Opus and Hobbes

 

Modern newspaper comics are not very good. The demographics of print skew grey, so papers run legacy strips that started long ago – during the FDR era, in the case of Blondie, or Ike, in the case of Peanuts. Now and then a venerable strip is taken over by someone who yanks it into the 21st century; Mark Trail has new life, as does Nancy, revived with a slightly surreal aspect. Dick Tracy now has a self-conscious retro vibe. 

But. Garfield plows the same furrow it has worked since the Carter years. Hi and Lois is frozen in post-war suburbia. Sometimes you see a single-panel comic added in the 90s when features editors were looking to shake things up with a Far Side-style comic whose “offbeat” tone might fit with the free-weeklies.

If newspaper comics seem rote today, well, thus it was always so. It’s always been a mix of sharp and plain, corny and witty. Strips have always hung on for decades past their expiration point, dragging the conventions of their era into foreign lands. Harold Teen, an account of Jazz Age flaming youth, ended during the Korean War. Maggie and Jiggs – aka Bringing up Father – started in the Wilson administration, and ended in the year 200.  Major Hoople – aka Our Boarding House  started in the Harding era, and was still playing the same tropes in the days of Reagan. 

I grew up reading Gasoline Alley out of habit, unaware that Frank King had turned a standard flivver-humor strip into something quite touching, with Sunday forays into design that treated the Sunday page as a single glorious canvas. It was just a standard feature by the time I came along. I had no idea how revolutionary Peanuts was at the start. I suppose we all accepted the comics in the paper at face value, noted the differing styles, and thought little about their history, the different eras they represented. We assumed they would always be there, every day, because why wouldn’t they?

It seemed impossible that Little Orphan Annie or Dick Tracy would stop. Why would they stop?

In my youthful adult years, there was the trifecta of quality: Doonesbury, Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County. The first was your daily reminder of the superiority of your political opinions. The second was a brilliant, if misanthropic, interrogation of human nature. The third was a loud, smart, highly verbal, slightly messy assemblage of personalities we all recognized. We all wanted to be as good as Opus, and knew we were as slack as Steve Dallas. Doonesbury still exists as a Sunday feature for NPR-listening Boomers, with all of its pieties and smugness embedded in amber. Calvin and Bloom County are long gone, their creators yee-hawing into the sunset before they soured on the creations they loved.

But. 

But. 

Berke Breathed, the creator of Bloom County, has been turning out new work. There’s no fanfare, no newspaper stories about its return. He just slipped the new stuff out at irregular intervals: here you go. It hasn’t changed at all, stylistically, although it’s aware of the passage of time. It’s a delight to see.

I wouldn’t bring this up at all, except for this: 

Opus finds Hobbes, and vows to reunite him with Calvin. 

It’s a damned sweet thing. It’s all on the Twitter feed. Start here, and scroll up. 

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    James Lileks: Opus finds Hobbes, and vows to reunite him with Calvin.

    Is Calvin a grandfather yet?

    • #1
  2. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra
    @VinceGuerra

    Calvin and Hobbes enjoy a legendary status among both the Gen-X parents who grew up with them, and their Millennial and Gen-Z children who read The Complete Calvin and Hobbes four-volume books that Costco always has on the book table. These kids have never seen a newspaper, but they all know Calvin and Hobbes. 

    • #2
  3. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Sorry, but Breathed’s comics just turned me off. Yuck. 
    I do like exactly two of today’s comics, Luann, and Baby Blues. 

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Sorry, but Breathed’s comics just turned me off. Yuck.
    I do like exactly two of today’s comics, Luann, and Baby Blues.

    https://www.gocomics.com/breaking-cat-news

    • #4
  5. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    “It hasn’t changed at all, stylistically, although it’s aware of the passage of time. It’s a delight to see.”

