Published on July 9th, 2014 | by Ian Goodwillie3
The Last Moments of Calvin and Hobbes
While their heart was in the right place, the redditor that wrote a Calvin and Hobbes deathbed story missed the point of the comic strip.
Few comic strips have conjured up the lasting fan fervour that Calvin and Hobbes did, and continues to. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of fan created strips that follow up on the adventures of a boy and his imaginary friend. People craved more after the strip came to what many felt was an early end in 1995. Since then, books analyzing it and even a Kickstarter-funded documentary have tried to figure out why a strip that only ran for decade and did next to no merchandising has lasted so vigorously.
Frankly, Calvin and Hobbes ended perfectly. They rode off in search of adventure, perpetually young and full of wonder. Creator Bill Watterson knew it was time to walk away rather than beating the proverbial dead horse and siphoning what money he could from it. That last strip is perfect because it gives us everything we need to know about Calvin in one shot, particularly the idea that he is an unchanging creative force in the universe. And our last moments with him are glorious.
Which is why this “final moments of Calvin’s life” Reddit post bothers me so much.
You’ve probably seen it by now. A redditor took it upon his or her self to write out what they believed Calvin’s dying moments would look like as he visits with Hobbes one last time and says goodbye to his loved ones. It is well written and certainly gives the reader ‘the feels,’ even someone with a notoriously cynical attitude towards pop culture like myself. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up a little. But that’s beside the point.
As much as this post tugs on the ol’ heartstrings, it flies in the face of everything Calvin and Hobbes stands for. Calvin is, at his core, the representation of the child inside all of us, or at least the one we all hope is still there. He is imagination driven with a serious impulse control problem and no thought to the consequences of his actions. Well, he stops to think about it on occasion but generally moves forward regardless. His partner in crime, an imaginary tiger the rest of the world sees as a stuffed animal, is the perfect counterpoint. While Hobbes is ridiculous in his own way, he is the only thing close to voice of reason to Calvin. He frequently backs Calvin’s play in most situations but not without a warning. He loves his little buddy and just wants what’s best for him.
The point of Calvin and Hobbes is to remind us of a time when the consequences didn’t matter and all that did matter was the moment in front of us. The adventure. That was it. As we grow up, have kids, get jobs, and face down death, we all lose that on some level. Calvin and Hobbes maintains its popularity because it taps directly into something we’re all worried we’ve lost.
And I, for one, don’t want to think about Calvin just being another one of us.
The idea that Calvin grows up, has kids, gets a job, and faces down death is in complete opposition to everything key to the comic strip. He is the embodiment of our inner child, a modern Peter Pan without the silly tights. And like Peter Pan, we absolutely do not need to see what happens to him when he grows up.
For a decade, Calvin and his stalwart partner in crime took us on a series of escapades that are definably timeless. He doesn’t age a second during the run of the strip, ending with him exactly where we met him; on an adventure. The Reddit post is definitely a tear-jerker but that is not how we should be thinking of Calvin. So why do we?
The reality is that we want our heroes to grow up with us out of fear that they won’t remain relevant if they don’t. This has become a huge concern for a comic book industry that made Batman and Spider-Man more adult to match the tastes of an aging fan base but successfully alienated younger readers by doing so. In the mythology of our modern culture, we’re conditioned to believe that every character requires growth to be valid. Calvin doesn’t. He’s the exact same kid ten years later. He is a primordial force sprung forth from one man’s imagination that we all relate to because we were all Calvin at some point in our lives. But in the real world, you eventually die. That is the natural order of things so we are inevitably drawn to the idea of Calvin having to live by the same rules.
Perhaps there’s even a touch of unwitting jealousy involved. If we have to grow up and eventually die, why shouldn’t Calvin? Ask yourself this question; are you better off believing that Calvin and Hobbes are eternally out there having awesome adventures, or that Calvin grew and forgot about everything that makes being a kid great? I don’t know about you but I love the idea that the forces that drive Calvin to be the amazing kid he is are still alive and well inside of me.
This post on Reddit is less about Calvin’s last moments than it is our own. It’s an acknowledgement that we all end up growing up and find ourselves becoming adults regardless of intent. It’s an acknowledgement that one way or another we’re all going to die.
That’s not what Calvin and Hobbes is about. It’s about the joy of life, of exploration, and of adventure. It’s a call to action for anyone feeling trapped by the drudgery of day-to-day life to find a way to make the journey more exciting and interesting. Calvin is always out there with Hobbes, fighting to stay a kid in a world telling him to grow up. Why shouldn’t you?
As a culture, we obsess about death, about what comes after. Religion provides comfort to some by offering theories and others find solace in the idea of simply returning to Mother Earth’s embrace. Dwelling on the end of Calvin’s life is not about the strip or our continued love of it; it’s about our own fears of how we will meet our end. Stop dwelling on death and start living life.
Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you have to stop doing any of these things. Calvin ended his run in newspapers by tobogganing into infinity with his best friend to go exploring. Whatever comes after simply doesn’t matter because that’s how I will always remember him. That’s how he goes out in my mind, not in a hospital bed remembering better days. Fiction doesn’t always need to reflect life.