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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 08/ 4/2008

The Morning Line: The Eternal Search for "Calvin's" Kin

By Michael Cavna

BIG NATE: Some readers come seeking Calvin 2.0. (NEA) Enlarge Comic

Ever since Bill Watterson packed up his toys and went home, the deep longing for his creations to return doesn't seem to subside. Devoted fans hold out hope, commiserate and share the faith. It's like one surreally large staging of "Waiting for Calvin."

Which is why, perhaps, so many keep looking for the next-generation Calvin in other strips -- like believers staring at a grilled cheese, swearing there's a Calvinist countenance in there some-a-where's ("Look, there -- that bubble of gouda looks just like Hobbes's fuzzy muzzle").

Years into the vigil, the most oft-mentioned Calvin descendants can be culled to a conspicuous quartet:
1. Frazz (aka "Calvin all-grown-up").
2. Jeremy Duncan of "Zits" (aka "Calvin as a big-sneakered teen").
3. Red of "Red and Rover" (aka "the carrot-topped Calvin," avec real pet).
4. Nate of "Big Nate" (aka "Calvin incognito," as a brunette).

We hear Frazz's would-be visual lineage bandied about most often, and Borgman&Scott have actually penciled in the instruction "Calvin mouth" prior to inking, as a common cue. "Red and Rover" is most evocative of the "lazy Sunday," lounging-about-outdoors strips. But some days, it's Nate that most closely captures that "C&H" spirit.

Today, the slacking Uncle Ted is sitting 'round the family table -- in a scene somewhat reminiscent of when Calvin's uncle used to visit. Calvin would never say something as once-trendy as "sssnap!" of course, but here, from Nate, we rather like it. And the dynamics are significantly different, with Uncle Ted being less knowing and sharp than Calvin's ol' mustachioed uncle. But still, there's something about the setup and characters that plays out with comfort -- as familiar as a Hobbes sneak-attack on the coming-home Calvin.

Yep, somedays, there's nothing like that feeling of coming home again, even if it's simply to a similar model construction.

By Michael Cavna  | August 4, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Morning Line  
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i keep looking but i'm convinced there will never be another calvin (or hobbes).

Posted by: watterson forever | August 4, 2008 1:48 PM | Report abuse

What about Lio?

Posted by: Maura | August 4, 2008 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I've always enjoyed Big Nate. It's one of those strips that seems to fly under the radar, but it's stayed fresh for a long time, is consistently amusing, and is frequently very funny. I've never thought of Nate as Calvin-ish (Calvin-esque?), but I guess I can kind of see it.

I agree with the other comment: there will never be another Calvin and Hobbes.

Posted by: Stickler | August 4, 2008 4:27 PM | Report abuse

My nominee isn't on the comic pages but on the Internet: it's the e-strip "Count Your Sheep" by Adrian Ramos. The Calvin and Hobbs factor starts and ends with Katie, a young girl, having conversations with Shep, a sheep she counts in order to go to sleep. But it ends there as well, because Shep is a legacy from Katie's mom, Laurie, who can also see Shep. According to the strip's back story, Laurie had Shep as an imaginary friend until she ran away from home as an adolescent, only to be reunited with Shep when she was pregnant with Katie after the death of Katie's father.

CYS isn't as grim as I've explained it, though I appreciate a serious back story in a humor strip. But as with so many e-strips, it definitely goes where the syndicate angels fear to tread. I really respect that.

Posted by: Daniel J. Drazen | August 4, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Why does the heir to Calvin have to be a boy? It's the spirit of Calvin and Hobbes we miss. I'd look at "Cul de Sac," which got an endorsement from Watterson. The kid-centered view of the world, especially Alice's, is great--and accurate. That's what C&H had too.

Posted by: mailrjk | August 5, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Isn't Lio the iteration of Calvin as a younger kid, basically?

Posted by: Pru | August 5, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse


I enjoy your blog a lot, but JU-eeeeeeeeeez, if you're going to be the Post's resident comics expert, please, at least get your facts straight. First of all, absolutely NONE of the strips that you mentioned as points of comparative analysis are even remotely reminiscent of the style, or wit, of the legendary "Calvin & Hobbes" (arguably, I might add, the greatest American strip ever conceived).

"Frazz" shares almost nothing in common with Watterson's masterwork, is poorly drawn, and frankly, is embarrassing to even mention in the same conversation with Calvin & Hobbes.

"Zits" is a COMPLETELY different kid of strip altogether, with an admittedly unique artistic flare (though that's really not what were debating here, now is it?), but an entirely obvious pension for the type of dumbed-down, repetitive, soccer mom-style cheap jokes that succeed in keeping the strip in the paper, but make absolutely no one any smarter for it.

Now "Red & Rover"... well... dear God man, it just PAINS me that you'd even MENTION Red & Rover in this post. SIMILAR to Calvin & Hobbes?? Why?? Because there happens to ALSO be a kid and an animal featured in the strip?? Most people who read the comics consistently view Red & Rover as an absolute bastardization of the entire Calvin & Hobbes premise. It's C&B for the stoooopid. Jeepers creepers, Mike! CERTAINLY you know better than that. Those two strips share absolutely NOTHING in common AT ALL.

Red & Rover is a terrible wannabe 50's throwback strip that survives like a parasite by mooching off the worst of other cartoonists' mediocre product. I am certain R&R represents EVERYTHING that Watterson slowly grew to hate about the funnies (in addition, of course, to his well-documented distaste for the painful size restrictions). There is absolutely ZERO content in Red & Rover to link it in even the most passive, broadly accepted manner, to the Calvin & Hobbes universe. Dude, GARFIELD has more in common with the boy and his tiger.

And "Big Nate?" Well Mike, Big Nate is a fine, if not occasionally cringe inducing (see: "sssnap!"), modern-style take on the "kid-in-a-neighborhood" comic premise. On occasion, I can even see how Big Nate might remind SOME readers of a bit of what Calvin & Hobbes offered us. But even this strip, at its best, is a fun-loving guilty pleasure and nothing more -- a faaaaaaaaar cry from the world of mutant snowmen, flying carpets and childhood spacemen that Watterson so brilliantly illustrated and brought to life.

Oh, and another gripe (you hate me, don't you?). As for this: "Today, the slacking Uncle Ted is sitting 'round the family table -- in a scene somewhat reminiscent of when Calvin's uncle used to visit."

Mike, Mike, Mike... the "uncle to uncle" thing is an absolutely TERRIBLE comparison of the two strips. Calvin's uncle appeared in a total of one, POSSIBLY two storylines ever, throughout the entire run of C&H.

Watterson went on record as saying that he regretted creating the Calvin's uncle character -- that his role in the strip did an actual DISSERVICE to the readers. He is quoted as having strongly believed that he learned a great deal about how to best capture the proper essence of Calvin & Hobbes as a result of that mistake.

So you see, to address this apparent similarity in Calvin & Hobbes and Big Nate (even though I understand that Nate's uncle is a rare bit-player used infrequently as well) as if Calvin's uncle was paying visits to the funny pages on a regular basis and was a valued element of the continuing story, is absolute nonsense. It makes no sense. Calvin's uncle was a stunt character, nothing more, and Watterson immediately killed him off. The WORST of Calvin & Hobbes shouldn't be the measuring stick that we employ when attempting to hunt down eerily similar nostalgic warm fuzzies in other modern strips. How sad.

Finally, to speak to the argument as to whether or not there will ever be another Calvin & Hobbes: No, there never will be. Of course there never will be. End of conversation. Nor will there ever be another Michael Jordan or another FDR.

But to show you that I'm not always this pissy a guy, I'll definitely agree with the sentiment of one of your other readers (mailrjk), who correctly offered that Cul de Sac is by FAR the best refuge out there right now for those seeking a sprinkle of the same brilliance that made Calvin & Hobbes such a wonderful, once-a-day treat. And yes, as mailrjk correctly pointed out, it's been stamped with the Watterson seal of approval. Check it out Mike; it would have been the only strip actually worth mentioning in this type of post.

Posted by: Cart | August 5, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Calvin was magical. Cul du Sac is magical.

Posted by: wheat | August 5, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I didn't get the impression Michael was taking those opinions out behind the old tool shed for a good beat down. Did you?

Posted by: Cart | August 6, 2008 5:44 PM | Report abuse

I am SO waiting for Calvin. And I do miss that cuddly tiger Hobbes.

Posted by: £££ | August 6, 2008 5:53 PM | Report abuse

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