If only for a short time, UC Santa Cruz students had a special opportunity — the chance to immerse themselves in the magical world of “Calvin and Hobbes.”
An exhibit dedicated to the legendary comic strip allowed attendees to peer up at Calvin’s treehouse, stand beside a three-dimensional reproduction of the desk of Calvin’s grade school teacher Miss Wormwood and join lifesize Calvin and Hobbes cut outs in a field, staring off into the night sky — a backdrop often employed in the strip to segway into deeper, more adult topics. All of this was replete with hand-drawn recreations of some of the better known strips.
“A Boy and His Tiger,” the homage to cartoonist Bill Watterson’s legendary “Calvin and Hobbes” strip opened March 31. Beginning and ending with strips by Watterson, the exhibit offered an in-depth progression of the characters, themes and impact of the comic.
Running for a total of five days, it was third in a series of “Massive Passive” programs presented by the Merrill College Office of Programs and Leadership. The program originated in 2011 with an exhibit dedicated to children’s author Shel Silverstein and was followed in 2012 with a retrospective on the Brothers Grimm’s classic fairy tales.
The large scale exhibit intended to offer students a chance to learn about something new despite their busy schedules, said Merrill College programs coordinator Seth Hodge. In an effort to act as a source of both entertainment and information, every year the staff selects a different focus for their “Massive Passive” program. Each topic leans toward a subject the student body is likely familiar with, but may be surprised to learn a thing or two about.
“We chose ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ this year because it was something my student staff was passionate about,” Hodge said.
Programs assistant Ainsley Blattel, who worked on the “Massive Passive” series since its inception, admits her own introduction to the world of “Calvin and Hobbes” was a tad unusual.
“My family had bought the books, but they were never presented to me to read as a child,” Blattel said.
That changed one day when a young and curious Blattel stumbled upon the books in a stack of bathroom reading material. She was hooked.
“The strip captivated me,” she said. “Calvin embodies the essence of childhood, and I was a child. I related to him. To be able to create an art exhibit that shared that special part of my childhood with the rest of Merrill College and UCSC was really incredible.”
The comic premiered on Nov. 18, 1985 with a strip explaining how the rambunctious Calvin first met Hobbes — he trapped him with the help of a tuna sandwich. Syndicated for 10 years, the strip’s run finally came to a close on Dec. 31, 1995. During the decade in between, the strip was published daily, always providing an intimate, infallibly side-splitting look into the bond between a mischievous 6-year-old boy and his tiger.
For student Brenda Vue, perusing the exhibit brought back fond memories of reading the comic with her sister.
“It meant you can have a [big] imagination. Having an imagination means you can have ideas and live in your own world,” Vue said.
The process to create a program like this takes an entire quarter, said Merrill College programs coordinator Seth Hodge. After choosing the topic in January, the small group of students and staff at the Merrill College Office of Programs and Leadership began researching and brainstorming, creating the content over multiple weeks. The final product was installed in three days over spring break.
A significant amount time and effort is expended on behalf of the staff to create such an exhibit. The group makes sure to carefully strike a balance between the educational aspects of the exhibit and its entertainment value.
“I hope students will learn more about ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ as well as Bill Watterson,” Hodge said. “I also hope they will re-explore the way they look at comic strips and realize there can be more to them than just a quick laugh.”
To honor Watterson’s beliefs about the reproduction of his own work, all artwork in the exhibit was hand-drawn. The exhibit acts as a crash course in all things “Calvin and Hobbes,” highlighting key points of the famed cartoon strip.
“Most importantly,” Hodge said, “I hope anyone who [went] through the exhibit [had] a smile across their face. Whether it is from the nostalgia of their own childhood or from the introduction to an imaginative boy and his tiger.”