In the words of Bill Watterson,
“Calvin is named for a sixteenth-century theologian who believed in predestination. Most people assume that Calvin is based on a son of mine, or based on detailed memories of my own childhood.
In fact, I don’t have children, and I was a fairly quiet, obedient kid—almost Calvin’s opposite. One of the reasons that Calvin’s character is fun to write is that I often don’t agree with him.
Calvin is autobiographical in the sense that he thinks about the same issues that I do, but in this, Calvin reflects my adulthood more than my childhood. Many of Calvin’s struggles are metaphors for my own. I suspect that most of us get old without growing up, and that inside every adult (sometimes not very far inside) is a bratty kid who wants everything his own way.
I use Calvin as an outlet for my immaturity, as a way to keep myself curious about the natural world, as a way to ridicule my own obsessions, and as a way to comment on human nature. I wouldn’t want Calvin in my house, but on paper, he helps me sort through my life and understand it.”
“Named after a seventeenth-century philosopher with a dim view of human nature, Hobbes has the patient dignity and common sense of most animals I’ve met.
Hobbes was very much inspired by one of our cats, a gray tabby named Sprite. Sprite not only provided the long body and facial characteristics for Hobbes, she also was the model for his personality.
With most cartoon animals, the humor comes from their human-like behavior. Hobbes stands upright and talks of course, but I try to preserve his feline side, both in his physical demeanor and his attitude.
His reserve and tact seem very catlike to me, along with his barely contained pride in not being human. Like Calvin, I often prefer the company of animals to people, and Hobbes is my idea of an ideal friend.”
Calvin and Hobbes is set in the contemporary United States in an unspecified suburban area. Calvin is six years old and he has some strong opinions. Hobbes is his best friend, someone that he shares everything with. Hobbes can often see the absurdity of Calvin’s opinions and his behavior, but he puts up with it anyway.
Hobbes’ dual nature is a defining motif for the strip: to Calvin, Hobbes is a live tiger; all the other characters see him as an inanimate stuffed toy.
Bill Watterson explains this as follows:
“The so-called “gimmick” of my strip—the two versions of Hobbes—is sometimes misunderstood. I don’t think of Hobbes as a doll that miraculously comes to life when Calvin’s around.
Neither do I think of Hobbes as the product of Calvin’s imagination. Calvin sees Hobbes one way, and everyone else sees Hobbes another way. I show two versions of reality, and each makes complete sense to the participant who sees it. I think that’s how life works. None of us sees the world exactly the same way, and I just draw that literally in the strip. Hobbes is more about the subjective nature of reality than about dolls coming to life.”
Calvin and Hobbes was conceived when Bill Watterson was working in advertising. It was a job that he detested and he wanted a way out. So he began devoting his spare time to cartooning, his true love. He explored various strip ideas but all of them were rejected by the syndicates.
United Media finally responded positively to 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.
Though United Feature rejected the new strip, Universal Press Syndicate eventually took it. Here is the first strip that was published on November 18, 1985.
The series was an instant hit and within a year of syndication, it was being published in roughly 250 newspapers. At the height of its popularity, Calvin and Hobbes was featured in over 2,400 newspapers worldwide. Nearly 45 million copies of the Calvin and Hobbes books have been sold and reruns still appear in more than 50 countries.
Like many artists, Watterson incorporated elements of his life, interests, beliefs and values into his work—for example, his hobby as a cyclist, memories of his own father’s speeches about “building character”, and his views on merchandising and corporations.
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. He believed that the integrity of the strip and its artist would be undermined by commercialisation which he saw as a major negative influence in the world of cartoon art.
He 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 sparse artwork, comics as an art form were becoming dilute, bland, and unoriginal.
Watterson announced the end of Calvin and Hobbes on November 9, 1995, saying that he had achieved what he could within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. He said that he was eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. Here is the last strip of Calvin and Hobbes that was published on December 31, 1995.
Since then Watterson has taken up painting and he has kept away from the public eye. He has given no indication of resuming the strip, creating new works based on the characters, or embarking on other projects, though he has published several anthologies of Calvin and Hobbes.