The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book

I think all the Calvin and Hobbes collections I ordered have arrived now. The kids were excited to see some that we hadn’t owned before (I think our original “collection” was just a double armful of books that happened to be in the Barnes & Noble remainder section), and Peter was very proud of his new books, particularly the ones that are big and hard-covered.

Meanwhile I grabbed the one shown above to keep in my office—it’s the only one that repeats strips from earlier books, the copy we already had is in okay shape … and I’m the dad, that’s why!

Actually, it’s the one book to have if you not only want the best of the strips but are interested in how this particular sausage is made. Bill Watterson is an unusual guy, very private but also very devoted to comics as an artform, and he takes great pains in this book to explain what is going on in the world of comics, its history and storytelling techniques and creative possibilities and business realities and pressures to compromise. So much writing and thought and a large portion of the book is devoted to material that almost nobody will read and ponder—except those few of us who are desperate to know how the sausage is made.

Here’s a strip he includes in the section discussing how over the years newspaper reproduction of comics have gotten tinier and tinier:

(I hope you get the visual meta-joke. Watterson trusts his readers enough that he doesn’t point it out in the text.)

But it’s not all sausage-making. Probably 80% of the book is a collection of Watterson’s favorite strips, thoughtfully annotated. Reading through this the first time those many years ago is probably what shifted me from simple enjoyment to a deep appreciation of what he had accomplished. So if you’re only going to own one, this is the one to own.

Also, I must say this: this is a guy who consistently refused to merchandise his characters—as he says, forgoing the chance to make millions of dollars with a mere stroke of the pen—in defiance of a corporation that held all the cards, except the one that he threatened to play, namely quitting the strip—and even then they had the legal right to simply hire someone else to continue producing it. But they finally blinked, and renegotiated his contract returning all merchandising rights to him—rights he has never exercised. This guy is my hero!

I can’t pick a favorite strip, so I’ll end with a very well-known one, the strip which ended Watterson’s run. It exhibits so many of the qualities I love about his work.

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