Stewart R: In these modern days of the early 21st century, where perhaps life appears to be getting more cynical, where it seems to be losing some of its ‘magic’ to these difficult times and where the festive season doesn’t come across as being quite that festive and jolly, I know that there’s always one thing I can fall back upon to put me in that seasonal spirit.
Growing up during the 80s and 90s I was very lucky to have cousins who knew how to equip their bathroom - stay with me here - for every time my family would travel up for a visit, there was always a copy of a Bill Watterson book within reach of the toilet. Not the most glamorous of introductions of course, but that special moment when you pick up that first Calvin and Hobbes collection will usually stay with you for a long time.
Watterson sculpted a true masterpiece of the funny book age with the adventures of a young boy and his stuffed, yet very alive tiger best friend and despite all of the fantastic running gags and themes that fed through the entire series, one for me has always stood out - Bill Watterson and his young character seemed to be in love with Winter. While all of the seasons were looked at in one way or another throughout the strips fine history, some of the greatest fun Watterson had was depicting the coldest time of the year and the sort of fun a young mind could have in a wonderland where he was free to physically sculpt the landscape to his choosing or ride it at nail-biting speeds with only a simple toboggan betwixt he and his furry co-pilot’s posteriors.
Snowballs would be flung, forts defended, incredible snowmen horror shows established and sled crashes walked away from with angry accusation being thrown in either direction. Then the two best friends would retire to the fireside to be welcomed by the Mom’s hot chocolate topped with marshmallows and a pile of comic books. All of the excitement of being a kid and spending a day in the snow and the cosiest of dark evenings with your best friend (or siblings) would be encapsulated in a handful of panels and evoke a heart-warming feeling of nostalgia, even if you lived in a pocket of the UK where snow visited your home less than an estranged second aunt or uncle. The winter landscapes that Watterson would produce in ink were mind-bogglingly effective in their simplicity; the trees skinny and solitary dark pillars contrasting the beautiful white canvas of nature that he was capturing as the two pals meandered through the scenery.
Come December, Calvin’s battle with his inner mischief-maker would always be brought to the fore as he faced the universally accepted (in his world) judgement of one Saint Nick who would analyse the young lad’s actions over the past year and decide whether he was worthy of the huge list of presents that his young heart desired. While Watterson would use the opportunity to pass comment on the commercial aspects of the late 20th Century Christmas with terrifically wry cynicism there were also moments where Calvin was faced with superb moral dilemmas and unbelievable temptation, often circulating around the possibility of crafting the greatest snowball ever to have existed and then pelting Susie Derkins with it. Calvin was the epitome of festive selfishness, fixating on his own goals and ends, trying to screw the system in order to receive the biggest pay off and blissfully wandering through the holidays seemingly unaware of the true meaning of what the festive season was supposed to be about.
He’d complain at the chores he’d be forced to do or go about them in rebellious fashion - clearing the snow from the drive by creating a path that circled the garden springs instantly to mind - yet still chalk them up in the ‘being good’ column on his naughty or nice checklist. Then would come the agonizing wait through Christmas Eve as he anticipated and feared Santa Claus’ arrival, dreading that a hundred and one misunderstandings on his behaviour would count against him. On occasion we’d even get to see the viewpoint of the jolly gift giver as he prepared for his global travels on Christmas Eve and how Calvin’s record through the month was brought to his attention.
The number of strips that show Calvin going through the repetitive, self-inflicted torture of trying to be good are numerous, yet without the buildup those few strips that then deliver the real message of appreciation, thoughtfulness and love imbued in within the spirit of giving and kindness would arguably not have been as effective. Calvin’s distress at the lack of presents for Hobbes, or showing thanks for his best friend with the biggest of hugs was always a lifting high point that makes you think about what you’re appreciative of and who you’re just so thankful for having in your life. I’m certainly thankful to Bill Watterson for his depictions of the winter months that pop back to mind all these years on and help me reunite with that festive spirit that can prove to be as elusive these days as the famed comic book creator himself.
Well good readers, one and all, I’ll leave you now with possibly the finest Christmas Eve moment of Watterson’s run and wish you all the very Happiest of Holidays.