Things are still very hectic on the personal front. I haven’t been able to do much fresh reading lately, but have made up for it by revisiting all my Calvin and Hobbes anthologies. One of my many favourites is the Sunday strip Bill Watterson drew in a neo-Cubist style, with Calvin seeing multiple views of every object (the context is that his dad engaged him in a debate and made him see both sides of the issue) and discovering that this is way too much information to process – single-perspective order must be restored. Here’s part of the strip:
In his footnotes at the bottom of the page, Watterson has written: “The idea for this came from my tendency to examine issues until I’m incapacitated by the persuasiveness of all sides.” Relate to that a lot, and often wish I didn’t – multiple perspectives can be crippling and it’s easy to see why we’re conditioned to look for patterns in everything around us, and to seek (or make up) convenient explanations.
Was discussing Calvin and Hobbes with a friend over a few glasses of Old Monk and she remarked how strange it is that a series built around one of the most alienated characters in all literature should have become so popular across the world – and loved by millions of readers who, if they were ever to meet someone like Calvin in real life, would be scared out of their minds (or at the very least wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him). The darker side of the strip – Calvin’s profound loneliness, his inability to relate to most people and things in the real world – isn’t always acknowledged and I feel a little uneasy when someone speaks about the strip in purely superficial terms, without getting the morbidity of it: I’ve heard, for instance, that it’s all so much fun because Calvin is “so shweet” or “such a loveable brat!”.
Of course, no point in going overboard discussing the darker aspects of a series that has provided so much joy to so many people (and which Watterson himself ended on an unabashedly upbeat note, with the famous last panel that shows Calvin telling Hobbes “It’s a magical world, ol’ buddy – let’s go exploring”). And no harm, I suppose, in people enjoying a comic strip at a superficial level. Still, I do get a little protective when it comes to Calvin’s dark side. As a child I never had anything like his superb imagination (or an imaginary friend with a personality as fleshed out as Hobbes’s), but I can relate to the “outsider” status, and most of all to the contempt for formal education that is a recurrent theme in the strip. (Some of the school/classroom strips - e.g. Calvin fantasising about bombing his school to tiny pieces - are disturbingly familiar because most of my own school memories are unpleasant ones.)
(Also discussed at Old Monk session: how some great Absurdists like Watterson and Scott Adams have managed to live reasonably well-rounded social lives – complete with family and children – despite the many traces of nihilism in their work. Food for thought there, especially in our godless times.)