Christian Heilmann

All our work should be like Calvin and Hobbes

Saturday, November 26th, 2011 at 7:53 pm

You may not know it, but I am a huge Calvin and Hobbes fan. Not as big as this guy, but big:

Calvin and Hobbes tattoo

The reason to me is that Calvin and Hobbes is full of features that I consider the ingredients of great quality work, and something we should strive to emulate:

  • Simplicity – none of the comics are very complex, there is no depth in the paintings, no 3D shadings with metal effects. A few black and white lines arranged in the right way make the effect
  • Staying in the boundaries – the comic never deviated from the normal format of a few panels with the exception of the Sunday specials which were in colour and full-page or some Christmas specials. This is OK and I never expected it to do anything like that. Staying within standardised boundaries and being beautiful at the same time is harder than breaking the mould all the time.
  • Beautiful details – what makes C&H lovable is the little details – Calvin’s shoes that look like bread rolls, the jumping TV set, Hobbes’ fuzzy belly. All of which are a few lines that are not like you expect them but make you see the effort that went in
  • Delivery vs. money focus – there was never any official Calvin and Hobbes merchandise other than the books. Bill Watterson wanted to deliver a great product on paper and that is it. No animated series, no real actor movie, just books. I sincerely hope it stays that way.
  • Syndication brings fame – Calvin and Hobbes is printed in newspapers, it uses an existing channel to reach as many people as possible. This is a tough place to get to, but you reach everybody and not just a chosen few.
  • Good messages – beyond the funny pictures, Calvin and Hobbes covers a lot of important topics. From environmental issues to philosophy, you find good messages without any religious overtones found for example in Peanuts. Through the mouth of a very excited kid bad things come across in a very powerful way when he is bummed out about something.
  • Rules can be bent or broken – Calvinball has no rules, but seems to be a lot of fun. Science is fascinating but can be bent if you want to have a transmogrifier to turn you into a pterodactyl if you want to.
  • Relationships keep things interesting – Calvin and Susie Derkins or Calvin and his dad remind me a lot of times about the tensions and relationships I have with people I work with in a less destructive way that Dilbert does. Yes, there is animosity, yes there are misunderstandings, but all in all we care about each other.
  • The source matter is not important if your imagination is good – Calvin building his snowmen of horror or assembling junk dug out from the ground into a dinosaur skeleton are great examples of that.
  • Summon your alter egos – when Calvin escapes his dilemma of having to do homework by becoming “stupendous man” or “spaceman spiff” I think of how I look at my work from the angle of an end user or person with a disability. Going out of your normal frame of mind can be immensely powerful.
  • Be passionate and up for it – Calvin is always 110% (it might be the sugar in the breakfast cereal) and so should we. Passion is the most important part that drives creativity. Passion can lead to controversy and misunderstandings. This is good, and it is sad to see that we live in a society were people with strong opinions are labeled destructive and negative. They may not be, they are just up for it and want to change things and experience new things all the time. If we stop that we deliver mediocrity
  • Be warm and don’t fear to show your emotions – the most wonderful moments are in Calvin and Hobbes when emotion comes through, beyond all logic. When Calvin forgets Hobbes in the garden and his parents seek him in the dark (in his stuffed toy form) and Calvin’s mom catches herself shouting his name, we know that the characters care for each other a lot. When Calvin cuddles up with his parents every time something bugs him you want to be part of it. Emotions are good, we should not hide behind a mask of awesome or professionalism

I might be rambling here, but I think it is important that we give our best when we create. It is a magical world out there and we all have some little magic to bring into it. When Calvin gets moody about autumn arriving and the summer being over and Hobbes explains that the leaves with their different colours look like fireworks of mother nature, I knew that even bleak moments can become magical when we allow them to.

And if you can not deliver this every time you do something, that is not a problem either. Some days are bad, so bad that even your lucky rocketship underpants don’t help. All we can do is deal with them and move on.

Share on Mastodon (needs instance)

Share on Twitter

My other work: