Calvin Hobbes - Style and Influences

Style and Influences

Precedents to Calvin's fantasy world can be found in Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts, Percy Crosby's Skippy, Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County, and George Herriman's Krazy Kat, while Watterson's use of comics as sociopolitical commentary reaches back to Walt Kelly's Pogo and Quino's Mafalda. Schulz and Kelly particularly influenced Watterson's outlook on comics during his formative years.

In addition to philosophical antecedents to Watterson’s work, he references preexisting, archetypical cartoon characters as a tool to create empathetic responses in the reader. Echoes of not only Charlie Brown, but also of Dennis the Menace, induce a nostalgic and warmhearted response in the new reader of any Calvin and Hobbes strip, even as the subject matter challenges that viewer to consider its extra-comical implications.

In early strips, the drawings have a flatter, Peanuts-like look but show more depth in later strips. Notable elements of Watterson's artistic style are his characters' diverse and often exaggerated expressions (particularly those of Calvin), elaborate and bizarre backgrounds for Calvin's flights of imagination, expressions of motion, and frequent visual jokes and metaphors. In the later years of the strip, with more panel space available for his use, Watterson experimented more freely with different panel layouts, art styles, stories without dialogue, and greater use of whitespace. He also makes a point of not showing certain things explicitly: the "Noodle Incident" and the children's book Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie are left to the reader's imagination, where Watterson was sure they would be "more outrageous" than he could portray.

Watterson's technique started with minimalist pencil sketches drawn with a light pencil (though the larger Sunday strips often required more elaborate work); he then would use a small sable brush and India ink on Strathmore bristol board to complete most of the remaining drawing. He lettered dialogue with a Rapidograph fountain pen, and he used a crowquill pen for odds and ends. He used Liquid Paper to correct mistakes. He was careful in his use of color, often spending a great deal of time in choosing the right colors to employ for the weekly Sunday strip. When Calvin and Hobbes began there were 64 colors available for the Sunday strips. For the later Sunday strips Watterson had 125 colors as well as the ability to fade the colors into each other.

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