At some level, all American childhoods are the same, which probably explains our lasting love affair with Calvin and Hobbes, created by Washington-born cartoonist Bill Watterson. From 1985 to 1995, his comic strip captured the essence of adolescence, when dreams happened during the day, household objects could lead to great adventuresand imaginary friends kept us entertained for hours.

Andrews McMeel has reissued the strips in an elegant and hefty box set called “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes,” mostly in black and white but with plenty of color, too. Rereading the strips provides a nostalgic telescope to a wonderful time.

In each of the thousands of cartoons, Calvin romps and stomps through awesome adventures. “How can one little kid make so much noise?” his mother asks while chopping an onion. How many mothers have said that? Calvin is upstairs transmogrifying himself into an ele­phant, alongside Hobbes, his sardonic stuffed tiger and loyal voice of reason.

Together, they battle Susie Derkins, the sharp girl on the block who always does her homework and nearly always outsmarts Calvin. In one devilish scheme, Calvin and Hobbes decide to kidnap Susie’s doll, Binky Betsy. Calvin leaves a classic ransom note on her doorstep: “Susie, if you want to see your doll again, leave $100 in this envelope by the tree out front. Do not call the police. You cannot trace us. You cannot find us. Sincerely, Calvin.”

Ah, the best laid plans of boys and tigers . . . .

”The Complete Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson (Andrews McMeel)

Every time Calvin comes home from school, Hobbes zooms out the door, tackles Calvin (KAPOW!), and they tumble in the yard. After all, Hobbes has been waiting all day to play, but this makes Calvin so mad that he tries to catch the tiger in the act with a Polaroid.

“See? See?! That’s what he does when I come home!!” Calvin says, showing the image of a flying Hobbes to his dad.

“He thinks you tossed me in the air?!” Hobbes says in the next frame. “Why, I’ve never been so insulted in my life.”

From first strip to last, the warmth of their friendship thrives. One night, getting ready for bed, Calvin wonders why we dream. “Do our brains get bored?” he asks.

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long,” Hobbes says. “If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can play together all night.”

“Hey, yeah!” Calvin pipes. “Well, I’ll see you in a few minutes, ol’ buddy.” They shake hands and fall asleep. The adventures continue. As they do now in this splendid, magical collection.

Smith is on the Book World staff.


By Bill Watterson

Andrews McMeel. 4 vols. $100