Tuesday, June 13, 2006

jeffrey g and the self-fulfilling prophecy

as i mentioned earlier, i've been reading the complete calvin and hobbes lately.

i grew up reading calvin and hobbes, their antics being an indespensible part of the morning, along with the far side, garfield, peanuts, cathy, blondie, hagar the horrible, beatle bailey, and pretty much most every other strip on the page that wasn't a 'dramatic' strip [i've always wondered, does anyone read 'mary worth'? what about 'rex morgan, m.d.'? maybe it's really suspenseful, were i to just give it a time to learn the characters....]. interestingly, i usually read 'the lockhorns', too, even though i didn't think of it as one of 'mine.' i never laughed at it, but then, i never really laughed at most of the strips apart from 'the far side' and 'calvin and hobbes'.

sadly, i think most of the strips exist on the page for that reason--we don't laugh at them, but they take roughly 23 seconds to read, and so become a habit small enough to maintain without demanding much result from it; it wasn't funny enough to warrant even a smile, but i have read 'blondie' for today.

i remember reading a sunday strip a few years ago that i wish i would have saved as an example. it was 'the born loser', one of those never-funny staples that only appeared on sunday.

first frame: man is standing in the open doorway, apparently coming home from work; his wife is standing inside.
text: 'hello gladys!'

second frame: looks the same as the first:
text: 'hello [whatever his name is]!

i imagine the cartoonist leaning back, relaxing--yes! two frames done already....

third frame: blocking of characters is roughly the same.
text, man: 'i doubled the value of our car today.'

fourth frame: again, little change.
text, wife: 'oh, what did you do?'

final frame:
text, man: 'i filled it with gas.'

and guffaws all around!

i use this only in contrast to reading calvin and hobbes.

bill watterson took the current condition of the comic strip and raised the bar far beyond where it was [and likely perhaps were it had ever been] to an outlet of artistic expression worthy of preservation along the apexes of any other medium. he cites 'peanuts', 'pogo', and 'krazy kat' as other great works and sources of inspiration. i am unfamiliar with the latter two, watterson himself lamenting that they are unavailable and unknown nowadays, and i know peanuts only from their waning twilight years.

the strip was not only very funny, but also insightful and thought-provoking. in fact, it was more-often intellectually stimulating than it was consistantly laugh-aloud funny. many episodes do not end with a timid attempt at a 'punchline' [as do nearly all other funny page series'], but with a smirk or a wink and a smile, as though watterson is being as humorous as he needs to be here, because you have been presented with a thought or conversation that is more rewarding than a laugh.
as the reader, we agree.

calvin and hobbes is a world full of ideas. occasionally, and especially in the later years, the three or four panels were melded into a one or two frames when conciseness was all that was needed. but there are no wasted words or wasted space. commentary and philosophy [both urban modern and neo-classical] abound in paragraphs within the tiny world.

that is not surprising, when both characters have as their namesakes notable thinkers of the recent few centuries. calvin's materialistic and cynical attitude comes from the great fatalist john calvin, while the outside-humanity observations of his tiger come from thomas hobbes, a philospher whose dim views of mankind are recorded in such writings as 'the leviathon', one of those great works so far down on my 'to read' list that i will never get there.

in addition to it's rich writing, 'calvin and hobbes' is a work of visual art. said robin williams, 'bill watterson draws chairs and lamps and tables that are fun to look at.' the writing is so engrossing that it is easy to fly from one frame to the next, yet there is so much to see and appreciate. no one ever remains in the same position; the characters are alive and move, sit down, stand up, adjust their glasses, rest an arm on a chair, or wave their hands as they pontificate. the sunday strip colors are equally impressive, sometimes delicate and brilliant in a landscape, and sometimes breaking into artistic monochrome for a single panel, using the attributes of the medium.

in a sense i cannot define, i think the strip and its ensuing world is so beloved because it rings true within each of us. i felt uneasy a few nights ago when i found some of calvin's rantings sounding a little too familiar in my own voice.
but calvin is only six years old: he isn't fully accountable for his actions yet, and is trying to figure out this world into which he is stepping. he knows that poll results are what make changes, although doesn't understand where those numbers come from; fantasizes of doing well in school and the accompanying warm glow of success, despite being a complete nightmare for ms. wormwood and the nameless principle, and he readily finds things more interesting than book reports; is perplexed by girls yet deep down seems to suspect they may be valuable at some point [that susie continues to say 'hi' to him throughout the years is itself a remarkable tribute to the kindness of girls everywhere]; loves his mom and really does trust her for everything despite kicking and screaming at nearly every attempt she gives to help; and at the end of the day, he is a little kid who just wants to be with his best friend and feel safe.

last night, calvin's dad was going through the mail they recieved, noting the fashion magazines which pointed out now imperfect we were and promised to supply products that would fufill the same needed it had created and thereby provide happiness and self-worth; magazines selling lifestyles contructed outside of reality that we did not know existed but now need.
and, since we live in a soceity based upon such free market consumerism, to throw away such capitalistic propoganda would make him some sort of terrorist [this was back when terrorist was a funnier word].

the series gives us commentary and observations on the exploding society in which we live; a world that is changing and growing faster and bigger than anyone can begin to understand; one in which we feel like six-year olds.

when we need to step back from the confusing reality and be with a friend, 'calvin and hobbes' is our stuffed tiger.

1 comment:

Em said...

Jeff, I love it that you aren't a "high-art" snob. You can appreciate what is well done, no matter how elitist it is... or isn't.