ALEX CHADWICK, host:
The much-loved comic strip "Calvin & Hobbes" depicted the magical and hilarious world of six-year-old Calvin and his companion, the tiger Hobbes. Their buddy story tickled fans for a decade before the artist, Bill Watterson, stopped drawing it 10 years ago. Now all the published strips are available in the new three-volume collection, the complete Calvin and Hobbes. Animation writer Charles Solomon has this appreciation.
CHARLES SOLOMON reporting:
Rereading the adventures of Calvin & Hobbes is like visiting a childhood friend who moved away and took the fun with him. In this strip, Watterson revived the fine drawing, visual imagination and character-driven humor that have made the comics popular since they began more than a century ago. Berkeley Breathed won the Pulitzer Prize for "Bloom Country," and now draws the weekly comic "Opus." He admired Watterson's work so much, he once drew one of his characters wearing a shirt that read Calvin & Hobbes rule.
Mr. BERKELEY BREATHED (Artist): It was so refreshing to see somebody doing what they're supposed to be doing on the page as opposed to me, for instance, who was an interloper and a fraud that had slipped under the door onto the comics pages that it was almost a bow to a true master that I couldn't resist.
SOLOMON: Breathed said what set Calvin & Hobbes apart was that Watterson's work appealed to young and old alike.
Mr. BREATHED: Hi readers spanned every age without losing the teen and sub-30 crowd that usually demands the tempting and often limiting edge, and that edge is something that I have no idea how to avoid in my work. I would love to do a strip as innocent as either Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes and hope to find that breadth of readership.
SOLOMON: Jef Mallett draws the comic strip "Frazz" about a songwriter turned elementary school janitor. His calligraphic brush lines recall Calvin & Hobbes and there was even an online rumor that Watterson was drawing Frazz. Mallett says that's a singular compliment.
Mr. JEF MALLETT (Artist): Bill Watterson just simply got it right, and I think that he got it right through a respect for the art and a respect for the reader, and just putting everything he had into the comic strip. The idea that I was Bill Watterson or Bill Watterson was me--I wish that were true because then I could meet me.
SOLOMON: Few artists or readers have ever met the notoriously reclusive Watterson. Even when the strip was at its height, Watterson refused to make public appearances, preferring to have his characters speak for themselves. Mallett says the humor in the strip came from Calvin's reactions to his environment and from Hobbes' comments on Calvin's activities, rather than the simple gags and cute characters that are the norm for kids' comics.
Mr. MALLETT: And I think some people--they have these preconceived notions of little kids being these cutesy, doll-like funny-talking squeaky-voice, big-eyed creatures that aren't really quite human. So I think what Watterson did was he looked at kids, he looked at human beings and he said, `That's what I see. That's what I'm going to draw.'
SOLOMON: Calvin wasn't the only fully rounded individual in the strip. The tiger Hobbes was more than a straight man. He was the prudent and sometimes mischievous voice of reason. Berkeley Breathed.
Mr. BREATHED: The strip wouldn't have worked just as a Calvin vehicle. It was our great joy to see the interplay between--as it is with--again with any bit of fiction, between two conflicting characters. Conflict is the essence of humor.
SOLOMON: In the final strip, Calvin & Hobbes put aside the conflicts and rode their sled into a snowy forest. They left behind a hole in the comics page that no strip has been able to fill.
CHADWICK: From Los Angeles, Charles Solomon writes about animation and comic strips for DAY TO DAY.
And we've got a treat for Calvin & Hobbes fans. On our Web site, you can see the first-ever cartoon strip and find links to two of Bill Watterson's very rare public speeches. Just go to npr.org.
DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.