    It’s a wonderment of the genre that they lack self-awareness but can teach us so much about the ever present lessons of life. Especially with a simple innocence of Calvin & Hobbes or Opus that interrupts our propensity to over complicate matters for dramatic effect. And there’s almost an enlightenment when a child realizes these reflections have histories older than their own parents.

    I’m glad the style hadn’t changed, the familiar lines like revisiting a beloved book, and it’s just as satisfying as we remember. For those interested, there’s an independent documentary about Calvin & Hobbes and the search for their creator “Dear Mr. Watterson”

    https://www.dearmrwatterson.com/

    Thank you @jameslileks for this post. 

    • #5
  6. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    You meant “ended in 2000”, I think, with Bringing up Father . I understand Septimus Severus was a big fan of O Pater Meus Stultissimus. 

    • #6
  7. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    I’ve been following the new Bloom County since it started on Breathed’s FB page. And….spoiler alert….

     

     

    Does anyone else here get a Captain Mal vibe from Calvin 2021?

    • #7
  8. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Sorry, but Breathed’s comics just turned me off. Yuck.
    I do like exactly two of today’s comics, Luann, and Baby Blues.

    Luann is one of those rare comics that did a time reset, and got some fresh wind in the sails.  Baby Blues is stuck in comics-time; the youngest child in the comic, if time proceeded normally, would be in his early 30s by now.

    • #8
  9. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Sorry, but Breathed’s comics just turned me off. Yuck.
    I do like exactly two of today’s comics, Luann, and Baby Blues.

    Luann is one of those rare comics that did a time reset, and got some fresh wind in the sails. Baby Blues is stuck in comics-time; the youngest child in the comic, if time proceeded normally, would be in his early 30s by now.

    So it’s The Simpsons in print.

    • #9
  10. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    When I was a kid, I liked Dondi, the little Italian war orphan. But by the early ’60s, Mad Magazine was on to them. “So, if I’m seven years old, how come I remember World War II?” In those days you’d scan a comics page like you’d scan a cable channels guide today. There was something for everybody, with lots of continuing stories. 

    I have to give Garry Trudeau some credit for something he wrote, decades ago, more honest than most, especially for a celebrity. He wrote down his memories of registering for the draft, being willing to go if called, seemingly admirably aware that if he didn’t go, it was more than likely that someone poorer, if not poorer and darker, would go in his place. When the draft lottery passed him by, he said he was relieved but also guilty over it.

    That was the story he wrote to himself. Then he sent it around to a handful of people who were his close friends in those years, age 18 to 20 or so. They laughed at how distorted and self-absolving it was. There was no “admirable awareness” back then; he was thrilled and happy that his rear end was not going to be shipped to Vietnam. His friends all knew that. No one remembers the slightest moral/political doubt about it. He was kidding himself about his high-minded justifications after the fact. 

    I actually respected him for printing the whole thing. Plenty of lefties–hell, plenty of people, period–would have printed only the pious, make-him-look-good part. 

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Every fictional continuing cast of characters deals, or doesn’t deal, with this issue uniquely. Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes remain the same age, the Reichenbach Falls and Watson’s marriage not withstanding. Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin do not noticeably age, though Wolfe does buy a TV set, mainly to scowl at. John MacDonald’s Travis McGee seems to morph from a Korean to a Vietnam vet over the course of twenty years in print. It is one difficulty in “The Continuing Adventures of” genre.

    • #11
  12. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Sorry, but Breathed’s comics just turned me off. Yuck.
    I do like exactly two of today’s comics, Luann, and Baby Blues.

    Luann is one of those rare comics that did a time reset, and got some fresh wind in the sails. Baby Blues is stuck in comics-time; the youngest child in the comic, if time proceeded normally, would be in his early 30s by now.

    For Better or Worse showed all the characters aging. I used to hate read that stupid Canadian comic. I did get sad when their dog died. I also hate read Cathy. How many times can you riff on not being able to fit into a bathing suit? 

    • #12
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    thelonious (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Sorry, but Breathed’s comics just turned me off. Yuck.
    I do like exactly two of today’s comics, Luann, and Baby Blues.

