Maggie A's Meanderings




 June 9, 2013

Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) Grown Up

When I recently saw the painting of a grown-up Calvin holding up his stuffed tiger which he'd just pulled out of box, it made me pull my Calvin and Hobbes books off the shelf and dive back into Calvin's world. A weekend later, I had read a decade of the adventures of Calvin and Hobbes from Calvin first catching Hobbes in a tiger trap baited with a tuna sandwich to Calvin and Hobbes setting off on the toboggan to go exploring.

Re-reading the comic strips for the first time in years, I realized something I hadn't noticed before. A grown-up Calvin is not going to be a nice person. If Calvin's parents didn't change the way they parented this kid, Calvin as an adult is going to be one of those spoiled, entitled, selfish jerks with anger management issues. And probably a very lonely one because the only friend six year old Calvin had was an imaginary one.......a child six years of age (two years of that in school around other children his age) who hadn't manage to form a single friendship is going to have an extremely difficult time forming healthy relationships as an adult. So, in imagining what a grown-up Calvin would be like, I don't come up with some sentimental picture. Strip off the rose colored glasses and the adulthood of Calvin is going to be contentious, disruptive, irresponsible, and, in many ways, dysfunctional unless Calvin's mom and dad changed how they parented. (And if Freud was correct, it was already too late for Calvin as Freud thought personality was mostly set by age five.)

In the strip Calvin asks his mom and dad, "What assurance do I have that your parenting isn't screwing me up?" It's a fair question to ask because I think their parenting was screwing Calvin up. And if you think that's too bleak an assessment, ask yourself "What about Calvin makes you think he'll grow up to be a well adjusted adult who'll take responsibility for his actions and be able to form healthy relationships with other people?"

Calvin as a six year old comic strip character is fun to read about. But you wouldn't want to live with him. By the second time he floods your house and destroys your stuff, you'd have enough of him. Even Bill Watterson said of his own creation, "I wouldn't want Calvin in my house." Six year old Calvin repeatedly does a lot of damage in the house and to the car. A normal kid would be able to do that much damage once, maybe twice, then he'd catch so much hell that he'd think twice about ever doing it again. But that requires effective discipline which Calvin's parents did not do. Whenever Calvin destroyed something, his mom cleaned up the mess and his dad paid for it. Calvin's allowance wasn't docked; he wasn't forced to do extra chores to pay for it; usually he didn't even have to clean it up. No wonder the kid had no sense of responsibility. He'd never been taught to have one. The time he carelessly broke his father's expensive binoculars instead of punishment he was rewarded with his own pair of binoculars. The third time he took the car out of the garage the car ended up in a ditch.
(The first major incident with the car Calvin described with "If we imagined he could find the car, we could pretend it might be fixed" though we never found out what actually happened. The second was when Calvin backed the car through the garage door. Those were major incidents as opposed to minor car incidents like breaking the windshield, letting the air out the tires and removing a tire to use as a swing.) In the third incident since the car wasn't damaged and no one was hurt, for the third time Calvin took the car all Calvin got was a lecture, not a scolding, but a lecture --- he didn't even have to pay to get the car towed out of the ditch. Of course Calvin acted the way he did and was as destructive as he was (flooding the bathroom and the house again and again, drilling holes in the walls, hammering nails into the coffee table, constantly breaking furniture, etc), if all any kid got was being sent to bed early or losing dessert for that kind of destruction, no kid would think it was that serious. 

Yet it was possible to effectively discipline Calvin, and Calvin was more than capable of controlling himself when faced with real discipline. Rosalyn proved that. Rosalyn was only in high school, but as Calvin's babysitter she had on several occasions gotten Calvin to behave himself.

But other than Rosalyn who Calvin feared, Calvin had little respect for authority figures: he thought his dad was replaceable, he described his mom's cooking as "barf" and "puke" at the dinner table, ambushed both his parents to soak them with water, threw a squishy tomato at his mom (Would you have done those things even once to your parents much less repeatedly?), he ignored his teacher and principal. Calvin had a lot of the traits of a six year old, but, as a comic strip character, the traits were exaggerated for a heightened effect. His cheating, his selfishness, his self-centeredness, his lying, he thought he should be allowed to do whatever he wanted & rules were for other people. Calvin expected to be given everything especially money (wanting his dad to go out and earn a million dollars so he can inherit it). Calvin was spoiled, but like a lot of spoiled kids, he thought he was deprived.

