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Book Review: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

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Between the ages of seven and ten, my son Matt used to describe himself as “the REAL Calvin”. He insisted, for the most part, on wearing striped shirts and dark pants, and had a stuffed tiger named (of course) Hobbes. Though my other children read Calvin and Hobbes books, Matt’s DNA seemed to be bathed in an infusion of them: he would talk excitedly for long periods of time about “The Killer Monster Snow Goons”, “The Transmogrifier”(a version of which was attempted, using a discarded refrigerator box),”Miss Wormwood”, and “dinosaurs in F-14s”. Matt and I also had a few interesting (albeit one-sided) discussions concerning his theories surrounding “The Noodle Incident” (the true nature of which has never been revealed by Bill Watterson). Our many Calvin and Hobbes books took on a well-loved, Velveteen Rabbit aspect: lost covers, curled-up edges, warping, and green stains from being taken out to the woods around our house.

Matt turned sixteen this year on Christmas day, and so I decided to get him The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. For those of you who haven’t seen this, it is a large, hardbound, three-volume set (similar to Gary Larson’s Far Side collection that came out a couple of years ago). I’d seen it in Costco, but, once Christmastime rolled around, all the sets were gone. So, my partner (known as Mr. Strega) and I found ourselves on Christmas Eve, like FBI agents, scouting bookstore after bookstore until we found the very last one in town, on a shelf at the local Borders (which had marked it down significantly). In my “peace-full” town of Santa Cruz, Borders is considered the less politically correct bookstore to browse in, but I bless it forever for that lone remaining C&H.

The present was duly unwrapped and put on a shelf downstairs; there it remained untouched for days. I thought I had made a mistake on the level of all the breadmakers, ThighMasters, and foot saunas that have made their way to the Island of Misfit Gifts. I figured I’d made a silly and somewhat expensive attempt to hang onto my youngest son’s childhood just a little — until I decided to write this review for Blogcritics. I went to the shelf and discovered that all the volumes in the case were GONE–each volume in a separate kid’s room, all opened to various pages.

This collection may be a bit prohibitive in price (at $150), but for the diehard Calvin and Hobbes fan, it’s more than worth it. Bill Watterson’s introduction is wonderfully written, and shows an early incarnation of Calvin’s “Spaceman Spiff ” character, spouting German (Watterson created this for his high school German class). The book is a combination of the weekly and Sunday strips (the latter are in full color), arranged chronologically. Some of the longer “poetic” sequences (such as “A Nauseous Nocturne”) take up quite a few pages and are bright and well rendered.

If you want to lose yourself in the entire Calvin and Hobbes universe, from the first “tiger trap baited with a tuna fish sandwich” to the very last “it’s a magical world” moment, this book is worth giving up a few lattes. The volumes are beautifully printed and put together; they deserve an honored place on a bookshelf, but I find myself not wanting to discourage the young people in my household from taking them into their rooms and reading themselves to sleep (there’s a whole lot worse things that a bunch of teenagers could be doing). Just as long as The Complete Calvin and Hobbes doesn’t end up in the woods, it’s perfectly fine by me.

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About Joan

  • “My mandate also includes weird bugs”: This sounds essential.

  • Everytime I walk into the bookstore I eye this thing. The price tag is just too hefty to make my wife believe that it is an essential purchase. This is especially true since I have all the books in one form or another.

    But man, it still looks awesome.

  • it’s cost-prohibitive for me, too–so I’m angling for how I can beg or steal.

  • It was amazing – I walked into my local bookstroe and they had a special display stand, complete with spotlight and podium, with the books displayed almost as though in a museum or a church.

    And the reaction of people to it was priceless – they would walk up, read the page the one volume was open to, giggle like a six year old and then reverently turn the pages…

    I toyed with the idea of picking it up but in the end the price was too much for something that, as was mentioned earlier by another poster, just too much for me to justify to my wife.

  • It is a definitemust-have,” I do agree. There is something so charming, so endearing, so magical and, yet, more than a little twisted, about Calvin.

    One of my favorite on-going series was the Snowmen – each day, just a little more twisted. I loved it!

    You have a “prized” possession on your bookshelf (well, scattered throughout your house). This collection is definitely a good investment.

  • “And the reaction of people to it was priceless – they would walk up, read the page the one volume was open to, giggle like a six year old and then reverently turn the pages…”

    This reminds me of an art exhibit at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum years ago of the work of my other all-time favorite, Far Side, (Gary Larson’s always been popular with natural scientists). Anyway, no hushed tones here: The museum was packed, and it was kind of surreal to see and hear–in this kind of setting–all these people going from exhibit to exhibit laughing out loud, having fun, having the time of their lives. And of course, I was one of the appreciative art lovers in attendance.

  • Thank you all for your comments on this, my first Blogcritics piece!

    Yes, I agree, the price is very high (Borders had it deeply discounted on Christmas eve). I figured, for myself, that costs about as much as two trips to my therapist, and makes me laugh much harder.

    Thanks again to everyone!

  • Henry M

    I caught myself eyeing this collection in the bookstore and like everyone thinking how cool but expensive it was. But it turns out that my mother is a spirit closely tied to mine and she had seen the set when it first came out, purchased it and laid it beneath our Christmas tree.

    I received many fancy gifts this year, since I just graduated from college as well, but these books have been the one gift I have treasured most.

    Like yourself, my mom was helping her son to hold on to an exciting childhood filled with many adventures and shenanigans. And I have no doubt that these strips compiled so wonderfully and so beautifully have given your son and family the same joy that I have received from my mothers wonderful heart.

  • Henry, you seem like such a nice guy. Your mom must be proud to have such a great son!