—Calvin's last sentence, from It's a Magical World
——Calvin, from the August 11, 1995 cartoon
Calvin, named after theologian John Calvin, is the main protagonist of Calvin and Hobbes. He is highly intelligent, though without any self-discipline or concentration, a six-year-old boy with a vivid imagination and a habit of getting into trouble and adventure. The comic centers around Calvin's life, his troubles, and his adventures, with Hobbes alongside him as his companion.
Calvin is characterized by his imagination, philosophy, extensive vocabulary, social awkwardness, and mischievous behavior. Calvin is very cynical and usually gets annoyed with Hobbes. His first piece of dialogue was the first line of the strip and his last line of dialogue was also the strip's final line.
Calvin and/or his alter egos appeared in almost every strip of the series ever printed and published, however, there are several strips he does not appear in, those being where his parents or other side characters reflect on Calvin or recent events (such as Calvin's home being broken into, or Calvin's snowmen).
Main article: Calvin and Hobbes
Calvin originated alongside Hobbes as a minor character in one of Bill Watterson's early submissions. The rejected strips, two of which (see left) were published in The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, established Calvin's short-lived Cub Scout membership from the early strips, and also his perception of Hobbes.
Calvin's eyes were originally covered by his hair. However, Watterson's syndicate recommended making the eyes visible, leading to Calvin's later hairstyle. The hair-over-eyes look was reused for Moe and his dodge-ball teammate.
As any given Calvin and Hobbes strip is contemporary to its publication, Calvin was born in 1979 through 1989, depending on the chosen strip. Calvin is an only son who was being delivered in the mail from Amsterdam as a baby, and his parents go unnamed throughout the entire strip. He has four other known relatives:
- His Uncle Max, brother of his father, who is unmarried and childless.
- His grandparents, who never appear in person. His maternal grandmother is clearly identified, and the strip mentions "Calvin's grandfather" in such contexts that they appear to be on both sides of the family. The status of his paternal grandmother is unknown, leaving three confirmed living grandparents.
Although there is no official progression of events in the comic, a few events in Calvin's life do echo throughout the timeline (though sometimes with contradictions):
- His camping trips
- the Noodle Incident
- uses of the Time Machine, the Duplicator and the Transmogrifier (Gun).
- A last school year.
Appearance and artistic evolution
Like most children in Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin is extremely short compared to the adult characters, to the point that child-size short pants touch his feet ("Shorts touch my feet, OK?"), and has an over-sized head. Aside from spiky blond hair, he has few distinct facial features, whereas other children in the strip often have glasses or freckles. Like all characters in the strip (and most in any form of cartooning), Calvin usually only has four fingers, including his thumb. Calvin's eyes have been blue, green, red, brown, or multicolored throughout the Sunday strips.
Over time, as Watterson's drawing style evolved, so too did Calvin's appearance. Though originally somewhat stubby, Calvin became thinner and taller with time, making his head smaller in relation to his body. His relatively blocky skull got more rounded, and his neck more distinct. His shorter growths of hair rarefied, giving way to large spikes. His old "dot"-style eyes became more oval in shape.
Calvin's regular outfit is identical to that of Peanuts character Linus van Pelt: black shorts and a striped red shirt. Uniquely, though, Calvin wears white-bordered red "Dinner Roll" sneakers. Calvin's winter outfit is made up of a blue coat, black snow pants, a blue puff-balled hat, black boots (Size 5) and red or green mittens. Calvin is also seen wearing a yellow raincoat in rainy weather and a swimsuit. He is shown naked in most bathtub strips.
Calvin's underpants are featured as a running gag. He has several kinds, and preferences regarding which he would rather wear; a good-luck charm pair with a cartoon rocketship design, "tighty-whitey" generic underpants, and a pair licensed with cartoon characters.
Calvin's personality is kind of complex. He's usually mischievous, troublemaking, cynical, self-centered, childish, stubborn, and ill-behaved. On the other hand, he is also innocent, precocious, and incredibly imaginative. Also, deep down, he does have a kind and loving heart, he just doesn't like to show it often. He has very childlike attitudes, but his vocabulary is much more advanced than an average 6-year-old child.
