Our Reading Lives

Reading Calvin & Hobbes for the First Time as an Adult

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Carolina Ciucci


Carolina Ciucci is a teacher, writer and reviewer based in the south of Argentina. She hoards books like they’re going out of style. In case of emergency, you can summon her by talking about Ireland, fictional witches, and the Brontë family. Twitter: @carolinabeci

Growing up, I loved reading the Sunday comic strips in the newspaper. But as budget cuts hit and newspapers here stopped publishing them altogether, I largely stopped reading comics for over 20 years. A few months ago, however, I fell into a conversation about comics with two of my Spanish students: a mother-daughter duo who always made my days brighter. When the mother, Wendy, asked if I had ever read Calvin and Hobbes, I answered with a hesitant “I think so.” It’s been a long time, but I have vague memories of a colourful tiger and a little boy in a red T-shirt. Wendy’s a big fan — so a few months later, when my birthday came around, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury arrived in the mail.

A Boy and His Tiger: A History

If you were old enough to read during the 1985-1995 period, odds are that you’ve read at least a few Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. This daily comic strip, created by cartoonist Bill Watterson, is easily one of the most beloved newspaper comics of all time — towards the end of its run, it was being published in over 2,400 newspapers worldwide. This means that, yes, it is likely that I saw it at some point.

It’s hardly a wonder that I can’t quite remember, though — once the comic strip came to an end on December 31, 1995, it was done. Watterson moved on and refused almost every offer to make any official merchandising from the comics. There was an animated version, and a few books have been sold, but the type of merchandise you’d expect from a comic strip that achieved this kind of fame? Plushies, T-shirts, mugs? Nope. So Calvin and Hobbes live on in bookcases and imaginations. I think Calvin would like it that way.

That doesn’t mean that Watterson is done with writing altogether. He’s got a “fable for grown-ups” titled The Mysteries set to release on October 10.

A One-Way Trip Back to Childhood

But I didn’t know any of this when I received the book and started reading it. When I read the very first strip, I was underwhelmed. I thought, for a couple of pages, that maybe this little boy and his stuffed-but-not-really tiger were a little overrated. But, well, TV show pilots are usually weaker than the rest of the show, right? Maybe the same principle applied here. So I read on.

And on, and on.

At one point, I realized I was smiling — and I wasn’t quite sure when I had started to. A few pages after that, I found myself actually laughing out loud. It wasn’t Calvin and Hobbes that was the problem: over the years, I became so used to sarcastic, jaded humor that Calvin and Hobbes’s wholesome and gentle style went straight over my head. It only took a few pages for me to reset my humor meter to welcome this soft, charming duo into my heart. Once I did, there was no going back.

This boy and his tiger took me straight back to my childhood. I remembered what it was like to need nothing more than my own imagination to be entertained: a time when there wasn’t a phone glued to my hand, when I didn’t need half a dozen books within grabbing distance to quell the anxiety of having nothing to do. I didn’t have a Spaceman Spiff of my own, but I did have elaborate fantasy worlds where life was an endless adventure. And, of course, my own alter-ego always saved the day.

As I kept reading, childhood memories began to resurface. Nothing significant or earth-shattering, just…warm. Reading these comic strips made me feel like a child again, daydreaming in my sun-warmed bedroom (instead of, you know, actually cleaning it as I was supposed to. Sorry about that, Mom). Hobbes reminded me of my favorite stuffed bear, the beloved and hopelessly tattered Blanca. Granted, she never talked to me, and she was too big to take with me on adventures, but she protected me from the monsters under the bed. Or so I felt at the time. And isn’t that the whole point?

I haven’t finished the book yet. The subtitle got it right: this is one to treasure. I imagine I’ll read a few strips a day until I’m done. And then, well, I might just have to buy the Complete Calvin and Hobbes. And revisit the comic strips that I grew up with for good measure. Once I’ve done that? I’ll search for more comics like this one. It turns out that a gentler sort of humor was exactly what I needed.

Oh, and before I go: I don’t care what anyone says, Hobbes was real. He ate Susie’s cookies, okay?