Monday, October 17, 2005

Ah Sweet Mystery of Life

Finally. At last. Proof that dreams indeed come true. The complete works of William Shakespeare Bill Watterson. In hard cover no less. One thousand four hundred and forty pages of Calvin and Mr. Hobbes, weighing in at twenty two-and-a-half pounds. Just the kind of heavy reading to take you through those long winter nights, the ones where you sit exactly in the middle of the bed so nothing can reach up from underneath and grab you. The kind of cold, dark night when the puddle of drool seeps across the uneven, creaky floor boards in your bedroom. A night so dreary that even if you were old enough to collect Social Security you'd still need your dad to leave the light on in the hall.

You know those nights.

At the Amazon site, Art Spiegelman --no less -- delivers the encomium:

By the 1980s the once glorious newspaper comics section had become a wasteland, ravaged by shrinking space, editorial timidity and other ills. The real excitement in my medium had moved to the fertile margins of the alternative press. Bill Watterson, as uninterested in underground comix as I was in the mass media's bland concoctions, marched directly into the wasteland and made the comatose syndicated strip form kick up its heels and dance.From 1985 until Watterson abandoned it at the height of its popularity 10 years later, Calvin and Hobbes echoed the classic strips the artist most admired. Stirring the richly conceived characters and efficient drawing of Peanuts with the visual virtuosity and linguistic playfulness of Pogo and Krazy Kat, he applied his intelligence and supple cartoon skills to come up with a creation beloved by the millions who still mourn its passing.
"Mourn" is exactly the right word. Watterson has inspired those who followed him as surely as he was influenced by his comic forebears. But his inspiration has alighted not just on would-be comic strip artists; Calvin has influenced us all. Or is it Hobbes? Could you choose between Bertie or Jeeves? Of course not; in each case it is a "both-and" story. You cannot envision one without the other.

That happens with real people sometimes, too. Twins, perhaps. Or very close siblings. Or long-married couples. My cousins, Buster and Tommy, were such two. They were Irish twins (i.e.,born about ten months apart). Wherever you saw one, there was the other. Until they were adults, I don't think I ever said their names separately, not even to myself. Why would I, since they themselves were inseparable? The strongest memory I retain of them is from their middle childhood: I was about to be married and everyone was busy with the preparations. It was mid-May -- magnolia time in Florida. The morning of my wedding, Tommy and Buster climbed the huge trees to bring down large, fragrant blossoms for the church hall. I can see those sneakered feet disappearing into the high branches; I can hear the blossoms and buds falling through the leaves to hit the mossy ground below.

Buster-and-Tommy grew up, flew the nest, and banked away in different directions. But they stayed close, always brothers, always friends. And then, Tommy, the youngest of six brothers and sisters, was the first to go. Beaten by the ravages of diabetes and an appetite he could neither master nor understand, Tommy gave up. So now it's only Buster, no Tommy.

Time can be cruel beyond speaking.

Because Calvin is making his reappearance with Hobbes, I am reminded of those funny, freckle-faced boys. And because Calvin is returning, so are the days of my son's childhood, his little five-year-old face buried in the pages of Something Under the Bed is Drooling. I can still see him standing on the porch that Thanksgiving, I can hear his little Elmer Fudd voice reciting from memory:

Another night deprived of slumber,
Hours passing without number.
My eyes trace round the room. I lay

Dripping sweat and now quite certain
That tonight the final curtain
Drops upon my life’s short precious play.

From the darkness by the closet
Comes a noise much like a faucet
Makes: a madd’ning drip drip dripping sound.

It seems some ill-proportioned beast,
Anticipating me deceased,
Is drooling poison puddles on the ground
Something Under the Bed is Drooling in SpanishOf course, it's easier to keep some memories in mind when you have a video of the performance. It was then, watching the images and hearing my son's piping little voice, that I discovered he had a prodigous memory and a flair for Latinate words. With Calvin taking the lead, it's no surprise that years later the Boy won his own National Latin Prize and can write sonnets and sestinas with ease (if memory serves, his first sonnet -- in homage to Charlie Brown -- was to a red-haired girl).

