Calvin and Hobbes

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Cartoons

Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes took many wagon rides
over the years—this one showed up on the cover
of the first collection of comic strips.
Creator(s) Bill Watterson
Status Ended
Syndicate(s) Universal Press Syndicate
Genre(s) Humor
First strip November 18, 1985
Last strip December 31, 1995
Website Calvin and Hobbes at GoComics

Calvin and Hobbes was a daily comic strip written and illustrated by Bill Watterson, following the humorous antics of Calvin, an imaginative six-year old boy and Hobbes, his energetic and sardonic—albeit stuffed—tiger. The strip was syndicated from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995. At its height, Calvin and Hobbes was carried by over 2,400 newspapers worldwide. To date, more than 30 million copies of the 18 Calvin and Hobbes books have been printed, and popular culture is still replete with references to the strip.

The strip is vaguely set in the contemporary Midwestern United States, on the outskirts of suburbia, a location probably inspired by Watterson's home town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Calvin and Hobbes appear in most of the strips, though several focused instead upon Calvin's family. The broad themes of the strip deal with Calvin's flights of fantasy, his friendship with Hobbes, his misadventures, his views on a diverse range of political and cultural issues and his relationships and interactions with his parents, classmates, educators, and other members of society. A number of cartoons feature Calvin announcing the results of "polls of household six-year-olds" to his father, treating his father's position as though it were an elected political office.

The dual nature of Hobbes is also a recurring motif. Calvin sees Hobbes as alive, while other characters see him as a stuffed animal, a point discussed more fully in Hobbes' main article. Unlike political strips such as Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury, the series does not mention specific political figures, but does examine broad issues like environmentalism and the flaws of opinion polls.

Because of Watterson's strong anti- merchandizing sentiments and his reluctance to return to the spotlight, almost no legitimate Calvin and Hobbes licensed merchandise exists outside of the book collections. Some officially approved items were created for marketing purposes and are now sought by collectors. Two notable exceptions to the licensing embargo were the publication of two 16-month wall calendars and the textbook Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes. However, the strip's immense popularity has led to the appearance of various " bootleg" items, including T-shirts, keychains, bumper stickers, and window decals, often including obscene language or references wholly uncharacteristic of the whimsical spirit of Watterson's work.


Calvin and Hobbes was first conceived when Watterson, having worked in an advertising job he detested, began devoting his spare time to cartooning, his true love. He explored various strip ideas but all were rejected by the syndicates to which he sent them. However, he did receive a positive response on one strip, which featured a side character (the main character's little brother) who had a stuffed tiger. Told that these characters were the strongest, Watterson began a new strip centered on them. The syndicate ( United Features Syndicate) which gave him this advice rejected the new strip, and Watterson endured a few more rejections before Universal Press Syndicate decided to take it.

The first strip was published on November 18, 1985 and the series quickly became a hit. Within a year of syndication, the strip was published in roughly 250 newspapers. By April 1, 1987, only sixteen months after the strip began, Watterson and his work were featured in an article by the Los Angeles Times, one of America's major newspapers. Calvin and Hobbes twice earned Watterson the Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society, in the Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year category, first in 1986 and again in 1988. (He was nominated again in 1992.) Also, the Society awarded him the Humor Comic Strip Award for 1988.

Before long, the strip was in wide circulation outside the United States; for more information on publication in various countries and languages, see Calvin and Hobbes in translation.

Watterson took two extended breaks from writing new strips — from May 1991 to February 1992, and from April through December of 1994.

In 1995, Watterson sent a letter via his syndicate to all editors whose newspapers carried his strip. It contained the following:

Calvin and Hobbes
I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. This was not a recent or an easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue.

That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honour I'll long be proud of, and I've greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity.

Calvin and Hobbes

The 3,160th and final strip ran on Sunday, December 31, 1995. It depicted Calvin and Hobbes outside in freshly-fallen snow, reveling in the wonder and excitement of the winter scene. "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy!" The last panel shows Calvin and Hobbes zooming off on their sled as Calvin exclaims: "Let's go exploring!"