Calvin has a hyperactive imagination that he engages in his free time, or whenever bored at school. In some fantasies, he appears as an alter ego or alongside certain attributes; other characters may also appear in his fantasies, such as his parents, school staff and Hobbes. His most prominent (given their place in The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book) alter egos are:
- Spaceman Spiff, a space explorer who battles aliens (usually losing) and gets stranded on other planets.
- Stupendous Man, an unsuccessful superhero.
- Various dinosaurs, notably Calvinosaurus.
- Tracer Bullet, a stereotypical film noir private detective.
Calvin is ill-behaved most of the time. He challenges authority, complains at length and does not see past his own needs and desires.
At home, he frequently challenges his parents' authority and complains about the rules he is made to observe, regarding for example:
- Baths: he has tried several tactics to avoid bathing, up to decoys, and when finally in the tub, he complains about his ordeal. His dislike of baths was stronger and more prominent in later strips.
- Television: Calvin watches television after dinner until his bedtime, and will often plead to stay up a little longer to watch his program. In camping, Calvin usually complains about missing his television shows.
Calvin is highly mischievous. Once in his class's show and tell, he supposedly "invented" the Cretenizer. Said Cretenizer could make people dumb with one shot. Ronald protested with an "Oh sure! Give us a break!" and Calvin said Ronald was a moron, implying he shot Ronald with the Cretenizer.
At school, he has built up, in his principal's words, quite a file owing to his bad behavior.
Calvin is often extremely sneaky with an awfully nasty sense of humor. He often targets Susie, his parent and Hobbes in such nasty pranks as hitting them with exceptionally hard snowballs, spraying them with hoses or water guns, and stealing Susie's doll and holding it for ransom. He's also stated numerous times that he hates being good, especially around Christmas time.
Calvin asks a wide range of questions, usually to Hobbes or to his parents. When he asks questions to his dad, his dad usually responds in a untrue answer, which Calvin believes.
Calvin has postulated several philosophies throughout the length of the series. Some of them are:
- Childhood is short and maturity is forever.
- Environmental issues are important.
- Animals should be appreciated.
- Dislike for organized rules and systems.
- Belief in the power of imagination.
- Dislike and distrust of many aspects of human nature.
- Believes the rules of life are stupid.
Calvin is somewhat anti-social, with few friends and many enemies. He has said before, "I wish I had more friends, but people are such jerks".
His closest and only stable friend is Hobbes. The occasional dispute aside, they never question their friendship. Hobbes' special status owes to his animal nature: Calvin has confessed to Hobbes that he prefers animals over people, and his friend had been a source of comfort to him after unpleasant experiences with his schoolmates, particularly Moe.
Calvin fails to recognize his mother's effort and care toward him and acts rudely around her. He struggles when told to take his bath, ignores his bedtime, and loudly protests the meals he is served for dinner. The only efforts he acknowledges are those that he doesn't require yet he likes, such as when he is served hot cocoa after a long day outside in winter.
One time Calvin was seen about to eat worms in a bet with Susie, however, Calvin's mother arrived, and stopped him from eating the worms. Later, Calvin was relieved and thanked his mother for stopping him.
Calvin looks up to his father and believes even his most outlandish and colorful tales as truth. However, he detests being forced to build character and has vastly different values and philosophies. Whereas his father is a terrific outdoorsman, Calvin prefers to adhere to the television and stay inside during summer. Also, where Calvin's father sees the need for firm leadership, Calvin desires more laid-back policies and less discipline and shows his disagreement with his dad through Polls. Calvin's father was also used to be a english-language teacher.
Calvin stated in one strip that he wanted to be as smart as his father, when his father was telling him one of his myths, meaning Calvin does have some other connection with his father.
Calvin's behavior around neighbor and classmate Susie Derkins is bipolar; although he goes to great lengths to set up mean-spirited pranks (it was Susie's arrival that spurred him into creating G.R.O.S.S.), he has also been seen enjoying and even seeking her company. He joined Hobbes at Susie's birthday party, got her a gift and managed to enjoy her company. On Valentine's Day, shortly after their first encounter, he sent Susie a hate-mail valentine card; later, he was pleased to observe that Susie had noticed his efforts. On at least four occasions, he has agreed to play House with Susie (although the first time he had little choice). It's obvious that Calvin has a teeny-tiny crush on Susie if he's annoying her that much.
Defenseless against Moe's brute force, Calvin has little choice but to give in to the bully's demands. These include the dispensing of lunch money, the requisition of facilities that Moe wants access to, and joining the baseball team for fear of humiliation and beatings. Even if Calvin told a trusted parent, he's still not safe from Moe's terror. Moe's speech bubbles also have a different font style.
Calvin, being naturally hostile to all babysitters, antagonizes Rosalyn. She is perhaps the only person he genuinely fears. His initiatives to postpone his bedtime under her rule (Rosalyn invariably makes Calvin go to bed before 6:30) are mischievous and unsafe, such as locking Rosalyn out of the house and threatening her by stealing her science notes. Only once did he manifest the maturity not to oppose her, and this was in Rosalyn's last appearance when Calvin agreed to play Calvinball with her.
Named after 16th-century theologian John Calvin, (founder of Calvinism and a strong believer in predestination), Calvin is impulsive, insubordinate, egocentric, bratty, overambitious and obnoxious, but also an imaginative, energetic, curious, and intelligent six-year-old who always acts before he thinks. However, he occasionally does try to show his true, good side in front of Hobbes.
Calvin is generally misanthropic, and only feels significant sympathy for wild animals. He has a significant admiration for tigers, instituted as a result of his friendship with Hobbes. Once, he even (unsuccessfully) tried to adopt the lifestyle of tigers.
Calvin is a poor worker, postponing homework until the last minute and failing to pay attention in class. Despite his glaring lack of effort, he laments the amount of work he is given and insists that his dubious performance is not his responsibility but rather the systems. Although aware of his bad grades, he tends to concoct outrageous boasts, claiming that he will become very powerful and influential in the future without investing any more than he already does. He says he's going to be the same as Einstein, as he also got bad grades as a kid. Calvin's spelling is not very good, as he spells 'Australia' as 'Ostryla'. When Calvin does apply himself, it is to fruitless goals; despite not having any ambition to be a paleontologist, he studies dinosaurs extensively, and his knowledge regarding the content of his comic books is impeccable.
This is not to say that Calvin is unintelligent. Despite his low grades, he masters an expansive vocabulary and an advanced sense of irony which even rival those of an adult. Even so, he does not pass up opportunities to learn swear words, which he estimates to know too few of. He is prone to expressing philosophy when going for a stroll in the woods or using vehicles such as his wagon. His grapples with philosophical quandaries are usually cut short by a banal distraction, mischievous urge or sarcastic retort from either of his parents.
Bill Watterson has described Calvin thus:
- "Calvin is pretty easy to do because he is outgoing and rambunctious and there's not much of a filter between his brain and his mouth."
- "I guess he's a little too intelligent for his age. The thing that I really enjoy about him is that he has no sense of restraint, he doesn't have the experience yet to know the things that you shouldn't do."
- "The socialization that we all go through to become adults teaches you not to say certain things because you later suffer the consequences. Calvin doesn't know that rule of thumb yet."
- "I must admit, that Calvin is good. He's always been my favorite book character and a good read when I'm down in the dumps. He always makes me laugh, and his surly attitude and having Hobbes around really just do it for anyone."
Calvin has often been shown to have minor anti-social tendencies. He has wished he were dead, only to then say he really wished that everyone else was dead at least once, and often shows reluctance to join organizations. For example, storylines involving him as a Cub Scout were dropped because Watterson saw them as uncharacteristic, and, while explaining to Susie on a see-saw why he didn't sign up for recess baseball, says he hates organized sports (as opposed to when he plays Calvinball with Hobbes).
Calvin occasionally addresses John Calvin's belief in predestination. Being a short-sighted child who dodges work, Calvin considers predestination as a favorable release from his responsibilities, whereas Hobbes sees it as a threat to individual freedom.
Calvin hates school, imagining multiple times that he blows it up with missiles. His grades are very low, once saying, "You know how Einstein got bad grades in school? Well, mine are even worse!" Whenever it snows, he prays and prays for it to be a snow-day. On one occasion, he saw snow outside and went parading around the house. His mother tells him it only snowed an inch, and then he says, "getting an inch of snow is like winning ten cents in the lottery."
Although a bad student, Calvin expresses his intelligence by having a very expanded vocabulary and contemplating issues. He can also create poetry ad-lib, normally in front of Hobbes. Bill Watterson once said, "Whenever I look at my cats, poems come to my mind," His ad-lib poet skills are probably an unintentional resemblance to Fatty, in Enid Blyton's Mystery series, who can also spout out poetry. He actually wanted to speak Dutch, so when he grows up, he'll return to Amsterdam where he belongs.
Calvin's imagination far exceeds that of a normal child. His wild imagination may take him to worlds where he does battle with aliens, or it may stay on Earth and use earthly creatures, such as dinosaurs, to perform his imaginative deeds.
Calvin's thoughts will on many occasions wander to an "alternative reality," or an exaggerated world. Things that happen in the real world, such as his teacher yelling at him, often affect what happens in his imagination.
For example, during his daydreaming, Calvin often turns into Spaceman Spiff, while his parents or his teacher pose as the aliens.
These alleged adventures, such as traveling back in time to the Jurassic period and photographing dinosaurs, are seen to be imaginary by Calvin's parents and peers, whilst believed by himself. This goes to show that his imagination is overactive, yet he and Hobbes believe that they actually occurred.
When not daydreaming in the middle of his classes, Calvin will also exhibit his imagination in the real world, an example being his turning into Stupendous Man or skipping school as part of a Spaceman Spiff scenario. This will often lead Calvin to injuries or punishment.
Imagination Turned Real?
Many occasions, things that would have been part of Calvin's imagination happen in real life. For example, Hobbes is a plain stuffed animal to anyone but Calvin, but his actions are real. One time, when Hobbes tied up Calvin during his attempt to be the next Houdini, his father disregards the fact that Hobbes tied Calvin up, yet he couldn't have tied himself up without the help of Hobbes. Also, the Duplicator, an imaginative invention of Calvin's, creates duplicates that act exactly like him, yet a simple cardboard box couldn't have done something to a great technological advance. His imagination, in these cases, caused real things to occur, though it has stirred controversy.
Calvin's personal life is documented to a certain extent.
Both Calvin and Hobbes seem to be fans of superhero comic books. Batman and Astro Boy are the only "real" superheroes Calvin likes; although he is never seen reading any of the comics, there have been a few explicit references in some strips. The strip also contains several made-up, generic superhero comics; among them are Captain Napalm, Nukeman, Captain Nitro, Amazon Girl, and Captain Steroid.
Calvin also enjoys the fictional children's novel Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie. At one point, he is shown to like Looney Tunes.
- Main article: Calvin's inventions
Calvin occasionally makes machines usually made out of a cardboard box (but with some exceptions), which normally leads to disaster. Here is a list of his inventions:
- Time Machine
- Transmogrifier Gun
- Upgraded Duplicator (with Ethicator)
- Cerebral Enhance-O-Tron, a.k.a Thinking Cap
- Writer's Block
- Huge bird foot
- Invisible Cretinizer
Favorite and Least Favorite Foods
- Calvin writes with both hands, but he's commonly shown to be right-handed. During the baseball strips, Calvin noticeably can be seen wearing a glove on a different hand in each panel.
- In both his first and last appearances, Calvin is wearing a hat of some kind: a pith helmet in the former and a snow hat in the latter. However, if you count the prototype strip as his first appearance, he is wearing a baseball cap.
- Aside from English, Calvin has briefly spoken German, Latin, and some phrase-book Spanish.
- Calvin sometimes is shown having a watch, but it disappears between panels.
- Calvin is creeped out by somnambulists, or sleepwalkers.
- It's been implied that Calvin is a music fan, considering he and Hobbes dance to it all the time. He takes a liking to classical music, and presumably rock music as well.
- In one strip, Calvin claimed that he always carries a Swiss army knife. However, no mention of it was ever made again.
- In the Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, Bill Watterson stated that he wouldn't want Calvin in his house.
- Calvin was a cub scout in separate story arcs, but Bill Watterson removed them because of the same concept withUncle Max, so Watterson took the family camping.
- Calvin also appears in several 2013 newspaper strips of Pearls Before Swine.
- Despite generally being anti-social, Calvin can be quite loving, for example, in the story arc with the dying raccoon.
- In early developments of the strip, Calvin was going to be named Marvin.
- He called himself a Boy of Destiny on one occasion.
- Calvin appears as a cameo in the sixth issue of the comic book series and both Episode 8 and Episode 9 of the TV cartoon The Maxx.
- He is the only character to appear in both the first and last panel of the comics. He shared his first panel with his dad and last panel with Hobbes.