Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Reader's Diary #1396 - Bill Watterson: Yukon Ho!

A few months back I posted a list of cartoons, comics, and graphic novels by province/territory. As you would predict this proved harder the smaller and more sparsely populated the place. For Yukon, I was surprised to find a collection of Calvin and Hobbes comics called Yukon Ho!

Now, after having read it, I'm not entirely comfortable with its inclusion on the list as the connection to Canada's smallest territory is minor at best. Like a lot of these strip collections, there's not much of a rhyme or reason behind the chosen material and a title does not imply a running theme.

Or does it?

This collection is prefaced by a poem by Watterson called The Yukon Song. With its simple rhyme  scheme (akin to Robert Service, one might say) and rhythm, it's not very good. It does however, accurately reflect Calvin's childish brand of imagination and idealism. Ignorant about all but the basic fact of Yukon, that it is cold and there is wildlife, Calvin supposes it to be a land of freedom, a place where he wouldn't have to go to school (he would), where he could yell and cuss (maybe, but not in school), and where the wolves would be his friend (they wouldn't). Partway through the book, the context of this daydream is provided: Calvin has had it up to hear with parental and school rules and plans to runaway to the Yukon to live in a lawless freedom.

Besides the fact that this idealistic naivete is the theme that runs through all Calvin and Hobbes strips (and therefore, not a bad choice for a collection title after all), I think it also pretty accurately reflects the North as imagined by many, adults included, who have never set foot north of 60. Before I came here 15 years ago, I too was pretty ignorant. Granted, I was the opposite of Calvin, instead of romanticizing the freedom and adventure, I was needlessly terrified for the cold and isolation. (For better or worse, I am proof that one can live a pretty happy and pampered life in the north.) So, for its ability to make me reflect on the difference between the idealized north and the real north, I'm happier to include Yukon Ho! on the list of Canadian comics and graphic novels. (And yes, I'm well aware that Watterson is American.)

Question of Canadian relevance aside, I cannot say I fell in love with this collection, nor Calvin and Hobbes strips, of which I'd never really paid much attention until now.  I don't know if it's Watterson's reclusive nature that has ramped up the allure or not, but there seems to be a hipster-cult following of Calvin and Hobbes and so I was expecting something more, something cooler or smarter. Really, I didn't see how it stood out among the rest of the Sunday funnies crowd and it's certainly more Garfield than The Far Side. Basically the theme I discussed above (i.e., Calvin uses his imagination to escape the doldrums and pressures of real life) is explored ad nauseum.

This is not to say that there weren't some gems, some examples when Watterson took a little more time in the art or commentary. I especially enjoyed the strips about Christmas and felt that he took a risk away from his typically innocuous fare. In one of these Calvin is beginning to have doubts about Santa, questioning the meaning of it all, and then applying that same logic to religion in general, "[...]Actually, I've got the same questions about God." In another, he's challenged by Hobbes after stating that Calvin will believe in Santa after all, as he doesn't want to risk not getting presents. After Hobbes charges that it is a "cynically enterprising" approach to take, Calvin rebuts, "It's the spirit of Christmas." Regardless of whether or not I agree with Watterson or whether it's even all that funny, I was thrilled for these rare moments when the comic was actually about something.

No comments: