- ABOUT US
Nathan Gunter, Managing Editor
Photo by STEVEN WALKER
Calvin and Hobbes and Bill and Me
By Nathan Gunter
April 10, 2014
My front yard was Neptune. My brother and I made it so at the ages of six and four when, exiled from the house to play, we began constructing a world there in our minds. Dinosaurs lived there, as did characters from the cartoons we consumed with sugar-filled cereal on Saturday mornings. Later, when we got a Nintendo Entertainment System (original version, The Legend of Zelda with its gold plastic cartridge), we took our adventures from the screen and the two-button controller to the line of peach trees out back. We were aliens and Indians and good guys with super powers and ancient swords and space ships.
On a one-acre lot, we created rockets out of cardboard boxes, feasts out of dirt and weird plants, a universe out of nothing.
Which is why, at the age of eleven, when I picked up a friend’s copy of Weirdos from Another Planet!, I felt like I’d found a kindred spirit. Pretty soon I was able to take my saved allowance into Hooked on Books on Main Street in Weatherford (it’s still there) and buy myself my own Calvin and Hobbes collection. Then another. Then, one Christmas, I came downstairs and there they were—the whole set. Best Christmas ever.
Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, retired his iconic strip in 1995, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found more and more to love not just about the work, but about the man. Take, for instance, this excerpt from his commencement speech at Kenyon College in 1990:
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success.
Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential—as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.
To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.
Those words helped turn a man from the creator of a piece of art I loved into my hero. They were a manifesto as I became an adult and began to ask myself, “What kind of life do I want to have?” The whole speech is here, and you should read it. In the meantime, here are five things I know that are better expressed in Bill Watterson’s comic strips than in words:
1) You never get to rest on your most recent achievement.
2) If you come across a word you don’t know, look it up. Also, selling out is easy and lucrative, but less fun.
3) The image we have of ourselves usually isn’t accurate.
4) Summer is awesome, and there’s just never enough time.
5) The natural world can be a scary place, especially if you mess with it. Also, exaggeration is hilarious.