When I Was Young I Had a Tiger

Back in the 80’s, when I was a kid, I loved the Sunday comics. They were funnier then. I liked Garfield, he was funnier then too, and I liked Peanuts. I have always been partial to Linus. I got most of the jokes to, even Doonesbury, which surprised many. What I liked most though was Calvin and Hobbes. I got Calvin, because I was Calvin. I was one of those kids who asked troubling questions to adults. Who made up morbid fantasies in play around in during the afternoon, instead of homework. My best friends were stuffed animals that developed individual personalities that I could describe to anyone willing to listen. But most of all, I was that kid who sat in class and day dreamed. Like Calvin, I would go off into another world and become someone else,

like Spaceman Spiff. I would only become aware of my wandering mind when the teacher yelled at me, or the other kids laughed at me. For my imagination spilled out over the rim of my mind and on to my desk, on to blank pieces of paper that formed pictures. It spilled in to the movements my hands made trying to manifest the action in my head and in to the sound effects I made to accompany my story. This is why I was amazed when I read the comic of Calvin dreaming again, only to have his teacher interrupt him to ask him what state he lived in. His answer; denial. How I laughed and cried, because I got it. 

 

As big as a fan as I was, I was unaware that Bill Watterson was putting together collections of all his work. The first one was published in 1988 and was titled The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury. A classmate, Richard, brought it to school one day. I was so surprised to learn of it’s existence. Richard and I poured over the book as much as we could during class that day. We weren’t the best of friends but we got along. Everyone liked Richard. He was a handsome young man with thick black hair and a dusty complexion. He said he was a fan, but not huge, and this book was a gift he didn’t ask for, but no less enjoyed. He let me borrow it during reading time, except Mrs. Bergman, our fifth grade teacher, didn’t think it was appropriate reading material. We kept finding time to read it during the class anyway, until she took it away. Richard didn’t seem that upset, he knew he would get it back. I was devastated. There were comics in that collection I hadn’t read yet. 

 

I went home that day determined to get my own copy. I was not a child with a lot of money, and I was sure that I would be forced to ask for it as a birthday gift, which was months away, or a Christmas gift. That would also mean that I might not get it, maybe it would be too expensive. My mother would let me have it, but my father would think I am too young for it. How to get this collection of Calvin and Hobbes stayed on my mind the rest of the day. 

 

The next day at school went by as many others did. So, when it was time to leave I was moving slowly, getting my things together so that the other kids would leave before me. I was walking down the street to my Grandmother’s house, and I didn’t want anyone hanging around to pick on me, or find out where her house was, they might try to come by there and mess with me. I succeeded in being the last kid, and as I was walking out I saw on Mrs. Bergman’s desk Richard’s book. I quickly looked around. I was the only one there. The late autumn afternoon light was sneaking around the building into the classrooms’ eastern facing windows and flickering shadows from the trees outside were dancing cross the the cover of The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury. 

 

I wouldn’t be alone for long. The teachers would come back after seeing the kids out of the front doors. Mrs. Bergman would ask what I was doing here and wouldn’t just let me go with a simple answer. I had only seconds to decide if I was going to become a thief. Hell, who was I kidding, I had already stolen plenty by age 11. I took the book and slipped into my back pack. I zipped it up and walked out as if nothing happened. I walked to my grandmother’s house with excitement carrying my feet. I had the book! I could read them all now, all of the brilliant comics by Bill Watterson featuring this misfit kid I identified with. This kid and his tiger were like my own voice, saying things I had thought, but also telling me about things I hadn’t thought yet. Now, I could have them with me everyday. 

 

As the years went by I was able to acquire the other collections by ethical means, the Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes was given to me by my Grandfather as a Christmas gift. Not only did I identify with Calvin and Hobbes but others felt I did as well. My friend and mentor David Duncan took to calling me Hobbes. He was surprised to learn that I was a fan and had the collections, but thought it fitting I would. To this day he never calls me by my name, I am Hobbes to him. This comic captured for me my despair with how the world of people was, and my wonder at how much different we could be, as well as my cynical and morbid sense of humor. Calvin was a dreamer, like me. Hobbes was the voice that told me to enjoy what was beautiful about the world, for beneath all that despair, was something beautiful. Perhaps it was nothing more than a sunset, but that was enough. 

 

The other week on NPR I listened to story about a director, Joel Allen Schroeder, who has made a documentary about the boy and his tiger. It is called Dear, Mr. Watterson and is out in theaters and on demand right now. The film will look into the reoccurring themes through out the run of the strip. Show how the high minded philosophical references that Mr. Watterson weaved through his characters became something obtainable and understandable. It will also focus in Watterson himself, who refused to license his creation. We never saw Calvin and Hobbes toys, or animated movies, or coffee mugs. Watterson was an artist who wanted to speak to us and didn’t want commercialism to get in the way of that message. In the interview with NPR, Schroeder ( does anyone else find it amusing that a man with the name of a famous Peanuts character is a huge fan of Calvin and Hobbes? ) said he thinks that this is why Calvin and Hobbes has remained so loved by their fans. They have not been cheapen by a companies desire to sell you useless crap.

 

I will look forward to seeing Dear. Mr. Watterson, but until then I will revisit my friends Calvin and Hobbes in their books that I have on my shelf. I will start with the first collection, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury. Yes, it is the same one I stole off of Mrs. Bergman’s desk. Thank you Mr. Watterson for never selling your gift off, but giving it to us freely, as gifts are meant to given. Also, sorry Richard, and thanks, you have no idea how happy having this book has made me.

 

 

 

Use this link to listen to NPR’s interview with Joel Allen Schroeder.