Book Meme Day 5: A Book That Makes Me Happy

Since any book that I like gives me pleasure, and thus makes me happy even if it is dark or tragic, I’m going to interpret this topic to mean “a book that soothes my stress, makes me forget my troubles, and unfailingly causes me to smile and feel good.”

There are still a few potential candidates that have been exceptional at causing this effect: Airman by Eoin Colfer was mountains of fun, while The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff makes me feel good on a deeper level. However, for a book that I constantly return to whenever I feel terrible, whose magic to affect my life in the real world is among the most potent, I choose…

It’s a Magical World: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection by Bill Waterson.

Calvin and Hobbes is magical. This is a fact. The comic strip follows the adventures of its eponymous blond-haired bratty 6 year-old with the overactive imagination and his stuffed tiger who comes to life when no on else is looking (Or does he?). The comedy relies more on ideas and universal truths than on a punch line, and even the punch lines are character-based and integrate well with the surrounding story (however small it may be). When you laugh, you’re not just laughing at a joke, but at some part of your own life (or that of someone else’s you know) which has been revealed in a humorous light. You can relate to Calvin, Hobbes, or the key side characters. They are all three-dimensional, with lives that continue beyond the drawn panels, and you feel you get to know Calvin’s house, his school, the museums he visits, and even the godforsaken rocks his dad always takes them camping to.

Some of the strips do have morals, but Waterson doesn’t scream them at you, or hide behind snarky quips. His environmental messages express sadness at the frequent failure of man’s stewardship over nature rather than angry finger-pointing or the more irrational wailings of many self-identified environmentalists. His strips about modern art are goofy and insightful, criticizing the false mentality behind those who think “True art is incomprehensible or obscure” while still not really attacking those artists themselves. He’s not interested in making enemies, but in encouraging healthier thoughts. And that is a very worthy goal. While to my knowledge Waterson is not a Christian, I usually find that his morals and sentiments are in line with my own.

All this is helped by Waterson’s artwork. Has there ever been a weekly comic strip more beautifully drawn than Calvin and Hobbes? He doesn’t just draw talking heads at a counter (looking at you, Jim Davis!), he draws the whole world. Different angles get utilized so we get to see different areas of Calvin’s house, yard, school, and nearby woods. There is a sense of spatial reality because you can understand how the characters are moving from one area to another, making it easier to relate Calvin’s experiences of those places to your own experiences. And then there are the Sunday strips, all in glorious full color! Here Waterson can go all out with shading and color, creating some truly gorgeous spreads. He draws a forest and makes it warm and wild, so that you can smell the woody dust in the air and feel the sunlight through the trees. He draws dinosaurs in Calvin’s comic fantasy sequences, and they are majestic. He draws the interstellar landscapes of Spaceman Spiff, Calvin’s greatest vehicle for escape from the mundane, and they evoke the lonesome wonder that the reaches of space can inspire in us even now as adults. Bill Waterson is not just a funnyman, he is an artist.

And whenever I am sad, whenever I am tired, or distressed, or annoyed, or stretched to my limit, I need only open his book to read and my shoulders relax, and I sigh contentedly, and smile.

This book actually stands in for the entire collection of Calvin and Hobbes books I have, since they all work the same effect on me. I chose It’s a Magical World because it contains some of the last strips drawn by Waterson, and the way he subtly acknowledges the fact that his strip is coming to an end, even while the lives of his characters continue, is so beautiful and poignant that it never fails to inspire me with hope.

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Author: David

I’m a young Christian American reader writer dreamer wanderer walker flier listener talker scholar adventurer musician word-magician romantic critic religious idealist optipessimist man.

11 thoughts on “Book Meme Day 5: A Book That Makes Me Happy”

  1. Great post, and I agree. Calvin & Hobbes was, and continues to be, a safe haven from the insanity of the world.

    Watterson also had the great sense – like LOST – to stay away from anything but universal issues. No soap boxes, no hot buttons, no political stumping – just honest thoughts about a world that has a ton of specialness in it, even though we might refuse to see it.

    1. His tact was gentlemanly and much appreciated, and it combined with his personal integrity to make him one of the writers I respect the most, especially because I know so little about his political affiliations, religious views, etc. He knew that it was not appropriate to use a comic strip as a soapbox, but that he could still treat the really important issues of the day without sticking his view in someone else’s face. I admire that and appreciate it. It’s why I think his strip will be considered timeless and classic for as long as it is remembered, just like Peanuts.

  2. Oooh. Well chosen, and well said.

    I love it when the strips involve poems.

    Tigers are perfect,
    the e-pit-o-me
    of good looks and grace
    and quiet dignity!

  3. My favorite comic strip is Peanuts; there have definitely been times I’ve picked it up because my mood needed a lift, too. Calvin and Hobbes is brilliant, of course. I think my favorite story arc that I’ve read is the one where Calvin tries to time travel and visit his future self in the hopes that Future Calvin has done his homework, but alas, no such luck.

    Also, one of my favorite Tolkien artists, Katherine Karina Chmiel, has a series of young Boromir comics inspired by Calvin and Hobbes. You can find them on the following link, under the “Comics” gallery.

    http://kasiopea.art.pl/en/galleries

    1. Thanks for that link, those look fantastic! I shall have to read through them very soon. And yes, that Calvin is one of the most brilliant and hilarious (and just a great time-travel story, to boot!). Peanuts is one of the few comics on the level with C&H, and the only one of comparable quality I’m familiar with (though I still haven’t read much of it beyond the occasional newspaper funny section — and, of course, the movies). It’s not hard to see how Schulz inspired Waterson.

  4. The full color Sunday page was always a treat and yes, C & H captured something about the essence of imagination…truly seeing as and entering another world no one else may have full access to…Calvin was a hero for me in this respect. I shall rather have to find some copies – it has been far too long since I played Calvin ball or attempted to transmogrify myself or others.

    1. It was a little disappointing when I discovered I don’t quite have the quick improvisation needed for Calvinball, but then, a lot depends on the people you play with. And the masks. You need the masks. And flags, preferably.

      I am in Calvin’s debt for inspiring me to turn many a cardboard box into a spaceship or time machine.

  5. Calvin and Hobbes is amazing. The comics are usually messed up, but Calvin and Hobbes is cool. It focuses on the good things in life, like your stuffy. Hobbes will always be a classic. It also makes you chuckle. A perfect comic.

    1. Pretty much, yup. It always amazes me what a wonderful balancing act the comic is, never getting too heavy to not entertain nor so goofy you can’t take the characters seriously. It was really informed honestly by one man’s view of life, and that kind of art is the strongest.

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