For millennials, there’s one comic strip that never fails to elicit a sense of nostalgia. Either due to its profound influence on our childhoods, or its abrupt disappearance from the funny pages in 1995, millennials look towards Calvin and Hobbes as a touchstone of forgotten innocence, imagination, and hope.
The cartoon has always been known for its brilliant use of symbolism and themes that, at times, might have seemed beyond the grasp of most children, but that only added to its appeal. Even though a new strip hasn’t been produced in almost twenty years, the adults that grew up with Calvin and his stuffed tiger friend are still discovering new layers of meaning in Bill Watterson’s work.
In fact, there’s a couple of things that very few people have ever noticed.
Let’s take this iconic image of the adventurous pair:
We’ve all seen this image, but have we looked at it? It seems to just be a boy and his imaginary friend making silly faces, but let’s look a little closer.
Ever notice how Calvin has exactly six teeth on top and nine on the bottom? That’s Watterson’s symbolism at work. He’s saying 69 – the sex number. He wanted us to know that sex is good, and his message seems incredibly apropos, here 20 years later, in the age of sexual liberation and the death of slut shaming.
Now, that might be a coincidence, you say, but is it really? Let’s take a look at something else in Calvin’s face. We’re going to have to get in a little closer for this one.
Take a good look at Calvin’s nose and his brow. Doesn’t that look a little odd to you? That’s probably because his nose is balls and a penis, and his forehead is a pussy!
I’d say that would have to be a hell of a coincidence for half of Calvin’s face to be the sex number and a penis and balls going into a pussy. The use of subtlety helps deliver the message that sex is not only okay – it’s also good and you should do it.
But, 69 and a penis in a pussy seem kind of limiting don’t they? What about gay people? Well, Watterson didn’t forget the LGBT community. Let’s zoom back out.
Ever notice that Hobbe’s bunny ears above Calvin’s head look a little off? That’s probably because it’s not Hobbe’s hand at all. It’s actually two penises, and it represents Calvin’s thoughts.
Calvin is sex positive, and he also thinks gay marriage should be legal. These were radical views back in the 1980s, and you couldn’t say this kind of stuff out loud. That’s why you had to hide it in children’s cartoons.
But, the most powerful message of all in Calvin and Hobbes isn’t his message of sex positivity or his embrace of homosexual marriage. It’s his deep commitment to feminism and the idea of rebranding femininity as strong, creative force.
Few people ever really think about why Watterson chose a tiger to represent Calvin’s imaginary friend. They don’t consider why he is literally – a pussy. But, a big strong pussy. A pussy that guides Calvin with the use of sarcasm and a trickling, lifelong supply of passive derision, just like a strong independent woman would do to her husband.
Again, people might say that Hobbes being a literal big pussy is a coincidence, and that he doesn’t represent the feminine or how the “adult world” (contemporary society) views female sexuality as imaginary. But, let’s go back to the images.
Take a look at Hobbes’s right armpit. Ever notice that his stripes get kind of messed up right there? To understand why, let’s go ahead and look at the image upside down.
Is it starting to look clearer to you? Here, let me give you a little help.
See it now? Still having trouble? Let me literally spell it out.
As you can see, there’s literally no way this is a coincidence. The word vagina – the technical term and not a loose euphemism – is literally written across the middle of the illustration. And it’s written upside down for a reason. Watterson wanted to turn our perception of women on its head. He wanted to change the world.
And guess what? He did.