I have lots of duties to fulfill at the library, but my official position is Cataloger. So that means I come across lots of great new books every single day. One of those was in a pile of Young Adult fiction: Calvin by Martine Leavitt.
Intrigued by that cover, what with the tiger tail, I immediately wondered what this story had to do with Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Everything, it turned out.
Calvin is seventeen, and has just been diagnosed with schizophrenia. There are lots of weird parallels between his life and that of the Calvin of the comic strip, right down to his childhood friend Susie and the stuffed tiger named Hobbes he had as a kid. After his diagnosis, Calvin becomes convinced that if he can get Bill Watterson to write just one more comic strip, one showing a grown-up Calvin healthy and without Hobbes, then he’ll be cured.
Thus begins a winter trek across Lake Erie with Susie and Hobbes to meet Bill Watterson, a physical journey and an emotional one. We see Calvin slip into a couple of delusions (like Spaceman Spiff). We also see him coming to grips with his own personal reality, with the help of Susie. Leavitt creates a great relationship between the two of them.
As far as fanfiction goes (and I think it’s pretty fair to call this fanfiction), this is very good. Leavitt manages to keep the mood and feel of a Calvin and Hobbes strip throughout the story, while also acknowledging that we’re outside that universe. There’s a definite meta sensibility to the book. But that said, it’s an accurate portrayal of how Calvin might have grown up, and Hobbes’s voice is spot-on. Leavitt’s Calvin feels right, too, particularly when he is riffing. The first-person narration and the framing device of a letter works very well. I also enjoy how the reclusive Bill Watterson is almost a Godot figure here.
There are some truly touching moments, ones that suit the mood of the comic strip. Susie and Calvin have some great moments, as do Calvin and Hobbes. In many ways, though, the big relationship here is the one between Susie and Calvin, and also Calvin’s imagined relationship to Watterson.
Calvin is a fun, quirky, meta story about friendship, growing up, and keeping your inner tiger alive. It will also make you want to go back and read every Calvin and Hobbes strip.
The last strip of Calvin and Hobbes was published on December 31, 1995.