Role Models & Heroes: Calvin and Hobbes (2016)

By January 21, 2016 November 15th, 2018 Bnei Mitzvah, Heroes & Role Models

 The following essay on Hobbes was written by Julian Gerber, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this last component can be seen below in Julian’s writings on Calvin and Hobbs.  The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.

Julian Gerber
January 9, 2016

Ever since I was about six years old I’ve been reading Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Calvin and Hobbes is a comic strip telling the story of a hyperactive kid, Calvin, and his stuffed tiger/imaginary friend, Hobbes. From such a young age, Calvin and Hobbes has influenced me, which is why I can now say, with no doubt, that Hobbes is my role model. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a hero is someone you admire for his or her acts and achievements. However that’s not the way I think of Hobbes. He is not particularly courageous and has never done an act of bravery. The reason I admire him is because of who he actually is and not just what he has done. Hobbes is my role model because of the many values that are subtly shown throughout the comic, which are values that resonate with me. You can see these specific values through Hobbes’s sarcastic remarks and philosophical questions. The commentary he creates expressing those values is a way to shine light on a matter in a way that I know and respect. On a more personal note, I relate to Hobbes because sometimes he’s cautionary and other times he actually is like Calvin. However, Hobbes has a balance of those two characters which is what I have as well.

The comic writer and artist, Bill Watterson, created Hobbes. Watterson was born July 5th, 1958 and grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He attended Kenyon College and received his Bachelor’s degree in political science. While he was in college, he developed his art skills by painting Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam on his dorm ceiling. He also contributed some comics to the college newspaper. While in college, Watterson hoped to become a political cartoonist. One week after his college graduation in 1980, he was hired as a political cartoonist for the Cincinnati Post. However, it didn’t work out because he had very little knowledge of the local politics and he was fired within six months. After that, he worked for four years at a small advertising agency where he made grocery advertisements.

Calvin and Hobbes was syndicated by Universal Syndicate from November 18th, 1985 to December 31st, 1995 which is when the comic strip stopped. Even though Calvin and Hobbes was a very popular comic strip, for much of his life, Watterson was a recluse refusing many interviews. He even refused to attend some award ceremonies for cartoonists even though he had won. In addition, he never sold his characters to create merchandise. Watterson was completely against that type of publicity. He wanted his publicity to be from the work and not from the advertising. This shows that he didn’t want to devalue the art of his comics by mass-producing characters. For him, it was less about the money and fame and more about the work. This resulted in Calvin and Hobbes being less widely known than Garfield or Peanuts. I respect Watterson for holding on to his principles.

According to Nevin Martell, author of Looking for Calvin and Hobbes, Hobbes is named after the famous philosopher Thomas Hobbes as an allusion to Watterson’s political science class at Kenyon College. In a way this makes sense because some of the tiger Hobbes’s actions parallel the philosopher Hobbes’s beliefs. Thomas Hobbes states that man’s nature is violent and that we need a controlling government to contain us. This isn’t really something you would expect from a stuffed tiger in a comic strip. Like his namesake, Hobbes attempts to control Calvin’s sometimes impulsive and irresponsible intentions and actions. However, unlike the adults in the comic, who try to restrain Calvin, Hobbes, though criticizing Calvin’s choices, still accepts and embraces Calvin for who he is.

But we have to remember that in reality Hobbes is just a figment of Calvin’s imagination. Whatever Hobbes does or thinks is actually just another side of Calvin, which is why I also think that Hobbes may represent Calvin’s conscience. For example, on many occasions Calvin is going down a steep hill on a sled or a wagon, but Hobbes always regrets doing it and on some occasions simply hops off of the wagon before the inevitable crash. So if Hobbes does represent Calvin’s conscience, then that shows Calvin’s reasonable side asking him “What are you doing?!” Another way Hobbes represents Calvin’s conscience is that Calvin never has any motivation to try hard and get something done. Calvin has no internal motivation, he needs someone else to tell him why he should do something well. I believe Hobbes is both an external and internal motivation because Hobbes is, though sarcastically, trying to get Calvin on the right path and get him to focus. He is also the internal motivation because, as I said before, Hobbes is a figment of Calvin’s imagination, so if Hobbes is trying to get Calvin to get work done, then really it’s just Calvin’s reasonable side being shown.