    Luann is one of those rare comics that did a time reset, and got some fresh wind in the sails. Baby Blues is stuck in comics-time; the youngest child in the comic, if time proceeded normally, would be in his early 30s by now.

    For Better or Worse showed all the characters aging. I used to hate read that stupid Canadian comic. I did get sad when their dog died. I also hate read Cathy. How many times can you riff on not being able to fit into a bathing suit?

    The problem I had with Cathy was the daunting verbal density.

    • #13
  14. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    When I was a kid, I liked Dondi, the little Italian war orphan. But by the early ’60s, Mad Magazine was on to them. “So, if I’m seven years old, how come I remember World War II?” In those days you’d scan a comics page like you’d scan a cable channels guide today. There was something for everybody, with lots of continuing stories.

    I have to give Garry Trudeau some credit for something he wrote, decades ago, more honest than most, especially for a celebrity. He wrote down his memories of registering for the draft, being willing to go if called, seemingly admirably aware that if he didn’t go, it was more than likely that someone poorer, if not poorer and darker, would go in his place. When the draft lottery passed him by, he said he was relieved but also guilty over it.

    That was the story he wrote to himself. Then he sent it around to a handful of people who were his close friends in those years, age 18 to 20 or so. They laughed at how distorted and self-absolving it was. There was no “admirable awareness” back then; he was thrilled and happy that his rear end was not going to be shipped to Vietnam. His friends all knew that. No one remembers the slightest moral/political doubt about it. He was kidding himself about his high-minded justifications after the fact.

    I actually respected him for printing the whole thing. Plenty of lefties–hell, plenty of people, period–would have printed only the pious, make-him-look-good part.

    I’ll be eternally grateful to Nixon for winding down the war.  My draft number was 191.

    • #14
  15. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    • #15
  16. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    Yeah, what if Calvin grew up . . .

     

    • #16
  17. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    When I was a kid, I liked Dondi, the little Italian war orphan. But by the early ’60s, Mad Magazine was on to them. “So, if I’m seven years old, how come I remember World War II?” In those days you’d scan a comics page like you’d scan a cable channels guide today. There was something for everybody, with lots of continuing stories. 

    Sunday mornings splayed out in the living room watching Wonderama and reading the color comics from the Daily News. I did not appreciate, as kids my parents read the same comics with the same characters in the same situations. Sure their music was a bit…uncool. Their comics taste, superior.

    • #17
  18. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    When I was a kid, I liked Dondi, the little Italian war orphan. But by the early ’60s, Mad Magazine was on to them. “So, if I’m seven years old, how come I remember World War II?” In those days you’d scan a comics page like you’d scan a cable channels guide today. There was something for everybody, with lots of continuing stories. 

    Sunday mornings splayed out in the living room watching Wonderama and reading the color comics from the Daily News. I did not appreciate, as kids my parents read the same comics with the same characters in the same situations. Sure their music was a bit…uncool. Their comics taste, superior.

    • #18
  19. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Where’s Mayor LaGuardia when you need him?

    • #19
  20. Jim Chase Member
    Jim Chase
    @JimChase

    Another serial that tried to handle the timeline progression was Funky Winkerbean.  It used the time jump approach, the most recent I think taking the cast from young adult to middle age w/kids.  I followed Funky mostly because of the “Great Band Director of All Time” and the numerous marching band shenanigans (always raining during competition).  After newspapers went digital, I followed the strip at ComicsKingdom for a while, but eventually let that go.  

    • #20
  21. Jeff Petraska Member
    Jeff Petraska
    @JeffPetraska

    I subscribe to the Detroit Free Press, and Democratic-tilted rag, for only one reason:  the comics.  I have a more conservative alternative available to me, the Detroit News, but overall I like the Free Press comics better. 

    I can’t help but wonder how many Freep readers enjoy the Sunday-only Prince Valiant comic, like I do.  

