A short analysis of language and drawings
Watterson intentionally uses a natural language in his strips, filled with oral words and expressions which are typical "street language". This especially characterizes the children in the cartoon, who talk just like ordinary American kids. What makes this cartoon so unique, when it comes to the language, is all the foreign words that Calvin surrounds himself with. This is deliberate from Watterson, in order to show the contrast between Calvin the six year old, and Calvin the genius.
Short sentences is normal in a cartoon, and Watterson follows this standard. (However his short sentences is probably the most complicated, short sentences in modern cartoon history...)
We find a great use of irony in the strips, especially Hobbes uses this frequently. It is often through irony that he manages to convince Calvin that his ideas are totally unrealistic.
Exaggerations permeates the whole cartoon. The fact that Calvin should actually be in possession of the vocabulary Watterson has ascribed him, is in itself an enormous exaggeration. In addition to exaggerations, Watterson often uses play on words.
Positive and negative superlatives are, naturally, often used. When Calvin talks about himself, he uses words like genius, fearless, hero and so on. This is because he thinks of himself as special person, and he thinks that he is chosen to become something big later in life. Hobbes is also good at describing himself in positive ways.
Negative superlatives are used even more in the strips. These are used every time Calvin describes something he hates, like oatmeal or Susie. They must have been called idiots, compost, freaks and similar a couple of hundred times...
Despite the use of negative words there are no direct cursing in the cartoon. One of the reasons for this is because it is meant to be a humorous family-cartoon. When one of the characters in the cartoon as an exception need to use strong words, Watterson uses the classic signs to indicate an improper language. (Example: *^$$!!##_*#!!)
If we look at Watterson's drawings, we see that very many strips lack background, like trees, buildings and so on. The only thing that we see is the characters and what they are doing, the background is blank. This is done to better express the events that take place in the actual strip.
Often we see that the objects surrounding Calvin are oversized, while Calvin is drawn very little. This perfectly shows us how scared and helpless he sometimes feels. A good example of this is the times he is sent to the principal. The hallway leading to the principals office is extremely long and with huge walls that rises far above Calvin.
The most prominent means is still the humor. This is however described in earlier pages and in a few lines further down on this page. Watterson's humor is his own, and it melts naturally together with the drawings.
The strengths of the cartoon:
Watterson does not compromise with his conscience, but draws the strips for his won pleasure. This sincerity is one of the things that make the cartoon so unique, and has given it so many fans. We can all relate to Watterson's warm, well informed, and not least, amusing way of bringing to light the child in us all. This makes Calvin & Hobbes a cartoon that everyone can enjoy.
Watterson has, with Calvin & Hobbes, accomplished something only a few cartoonists have managed, to make a perfect interaction between drawings and text. If you remove the drawings, and only leave the text, the point in at least 50% of the strips will vanish. The majority of calvin & Hobbes strips cannot be told as ordinary jokes, they must be viewed and read.
Watterson's drawings is a big strength. Each and every line is drawn by hand, and the result is incredible! When we study all the facial expressions and grimaces Calvin is drawn with, we can only be impressed by Watterson's unlimited creativity.
Because of the way it is written, Calvin & Hobbes are a cartoon for grown ups as much as for children. There is no age limit when it comes to this cartoon. This is partly because of the cartoon's intellectual character, which makes it impossible to grow to old for.
The family situation in Calvin & Hobbes is far more realistic than it is in other cartoons. We often see family problems, and parents that are in despair of their little son.
The cartoon is not commercial, and no cheap tricks are being used to increase the sale. Calvin & Hobbes are pure straight through.
The cartoon's weak points:
Are there really any weak points in this masterpiece of a cartoon? Not many, I can assure you, but a few can be found if you really, really, really, reeeeeaaaalllllyyyyy try.
Watterson makes many strips about things that children fear. (doctors, needles, monsters, the dark...) It is strange however, that Calvin never has visited the dentist. If there is one great fear among little children, it is often the dentist and all his instruments. And, thinking of all the chocolate frosted sugar bombs he eats, one should expect him to get a few holes in his teeth. Because brushing them is a thing we have never seen him do.
Sometimes we see Hobbes walk Calvin to the school bus in the morning. But, when Calvin is gone, how does Hobbes get back into the house? (This is of course one of the times when Watterson leave it to the readers to accept a fact that in reality is inexplicable.)*
Even if Watterson's drawing capabilities are great, he has managed to make one big mistake; Calvin is both right- and left handed!!! (Read the strips and see if you can find it!) Detail errors like this should be unnecessary. **
As a conclusion it must be said that Calvin & Hobbes are as close to perfect as possible. When Norway's biggest newspaper, VG, wrote an article about the cartoon back in 1991, their literature reporter wrote the following: "I have twisted my brain for days, but I can't come up with a single negative word about Calvin & Hobbes".
...and all we can do is agree!
* I received an email informing me that one of the Sunday strips actually shows Calvin's mom running out to get Hobbes after Calvin's bus leaves. Thanks to Ezra de Leon.
** I have received many emails about Watterson's left-right hand mistake. Many suggest the following: It's not uncommon to be ambidextrous at Calvin's age. So, maybe this wasn't a mistake by Watterson after all, but simply intentional.