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Calvin, Hobbes and the spirituality of Bill Watterson

The parties go darker as they are ending. It is not only the effect of alcohol, it is above all the disappointment of not being able to keep the hopes we had in that event. Bill Watterson finished this story on December 31, 1995. He had fought his bosses for ten years, he was exhausted and claimed that he had nothing more to say. His statements come to us in a trickle since then but the author assures that he did the best he could do with his characters and that it is better to leave the party when it is still fun.

Article by Pablo Fernández from Barcelona on Wednesday, December 22nd 2021 ·.·★ Reading takes 14 minutes or 2825 words.

The enigmatic author of the comic ′Calvin & Hobbes′ was born William Boyd Watterson II on July 5, 1958 in the city of Washington DC. When he was six years old, his parents moved to a town of 3,500 inhabitants surrounded by forests along the border with Canada. Young Bill Watterson barely found any friends at the Chagrin Falls school and looked forward to returning home where he was always greeted by his cat Sprite. He spent the afternoons with her reading her parents′ comics, which he found at home with imaginative stories of ′Peanuts′, ′Pogo′ or ′Krazy Kat′.

One of his relatives now remembers him on the Internet assuring that, while all the other children were playing ′Mousetrap′ at the table, little Bill Watterson struggled to draw different variations of mice. Studying the second year of high school himself, he claims that he spent several months painting the ceiling of his room with a reproduction of Michelangelo′s original ′Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. ′Those boring and flowery English poets′, writes Bill Watterson when he remembered, ′did not seem so important when I understood that above me was God giving life to man.′ It was also in high school that he began to show an interest in politics, an interest that he incorporated in the first comic strips published there at Kenyon College where he ended up graduating in Political Science.

His first job in fact involved him in drawing issues around politics for the prestigious publication The Cincinnati Enquirer, but he was soon fired. Disappointment with Jim Borgman, who had been a role model for him, and being forced to return to his parents′ home were episodes that helped him soon lose interest in politics. His next job at a small advertising and merchandising agency did not help him and he suffered greatly from unemployment until he was twenty-seven. The ′Calvin & Hobbes story was not the first he had tried to sell but, once it was acquired by the Universal Press Syndicate, his success continued to grow exponentially.

The search for freedom in the fight against the system

Calvin is naturally the lonely six-year-old protagonist who lives surrounded by forests and whose best friend is a tiger named Hobbes. Bill Watterson assures in ′Tenth Anniversary Book′ (Warner Bros, 1995) that there are personal traits of his in all his characters but also traits that he wants to ridicule. Calvin can therefore literally be a projection of what he wants one day and the next day be a projection of what he detests. It is well known that Calvin was named in honor of the French theologian and reformer Jehan Cauvin, who is written in English John Calvin.

We also know that Hobbes was named in honor of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes; and that the name of Professor Wormwood was named in honor of the diabolical character of the writer and theologian C.S. Lewis. So many references to religion could not have left many believers and atheists indifferent who have wanted to see in their comic strips an ingenious platform to popularize their particular opinions. Presbyterian pastor Robert Short sold ten million copies of ′Gospel According to Peanuts′ in 1965; but it is not surprising that the same author has not obtained the permissions for a possible ′Gospel According to Carl & Hobbes′.

Bill Watterson on his side assures that he personally has not set foot in a church in his life and that his stories are intended to be pleasant and ask questions that the reader can answer. Hobbes is therefore drawn as a simple stuffed animal when there is no one next to Calvin. Bill Watterson enjoyed explaining that this detail is for him a perfect excuse to encourage the need to accept that things are not always what they seem to others. All this as an aesthetic or philosophical concept is fine, sure, but people generally prefer concrete answers to go! That is why in his country there are now many stickers where little Calvin appears pissing on some trademark, just like stickers where Calvin appears kneeling in prayer in front of a cross.

The most ironic of all this fraudulent use of ′Calvin & Hobbes′ is perhaps that Bill Waterson lost many years of his life and health fighting against his own bosses, thus avoiding giving up the rights to use his characters in the development of merchandising. Bill Waterson is an idealist in a sense and had a real terror that his characters would be mistreated by other hands. So much so, in fact, that he didn′t even hire helpers for his most basic day-to-day tasks. The whole process of creation made him depend on himself in a commitment that forced him to devise, draw, write, select and finally send a daily strip, including the especially ambitious one on Sundays painted in watercolor and published in full color.

The Adventures and Misadventures of Thomas Hobbes

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes was born on April 5, 1588 in southern England. He was born, as he claimed, prematurely due to the fear that his mother had of the threat of invasion that Spain had made to England with the so-called Invincible Spanish Armada. That woman whose name is unfortunately not preserved could have avoided fear if she had known how little the army already deserved such a title! Her husband, who had the same name and surname as the future philosopher, was the vicar of the medieval Charlton chapel and was stripped of his position after being involved in a fight with another priest in the middle of the street. His son began studying at Westport Church and the Puritan John Wilkinson had a great influence on him before young Thomas began studying at Oxford.

Thomas Hobbes is also a staunch believer or atheist depending on who you talk to. His specialty was political philosophy but of course he had his own views on religion. More or less like any good neighbor son in a time and space where not having the proper opinions could cost you your life. Several civil wars actually occurred in England between 1642 and 1651 in which religion was an added concern. Thomas Hobbes had to burn some of the studies that compromised him in the face of the accusation of heresy.

