Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: The Days are Just Packed by Bill Watterson

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: "Actually, I Just Like to Say Smock.  Smock, Smock, Smock, Smock, Smock, Smock."
Cons: "If You Ache, It's Because You Don't Properly Stretch Before Exercising."

The Bottom Line
New collection style
Filled with the same old humor
For book filled with laughs

"What Would You Call the Creation of the Universe?"  "The Horrendous Space Kablooie."

The Days are Just Packed represents a change for the classic comic strip Calvin and Hobbes - at least for the books.  The strips themselves are just as funny as ever and really do hold up over time.

So what's this change?  The format of the books.  They are now sideways on legal size paper.  That allows for two black and white strips or one fully color Sunday strip per page.  It also means that the Sunday strips that have some unusual spacing are really able to shine.  It makes the book a tad more awkward to read, but I'm now really complaining about that.

And why would I when the contents of the book are so classic?  Here we are almost 20 years after this book came out, and I'm still laughing at the same old strips over and over again.

If you've missed the strip, it stars six-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes.  Hobbes is Calvin's best friend and is completely alive to Calvin.  Of course, Hobbes can be a bit of a pain, like when he tackles Calvin for no good reason or reacts sarcastically to Calvin's brilliant ideas.  (Of course, maybe Hobbes just knows from experience that Calvin's ideas are doomed to fail.)  Calvin's world is filled with his parents, his neighbor Susie, teacher Miss Wormwood, and the bullyMo.

The strip was a mix of stories told over the course of multiple strips and one off strips that are a self-contained joke.  This book seems to have more of the single strip jokes than the longer stories, but they're all funny, so it doesn't matter.  Among the stories here, Calvin decides to believe his daily horoscope only to see it fall far short of expectations.  He also tries to time travel to get his homework for his future self so he doesn't have to do it, only to find out that it never got done because he was too busy time traveling.  The ending to that one is a classic.

There are also critics of American culture as Chewing, the magazine for gum chewers, is introduced.  The satirical look at advertising is just as true today as it was then.  There are also jokes at art culture as Calvin continues to build hideous snowmen or build with model clay.  Again, the screwing of culture is spot on and hilarious.

Since creator Bill Watterson took a break while these strips were first being run in newspapers, we have about nine months worth of strips, but they take place in a weird time where we have a touch of winter before hitting summer and then spring and summer again.  Just go with it, and you'll be fine.

The art work is stylized, and most comic strips are.  The characters are somewhere on the continuum between realistic and caricature, but you can always tell exactly what is happening.  For the jokes that rely on the surroundings, that's important.

There are really no jokes here that date the strip.  And the humor is still spot on, so everything is just as funny today as it was when these first came out 20 years ago.  If you haven't read it before, I guarantee you will laugh at the strips here.  As I said earlier, I still laugh at some of the ones I've read countless times before.

As so I highly recommend this book.  You can never go wrong with Calvin and Hobbes, and The Days are Just Packed proves it.

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