Syndication and Watterson's artistic standards

From the outset, Watterson found himself at odds with the syndicate, which urged him to begin merchandising the characters and touring the country to promote the first collections of comic strips; Watterson refused. To him, the integrity of the strip and its artist would be undermined by commercialization, which he saw as a major negative influence in the world of cartoon art.

Watterson also grew increasingly frustrated by the gradual shrinking of available space for comics in the newspapers. He lamented that without space for anything more than simple dialogue or spare artwork, comics as an art form were becoming dilute, bland, and unoriginal. Watterson strove for a full-page version of his strip (as opposed to the few cells allocated for most strips). He longed for the artistic freedom allotted to classic strips such as Little Nemo and Krazy Kat, and he gave a sample of what could be accomplished with such liberty in the opening pages of the Sunday strip compilation, The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book.

During Watterson's first sabbatical from the strip, Universal Press Syndicate continued to charge newspapers full price to re-run old Calvin and Hobbes strips. Few editors approved of the move, but the strip was so popular that they had little choice but to continue to run it for fear that competing newspapers might pick it up and draw its fans away. Then, upon Watterson's return, Universal Press announced that Watterson had decided to sell his Sunday strip as an unbreakable half of a newspaper or tabloid page. Many editors and even a few cartoonists, such as Bil Keane ( The Family Circus), criticized him for what they perceived as arrogance and an unwillingness to abide by the normal practices of the cartoon business—a charge that Watterson ignored. Watterson had negotiated the deal to allow himself more creative freedom in the Sunday comics. Prior to the switch, he had to have a certain number of panels with little freedom as to layout (due to the fact that in different newspapers the strip would appear at a different width); afterwards, he was free to go with whatever graphic layout he wanted, however unorthodox. His frustration with the standard space division requirements is evident in strips before the change; for example, a 1988 Sunday strip published before the deal is one large panel, but with all the action and dialogue in the bottom part of the panel so editors could crop the top part if they wanted to fit the strip into a smaller space. Watterson's explanation for the switch:

Calvin and Hobbes
I took a sabbatical after resolving a long and emotionally draining fight to prevent Calvin and Hobbes from being merchandised. Looking for a way to rekindle my enthusiasm for the duration of a new contract term, I proposed a redesigned Sunday format that would permit more panel flexibility. To my surprise and delight, Universal responded with an offer to market the strip as an unbreakable half page (more space than I'd dared to ask for), despite the expected resistance of editors.

To this day, my syndicate assures me that some editors liked the new format, appreciated the difference, and were happy to run the larger strip, but I think it's fair to say that this was not the most common reaction. The syndicate had warned me to prepare for numerous cancellations of the Sunday feature, but after a few weeks of dealing with howling, purple-faced editors, the syndicate suggested that papers could reduce the strip to the size tabloid newspapers used for their smaller sheets of paper. … I focused on the bright side: I had complete freedom of design and there were virtually no cancellations.

For all the yelling and screaming by outraged editors, I remain convinced that the larger Sunday strip gave newspapers a better product and made the comics section more fun for readers. Comics are a visual medium. A strip with a lot of drawing can be exciting and add some variety. Proud as I am that I was able to draw a larger strip, I don't expect to see it happen again any time soon. In the newspaper business, space is money, and I suspect most editors would still say that the difference is not worth the cost. Sadly, the situation is a vicious circle: because there's no room for better artwork, the comics are simply drawn; because they're simply drawn, why should they have more room?

Calvin and Hobbes

Despite the change, Calvin and Hobbes remained extremely popular and thus Watterson was able to expand his style and technique for the more spacious Sunday strips without losing carriers.

Since ending the strip, Watterson has kept aloof from the public eye and has given no indication of resuming the strip, creating new works based on the characters, or embarking on other projects. He refuses to sign autographs or license his characters, staying true to his stated principles. In previous years, he was known to sneak autographed copies of his books onto the shelves of a family-owned bookstore near his home in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. However, after discovering that some people were selling the autographed books on eBay for high prices, he ended this practice as well.


Bill Watterson is notable for his insistence that cartoon strips should stand on their own as an art form, and he has resisted the use of Calvin and Hobbes in merchandizing of any sort. This insistence stuck despite the fact that it could have generated millions of dollars per year in additional personal income. Watterson explains in a 2005 press release:

Calvin and Hobbes
Actually, I wasn't against all merchandising when I started the strip, but each product I considered seemed to violate the spirit of the strip, contradict its message, and take me away from the work I loved. If my syndicate had let it go at that, the decision would have taken maybe 30 seconds of my life.
Calvin and Hobbes

Watterson did ponder animating Calvin and Hobbes, and has expressed admiration for the art form. In a 1989 interview in The Comics Journal, Watterson states:

Calvin and Hobbes
If you look at the old cartoons by Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, you'll see that there are a lot of things single drawings just can't do. Animators can get away with incredible distortion and exaggeration [...] because the animator can control the length of time you see something. The bizarre exaggeration barely has time to register, and the viewer doesn’t ponder the incredible license he's witnessed.

In a comic strip, you just show the highlights of action — you can't show the buildup and release... or at least not without slowing down the pace of everything to the point where it's like looking at individual frames of a movie, in which case you've probably lost the effect you were trying to achieve. In a comic strip, you can suggest motion and time, but it's very crude compared to what an animator can do. I have a real awe for good animation.

Calvin and Hobbes

After this he was asked if it was "a little scary to think of hearing Calvin's voice." He responded that it was "very scary," and although he loved the visual possibilities animation had, the thought of casting voice actors to play his characters was something he felt uncomfortable doing. Plus, he wasn't sure he wanted to work with an animation team, as he'd done all previous work by himself. Ultimately, Calvin and Hobbes was never made into an animated series.

Except for the books, two 16-month calendars (1988–1989 and 1989–1990), and Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes, virtually all Calvin and Hobbes merchandise, including T-shirts as well as the ubiquitous stickers for automobile rear windows which depict Calvin urinating on a company's or sports team's name or logo, is unauthorized. After threat of a lawsuit alleging infringement of copyright and trademark, some of the sticker makers replaced Calvin with a different boy, while other makers ignored the issue. Watterson wryly commented "I clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo." Some legitimate special items were produced, such as promotional packages to sell the strip to newspapers, but these were never sold outright.

Style and influences

Calvin and Hobbes strips are characterized by sparse but careful craftsmanship, intelligent humor, poignant observations, witty social and political commentary, and well-developed characters that are full of personality. Precedents to Calvin's fantasy world can be found in Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts, Percy Crosby's Skippy, Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County, and George Herriman's Krazy Kat, while Watterson's use of comics as sociopolitical commentary reaches back to Walt Kelly's Pogo. Schulz and Kelly in particular influenced Watterson's outlook on comics during his formative years.

Notable elements of Watterson's artistic style are his characters' diverse and often exaggerated expressions (particularly those of Calvin), elaborate and bizarre backgrounds for Calvin's flights of imagination, well-captured kinetics, and frequent visual jokes and metaphors. In the later years of the strip, with more space available for his use, Watterson experimented more freely with different panel layouts, stories without dialogue, and greater use of whitespace. He also made a point of not showing certain things explicitly: the "Noodle Incident" and the children's book Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie were left to the reader's imagination, where Watterson was sure they would be “more outrageous” than he could portray.

Watterson's technique started with minimal pencil sketches (though the larger Sunday strips often required more elaborate work); he then would use a small sable brush and India ink to complete most of the remaining drawing. He was careful in his use of colour, often spending a great deal of time in choosing the right colors to employ for the weekly Sunday strip.