    • #21
  22. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    And then you have bitter, failed cartoonists who have had their syndication dreams dashed upon the rocks, forced to eke out a living in television and then consigned to live out their days hawking silly photoshops for podcasts.

    Did I mention “bitter?”

    • #22
  23. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    James Lileks:

    Opus finds Hobbes, and vows to reunite him with Calvin.

    It’s a damned sweet thing.

    Most hopeful thing I’ve read in months.

    • #23
  24. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbs and the Far Side were my three favorites growing up. 

    Doonesbury always seemed to preachy. 

    • #24
  25. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbs and the Far Side were my three favorites growing up.

    Doonesbury always seemed to preachy.

    It became that.  I don’t think it started that way, or maybe I just agreed with it more when it first started.

    • #25
  26. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbs and the Far Side were my three favorites growing up.

    Doonesbury always seemed to preachy.

    It became that. I don’t think it started that way, or maybe I just agreed with it more when it first started.

    Doonesbury started fairly humbly, but Mr Trudeau grew out of his britches.

    • #26
  27. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbs and the Far Side were my three favorites growing up.

    Doonesbury always seemed to preachy.

    It became that. I don’t think it started that way, or maybe I just agreed with it more when it first started.

    Doonesbury started fairly humbly, but Mr Trudeau grew out of his britches.

    Seems to be a common pathology with Trudeaus.

    • #27
  28. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbs and the Far Side were my three favorites growing up.

    Doonesbury always seemed to preachy.

    It became that. I don’t think it started that way, or maybe I just agreed with it more when it first started.

    Doonesbury started fairly humbly, but Mr Trudeau grew out of his britches.

    Seems to be a common pathology with Trudeaus.

    I think Margaret grew out of hers.

    • #28
  29. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    When I was a kid, I liked Dondi, the little Italian war orphan. But by the early ’60s, Mad Magazine was on to them. “So, if I’m seven years old, how come I remember World War II?” In those days you’d scan a comics page like you’d scan a cable channels guide today. There was something for everybody, with lots of continuing stories.

    Sunday mornings splayed out in the living room watching Wonderama and reading the color comics from the Daily News. I did not appreciate, as kids my parents read the same comics with the same characters in the same situations. Sure their music was a bit…uncool. Their comics taste, superior.

    Wonderama was on WNEW 5, the unofficial “Jewish station” with Sonny Fox, along with other 5 luminaries like David Susskind; “Officer” Joe Bolton was on the unofficial “Catholic station”, WPIX 11, along with Captain Jack McCarthy. 

    • #29
  30. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    When I was a kid, I liked Dondi, the little Italian war orphan. But by the early ’60s, Mad Magazine was on to them. “So, if I’m seven years old, how come I remember World War II?” In those days you’d scan a comics page like you’d scan a cable channels guide today. There was something for everybody, with lots of continuing stories.

    I have to give Garry Trudeau some credit for something he wrote, decades ago, more honest than most, especially for a celebrity. He wrote down his memories of registering for the draft, being willing to go if called, seemingly admirably aware that if he didn’t go, it was more than likely that someone poorer, if not poorer and darker, would go in his place. When the draft lottery passed him by, he said he was relieved but also guilty over it.

    That was the story he wrote to himself. Then he sent it around to a handful of people who were his close friends in those years, age 18 to 20 or so. They laughed at how distorted and self-absolving it was. There was no “admirable awareness” back then; he was thrilled and happy that his rear end was not going to be shipped to Vietnam. His friends all knew that. No one remembers the slightest moral/political doubt about it. He was kidding himself about his high-minded justifications after the fact.

    I actually respected him for printing the whole thing. Plenty of lefties–hell, plenty of people, period–would have printed only the pious, make-him-look-good part.

    I’ll be eternally grateful to Nixon for winding down the war. My draft number was 191.

    Mine was 183, right in the middle. 

    • #30