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Updated: November 25, 2009 15:37 IST

Ode to genius

Jay Tripathi
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The Essential Calvin and Hobbes
The Hindu The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

In the history of newspapers there have been maybe four or five good comic strips; so saying that ‘Calvin and Hobbes' is the finest comic strip ever won't be an overstatement and it's really a shame that it's so difficult to quantify this strip's greatness.

Unstoppable

Calvin and Hobbes ran from 1985 to 1995. Bill Watterson drew thousands of strips, and while I wish like hell that he would come back and draw more, it's probably best to be thankful for what he's done.

The non- serious way in which the funnies are treated by people makes me think they don't really deserve something as brilliant as Calvin and Hobbes, but they got it anyway. And the newspaper-reading world was made a better place by it.

Watterson's character is an unbelievably intelligent and imaginative six-year-old though these virtues are seldom made use of in the classroom. Hobbes is his tiger friend who plays the role of a casual observer, savage beast, a loving companion and his ultimate nemesis.

Inimitable duo

Calvin is a grossly misbehaving child and no matter how he tries, he can't betray his nature while Hobbes is a wisely humorous tiger who appears as a stuffed tiger to every one except Calvin.

If you think about it, Calvin is really quite an anomaly in popular entertainment. He has no friends, and no extracurricular activities; the only people he ever sees have a strained relationship with him -- he detests all of them and all of them detest him.

The only person he ever has any real interaction with exists only in his head.

The kind of kid most people would entirely ignore is not generally the kind you make the star of your show, and yet the strip became hugely successful, perhaps because somehow almost everybody identified with this lonely little boy.

Calvin showed how you didn't need to have a smile -plastered conformist to enjoy life. Though everyone was saying this again and again, it was Calvin who managed to truly express the idea without being preachy, without being sappy and perhaps without even trying, that it was okay to be different.

The uniqueness of the strip lies not just in its humour -- which by the way, is aplenty and in every form conceivable -- from the most intelligent to the silliest. No! The genius essentially lies in the strip's ability to make you think.

Educational value

Bill Watterson used this kid's imagination as a medium to educate the readers about worthy human ideals and sinful human practices. He uses the innocence of childhood as an instrument to attack set standards of morality and to ridicule habits that we as a society have fallen into.

There are probably no issues that Watterson hasn't touched upon, from climate change to war, from greed, ambition, love, commercialisation of society as a whole to even alien invasion.

I sometimes think that in some way, a part of my being, my thoughts, even my soul is the way it is, because of the misadventures of that lonely little devil and his faithful tiger.

The writer is doing PG Dip. Journalism (Print Media), Asian College of Journalism

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