Art and academia

Watterson has used the strip to criticize the artistic world, principally through Calvin's unconventional creations of snowmen. When Miss Wormwood complains that he is wasting class time drawing incomprehensible things (a Stegosaurus in a rocket ship, in fact), Calvin proclaims himself "on the cutting edge of the avant-garde". He begins exploring the medium of snow when a warm day melts his snowman. His next sculpture "speaks to the horror of our own mortality, inviting the viewer to contemplate the evanescence of life", much in the vein of Ecclesiastes. Over the years, Calvin's creative instincts diversify into sidewalk drawings ("suburban postmodernism").

Watterson also directed criticism toward the academic world. Calvin writes a " revisionist autobiography", giving himself a flame thrower. In another strip, he carefully crafts an " artist's statement", knowing that such essays convey more messages than artworks themselves ever do (“You misspelled Weltanschauung,” Hobbes blandly notes). He indulges in what Watterson calls “ pop psychobabble” to justify his destructive rampages and shift blame to his parents, citing "toxic codependency." Once, he pens a book report entitled, "The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes." Displaying his creation to Hobbes, he remarks, " Academia, here I come!" Watterson explains that he adapted this jargon (and similar examples from several other strips) from an actual book of art criticism.

Overall, Watterson's satirical essays serve to attack both sides, criticizing both the commercial mainstream and the artists who are supposed to be "outside" it. Walking contemplatively through the woods, not long after he began drawing his "Dinosaurs in Rocket Ships Series", Calvin tells Hobbes:

Calvin and Hobbes
The hard part for us avant-garde post-modern artists is deciding whether or not to embrace commercialism. Do we allow our work to be hyped and exploited by a market that's simply hungry for the next new thing? Do we participate in a system that turns high art into low art so it's better suited for mass consumption?

Of course, when an artist goes commercial, he makes a mockery of his status as an outsider and free thinker. He buys into the crass and shallow values art should transcend. He trades the integrity of his art for riches and fame.

Oh, what the heck. I'll do it.

Calvin and Hobbes

Such sentiments echo Watterson's own struggles with his Syndicate over merchandising issues.

Distorted reality

On several occasions, Watterson began a strip with a distorted view of reality: inverted colors, all objects turning "neo-cubist", or the world turning to black-and-white without outlines, for example. Only Calvin and Hobbes are able to perceive these changes, which the reader can interpret as their way of seeing certain situations, issues and subjects which he has difficulty understanding or accepting.

In the Tenth Anniversary Book, Watterson acknowledges that most of these strips were metaphors for his own conflicts, typically against his syndicate's desire to produce Calvin and Hobbes merchandise. Accused of only seeing issues in "black and white" (Calvin's reply of "Sometimes that's the way things are!" was directly taken from his response to this accusation)—e.g., crass commercialism versus artistic integrity, with nothing in between—Watterson chose to illustrate the situation literally, dropping Calvin into a world where everything had lost shades of grey. Conversely, the "neo-cubist" strip emerged from the way Watterson found himself "paralyzed by being able to see all sides of an issue".

Passage of time

When the strips were originally published, Calvin's settings were seasonally appropriate for the Northern hemisphere. Calvin would be seen building snowmen or sledding during the wintertime, and outside activities such as water balloon fights would replace school during the summer. Christmas and Halloween strips were run during those times of year.

Although Watterson depicts several years' worth of holidays, school years, summer vacations, and camping trips, Calvin is never shown to age nor have any birthday celebrations (the only birthday shown was that of Susie Derkins). This is fairly common among comic strips; consider the children in Charles Schulz's Peanuts, most of whom existed without aging for decades. Likewise, the characters in George Herriman's Krazy Kat celebrate the New Year but never grow old, and young characters like Ignatz Mouse's offspring never seem to grow up. Since this is such a common phenomenon, readers are likely to suspend disbelief, as most of them do about Calvin's precocious vocabulary, accepting that he "was never a literal six-year-old".

Social criticisms

In addition to his criticisms of art and academia, Watterson often used the strip to comment on American culture and society. As the strip avoids reference to actual people or events (aside from one strip where a television is shown with a thought balloon mentioning the name of Karl Marx), Watterson's commentary is necessarily generalized. He expresses frustration with public decadence and apathy, with commercialism, and with the pandering nature of the mass media. Calvin is often seen "glued" to the television, while his father speaks with the voice of the author, struggling to impart his values on Calvin.

Hobbes also speaks on Calvin's unwholesome habits, but from a more cynical perspective; he is more likely to make a wry observation than actually intervene. Sometimes he merely looks on as Calvin inadvertently makes the point himself. In one instance, Calvin tells Hobbes about a story in which machines turn humans into zombie slaves. He then exclaims, "My TV show is on!" and sprints from the room in a panic to watch it.

Contrariwise, at times Calvin is the one doing the criticizing of culture. For example, when Calvin and Hobbes stumble onto a heap of litter, they get angered at the people who pollute the world. Calvin had once said, in response to man's exploitation and destruction of nature, "I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us," and "I wonder if you can refuse to inherit the world."

Calvin is also slightly misanthropic, given how some of the people in the world (particularly at school) cruelly treat him. Calvin admires that Hobbes isn't human, a fact the tiger trumpets quite a bit himself. However, the strip doesn't shy from sentimentality. Characters often hug and vocalize their affections. "Not so hard," Calvin sobs, embraced by his animal friend, "...You squeeze my tears out." Certainly, Calvin and Hobbes is as emotionally diverse as it is intellectually curious.

The main characters



Named after 16th century theologian John Calvin (founder of Calvinism and a strong believer in predestination), Calvin is an impulsive, imaginative, energetic, curious, intelligent, and often selfish six-year-old, whose last name the strip never gives. Despite his low grades, Calvin has a wide vocabulary range that rivals that of an adult as well as an emerging philosophical mind. "You know how Einstein got bad grades as a kid?" he says. "Well, mine are even worse!" He commonly wears his distinctive striped shirt. Watterson has described Calvin thus:

  • "Calvin is pretty easy to do because he is outgoing and rambunctious and there's not much of a filter between his brain and his mouth."
  • "I guess he's a little too intelligent for his age. The thing that I really enjoy about him is that he has no sense of restraint, he doesn't have the experience yet to know the things that you shouldn't do."

On many occasions, Calvin sees himself in one of his many alternate guises: as the astronaut and explorer Spaceman Spiff, the superhero Stupendous Man, the private eye Tracer Bullet, and many others (see Calvin's alter-egos).



In classic comic tradition of sidekicks, Hobbes represents Calvin's potential maturity, and externalized conscience. A comic about a young boy throwing slushballs into a neighbour girl's head would be sad and trite without Hobbes there to wisely tease him, "You think she's cute, right?"

From most characters' point of view, Hobbes is Calvin's stuffed tiger. However, from Calvin's perspective, Hobbes is as alive and real as anyone in the strip. He is named after 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who had what Watterson described as "a dim view of human nature." Hobbes is much more rational and aware of consequences than Calvin, but seldom interferes with Calvin's troublemaking beyond a few oblique warnings — after all, Calvin will be the one to get in trouble for it, not Hobbes. Hobbes also has the habit of regularly stalking and pouncing on Calvin, most often when Calvin returns home from school.

From Calvin's point of view, Hobbes is an anthropomorphic tiger, much larger than Calvin and full of his own attitudes and ideas. But when the perspective shifts to any other character, readers see merely a little stuffed tiger. This is, of course, an odd dichotomy, and Watterson explains it thus:

Calvin and Hobbes
When Hobbes is a stuffed toy in one panel and alive in the next, I'm juxtaposing the "grown-up" version of reality with Calvin's version, and inviting the reader to decide which is truer.
Calvin and Hobbes

Although the first strips clearly show Calvin capturing Hobbes by means of a snare (with tuna fish as the bait), a later comic ( 1 August 1989) seems to imply that Hobbes is, in fact, older than Calvin, and has been around his whole life. Watterson eventually decided that it was not important to establish how Calvin and Hobbes had first met.

Supporting characters

Calvin's family

Calvin's mother and father are for the most part typical Middle American middle-class parents; like many other characters in the strip, their relatively down-to-earth and sensible attitudes serve primarily as a foil for Calvin's outlandish behaviour. Calvin’s father is a patent attorney; his mother is a stay-at-home mom. Both parents go through the entire strip unnamed, except as "Mom" and "Dad", or such pet names as "hon" and "dear." Watterson has never given Calvin's parents names "because as far as the strip is concerned, they are important only as Calvin's mom and dad." This ended up being somewhat problematic when Calvin's Uncle Max was in the strip for a week and couldn't refer to the parents by name, and was one of the main reasons that Max never reappeared.

Susie Derkins

Susie Derkins, the only character with both first and last names, is a classmate of Calvin who lives in his neighbourhood. She first appeared early in the strip as a new student in Calvin's class. In contrast with Calvin, she is polite and diligent in her studies, and her imagination usually seems mild-mannered and civilized, consisting of stereotypical young girl games such as playing house or having tea parties with her stuffed animals. Her approach to these games is arguably more modern, however, some might say even cynical. (In a game of "house" she usually casts herself as the industrious working wife while Calvin is the deadbeat husband or some version thereof.) "Derkins" was the nickname of Watterson's wife's family beagle, and he liked the name so much he named this character after it. As much as either of them hate to admit, Calvin and Susie have quite a bit in common. (Susie is shown on occasion with a stuffed rabbit dubbed "Mr. Bun," and Calvin always has Hobbes.)

Miss Wormwood

Miss Wormwood is Calvin's world-weary teacher, named after the apprentice devil in C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. She perpetually wears polka-dotted dresses, and serves, like others, as a foil to Calvin's mischief. Calvin's response to the tedium of schoolwork is endless flights of imagination. His teacher is waiting to retire, takes a lot of medication, and is apparently a heavy smoker and drinker. According to Calvin, "rumor has it she's up to two packs a day, unfiltered."


Rosalyn is a teenaged high-school senior and Calvin's official babysitter, whenever Calvin's parents need a night out. She is the only babysitter able to tolerate Calvin's antics, which she uses to demand raises and advances from Calvin's desperate parents. She is also, according to Watterson, the only person Calvin truly fears— certainly she is his equal in cunning, and doesn't hesitate to play as dirty as he does. Rosalyn's boyfriend, Charlie, never appears in the strip but calls her occasionally. These calls are often interrupted by Calvin. Originally she was created as a nameless, one-shot character with no plans to appear again; however, Watterson decided he wanted to retain her unique ability to intimidate Calvin, which, ultimately, led to many more appearances.


Moe is the archetypical bully character in Calvin & Hobbes, "a six-year-old who shaves", who always shoves Calvin against walls, demanding his lunch money and calling him "Twinky." Moe is the only regular character who speaks in an unusual font: his (frequently monosyllabic) dialogue is shown in crude, lower-case letters. Watterson describes Moe as "every jerk I've ever known." And while Moe is not smart, he is, as Calvin puts it, streetwise—"That means he knows what street he lives on." He constantly makes fun of Calvin.

Recurring subject matter

There are several repeating themes in the work, a few involving Calvin's real life, and many stemming from his incredible imagination. Some of the latter are clearly flights of fancy, while others, like Hobbes, are of an apparently dual nature and don't quite work when presumed real or unreal.

Cardboard boxes

Over the years Calvin has had several adventures involving corrugated cardboard boxes, in which he adapts them for many different uses. His inventions include the Transmogrifier, a flying time machine, the Duplicator, and a "Cerebral Enhance-o-tron".

Building the Transmogrifier is accomplished by turning a cardboard box upside-down, attaching an arrow to the side and writing a list of choices on the box. (To turn into an animal not stated on the box, just write the name of the animal on the remaining space.) Upon turning the arrow to a particular choice and pushing a button, the transmogrifier instantaneously rearranges the subject's "chemical configuration" (accompanied by a loud zap).

The Duplicator was also made from a cardboard box, except this time it was turned on its side. The "Zap" heard after a person was successfully transmogrified was replaced with a "Boink", coining the title of one of the collections after Hobbes remarks "Scientific progress goes 'boink'?" Calvin intended to clone himself and let the clone do his work for him. However, the clone, being just like Calvin, refuses to do any work.

The Time Machine was made from the same box, this time right-side up. Passengers climb into the open top, and must be wearing protective goggles while in time-warp. Calvin first intends to travel to the future and obtain future technology which he could use to become rich in the present time. Unfortunately, he turns the time machine the wrong way and ends up in prehistoric times.


Calvinball is a game played almost exclusively by Calvin and Hobbes as a rebellion against organized team sports (like baseball), although the babysitter Rosalyn plays on one occasion. Calvinball is played with whatever implements are available, often a volleyball (called the "Calvinball" itself) and a pair of wickets, and the rules are invented as the game goes along. The three consistent rules are:

  1. that the set of rules on play can never be the same twice
  2. that everyone who plays Calvinball must wear a mask
  3. no one is allowed to question the masks.

Either player may change any rule at any time (with the exception of those rules stated above). Scoring is also entirely arbitrary: Hobbes has reported scores of "Q to 12" and "oogy to boogy." Calvinball is essentially a game of wits and creativity, rather than purely physical feats, and in this Hobbes is typically more successful than Calvin himself. It is often regarded as an example of nomic.

In the Tenth Anniversary Book, Watterson states that the greatest number of questions he receives concern Calvinball and how to play it. He then answers the question once and for all: "People have asked how to play Calvinball. It's pretty simple: you make up the rules as you go."

Wagon and sled

Calvin and Hobbes frequently ride downhill in a wagon, sled, or toboggan (depending on the season) and ponder the meaning of life, death, God, and a variety of other weighty subjects as they hurtle downhill. The wagon and sled were conceived because of Bill Watterson's aversion to "talking heads" comic strips, as a way of making them visually exciting. The course of the vehicle and the obstacles that the characters negotiate as they travel also frequently serve as metaphors for and parallel to the subject of conversation (life becomes a blur, Calvin says as he speeds along), and the rides almost always end in a spectacular crash.

Snowballs and snowmen

During winter, Calvin often engages in snowball fights (which he almost always loses), usually throwing them at Susie but almost always resulting in Calvin getting buried in the snow as retaliation. He sometimes teams up with Hobbes for snowball fights, but Calvin can't seem to resist also sneaking up on Hobbes, who always seems to get the drop on him instead.

Calvin also builds snowmen; but these are usually grotesque, monstrous deformed creatures. In a notable storyline, Calvin builds a snowman and brings it to life using the power "invested in him by the mighty and awful snow demons". The snowman immediately proves to be evil (reminiscent of Frankenstein) and becomes what Calvin calls a "deranged mutant killer monster snow goon". This storyline gave the title to the Calvin and Hobbes book Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons.

Calvin, unlike Hobbes, thinks of snowmen as a fine art. Bill Watterson has said that this is a parody of art's “ pretentious blowhards.” Once, out of ideas, Calvin signed the snow-covered landscape with a stick and declared all the world's snow as his own work of art, offering to sell it to Hobbes for a million dollars. Hobbes mellowly responds, "Sorry, it doesn't match my furniture," and walks away, leaving Calvin to contemplate, "The problem with being avant-garde is knowing who's putting on who."


G.R.O.S.S. is Calvin's anti-girl secret club. The name is an acronym (reminiscent of Valerie Solanas' S.C.U.M) that stands for Get Rid Of Slimy girlS (Calvin admits "slimy girls" is a bit redundant as—of course—all girls are slimy, "but otherwise it doesn't spell anything"). Based in a treehouse, the main objective of G.R.O.S.S. is to exclude girls, chiefly Calvin's neighbour Susie Derkins. Calvin and Hobbes are its only members, and wear newspaper chapeaux during meetings. Their anthem is generally unknown, but begins: "Oh Grohoooss! Best Club in the Cosmos."

School and homework

Calvin hates school and its attendant early-morning risings, irate teachers, homework, and fellow students. While at school, he commonly visualizes the building as a hostile planet and his teacher and principal as vicious aliens. Calvin usually lacks the company of Hobbes at school, although sometimes Hobbes does his homework and reading while Calvin watches TV or reads comic books. In general, Calvin is depicted as a student who is unable to concentrate in class, has difficulty interacting with other students, and struggles with homework. On occasion, he gets good marks and positive feedback for work, but these are usually short-lived victories.

His dislike of school does not necessarily mean that Calvin is unintelligent; the strip often depicts him as being very smart, in fact, with unusual knowledge of philosophy and odd vocabulary. Rather, Calvin seems to dislike school because of its rules and forced learning of things which he is not necessarily interested in. In one strip, Calvin's father asks why he doesn't try harder at school, considering how much he loves to learn about subjects like dinosaurs; Calvin simply replies that they don't learn about dinosaurs in school. His inability to concentrate is portrayed as more due to his active imagination than to any mental handicap.

Santa Claus and “being good”

As Christmas approaches each year, Calvin feels the need to behave himself so as to maximize his chances of receiving gifts from Santa. He is often tempted to throw snowballs at Susie, and the ways through which he resists or succumbs to the temptation are humorous due to their insight into how difficult it is for people in general to do the right thing. These situations often lead Calvin to ponder philosophical questions, such as the difference between "acting good" and "being good", the idea that someone who is "naturally good" might deserve less for being good than does someone who must work hard at it, the question of whether future good acts can "make up" for previous (and unrelated) bad acts, etc. In many strips, Calvin questions the nature of Santa Claus' "operation", and even the existence of Santa himself. In the end, Calvin decides to believe in Santa and to go along with trying to be good, justifying his decision by using what is essentially Pascal's Wager.


There are eighteen Calvin and Hobbes books, published from 1987 to 2005. These include eleven collections, which form a complete archive of the newspaper strips, except for a single daily strip from November 28, 1985. (The collections do contain a strip for this date, but it is not the same strip that appeared in some newspapers. The alternate strip, a joke about Hobbes taking a bath in the washing machine, has circulated around the Internet.) "Treasuries" usually combine the two preceding collections (abeit leaving out some strips) with bonus material, and include colour reprints of Sunday comics.

A complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes strips, in three hardcover volumes, with a total 1440 pages, was released on October 4, 2005, by Andrews McMeel Publishing. It also includes colour prints of the art used on paperback covers, the Treasuries' extra illustrated stories and poems, and a new introduction by Bill Watterson, who is now happily teaching himself to paint. It is notable, however, that the alternate 1985 strip is still omitted, and two other strips ( January 7, 1987, and November 25, 1988) have altered dialogue.

To celebrate the release, Calvin and Hobbes reruns were made available to newspapers from Sunday, September 4, 2005, through Saturday, December 31, 2005, and Bill Watterson answered a select dozen questions submitted by readers. Like current contemporary strips, weekday Calvin and Hobbes strips now appear in colour print when available, instead of black and white as in their first run.

Early books were printed in smaller format in black and white that were later reproduced in twos in colour in the "Treasuries" (Essential, Authoritative, and Indispensable) — except for the contents of Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons. Those Sunday strips were never reprinted in colour until the Complete collection was finally published in 2005. Every book since Snow Goons has been printed in a larger format with Sundays in colour and weekday and Saturday strips larger than they appeared in most newspapers.

Remaining books do contain some additional content; for instance, The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book contains a long watercolor Spaceman Spiff epic not seen elsewhere until Complete, and The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book contains much original commentary from Watterson. Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995 contains 36 Sunday strips in colour alongside Watterson's original sketches, prepared for an exhibition at The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library.

An officially licensed children's textbook entitled Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes was published in a limited single print-run in 1993. The book includes various Calvin and Hobbes strips together with lessons and questions to follow, such as "What do you think the principal meant when he said they had quite a file on Calvin?" (p108). The book is rare and increasingly sought by collectors.

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