Twenty years ago today, Bill Watterson began a comic about a boy and his stuffed tiger that would eventually stand alongside Garfield and Peanuts as one of the most popular strips in North America.
To celebrate what is now officially Calvin and Hobbes Day -- at least according to Wikipedia and numerous on-line sources -- bookstores are promoting the recently published anthology, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (Andrews McMeel, $200), an already best-selling collection that, in hardback, comes in at three volumes, 23 pounds and 1440 pages.
In his introduction, Watterson writes, "There is great personal satisfaction in attending to detail and quality, and I remain very proud of the standards the strip met day after day.
"I also liked the responsibility of knowing that, succeed or fail, it was all my own doing. This approach kept the strip very honest and personal -- everything having to do with Calvin and Hobbes expressed my own ideas, my own values, my own way. I wrote every word, drew every line, and painted every colour. It's a rare gift to find such fulfilling work and I tried to show my appreciation by giving the strip everything I had."
Syndicated from Nov. 18, 1985, until Dec. 31, 1995, Calvin and Hobbes has run in more than 2,400 newspapers worldwide and more than 30 million copies of its 18 books have been sold.
The strip was conceived when Watterson, a disgruntled employee at an advertising firm, began cartooning in his spare time. He submitted various ideas to a host of syndicates, which were all rejected. But he finally received a positive response on a strip that featured a side character who had a stuffed tiger; upon being told this was its strongest point, Watterson created Calvin and Hobbes, which focused on these two.
Tim Hulsizer, a 31-year-old fan of Calvin and Hobbes who lives in New Hampshire and runs the fan site Magic on Paper, says he fell in love with the comic in the sixth grade.
"It just hooked me immediately because it's so funny," he says. "All the facial expressions and the subtle humour -- it was really the best comic I'd ever seen. I think it works so well because it's timeless -- there's not a lot of pop culture references or anything."
Hulsizer tries to keep his site academic and doesn't reprint any of the strips. He says most of the feedback he receives is positive, and either from comics nerds or people asking where they can get a stuffed toy Hobbes for their kid.
He, of course, has bought The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, and says it was worth the price as it's beautifully printed and includes a lengthy introduction by Watterson that's more detailed than the interviews he's given, as well as a rare early strip of Calvin during its development stage.
Watterson is known for his belief that comics should stand on their own as an art form, and has resisted almost any merchandising of Calvin and Hobbes, except for a day calendar.
The 3150th and final strip depicts the two characters outside in the fresh snow. "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy!" says Calvin. "Let's go exploring!"