Calvin and Hobbes
The days are just packed
When a list of truly great comic strips comes to be drawn up - perhaps by a group of originally-well-meaning lunatics looking for another conveniently-packageable root of all evil - certain entries will be unargued. Peanuts, say, and Krazy Kat, a Depression-era strip that makes the Commander Hoek episodes of Ren and Stimpy look like they were written by Roy Clarke. If Calvin and Hobbes is omitted, it's going to be because the people who draw up lists of truly great anything tend not to look beyond 1955.*
Unusually, the author of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons is an amazingly interesting fellow. Bill Watterson championed artistic freedom and integrity and creators' rights to the point of refusing to allow his newspaper syndicate to merchandise the strip, believing that bunging a picture on a T-shirt or packet of crisps cheapened the character. When they told him, quite rightly, that he'd signed the contracts and they could do what they pleased because they owned Calvin and Hobbes, he had a big fight with them and won Calvin and Hobbes back.*
He then stopped doing the cartoon because he felt it had run its course, but we love him anyway.
(You can't read the final, New Year's Eve 1995 strip and not love everybody, come to that.)
Folk new to Calvin and Hobbes should seek out with all speed the books. These are:
Calvin and Hobbes
Something Under the Bed is Drooling
Weirdos From Another Planet
Revenge of the Baby-Sat
Scientific Progress Goes "Boink"
Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons
The Days Are Just Packed
Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat
There's Treasure Everywhere
It's a Magical World
The Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book's strips are entirely reprinted, but with a running commentary from Bill, and is worth it for that. The chessboard-sized compendiums (The Authoritative, Essential, Lazy Sunday and Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes) are two of the books slapped together, but with about a quarter of the cartoons missing. The tiny paperbacks are the original books, but in batches of around 100 strips, so why bother, eh? Rustle up a few pounds (the earlier ones can be found in bargain bookshops all over Britain, absurdly low sales fans) and find the rest of the day time-lapsing away as you read each book a second time for the facial expressions and still puff up your cheeks with splendid laughter, then go to bed and dream about cardboard boxes.
Incidentally, it's all about a boy and his tiger.