Spiff the Spaceman, Susie Derkins and Snowmen: The Surreal Suburbia of Calvin and Hobbes

Now, allow me, intrigued reader, to explain why the escapist adventures of a snarky, cynical six-year-old and his anthropomorphized stuffed tiger could possibly be the wittiest, enlightening and downright funniest piece of art/literature ever crafted, while subtly hiding what could possibly be the greatest metaphorical layer of social commentary and the human psyche.

Ahem…Ahem…

And now, without further ado, presenting the duo themselves:

calvin and hobbes

A bit of background before we delve into the pie.

Calvin and Hobbes is a daily comic strip by American cartoonist Bill Waterson that was syndicated from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995.

It is commonly cited as “the last great newspaper comic”.

I’ll be handing out my analysis of what I consider to be some of the most fascinating parts of what is undoubtedly one of my favourite works of art EVER. Rest assured that I won’t be spoiling much (technically nothing, because, to me, Calvin and Hobbes transcends its label of being a work of entertainment/art and hence, spoilers are non-existent in the long run) and I would highly recommend you go fiendishly devour the complete collection as soon as you can.

And, so, we walk the sunlit path that unfolds before us.

Spiff the Spaceman:

spaceman spiff

Escapism.

Oh, how we wish our troubles would loosen their shackles and let us slowly soar away with angels’ harps melodiously goading us on higher, higher, higher…

Alas, Reality is Satan-spawn, and would gladly watch you suffer as it pokes you with a three-pronged fork, down a smoldering cauldron of monthly bills, choking deadlines and messy relationships.

It is not uncommon for any of us to desire a break from the endless cycle of boring everyday routine and Calvin’s alter ego Spiff the Spaceman perfectly embodies that desire.

calvin 1

As the Spacefarer brave enough to explore the farthest confines of the cosmos, Calvin is not only able to escape the clutches of his grade-school math teacher (who he conveniently manages to imagine as a highly toxic dinosaur/alien hybrid), but also smartly chart a course around the treacherous asteroids of Doom(read: his Mother) in the kitchen to achieve that enviable second jar of chocolate-chip cookies.

calvin 2

When you come across these panels, you would not only realise that these are expertly staged scenes of grandiose monologues and over-the-top bravado, but that you can relate to his longing to just let go of everything else and bask in the glory of the insane amount of no-holds-barred Fun that you would experience.

Oh, and before we leave Spiff to his Interstellar hijinks, I would like to pique your curiosity, dear Reader, by saying that Spiff is not Calvin’s only Alter ego (wink, wink).

Susie Derkins:

Susie is a fellow resident of the unnamed Suburbia, Calvin’s classmate, quite possibly his first nascent crush, an unlikely kindred spirit and the only character with a surname. Perhaps this will point you toward understanding the potential gravity and significance of her existence.

calvin 3

Calvin is openly hostile to her on most occasions, be it sneakily trying to pelt her with a snowball, disgusting her with his obsessive detail when describing bugs, or even when he purposely sends her withered flowers and a hope-you-die-soon card on Valentine’s day.

What follows is some of the best one-on-one character interaction that swings from funny to charming to heart warming. But beneath the game of one-upmanship and dominion is the most basic want of a person.

Human Connect.

Put aside the bickering, and you can see both Susie and Calvin trying to know each other better, trying to mutually comprehend what their relationship truly means. Extrapolate and superimpose this on Real Life and what you get is the quintessential need for understanding that every one of us crave. Why, Art exists solely to let us express ourselves, to let ourselves feel complete as a piece of us resides in the hearts of others. This panel undeniably speaks for the above sentiment, despite outward facades:

calvin 4

Our lives, filled with the people we juggle with our sweat-streaked palms as we slip and sway on that unicycle on a tightrope that hangs above a looming canyon that stretches to black. Susie and Calvin’s dynamic feels so real, because it is the way we find ourselves, seated across the one that we unanimously love/hate.

Snowmen:

Ah, Snowmen. Heralds of Christmas, they are the ever-smiling friends to scarf-clad children who look upon their creation with beaming pride.

Or are they?

calvin 5

To Calvin (and to a certain extent, Hobbes), Snowmen are the ultimate expression of Rebellion.

calvin 6

As the above panel so vividly elucidates, Calvin, when he fails to wheedle his way out of a rut or when he is forced to vent out his non-existent teenage angst, he resorts to Snowmen.

To Calvin, Winter is the season of Christmas and Christmas is the time when his far-flung whims come true, in the form of presents.

Hence his mind, when he is skipping up and down in anticipation, is not tuned for accepting disappointment. So, as expected of six-year-old brain’s wiring, he throws a childish tantrum.

But the subjects he throws said tantrums for are generally not the concerns of a grade-schooler. They are of an adult who is anxious, insecure and unhappy.

These fits of rebellion manage to both mock and enforce the social pressure that is laid on everyone when they are expected to react to some new rising issue.

And with every panel, the stakes keep snowballing (pun not intended) until they reach a ridiculous yet realistic degree. I’ll be abstaining from supplying any more panels, for obvious reasons. It’ll be preferable if you experience that ascension of your own accord.

And so, the sunlit path has led to The Garden of Words.

Calvin and Hobbes is a one-of-a-kind experience, a work of art that features so many ideas and thoughts wrapped in funny, charming and enlightening layers featuring some of the most lovable cast of characters and their interactions, as they navigate their way across the generic suburbs that they call home. It contains some of the most subtle yet biting social commentary, and the way the mixture of the layers of meaning manages to move you across a spectrum of emotions is unlike anything else.

And it is their lives and its many impossible quirks and eccentricities that elevate the Generic, to the Surreal.

calvin 7

–  An article by Adhithya

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