Wednesday, July 06, 2011

On Calvin and Hobbes and me

Okay, so all of the "grownup Calvin and Hobbes" cartoons depress me. The sad ones, where Calvin outgrows Hobbes and/or grows into a degenerate and/or turns into a boring, conventional, grown-up banker-looking kind of guy? Devastating. The sweet ones, where Calvin outgrows Hobbes, but Hobbes eventually finds happiness and fulfillment as the imaginary best friend of Calvin's precocious handful of a kid? Depressing--Hobbes is for Calvin, and Calvin is for Hobbes, and I don't care if Calvin and Susie reproduced or not. The bittersweet ones, where Calvin and Hobbes grow old together? I don't want to see Calvin and Hobbes old. Calvin and Hobbes do not grow old. Calvin managed to stay an eight-year-old for a full decade of publication, and there's no reason to assume he spontaneously started aging just because the cartoon went out of print.

Besides, the fact that Bill Watterson isn't making any new Calvin and Hobbes cartoons doesn't mean that Calvin has disappeared. I can crack open my dusty copy of Scientific Progress Goes "Boink," and Calvin remains eight years old (and Hobbes remains whatever age he was). A hyperintelligent, philosophizing eight-year-old, sure, but a second-grader nonetheless.

There have been debates over which of Calvin's two realities was really real--his interactions with his parents and Susie and Moe and the crew, symbolized by stuffed-Hobbes vacantly staring into the middle distance, or his adventures with real-live-tiger-Hobbes. It's a dumb debate. They're both real. Hobbes's antics frequently leave Calvin bruised and dirty and/or tied up, to be discovered by his mystified parents. Obviously, his world is the real world. That Calvin's parents don't recognize Hobbes for the living, talking tiger that he is is really more unfortunate than anything else.

Which means we have no reason to believe that the rest of the strip wasn't real, too. Calvin's Spaceman Spiff adventures could generally be chalked up to his imagination and his favorite comic books, but his transmogrifier? Do we know it wasn't real? Do we know that he never traveled back in time? Do we know that Calvin didn't have a flying carpet? It's not his fault his dad was too busy working to notice a flying kid (and tiger) outside his window, and obviously the condition of the rug afterward would indicate something beyond normal foot traffic.

AJ Aronstein published an essay--not the reason for this post, but possibly the impetus--talking about the comics in terms of nostalgia: the way we observe and appreciate things differently through the lens of age and life experience; whether we love it now because of its inherent, enduring awesomeness or because it recalls a simpler time when we were more innocent and uninhibited. It's a good question. And it's easy to say, "Well, my experience is different, and I'm special, and I can see how your thesis might apply to everyone else, but I'm the exception." So easy, in fact, that I think I'm going to say it right now.

Kicking back to my childhood, I can remember being so desperately jealous of Calvin. His life was awesome. In a time when I was feeling particularly lonely, he was never lonely--he had a constant and enthusiastic companion. In a time where the somewhat nontraditional workings of my mind made me feel isolated, his took him to other planets and duplicated him and made him an owl. My "playing pretend" was seldom--if ever--as vivid and engrossing. (A note to Allie: Do not think this makes our Calvinball games any less precious to me.) As great as my childhood was--and it really was--I wanted to borrow Calvin's so badly.

As great as my life is now--and it really is--I still want to borrow Calvin's. I still, on occasion, feel lonely; I still sometimes feel isolated; I still wish my friends were more open to playing pretend. I need a childhood like Calvin's to borrow, and that really only works if he stays eight.

Some of you may be tempted to attribute all of this to my tragic and ongoing tendency for anthropomorphization of my own stuffed animals. (Hold on, did someone just say ongoing? Ridiculous.) Of course I can neither confirm nor deny that I still have the favored stuffed dog of my early childhood tucked away in my closet, nor can I confirm or deny that I apologize to it if I'm ever forced to crowd it at all to accommodate more shoes. If Calvin can grow up, if he and Hobbes can be separated or be exposed to the harsh reality of adulthood--and I don't really know which would be worse--that would mean that maybe I can't be eight years old anymore. And that would be devastating and depressing.

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