My very first “Read a Damn Book” review was Bill Watterson’s Scientific Progress Goes ‘Boink,’ back in February of 2017, and I haven’t reviewed a Calvin and Hobbes book since then. Criminal. Time to fix that horrible imbalance.
Bill Watterson – Something Under the Bed is Drooling (1988)
Something Under the Bed is Drooling is Watterson’s first Calvin and Hobbes collection, and it was released in 1988, when I was still in high school. I know I read it back then (maybe having checked it out from the Longview Public Library? I can’t remember), but this edition of the books was released through Scholastic, and it says on the back of the book that it was distributed exclusively “through the school market.” What this means is I probably bought this book when one of my kids brought home a Scholastic Book Club order form. (I loved having kids in school because I love kids’ books and would order a bunch of stuff every time they brought home an order form.) Both of my girls are in their 20s now, though, so I’m guessing we’ve had this book for a long time—but I honestly can’t remember when we got it. Regardless, I’ve read it a dozen times or more, and it’s still funny.
I’m guessing that most people know about Calvin and Hobbes, but on the off chance that you’ve never seen any of the comic strips (and you didn’t read my first review!), here’s what C&H is about: Calvin is a rambunctious kid with a sugar fueled, overactive imagination, and Hobbes is his stuffed tiger, who Calvin pretends is a REAL tiger. Most of their adventures consist of flights of fancy perpetrated by Calvin to get out of boring or unpleasant situations. The REST of their adventures are usually antisocial acts of true horror that could have serious consequences, if Calvin’s efforts weren’t thwarted by his bedraggled parents (who are so inconsequential that they never get names beyond “Mom” and “Dad,” which is fitting, considering the world we enter in a C&H story is essentially the inside Calvin’s head, where his parents exist only in relation to him.)
The funny thing about Calvin is that, technically speaking, he is EVIL. His plans involve explosions, destruction, and various monsters eating their way through the city. He lies, he cheats, he fights with everyone, and he is motivated almost entirely by selfish, hedonistic impulses. In other words, HE’S A REAL KID. Watterson has created a comic that truthfully and gleefully depicts the inner workings of a child’s mind. AND, if you look carefully, Calvin is also empathetic. He feels bad for making the neighbor girl, Susie, run home crying. He has a truly sad, existential moment in this book when he and Hobbes find an injured racoon that dies, despite his parents’ attempt at rescuing it. Most easily spotted, the “friendship” he has with Hobbes (who is both an imaginary friend AND his more civilized alter-ego) demonstrates exactly how much warmth Calvin has within himself—even if the more monstrous persona is USUALLY in control.
As I mentioned above, I’ve read this collection at least a dozen times, and it still makes me laugh each time I read it. There is a tiny bit of socially critique in these comics (it takes an anarchist like Calvin to point out the absurdity in the supposedly civilized), but mostly what you get with this book is the joy of witnessing a wicked imagination in action. When math class gets too boring, you hop in your space fighter with Spaceman Spiff and blast off to planet Zog! This just makes sense to me…
So there it is. Great laughs, some first-rate anarchic adventures, plenty of dinosaurs and zombies and inexplicable reality-inversions, and a tiny touch of human kindness. That’s what you get with Calvin and Hobbes, and this is the first collection of Watterson’s fantastic, (and deeply missed), newspaper strip. There are some classic gags in this book, but really, the whole series is timeless!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)