Missing a Stuffed Tiger

Growing up, most newspaper comic strips sucked.  I like Garfield and Peanuts when I was 7-10 years old or so, but I tired of them.  There rest just didn't interest me: B.C., Marmaduke, Rex Morgan MD, Blondie, etc...and then of course The Family Circus is there just waiting to suck.  I would read over all the comics, because I they were comics and I was a kid...I was supposed to like them right?  But I didn't.  Sure some, like Bloom County, were way over my head, but mostly I just didn't think comic strips were funny and was unable to relate to most.  I did not see myself reflected...not even in the all-American Family Circus Keane family.  Thankfully, there was The Far Side to keep me entertained with geek and wiener dog jokes.  But The Far Side wasn't on "the comics" page in our newspaper, so it always seemed separate from the rest.  I read The Far Side and spent about 10 seconds on the rest of the comics page.
That changed when Calvin & Hobbes appeared.  I am not sure when exactly that happened in our local paper, but would guess sometime in 1986.  Calvin made sense...a wild imagination, making huge messes, questioning his parents, often in trouble, and had a best pal stuffed animal (mine was a monkey).  I could easily identify with Calvin and his adventures were a joy to read.  Even more than just relating, Calvin was often times laugh out loud funny.  I read Calvin and Hobbes religiously for years until I went to college.  During college my dorm "house" had a subscription to the paper, but rarely was it actually available...someone always got up early to grab it and check sports scores and it almost never made it back to our lounge for others to read.  I lost touch and only caught a strip here and there.

I was completely shocked when I returned home sometime during my junior year and discovered that Calvin and Hobbes was over.  I didn't know what happened, I thought my paper had canceled it and I was pissed.  It wasn't until I headed back to school that I found out that creator/writer Bill Watterson had retired Calvin and Hobbes before it devolved into an unoriginal, humorless, formulaic strip.  I also recently found out that he lost some interest, too and wanted to try oil painting.  You have to respect and admire someone willing to walk away from a large paycheck in order to keep your art from falling into mediocrity and pursue other interests.  That is a tough thing to do....but it isn't the only time that Bill took a stand.

I can't believe that Charles Schulz
would approve of this shirt that my
friend Dani happened upon (and was
rightly horrified by).
I've always respected Bill for not licensing Calvin and Hobbes (except for a couple calendars in the late 80s).  It made the comic strip special, since it was the only place to see didn't see a stuffed plush Hobbes in the stores, you didn't see the Calvin & Hobbes & Friends cartoon on Saturday morning, you didn't didn't see t-shirts in the mall with Calvin and his G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy girlS) sign, and you didn't see the Calvin and Hobbes McDonalds Happy Meal toys.  Unfortunately, all you see is bootleg decals of Calvin pissing on one thing or another...or even worse Calvin  praying to the cross (hmmm, promoting your Christianity by using a stolen image...especially of a character that didn't pray in the comic...seems like some kind of hypocrisy).  If you didn't read the comic, you didn't see Calvin and Hobbes - which created a special relationship between the reader and the was more like being friends that would meet for a few minutes each morning instead of a feeling of being bombarded by merchandising.  At the beginning, I really would have loved a stuffed Hobbes but in the long run, I am glad that my memories solely revolve around the comic strip and not a toy.  Calvin and Hobbes was huge.  Bill Watterson could have made a fortune by licensing Calvin and Hobbes...but he didn't want it to seem like the comic was just to sell toys, he didn't want to cheapen dilute his work, or have it transformed into something that he didn't agree with.  Thanks Bill I really appreciate your strength, it really inspires me to do the right thing instead of taking the easy money route.

This is all lead up to me saying that I finally got around to purchasing The Complete Calvin and Hobbesbook(s).  This book had been on my wishlist since it was published in 2005...but it is not a cheap book, MSRP $150, but usually around $100 on Amazon.  I didn't think $100 for 10 years of comics was a bad deal but still it was tough to I asked for it for Christmas several years in a row.  No one bit...I was sad but it is understandable, most people don't think of books as great presents.  A couple weeks ago, I randomly happened to notice that the book was available through my credit card rewards program AND I had enough points.  I ordered it and eagerly waited for it to arrive.  Dang media mail...something shipping  from Missouri shouldn't take 2 weeks.  It was torture.  I would rush home every night only to see my front porch empty of boxes.  Finally, just when I was ready to contact the company and say that it never arrived, it showed up.

I wasn't sure what to expect...I had avoided looking at this in the store because I knew that would lead to buying it immediately (and at the $150 price tag).  After opening the box, I immediately regretted not getting this set sooner.  First off, it is huge - 3 volumes weighing in at a total of 22.5 pounds, books are large format at 12.5 x 11 inches.  Comics are spaced out and don't feel cramped.  There is enough space between strips that you will not spoil future strips while reading the current strip.  Each books is a little under 500 pages...think about that, nearly 1500 pages of Calvin and Hobbes.  The quality is pretty good, hardbound, and binding seems strong.  I can't tell if it has a complete stitched binding or if it is glued in sections and then stitched but it seems pretty durable.  The pages themselves are heavy stock paper and feel very solid sturdy.  A well made book and a well laid out collection.  Most pages have 3 daily strips with Sunday strips getting their own page, other C&H art work appear randomly throughout...the kind of drawings that would appear on the covers of the previous collections.  My only complaint is that each book has a square picture on the front and back covers...these are mounted on top of the covers, instead of being inlaid so that they are flush with the covers.  I fear that some day the corners of these pictures will start to catch and peel.

I am very impressed with this collection and even though I have only made it through a couple months worth of strips so far, it evokes a strong feeling of nostalgia.  The introduction by Bill gave a little history about how Calvin & Hobbes came about and developed and why it ended.  It was nice to hear the story from the author and some of his thoughts.  Starting to read Calvin and Hobbes was like slipping back into step with my childhood friends.  Welcome back, you guys were missed.  I look forward to reading all about our adventures we enjoyed together and the ones that I missed.

photo by platypus comix

Next stop...I will be heading to The Complete Far Side .

No comments: