About The Project

“The Comic Book as the Ideal in Storytelling” is a collection of academic essays that sprang out of the idea that the comic book/graphic novel format is the ideal when it comes to storytelling and information transmission.

© Constantine Koutsoutis


“Calvin and Hobbes” as a Critical Medium on Art & Philosophy

One of the greatest things about comics is that the medium has started to get acknowledged as just that, a medium.  Instead of just being seen as a genre of POW BIFF BAM, it’s a literary mode that’s just as valid as poetry, nonfiction, or fictional prose. And in that being acknowledged, it opens up comics acting as a critical mouthpiece just like other so-called “classic” literary works. Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes served as a unique critical field in comics. 
The syndicated daily newspaper strip, which ran from 1985 to 1995 and starred a boy and his tiger, was a groundbreaking piece of art and writing that at times could transcend externally-placed limitations on the medium of comics.  It was at that forefront of comics as literature that could be a way to critically look at other stuff.  The comic allowed Watterson to give his own take and express his own beliefs on art and philosophy, as well as acting as a way for him to air grievances regarding his constant battles with his syndicate over licensing. 
Calvin and Hobbes was hardly the first comic to be used as a stand-in on the cartoonist’s take on issues.  Illustrations and cartooning in literature have lampooned, highlighted, and supported cultural touchstones since literature began, arguably.  Comic-wise for example, Harold Gray used Little Orphan Annie as a medium for criticism on socialism, large-scale government, and frustration with law enforcement’s seemingly inefficiency in the era of the Great Depression.  Editorial cartooning in general has always used comics to comment on politics and on social issues.
However, what does make Watterson’s work so unique as a critical mode is his applications of various artistic styles within his own comic. As Nevin Martell points out in his book "Looking For Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his revolutionary Comic Strip," Watterson's usage of this technique helped him expand the range of the comic without having to expand the cast (109).

                                                                “You’re still wrong, Dad.” (Watterson 6/17/1990)

The shifts in art and the particular type of styles used in this particular Sunday strip highlights this exactly.  Watterson’s Calvin staggers through a Neo-Cubist nightmare of multiple facets and new perspectives of even mundane furniture like a desk or door.  Calvin is almost overwhelmed by the possibility of there being more than one side, the correct (and in his mind, HIS side) to an argument.  Suddenly he’s frightened how this possibility means that there’s so much more to the world.
At the same time, it’s also a somewhat humorous view on post-modern art and sublevels of critical interpretations in art criticism. To Calvin, Neo-Cubism is synonymous with straying from his own viewpoint. It’s an indulgence that unnecessarily clogs up the thought process when he’s making a decision, one that’s in direct opposition to his father (as evidenced in panels 6 – 8).  
Watterson ultimately ended up ending the comic in 1996 because of his beliefs that he'd said all he had to say (Martell 152).  However, its impact has continued to be felt as a critical mode even today, in part because of the cartoonist's approach to mixing comics and critical thinking.

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