‘Calvin and Hobbes’: America’s Most Profound Comic Strip

Christopher Caldwell in WSJ:

BN-HG642_0305ca_J_20150305173513At its simplest level, the strip is about the friendship between a bright 6-year-old misfit (Calvin) and his pet tiger (Hobbes). Its “trick” is that Hobbes is a lifeless stuffed animal when others are present and a rollicking, witty companion when they are not. So the story can be understood on many levels. It is about the richness of the imagination, the subversiveness of creativity and the irreconcilability of private yearnings and worldly reality. Where Calvin sees a leaf-monster trying to swallow him, Calvin’s father sees his troublemaker son scattering the leaf-piles he has spent all afternoon raking….

From these situations emerges a social and a philosophical vision, unsystematic but nonetheless profound. The late political scientist James Q. Wilson described “Calvin and Hobbes” as “our only popular explication of the moral philosophy of Aristotle.” Wilson meant that the social order is founded on self-control and delayed gratification—and that Calvin is hopeless at these things. Calvin thinks that “life should be more like TV” and that he is “destined for greatness” whether he does his homework or not. His favorite sport is “Calvinball,” in which he is entitled to make up the rules as he goes along.

Day-in, day-out, Calvin keeps running into evidence that the world isn’t built to his (and our) specifications. All humor is, in one way or another, about our resistance to that evidence.

Read the rest here.