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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Boy and His Tiger

I recently watched a documentary on Calvin and Hobbes.  Well, most of it.  It WAS five in the morning.

This documentary focused on the impact that little comic strip had, and inevitably, I thought about the impact it had on me.

When I was a kid, Calvin and Hobbes was one of the handful of reasons I ever touched the Sunday paper.  As I got older and developed an interest in the world around me (and sports), I developed a system for reading the New York Daily News on 15 minute subway ride to my high school: lead story on last night's Yankees or Knicks games, comic pages (Calvin and Hobbes, For Better or For Worse, Doonesbury), league standings.  Everything I needed to know about the world.

Calvin and Hobbes, for the uninitiated, is a strip about a six year-old boy and his stuffed tiger.  The tiger comes to life in when he and the boy are alone and they have adventures that range from the closeness of their backyard to the far reaches of time and space.  The boy's boundless imagination, as well as what would today be diagnosed as ADHD, lead him into hilarious situations with his parents and teachers, and he observes life with a simplicity and poignancy that only a child could.  It's one of the few things created in a decade of cheesy schlock that holds up years and years later.

I won't lie and say I saw myself in Calvin.  By the time I was reading that strip, I was old enough to know that stuffed tigers didn't come to life, that girls weren't so slimy and that a cardboard box was just a cardboard box.  I did get the messages in the story, that imagination is priceless an that life is best lived with a friend.  As I got older, a lot more of the jokes made sense, and a lot more of the subtle philosophy became clearer, but it was always about a boy's imagination to me.

Looking back at Calvin and Hobbes, I will say I found a degree of inspiration from that strip.  It's just way more fun to embrace your imagination than to suppress it, way more honest to think things like a child would.  Bill Watterson left behind something timeless, and that's something every writer or artist would want to do.

December 31, 1995 was a sad day for me.  It was the day that this strip ran: 

The last one.  One that suggested it was time to move on, to turn the page, to explore new possibilities, and (dare I say) to grow up.  I was 17 years old.  And I cried a little.

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