Our book today is Bill Watterson’s 1989 compilation, The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book, but really it could be any collection of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips that ran for far too short a time – one brief decade of inspired artwork, pure whimsy, and a deep, cleansing breath from the grinding insanity of the real world. The adventures of Watterson’s psychotic little 6-year-old and his sagacious stuffed tiger had the wry humor of Bloom County, the social commentary of Doonesbury, and the zaniness of The Far Side, but it was also brimming with something none of those strips could manage: innocence. You could briefly breathe in that innocence, just by reading one of Watterson’s full-color Sunday spreads.

John Mortimer’s immortal Old Bailey barrister Rumpole once opined that long after empires had fallen to ooze, England would be known for three things: The British breakfast, the Oxford Book of English Verse, and the presumption of innocence. We might likewise say of the American newspaper strip medium that if for nothing else, it will one day be known for three things: Pogo, Lil’ Abner, and Calvin and Hobbes.

I’m assuming all of you have already long since made the acquaintance of this little miracle of a comic strip – whose life is so barren that it contains no Calvin and Hobbes? But if by chance there’s somebody out there who’s missed these books, run to your nearest library and absorb them all. It’s a sad probability that there’ll be no more, but the ones we have will make you smile.

  • Jeffrey.Eaton

    The Calvin and Hobbes books were a tremendous aid to me the first time I lived in Germany. I bought a couple of collections in German translation and, since I had every panel of every strip more or less memorized, I was able to read stuff that was above my ability. I had many ‘ah ha!’ moments wherein I realized how to correctly use past subjunctive. I certainly never would have learned how to say, “If you can’t control your peanut butter, you can’t expect to control your life,” without them.

  • Kevin

    It's a bit conspicuous to leave "Peanuts" off the "newspaper strips the medium will one day be known for" list – especially considering how much of a debt Calvin & Hobbes owes to it (as Watterson would freely admit, I'm sure).

    It is pretty amazing how inspiring Calvin & Hobbes was, and yet, nothing but a string of duds has taken its place in the funny pages…

  • Sam

    Peanuts is incredibly iconic, but it’s just not that funny. Grab any collection and read through it–I’m not sure you’ll laugh out loud even once.

    But I still have a deliriously happy time reading ‘The Days Are Just Packed’

  • Kevin

    The question of what’s funny is a pretty subjective one, but I laugh out loud plenty when I read any Peanuts volume. Schultz certainly has a subtler touch than Watterson, when it comes to attacking the funny bone, but he was clearly a HUGE influence.

  • steve

    Peanuts stinks. It’s sloppily drawn, poorly conceived, and obviously heavily indebted to paid gag writers. It’s panelized Ziggy. If it didn’t feature the world’s most famous beagle, it wouldn’t even be worth mentioning.

    The fact that it had some influence on Watterson as he quickly subsumed and entirely superseded it doesn’t strike me as all that important. After all, the amino acids in his mother’s placental blood were responsible for growing his artist’s fingers, and you don’t see anybody CREDITING those acids, do you?

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