In 1636, the philosopher visited the Italian Galileo Galilei, who was then arrested at his home in Florence, also accused of heresy by Pope Urban VII. Galileo would never get out of there. According to specialist writer Dava Sobel, Pope Urban VII′s real fear was not the dangerousness of religious opinions. What really worried her was losing his position if she didn′t act with the firmness that his opponents expected of him. Does the story sound familiar to you? It is not that far from other episodes like those starring the other big name referenced here which is of course John Calvin. To see it in detail, however, we have to go even further back in time.

John Calvin′s Guilt, Fear, and Predestination

John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509 and was also an agitator with his own religious views, which he used to confront the medieval empire then held by the Roman Catholic Church. Although he did not naturally invent the concept of predestination, he has nevertheless become particularly recognized for it. Predestination is therefore a recurring theme in ′Calvin & Hobbes′ as well. In these comic strips of course predestination is devoid of its religious content - where God plays a leading role - and is used to treat a more humanistic idea: the idea of being able to be safe and above any type of guilt or obligation that limit us to mediocrity.

If you think that ′Calvin & Hobbes′ is a modern variation on ′Charlie Brown & Snoopy′ I suggest you spend a little more time on the two comics. It is true that they have some elements in common but they also have many others that differentiate them and that Bill Watterson learns from other comics such as ′Little Nemo′ by Winsor McCay. ′Little Nemo′ was first published in the New York Herald on October 15, 1905 and each page corresponds to a dream from which he ends up waking up crying, falling out of bed, or being cared for by his parents. Bill Watterson in a sense struggled to reach that standard during the ten years he spent drawing ′Calvin & Hobbes.′

′What would happen if there were no gravity?′ Bill Watterson asks excitedly. The comic allows you to explore those kinds of possibilities. His stories often revolve around guilt and fear but also around struggle and overcoming. Calvin′s imagination is for the reader the most obvious indicator of this desire to improve, but it is not the only one. Overcoming is materialized primarily through the breaking of rules, patterns and established spaces to draw that were imposed on Bill Watterson. But also, of course, overcoming is materialized through ignorance of specific answers, an ignorance that he encourages to this day by not granting interviews to the media. Giving a closed answer to an open question is precisely what Bill Watterson has faced most vehemently in his life.

Why we need a non-religious reading of Calvin & Hobbes

The delicacy in the pursuit of freedom and the passion in the war against the system that Bill Watterson has maintained are without a doubt examples of virtue for believing readers and atheists alike. The reality that we are all equally sunk and lost is a good starting point to continue improving and understanding it as that, as a starting point, is essential. Essential because without identifying what you are missing you cannot identify what you need either. And what we need is a lot, but not everything! The same can be said of the ′salvation′ described in the Bible - since according to it, the improvement that ′conversion′ brings, does not occur if there is not a confession of ′sin′ first.

Bill Watterson does not indicate what is necessary to get out of that original situation that must be improved and that is why a religious or atheistic reading of ′Calvin & Hobbes′ cannot be done. The silence of God in ′Calvin & Hobbes′ is enormous but it is no more so than in most of our daily fantasies. What is important in this case is to understand that the understanding and confession of sins between some people and others is useless. Especially if we think and hope that the interlocutor will be able to do something to improve your particular situation.

Calvin′s parents never understand anything but of course, even more distant is Santa Claus! There are few truths more universal than these and Bill Watterson does well to contextualize them especially at Christmas time. Jesus Christ, therefore, establishes himself as the key person in Christianity, since he is not like any other interlocutor or good neighbor who may or may not pay attention to your confession. He being God can listen to us but also forgive and give us the life we need.

Creation and the call to discuss with God

Bill Watterson now spends part of his free time painting landscapes like his father did. The Bible, like Bill Watterson, uses landscapes, animals and nature as the appropriate environment to talk about deep and important things. ′Do not remember the past, nor remember the old things.′ God said to his people through the prophet Isaiah. ′Behold, I do a new thing; it will soon come to light; Will you not know it? Again I will make a way in the desert, and rivers in solitude. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostrich′s chickens; because I will give water in the desert, rivers in the solitude, for my people, my chosen one, to drink.

Do you see it now? The aforementioned text refers to ′my chosen one.′ Isaiah already spoke of predestination in the 7th century BC. More than two thousand years before the French reformer! Many believers have been and still are unable to accept an opinion different from their own. It is exactly the same thing that has happened to many atheists. Unlike all of them, however, the Creator, the Lord of all nature that we know and also of which we do not know, surprisingly asked this of his chosen people through the same prophet: ′Remind me, let us enter into judgment together ; you speak to justify yourself. ′

Each of us is a creation of God, loved by him even though we continually confront his wishes! ′This town I have created for myself; he will publish my praises. ′ -continues saying the same text of Isaiah. ′And you did not call on me, O Jacob, but were weary of me, O Israel. You did not bring the animals of your burnt offerings to me, nor did you honor me with your sacrifices; I did not make you serve with an offering, nor did I make you weary with incense. You did not buy aromatic cane for me for money, nor satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices, but you put the burden of your sins on me, you weary me with your iniquities. I, I am the one who erase your rebellions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as Calvin & Hobbes y la espiritualidad de Bill Watterson

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