This is not a pretty picture if the rest of Calvin's childhood were like his early childhood. Add in the fact that Calvin was a horrible student. In a year of first grade, Calvin never even learned simple addition. Calvin couldn't even grasp the one area of math that most children quickly and eagerly learn: money. Calvin overpaid Susie on a bet because he was trying to cheat her by paying three dimes instead of the 25 cents he owed. I don't see college in this Calvin's future. Even though Calvin had a general interest in science (dinosaurs, space travel, astronomy, etc) and once expressed his desire to be a geneticist, he's not going to have had the ability to get a degree and become a scientist or engineer in any of these fields.

What I do see a grown-up Calvin doing is becoming an artist. (Though Calvin would also make an effective talk radio host because, as Calvin observed, talk radio hosts act like six year olds.) But I see Calvin's natural genius and flare in art. Picasso's genius showed even in the drawings he did as an eight year old. Calvin wasn't much of a drawer, about typical for a six year old. But Calvin was an absolute genius when it came to sculpture. He was the Mozart of snow; a genuine child prodigy. If Calvin were a real six year old today, his neighbors would be photographing his snow creations and posting videos of them on YouTube. And those videos would be going viral. (I say his neighbors because Calvin's parents never appreciated or even recognized his genius.) Even as a six year old, Calvin was interested in the art world. So, in Calvin's future, I could definitely see him becoming an artist though I don't see Calvin going to art school. He'd be a self-trained sculptor. Calvin actually was "learning real skills that I can apply throughout the rest of my life" by playing in the snow. Not the skills of "procrastinating and rationalizing," but the skills of how to sculpt.

I could see the appeal of street art for Calvin. In describing his art, six year old Calvin said he wanted to be a neo-deconstructivist but his mom wouldn't let him; so he had to settle for being a suburban post-modernist. I don't know what "ist" or "ism" it would be, but doing big street art a way it's like getting paid to 
graffiti and vandalize and disrupt traffic. However, being a large scale street artist requires something that Calvin doesn't have..............the ability to play well with others. Calvin would fight with his volunteers; he would fight with the people on the street. His antagonistic attitude would cause the projects a lot of bad publicity. In the end, he couldn't make it doing big public street art projects.
My Calvin & Hobbes Pet Theory

Back in the 80s I was introduced to Calvin and Hobbes by a friend of mine who cut out the strips from the newspaper and brought them to me. 
I hadn't seen a photo of Bill Watterson yet. Reading the strips, I developed a private theory about Calvin and Hobbes based on the dad's appearance.

Calvin's father is Dennis the Menace grown up.

Calvin's dad looks like Dennis' dad with a round nose rather than a sharp one. And Dennis has a round nose. 
Blond hair frequently darkens. So Dennis was a towhead who grew up dark haired.

But mainly what I thought was Dennis growing up to have Calvin as a son was an example of the traditional, parental curse "May you have a child exactly like you." Except Calvin's ten times worse than Dennis ever was.

But Calvin would be perfect with smaller scale art. Sculpture commissioned by museums or private individuals who are used to dealing with artists. Calvin's bold and not afraid to take risks. His imagination and strong fantasy life would keep his work fresh. But his work would be dark --- nihilist and dystopian, gory and violent, exploring dark worlds and the dark side of human nature with themes of persecution. (And I can see a series of works featuring his childhood bully Moe and bloody revenge.) That is, his work would be dark unless Calvin thinks he could make more money doing light subjects with wider merchandising possibilities.

I think Calvin as an artist would be would what he always wanted to be: rich, successful and famous.

One of the advantages of being an artist is that all of Calvin's bad behavior would be accepted as "artistic temperament." He'd not only be allowed to get away with being a selfish, obnoxious, egotistical jerk.........he'd be encouraged in it. However well that works out for Calvin as an artist, it wouldn't be good for Calvin as a person. Calvin the artist would still feel like the outsider and out of step with the world. He would be suspicious that people are using him and think that's wrong, but he would use people and think that's right. And people would let Calvin use them because that's what celebrities get away with. However, I don't see Calvin the artist falling into the trap of drug and/or alcohol abuse ----- Calvin's imagination is wild enough on its own. He'd try them, but once would be enough, and after his experimentation Calvin would be contemptuous of anyone who abuses drugs/alcohol and has trouble stopping.

