9 Things You Didn't Know About Calvin & Hobbes
There are few comic strips (let alone media entirely) that have as much imagination, philosophic introspection, and artistic integrity as Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes. Launching on November 8, 1985, Calvin & Hobbes would see a meteoric rise as one of the nation’s most highly rated and best-selling comics of its generation, granting its creator creative and licensing control with his syndicator that few cartoonists may ever have.
Continuing Peanut’s tradition of having children be highly eloquent and introspective, Watterson would turn the dial up to 11 and have his strip directly tackle issues of philosophy, domesticity, and consumerism with a level of poignancy and criticism that would define counterculture for generations to come. In honor of a comic strip so well intertwined in thought, this list will run down a few of the lesser-known things about everyone’s favorite child/stuffed toy duo since Winnie the Pooh.
9IT’S NAMED AFTER JOHN CALVIN AND THOMAS HOBBES
Starting off with a better known fact that a snobby, super fan may like to throw around, Calvin and his tiger Hobbes are named after 16th Century theologian John Calvin and 17th Century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, two schools of thought that would go into defining the voices of the titular characters and the strip as a whole.
John Calvin was the central developer of Calvinism during the Protestant Reformation whose outlook centered on innate sinfulness within the human condition. Thomas Hobbes focused on political philosophy, developing an influential view of human nature centering on self-interested cooperation.
8MISS WORMWOOD IS NAMED AFTER A C.S. LEWIS CHARACTER
As fans of the comic may know, Miss Wormwood is the mean, old schoolteacher who acts as the foil to Calvin’s otherwise more imaginative antics. What fans may not know is that by design, Miss Wormwood is literally modeled after a devil.
Being a well-read man, Bill Watterson was a fan of the works of C.S. Lewis. So much so that he borrowed one of the characters from The Screwtape Letters and named the infamous teacher after them. In The Screwtape Letters, Wormwood is an apprentice demon meant to guide the main character away from salvation and into hell, which is saying a lot about what Watterson may have thought about the American education system.
7SUSIE DERKINS IS BASED ON MELISSA WATTERSON'S DOG, DERKINS
Susie Derkins is the female counterpart to the strip’s duo that Calvin despises, purely based off of childish machismo. Only wanting to play, Susie is often found pestering and fighting with Calvin.
What many might not know is that Susie is based on Melissa Watterson’s (Bill Watterson’s wife) family dog, Derkins. As many fans, such as the creator of Hobbes and Bacon, like to speculate, Calvin and Susie have a growing romantic relationship, so the idea that parts of Susie are based on Watterson’s wife’s life and character stand to reason.
6HOBBES IS BASED ON BILL WATTERSON'S CAT
Continuing the tradition of basing characters off of family pets, the character and mannerisms of Hobbes are actually based off of Bill Watterson’s cat, Sprite. Sprite is the inspiration for Hobbes’ long body design and facial expressions, as well as his intelligent and friendly demeanor. His own tendency to pounce on Calvin, as Calvin arrives from school is directly inspired by Sprite’s own energetic “Hello!”
5BILL WATTERSON WAS A MAN OF GREAT SUCCESS AND HUMILITY
In 1986, Bill Watterson received the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award, the industry’s highest honor. As a testament to Watterson’s own brilliance and energy, he was also the youngest person ever to receive the honor, going on to win it again in 1988 and was nominated in 1992.
He was even the second American ever to receive the Angouleme Grande Prix, an international lifetime achievement award for cartoonists. Owning up to his own humility, however, Bill Watterson was also an incredibly reserved man who rarely accepted his awards, with interviews of his being scarce and his last public forum being his commencement speech to Kenyon College in 1990.
4THE AD GAME MAY HAVE DISILLUSIONED WATTERSON
Much like many famous cartoonists in their early days and regular cartoonists whenever, Bill Watterson struggled with unemployment; prior to making Calvin & Hobbes, he would make advertising material in the basement of a convenience store, only spending hours during his weekends trying to get his first syndicated strip.
Perhaps this contributed to his own philosophies on consumerism, as Watterson would go on to fight any chances of merchandising of his strip. If you ever wondered why there are no Calvin & Hobbes toys, t-shirts, or even a cartoon, that’s because Bill Watterson only ever wanted the series to be a comic strip, where he believed all the prestige of it existed. As such, he fought his syndicate and licensors for creative and merchandising control; and, to this day, the comic duo’s only home has been on print.
3EVERYTHING STARTED OFF IN THE DOGHOUSE
Right before Watterson would finally receive syndication, he went through quite a bit of rejection. One rejection, in particular, showed the early designs of Calvin and Hobbes. Originally pitched as The Doghouse, a strip that would be described as a hard sell, “Marvin and Hobbes” were on-sided characters that the United Feature Syndicate caught and told Watterson were selling characters.
The United Feature Syndicate, however, would go on to reject his next draft. The Universal Press Syndicate would, fortunately, be a little more welcoming. Despite telling Watterson after his first strip to not quit his day job, Calvin & Hobbes would soon become the best seller that the world knows today.
2THE STRIP ENDED BECAUSE WATTERSON WAS FINISHED WITH IT
If anyone was wondering why there are no more Calvin & Hobbes strips after 1995 despite only having a decade run and Bill Watterson still being alive to this day, it’s because Watterson just got tired of it. Simple as that. He already had two long running sabbaticals preluding his departure in 1995, but Watterson has gone on to say that he achieved everything that he ever wanted to out of a comic strip and didn’t want to spoil anything by forcing any more out.
It’s genuine and protective to the legacy that he already created, but also a little disappointing to the fans who may have wanted more. But, considering the decline of Garfield and even Peanuts, it’s hard to blame someone trying to go out on top.
1BILL WATTERSON REFUSED MOVIE TALKS
Three years into Calvin & Hobbes’ run, Stephen Spielberg contacted the Universal Press Syndicate, wanting to talk about a movie deal. Universal Press would excitedly bring the deal to Watterson, who would anticlimactically definitively declare his disinterest. Learning from #6 on this list, Bill Watterson wholeheartedly believed that the magic of Calvin & Hobbes solely remained in its strip format, so much so that he would even turn down toys, animated series offers, and even a multimillion dollar movie deal with the guy who made the Indiana Jones movies.
Despite having a net worth as of this writing of $100 million USD, Watterson is a man of artistic integrity through and through, proving that success is not always about the money but protecting the experience for the audience, which is something that one can’t exactly say for the guy who made Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.