One of the perks of working for a newspaper—in the old, pre-Internet days—was that you could read and learn things before the rest of the world.
I was a sportswriter at a small Virginia newspaper in 1985. And while I can't say for sure that I worked on Sunday night, November 17, I am fairly certain I would have followed my usual routine: at some point that evening, I would have walked back to the composing room, where we laid out the pages (by hand—imagine that!), and I would have read the comics slated to appear in the next morning's paper.
If indeed I worked that night, then I was one of the first to witness history, though I didn't know it at the time: A new comic strip was making its debut the next morning, November 18, 1985. A strip about a little boy, his imagination, and a stuffed tiger.
A strip called Calvin and Hobbes.
It was a strip that would captivate me, and much of the world, for the next 10 years.
A strip that would revolutionize the comics pages, elevating the art—yes, art—to new heights with arguably the smartest and best series we'll ever see.
A strip that would tackle social, philosophical, moral, ethical, and cultural issues with intelligence, wit, and snark, making you think and laugh at the same time.
A strip whose titular characters were named after a 16th-century French Reformation theologian (John Calvin) and a 17th-century English political philosopher (Thomas Hobbes). Fitting namesakes, because in the strip, Calvin is a rabble-rouser who's always questioning authority and pushing the envelope, while Hobbes is the voice of reason.
A strip that delivered on everything you could possibly ask of a cartoon, and more.
No way anyone could've known that first set of four panels—in which Calvin "catches" Hobbes with a tuna-baited tiger trap—that Something Big was just beginning. But it was.
And for the next decade, we laughed and we cried (some of those beautiful Sunday color versions went straight for the heart) along with the boy and his tiger, who was very much alive to Calvin, but just a stuffed animal to everyone else. The conversations they had! The adventures they took! The parents they exasperated! The dimensions they explored!
Calvin's imaginary stints as Spaceman Spiff! As Tracer Bullet! As Stupendous Man! The showdowns with Susie Derkins! The run-ins with Moe and Miss Wormwood! The food that comes alive! The G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy GirlS) Club! The kamikaze toboggan rides! And, my favorite of all, Calvin's demented snow sculptures!
Calvin and Hobbes aficionados could never get enough of this stuff. Which is why we were all stunned and saddened when, in late 1995, creator Bill Watterson announced that he was calling it quits, at the top of his game. Watterson was frustrated with the ever-shrinking size of newspapers and comics pages, which resulted in more and more limited parameters for the artists. Watterson liked to think outside the box, but the newspaper industry kept making the box smaller. So Watterson said he'd had enough, and quit.