Once he'd become a rich, successful artist, grown-up Calvin would not live in the city. He'd have a big place out in the country ---- some place with forest and hills or maybe up in the mountains. Calvin would spend hours and days out enjoying nature, and he'd come back to a home with shower stalls instead of bathtubs and instead of Charles Schulz's personal hockey rink, Calvin would have a bobsleigh track and a snow machine in his backyard and maybe even that ski lift he kept bugging his dad to build.

I expect grown-up Calvin to spend his money on himself.
No charity. Calvin's parents never taught him as a six year old about helping out others. He was never taken to any kind of charity function to watch his mom and dad work as volunteers. Even with the little raccoon Calvin's parents didn't bother to take the raccoon to the vet or to a wildlife sanctuary where the raccoon would have gotten trained medical assistance. They just wrapped the little raccoon in a towel, placed it in a box with some food and water, then stuck the box in the garage and left the little raccoon to die. We never see Calvin doing any fund raising for charity or school. The only charity I could possibly see a grown-up Calvin supporting would be environmental/wildlife causes as Calvin has a deep love of nature. But, despite his love of nature, I think Calvin would love his money more. I could see Calvin complaining about humans doing environmental damage, but I have a hard time seeing Calvin doing anything about it that involved giving away his money.

In ten years of comic strips, Calvin never spent a single penny on anyone other than himself. Calvin never bought his parents or even his best friend a single gift though Calvin bought himself a lot of stuff. Calvin's money was for Calvin. His money was to buy himself toys, models, comic books, etc. Or to buy his safety when Moe extorted quarters from Calvin by threatening him. The closest Calvin ever came to spending his money on someone else was when he paid Susie Derkins twenty-five cents to get Hobbes back. (Calvin had stolen Binky Betsy, Susie's doll, and demanded one hundred dollars for the doll's return. A very smart Susie then laid a plan and stole Hobbes in retaliation. After failing to drill his way into Susie's house, Calvin brought her doll back, but Susie said Calvin could keep Binky Betsy and she'd keep Hobbes. So Calvin gave Susie a quarter --- not one hundred dollars, but a quarter --- to buy back Hobbes.)

As for girlfriends, grown up Calvin would have long since gotten over his G.R.O.S.S. slimy girls attitude. He and Susie Derkins would have had a high school romance, but it wouldn't have lasted past high school. A grown-up Susie Derkins would have too much sense and respect for herself and her own ambitions to stay with this Calvin. And Calvin the artist will have lonely moments when he looks back at Susie as his first love. But for girlfriends in his adult life, Calvin would have his art and fame groupies for shallow, meaningless relationships. As a successful artist, he would treat them as disposable objects to be used. No matter how rich he gets he would be as cheap as Tiger Woods was with his mistresses. Calvin wouldn't wear condoms and would not take responsibility for birth control. But it would still come as an unpleasant shock when one of his groupies either accidentally or deliberately becomes pregnant. Calvin wouldn't accept any responsibility for the child or for child support until he's ordered to by a court (after Calvin insists on a paternity test which he'll then try to avoid). And even with court ordered child support, Calvin would just forget about paying it........until Calvin gets hauled away in handcuffs and goes to jail as a deadbeat dad. In jail, Calvin would pass the time with his vivid fantasy life, something that a grown-up Calvin would still have.

Calvin quoted Paul Gauguin then asked, "Say, who the heck is Paul Gauguin anyway?" I can answer that question. Paul Gauguin was a fantastic artistic, brilliant and ground-breaking. And Paul Gauguin was a terrible husband and father, deserting his families.

The Calvin I picture as emerging from the six year old portrayed in the comic strips is a man who would have a successful career and a lonely and isolated private life because he still hadn't learned how to correct his own behavior or how to relate well with others. But six year old Calvin thought the secret to happiness started with money ----- with enough money he could buy the other two ingredients of happiness: power and fame. As a grown-up, Calvin would have wealth, fame, success and a stuffed tiger sitting on a shelf. Maybe for grown-up Calvin that would be happiness enough.

tiny snowmen about to be crushed by a boot

For more on how parents mold their child, read "When You Think God's Light Shines Out of Your Kid's Asshole.........You're Raising a Brat (And Why It's Not Doing Your Kid Any Favors)"

Calvin would approve of "As Dumb as Deer."
Calvin would also like this one, "Scientific Stupidity."

Since Calvin was inspired to poetry by his feline, I offer this poem even though Calvin would think it was too mushy, "You!! The Song of the Domesticated Cat." It's nothing that Hobbes would ever tell Calvin, but Hobbes wasn't a domesticated cat.

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