ArtsBooksFestival

Writer Michael Hingston brings his exploration of the enduring charm of Calvin and Hobbes to Wordfest’s Imaginarium

As humans, we agree on nothing.

It’s something that becomes more and more apparent as the years pass by — we, as a species, are fractured.

Pick any subject, any topic, any position, any ideology, any opinion and there is no consensus, only anger, argument or indifference.

Unless, well, unless we’re talking about Calvin and Hobbes. (Ed note: And maybe ABBA.)

There are no sides, there is no middle ground, there is no debate — there is only unequivocal love and reverence for the late, lamented comic strip drawn by the remarkably sublime genius that is Bill Watterson.

“Totally,” says author Michael Hingston. “Yeah, I think that really is true.”

It’s something that’s underscored by the Edmonton-based writer’s latest work Let’s Go Exploring. Calvin and Hobbes

It’s part of the Pop Classics series of books, which also includes other tomes such as It Doesn’t Suck. Showgirls and National Treasure. Nicolas Cage — books that take deep dives into topics where some might assume there is no depth.

With Calvin and Hobbes, that’s not even a discussion.

It remains one of the most beloved bodies of art and literature of the past 30 years, appearing in newspapers around the world from Nov. 18, 1985 to Dec. 31, 1995 before the creator pulled the plug and, for all intents and purposes, removed himself and the wee, wily, imagination-embracing Calvin and his stuffed tiger friend from us forever. (Except, of course, if you’re stuck in traffic behind an asshole with a sticker of the former whizzing on a Ford, Dodge or other auto company logo.)

Hingston’s book is a wonderful read for fans and neophytes alike, giving context and history to the strip that was and is a part of many people’s lives — those who grew up with it and the children who have had it passed on to them by those who are parenting the right way.

That’s why it’s the perfect choice to help kick of this year’s Wordfest Imaginarium on Monday, Oct. 8.

Hingston will be part of the opening literary salvo, A Celebration of Calvin and Hobbes — a full-day, family-friendly event at Memorial Park and the Memorial Park Library featuring Hingston reading some strips for the kids in the morning, an afternoon talk about his book later in the afternoon, a Draw Your Imaginary Friend Workshop with Michael Grills, performances by The Heebee-jeebees and so much more.

Again, it’s the perfect way to kick of Imaginarium, which runs Oct. 8 to 15 at various venues throughout the city.

Prior to his appearance, Hingston spoke with theYYSCENE about the enduring joy of Calvin and Hobbes.

Q: How do the book come to be?

A: Well, it’s part of a series that publisher ECW does, and I had read some books in the series and enjoyed them and thought, kind of daydreamed a bit, about what I might contribute to it one day. And at the same time I was between book projects — I had ideas for some really long, in-depth stuff that hadn’t really worked out — so I came back to the series idea as a fun project. And as soon Calvin and Hobbes came to mind, everything else clicked into place really quickly, because it became clear to me that the book I had always wanted to read didn’t exist. There was a surprising amount to say given to how popular it was, and it seemed like maybe the territory would have already been covered, but I felt the world was missing the kind of 101 on the strip and why it mattered.

Q: It makes you sad, because after reading it I want to hear more from him, more about him and the strip from him. That must have been frustrating for you.

A: You know, the book kind of talks about this, because it’s a pretty common reaction. It’s weird, right, that he never did a follow-up project and so people have been wondering what he’s been up to. Researching the book I was surprised about how much he had spoken about Calvin and Hobbes and what’s happened since then … There were certainly more public appearances than I thought, but they were always on his own terms and not always in a place you would expect to find him.

Q: The one thing that looms over this and what I thought was ironic is that what ultimately killed Calvin and Hobbes was the adult world intruding on this imaginative world — the sense of (his syndicators) wanting to make so much more money off of him through the licensing of merchandise and him resisting. That just seemed to sour things.

A: Yeah, I think that’s a fair way to put it. I do think, though, that Watterson — I don’t know if there was an ideal set of circumstances that would have led to him writing the strip today. I think I have a feeling he had finite idea. In fact, to me that’s the conflict. Certainly there’s a conflict between the capitalist urge of the syndicates to squeeze money out of it and he really resented that, which led to tension, but I also think there’s this more broad — and it’s another capitalist curse — but this idea that you have to be producing work every day forever … He just didn’t want to live his life that way, he would rather give it all up than do sub-par material. So, I wonder at what point he knew the clock was ticking, because he seemed to have it in his head pretty early on that the strip wasn’t going to last forever.

Q: It is such a timeless strip. It just hasn’t dated. It has remained this perfect view of childhood and it’s so easy to pass it along to your kids.

A: Yeah, that’s the risk in writing about something that’s 20 years old is that you’re only talking to people who are middle aged or who grew up with it as young children, and the nice thing I found is that the strip really has jumped a generation. We’re now in the second generation of young children who discovered the strip. They don’t need any context given to them … For a lot of things that I grew up with, you have to set the scene and say, “Well, here’s what the world was like in 1999 or whenever.” With Calvin and Hobbes they just pick it up and get it.

Q: It’s interesting that as those kids are discovering one of the greatest newspaper funnies of our time, newspaper funnies are dying along with newspapers.

A: Yes and that’s part of why the strip has the reputation it does, is because there’s just no way any strip could have that level of impact that it did — you can’t beat that moment and the whole apparatus surrounding it to help it grow.

Q: Taking this kind of look at the strip, did you appreciate it more? It’s always tough when you have to analyze something or pick it apart and look at it in that way. Did it take something away or does it still hold the same magic it held for you?

A: Um. That’s a good question. I don’t think that it disappointed me, but my memory of it was that it was all — that there was a super high bar the whole way through and it was always looked the same, it hit its stride from the beginning. So it was neat to go back and see that there was a time when Watterson artistically hadn’t quite captured the characters yet, they changed a little bit in the early days, there’s a tone to some of the early strips that disappears. So it’s interesting, that nuance and certainly the way that the art changed in the Sunday strips and the daily strips in the last year or so, I think he seems to really be losing interest in the medium. That was really cool to see. So, no, it didn’t diminish the strip at all for me. I was more interested to find those nuances that I hadn’t noticed on the first read through.

Michale Hingston will appear at Wordfest’s 2018 Imaginarium as part of the Celebration of Calvin and Hobbes on Monday, Oct. 8 at the Memorial Park Library and Memorial Park, and Tuesday, Oct. 9 as part of the Happy Hour: Adventures in Short Fiction at the DJD Dance Centre. For tickets and more information please go to wordfest.com.

Tags: