Friday, October 07, 2005

Return of Old Friends

Here's today's literary quiz: what recently-released compilation covers three volumes, weighs 23 pounds, has a list price of $150, and is likely to wind up on the New York Times best-seller list? Given those dimensions, you might think it's a list of Michael Moore's favorites foods, or the complete encyclopedia of Bill Clinton's paramours.

Happily, the referenced work is something far more useful (and delightful): The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, a comprehesive collection of Bill Watterson's classic strip, which ran from 1985-1995. The compilation includes every strip in the series, plus supplemental material, including a 13-page introduction from the reclusive Watterson, who "retired" Calvin and Hobbes at the height of their popularity, and shifted to attention to painting (some of his recent watercolors appear in the collection) and music. Watterson stopped doing interviews more than a decade ago, and he refuses to be photographed by the media, so the introduction may be our only real glimpse into the genius of Mr. Watterson that lived through his characters, six-year-old Calvin and his tiger playmate, Hobbes.

I first stumbled across Calvin and Hobbes in 1986. It was funny, innovative and original back then, and the strips remain fresh 20 years later. Perhaps part of their appeal is the work Watterson put into the strip. He did all of the writing, drawing and inking himself--a rarity among today's comic strip artists. He fought the strip's syndicator (Universal Press) to prevent the licensing of his characters, declining royalty fees that would have earned millions of dollars. He pressed newspapers to give him a half-page for his Sunday strips, allowing him to experiment with expanded gags and often-dazzling artwork. As Watterson notes in the introduction, he gave the strip "everything I had to offer." Ten years after Calvin and Hobbes taboggoned off into the sunset, readers can once again applaud Watterson's artistry, while reconnecting with some old and treasured friends.

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