Hobbes is my role model because of the way he uses his common sense. For example, in one strip, Calvin has submitted a poster for a “best slogan for road safety” contest. His slogan is, “Be Careful or Be Roadkill.” He is so sure he is going to win and become rich and famous from it. In one panel, Calvin is saying how fun it is to win, when Hobbes brings him back down to reality and says, “But we haven’t won yet.” This shows that Hobbes is using the common sense that Calvin is not using, in order to look at all the possibilities. Another example is when Calvin has made the “world’s biggest snowball.” Calvin goes on to say that he can’t wait to throw it at someone. Hobbes bursts Calvin’s bubble by pointing out the fact that he can’t pick it up and he would be better off just leaving it there for someone to walk into. This is also an example of how Hobbes’s comments and actions bring Calvin back down to reality. Therefore, Hobbes’s sarcastic commentary and use of common sense often show the possible problem or outcome of one of Calvin’s ideas.

Another value Hobbes conveys is the importance of education. This may seem odd because Calvin, on many occasions, doesn’t try hard in school and just doesn’t particularly care about learning. However, as I said before, Hobbes sometimes tries to be that external motivation and tries to help in any way a stuffed tiger can. One example of this is when Calvin is with Hobbes waiting for the school bus and Calvin goes on a rant saying he doesn’t want to go to school and is being forced to go against his will. As he puts it, “My rights are being trampled!” Hobbes then says, “Is it a right to remain ignorant?” Calvin responds to this by saying, “I don’t know, but I refuse to find out!” This rhetorical question shows that Hobbes believes that Calvin is being ignorant and is pointing out that he should go to school.

In another example similar to this, they are riding in a wagon down a hill together and Calvin is explaining how he failed a test, but he doesn’t care because of his priorities. Hobbes then says, “I never really thought of ignorance as a quality of life issue.” This again shows how Hobbes does not believe that ignorance is something to live by. Another example is when Calvin needs to do a research project on bats. He’s complaining about not knowing anything about bats when Hobbes says, “I guess research is out of the question.” This sarcastically implies that Hobbes thinks Calvin should actually try to work on it. In another panel Calvin suggests they take a break because they are done. Hobbes points out that all they have is one fact that Calvin made up: that bats are bugs. Calvin then says it’s okay because he has a “secret weapon”: a clear plastic binder, which Calvin thinks will make it seem professional. Hobbes then sarcastically rolls his eyes and says, “I don’t want co-author credit on this, ok?” This shows that Hobbes believes that you can’t just depend on how something looks; you also have to do the work and get it done, which is something Calvin has no interest in doing. Though Calvin couldn’t care less about a good education, Hobbes is always trying to get him to at least try

Hobbes does, at times, go along with Calvin. However every time he does do this, there is a limit and line he won’t cross. For instance, on many occasions, Hobbes is sledding down a hill with Calvin. But as the sled is about to go off a cliff, Hobbes has the sensibility to jump off right on time. I relate to this because I have fun and I have done Calvin-like things, but I also know that there is a line and I don’t cross it. Having that line shows how I’m like Hobbes.

Hobbes is able to use his sarcasm and humor to illustrate to Calvin the importance of education and using common sense. The real reason I think of Hobbes as a role model is not the funny methods that he uses to rein Calvin in, but because of Hobbes’s way of using his sarcastic humor, common sense, and intellect to create a commentary on what is going on. Hobbes is able to humorously critique impulsive and non-thinking ideas and sarcastically suggest the common sense solutions. This affirms my own viewpoints, beliefs, and values. That’s why Calvin and Hobbes is so funny to me, because it’s so relatable, accurate and aligned with what I think. Watterson is able to portray his own point of view in a way that I relate to: by using intellect, common sense, and humor.