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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Tragedy of Calvin and Hobbes

<s little, I was in love with the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. Whenever I was home sick from school, I would crawl under the covers and read about the adventures of this mischievous little boy and his imaginary tiger friend. Wearing newspaper hats and gung-ho expressions, they tried to evade baby-sitters and baths: with only their thoughts and a cardboard box, they traveled to the wildest corners of outer space. Reading the comics, I would giggle to myself and forget about feeling sick.

Stripped to the essence of its story line, however, Calvin and Hobbes could read like a tragedy. Think about it. Once there was a very smart little boy whose behavioral problems in school alienated him from others and left him with only a raggedy stuffed tiger for company. Ouch. So, what makes Calvin and Hobbes a comic strip? Why does it make us laugh with Calvin instead of feel sorry for him?

For me, part of the answer is Calvin’s boundless optimism. Did he fall off his sled on the largest hill in town? Did he accidentally drop his dad’s camera in a lake? Did the baby sitter refuse to succumb to his demands after he threatened to flush her algebra notes down the toilet? Such meager concerns are of no interest to Calvin, for there he is again on the next page, ready to use his squirt-gun “transmogrifier” to turn his stuffed tiger into a real live mallard.

The other part of the answer may be Calvin’s parents’ obvious love for him. They have certainly been dealt a tricky hand in having to raise that little imp, but they seem to take Calvin’s many foibles and fumbles in stride. When Calvin drops the camera in the lake, for example, his dad dutifully swims to get it as Calvin offers advice from the warm, dry shore. When little stuffed Hobbes gets a tear, Calvin’s mom stitches him up while Calvin looks on, stricken. And of course, his parents read Calvin his favorite story, “Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie,” every night before bed.

Maybe comic heroes are just tragic heroes with more vigor to give things another shot and more people who love them to provide encouragement. Admittedly, in real life, outside events can clearly intervene and force a plotline into a tragic vein, regardless of optimism and support. For example, if you try to find comedy in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I will tell you that you’re being profane. But at least in cases like that of Calvin and Hobbes, optimism and love can change a tale dramatically. Take it from another mischievous child with treasured imaginary friends.

When I was back home recently, I got sick and retreated to my bed. Across the room, I saw my old Calvin and Hobbes collection gathering dust on the bookshelf. Rereading the comics, I giggled to myself and forgot about feeling sick. My mom called up from downstairs to ask if I’d like some chicken soup. She didn’t offer to read “Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie,” but in all important ways, the offer was just the same.

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