Along with Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons and Matt Groening's Life in Hell series, which of course pre-dates The Simpsons, there is a special place reserved in my heart for the irreverent, sometimes bizarre, but always pitch perfect humor in Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, syndicated from November 18, 1985, to December 31, 1995 — and all available in a brand new now-in-paperback collection. The spiky-haired, irrepressible boy and his best friend, the tiger named Hobbes, stood for certain truths: That kids were often smarter than adults; that they could and did exist in fully realized imaginative worlds of their own creation; and that those worlds had no limits in terms of possible adventures. Starting from the setup itself—in Calvin's mind, Hobbes is a live tiger; to everyone else in their world, he's just a blank-eyed stuffed animal—there is more than meets the eye. You'd expect no less from a cartoonist who names his 6-year-old main character after 16th-century theologian John Calvin and his stuffed animal friend after 17th-century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes.
As kids, we needed not know any of that to find enjoyment and empowerment in the stories; they were just the hilarious comic-stripped stylings of an extremely intelligent little boy with bushels of attitude, and his loyal if occasionally sarcastic imaginary friend. But there's a lot of depth to plumb beyond those initial layers of meaning. And just as today's kids are sure to appreciate the strips' surface plot lines and jokes, adults who return to them are likely to find more than they remembered in the tales of two of their favorite characters. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, 1456 pages of the cartoons we used to read and love, is out Tuesday as a four-volume slipcased paperback edition via publisher Andrews McMeel (the cost is $61.26 on Amazon). Note, the paperback will surely be less heavy than the hardcover set, out in 2005: From one commenter, referring to that edition, "With each book weighing just over 7 lbs., God Forbid if you drop one of 'em on your foot."