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My son Wynn is obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes. This has just happened in the last few weeks, after I gave him an old book I had lying around, “The Essential Calvin and Hobbes,” and watched him devour it over and over. It has changed him, in some truly lovely ways. I’ve noticed him trying to wrestle his brother the way that Calvin and Hobbes wrestle—just a wild jumble of arms and legs everywhere—he has started asking us to make him a tuna fish sandwich for lunch (“tigers love tuna fish sandwiches!”) and the other day, out of nowhere, he said the word “BOINK.” I assume he got it from this strip:
“Calvin and Hobbes,” like an old stuffed animal actually, is one of those gifts you can enjoy, put away and forget about for a few years, and then bring back out to your utter delight: It’s happy to wait for you. I hadn’t realized until this recent Wynn resurgence that it’s clearly stated how old Calvin is in the comics: He’s six. That’s the exact age my son is, and that the six-year-old Calvin has had an instant mindmeld with my six-year-old provides me immense joy. Wynn told me at breakfast this week, “Calvin is always getting into trouble,” and he giggled like he was talking about his best friend. Considering Wynn’s schooling in 2021 and most of 2020 has involved him staring at the screen at the disembodied faces of his would-be classmates on his iPad, he very well might have been.
Sometimes I will walk past his room, and he will be face down in that book, just cackling.
Being reintroduced to the world of “Calvin and Hobbes,” a place where the troubles of the world are always present but just off-frame, has been, I must say, a bit of a revelation for me during this particularly disorienting and destabilizing fortnight. The last “Calvin and Hobbes” strip ran 25 years ago—25 years ago on New Years Eve, actually—but I find it surprising how much I’ve found myself needing it. We are in a period of nearly unprecedented upheaval, and every day feels perilous, like we must step gingerly so that we do not explode. Reading “Calvin and Hobbes” with my son has … helped. I’m not merely finding it escapism; I’m finding it a way to try to make some sense of … anything.
It is inherently big-hearted in its worldview, but it is anything but mushy, Chicken Soup for the Soul-style fake-uplift. It is fully aware, sometimes too keenly aware, of human nature, and its eternal ability to justify its own base instincts. “Calvin and Hobbes” embraced philosophical discussions—it’s right there in the name of the strip—but was very much aware of their limitations.
I took the image of this strip from an old Progressive Boink post from my longtime fellow web nerd Jon Bois (from 2004, and I know it’s surprising to some of you that the internet was in fact around in 2004), and I love what Jon wrote about this particular comic: “Calvin's a grossly misbehaving child, and no matter how he tries, he can't betray his nature. It's kind of refreshing to see a strip that doesn't feel the need to have an uplifting message, or feel like it needs to point out that it's mean to whack an innocent person upside the dome with a snowball.”
There is something very clear-eyed about that strip, actually: Calvin is smart, and thoughtful enough to understand why it’s important to try to do the right thing, but also as prone to falling prey to his basest instincts as the rest of us. I find myself fighting the losing battle that Calvin fights in this strip every day. I suspect you do too. There is still value in trying to fight.
I also confess this strip right here changed the way I thought about animals. Wynn loves this one too:
“They got Frank!”
But mostly: I’ve found reading these strips with Wynn has been forcing me to live in the right here and now at a moment in history when I very much need to. Every time I look at my phone, something awful is happening, or we’re being warned that something’s about to. Even the moments where something good happens are followed immediately by someone trying to undercut it. (We got to be happy about Warnock and Ossoff down here for … five hours?) There’s a non-zero possibility that this awfulness is not the death spasm of something terrible, but the dawn of a new age of it. I do not know what the future holds. I do not know how we are going to get through this. I do not know how to keep the people I love safe.
But I can, as Wynn and Calvin and Hobbes are always eager to remind me, try to appreciate what’s right in front of me, and how rare and true that is.
Bill Watterson quit doing the strip 25 years ago and … disappeared. He has given two interviews in 20 years, the most recent a wonderful one with Mental Floss. He has otherwise avoided the usual and expected commercialism that comes with having a universally beloved brand and property; he will not even license either Calvin or Hobbes for merchandising. You get the strips, and that’s all you get. They are meant to speak for themselves. That, along with the fact that we were in a pandemic and democracy was collapsing at the time, was why there wasn’t much to-do made about the 25th anniversary of the final “Calvin and Hobbes” strip passing in December. I suspect there are many young people who have no idea “Calvin and Hobbes” ever existed at all.
But it can still enchant and wonder, all these years later. It can be a balm for adults in an impossible time, and it can mesmerize a six-year-old, a little Calvin himself, and spark his imagination the same way it always has. I am beginning to understand why my six-year-old has gotten obsessed with it right now, of all times. They always pick up on so much more than we know. The world is scary and overwhelming. But this is still a world that made “Calvin and Hobbes.” When I look back at this time, I will remember how hard it was, how it felt like everything might just be falling apart. But I will also remember lying in bed with a six-year-old, flashlight in hand, laughing along, giddy to just have a big sunny field to be in, finding it hard to argue with someone who looks so happy.
(I know I just had the whole bit about Watterson not merchandising “Calvin and Hobbes,” and how much I admired it, but when your six-year-old tells you how much he wishes he had a Hobbes, and there’s a knockoff called Regit the Plush Tiger Toy, and even though you know it’s a sketchy capitalist ploy, you also know that when you put it on his pillow when he wakes up in the morning he’s going to scream “Hobbes!” and carry it with him everywhere he goes from then on … well, when you know all that’s going to happen, you apologize to the intellectual property department and just watch your kid smile.)
WEEKLY BOOK UPDATE: 16 WEEKS TO LAUNCH
Hey, a new weekly rubric here at The Will Leitch Newsletter, featuring weekly news, updates and pre-order reminders for How Lucky, my novel that comes out May 11. This week’s update comes from Chris Bohjalian, the author of The Flight Attendant (the basis for the HBO series) and The Red Lotus. We sent him an early copy for a potential blurb, and he seems to be liking it so far.
So hey, don’t listen to me: Listen to The Flight Attendant guy, and pre-order your copy of How Lucky now. Here are all your pre-ordering options.
(Just 16 more weeks of this to go, sorry.)
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
On Never Getting Over the Hump, Medium. I’m trying to stay optimistic and hopeful after the events of last week … but I had to get this piece out of the way first.
The Next Ten World Series Winners, Predicted, MLB.com. A great way to improve one’s mood is to do silly, fun pieces like this one. I got to chat about this one on MLB Network, and even got some throw-pillow discussion in there.
Biden’s Economic Plan Finally Acknowledges Parents’ Pain, Medium. This is probably about as close as I’m going to get to “policy analysis.” (Not that close.)
The NFL Playoffs Are Here, and Quarterbacks Are Getting Milkshake Duck’d, GQ. I’ll be writing weekly for GQ during the playoffs, and this was a fun start.
Remembering Trump’s 2017 Inauguration Concert, Medium. We will never let you forget, Three Doors Down!
Bill Belichick Isn’t Getting Off That Easy, New York. The editorial calendar sort of messed up this piece a little bit, but it’s all right.
Is Scott Rolen a Hall of Famer? MLB.com. A fun collaboration with some MLB.com colleagues.
The Thirty: The Longest Tenured Player on Each Team, MLB.com. Hopefully this will be Yadi again on the Cardinals soon.
Grierson & Leitch, no show this week, but we’re taping our season premiere on Sunday.
People Still Read Books, no show this week, hopefully taping next week.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we finally did our Peach Bowl postgame.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“Donald Trump Is the Perfect Leader of the Worst Generation,” John F. Harris, Politico. I know, I link Harris too much in this spot, but I cannot resist some good Boomer bashing. (I still love you all. But seriously, you really did blow it.)
Also, this was infuriating.
ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON
Years of Trump presidency, ranked by awfulness
2021 (if only he’d had more time)
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
I have noticed the mail speeding up in 2021, actually. Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Who Invited You?” The Donnas. I’ve been trying to find a good kiss-off song for Trump’s last week. This is one of my favorites. “What do I have to do to get rid of you?
Who invited you?” I really miss The Donnas.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
I know there are a lot of thoughts about what the next four years are going to be like, and how much time it will take to get over the last four, but … I mean, this little person was a lot smaller the last election and will be a lot bigger by the next one. A teenager even:
Be safe, everyone. I really mean it this time.