And now the entire span of Calvin's adventures are here between hard covers. No more limp, wilted and well-used copies of the separate books...except,'s what one reviewer says:

This is definitely an archival collection and not ideal for constant casual perusing, though the attractiveness makes it hard to resist. The printing, layout, paper, binding are beautiful but any wear and tear would be heart-breaking. This leads me to describe one drawback: these books aren't really hardbound books. They look so, because of their hard covers, but actually they are what's called "cardboard articles", meaning the pages are not stitched to the spine, and instead glued. Albiet, this is common book binding practice, but I'm sure most of us wouldn't have minded paying some more for real hardbound articles for the sake of longevity in preservation. So although this collection is best left for archival purposes, it's unfortunate they are not exactly archival quality.
In other words, of course we have to buy this Sunday-best collection -- how could we not, if only to bring Calvin back for a moment? But now we know to hang on to the tatterdemalion copies we already have, just for love.

Now we know...this collection is Sunday best, not meant for the bathroom. As for the publisher's decision not to take the binding of these pages as seriously as he ought have, I am even now making up a little doll to look like Andrews McMeel Publishing. And I am arranging the stick pins to use on my effigy of an obviously venal and mendacious operation.

This application of karma is something I learned from Calvin. I'm sure he would do no less.


At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, Dymphna, my youngest son was a great Calvin and Hobbes fan. I inherited his complete collection of the separate books when he was killed. I have four favorite strips that I photocopied and hung on the wall of my office in tribute to Adam.

1) The time when Calvin wants to drive. Adam worked that complete dialog on me several times driving him to school. It wasn't until a year ago that I figured out what Adam was doing, while I was looking at the strip.

2) The back-to-school panel where Calvin is complaining of going back and Susie is thinking it is wonderful. Calvin looks intently at her and when questioned, says that her bangs do a good job of covering the lobotomy stitches.

3) The Moe sequence where Calvin uses several polysyllabic words in a question to Moe and Moe says, "Huh?" and Calvin says, "Isn't he great folks?"

4) The eight strip school picture sequence.

Adam hated to have his picture taken and managed to never have a school picture in high school. He even got a detention for defacing his photo ID. He also had the same kind of wit that Calvin had, only more deadly. He could slice and dice and it would be ten minutes before anyone realized they were meat.

I miss him and laugh with and about him now, even as I am crying.

At 11:12 PM, Blogger Dymphna said...


This post, with just the snip of poetry from the prologue to "Something Under the Bed is Drooling" has been in my Drafts folder since last week, when I first learned of the Calvin collection.

That's because it made me so sad reading those lines that the tears just rolled down my cheeks.

And my son is alive -- it is his childhood which is so thoroughly and so completely gone. And mine.

And then, when I wrote the post, it was the images of my cousins that came to mind. Tommy was the youngest of six kids and very sweet. Tom-tom...

All those memories preserved in amber that we know will die with us. That's why Calvin is so bittersweet and so universally beloved.

And his parents so universally sympathized with. I mean, he'd be one handful of a kid! I for one would make him spend lots of time chilling out in his transmogrifier.

If you haven't read "Zits" go look at a copy. That guy comes close to capturing an adolescent Calvin. Hobbes, we think, is figured in as the kid's best friend. The strip owes a lot to Watterson's style and spirit.

BTW, Moe was a creepy archetype, no? He used to give my young son great fits of moral quandries, trying to figure out evil as personified in Moe. Funny thing, is he named his cat Moe -- but that was from the 3 Stooges. The cat, Moe, is a marshmallow coward.

Calvin makes us all laugh and cry. I was only half-kidding when I did the cross-out on Shakespeare's name.

At 1:38 AM, Blogger Suds 46 said...

I hesitated to comment here after reading the previous comments for fear of sounding frivolous. While also being a fan of Calvin and Hobbs, my fondest memories of comic strips revolve around Walt Kelley's Pogo. I still remember my mom reading the comic strips to us kids and not being able to finish a Pogo strip without cracking up. Many years later I tried reading a Pogo collection out loud to my son and found that I, too, could not do it without cracking up. I have several Pogo collections that I got from one of my brothers and (I feel silly to admit this) there is usually one or two of them readily available in my bathroom.

At 2:02 AM, Blogger Dymphna said...


Without Pogo there would have been no Calvin...Pogo resides on a different plane, somewhere with Shakespeare, really (no, I'm not kidding). All of us at Gates have our favorites characters and our favorite quotes.

Me, I'm right fond of Grundoon. And I love the expression "Compost Memphis" for "compos mentis"...then there's the wrathful, wonderful "Somebody asides me's gonna rue this here particular day."

Which anyone whose backside had been run over by a lawnmover and whose head was stuck in a pot might be inclined to say. I thought it a reasonable response.

Kelly was an unparalled genius. I think he wrote much of his stuff in an alcoholic free-associative flurry blur.And of course, it was way more political.


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