After Bloom County and Shoe, Calvin and Hobbes was the first comic strip I truly loved. I was in middle school at the time when it first appeared in the Columbus Dispatch, and I remember clearly one of the things I found so captivating about the strip was the strips that explored Calvin’s imagination – the Spaceman Spiff stuff, for example. Frequently, this was where Watterson showed off his drawing ability, with energetic and detailed drawings of dinosaurs, film noir, and alien planets. I even remember writing a story in middle school about a kid who made his parents made by imagining himself as other life forms, which was the source of conflict. The main character was named Heathcliff, perhaps cribbed from a lesser known strip today.
Now I’m fascinated by Watterson as a painting recluse, one who knew it was time to leave when he was at the top of his game. He fought the system valiantly and successfully, increasing the size of his Sunday strip and refusing to market his characters into cheap plush toys or T-shirts (the fact that I still see Calvin pissing on car logos indicates how much potential money he gave up.) The fact that Calvin and Hobbes was consistently good during its run is testament to the fact that Watterson know when it was time to hang it up. It still remains one of the crowning achievements of newspaper strips.
So here are some early Watterson strips, before Calvin, when he was doing cartoons for the Mark Twain Journal,