Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat by Bill Watterson

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: "I Like Verbing Words.  Verbing Weirds Language."
Cons: "Some People Have Secret Admirers.  You Have a Secret Detractor!"
The Bottom Line:
A great comic strip
With timeless humor to make
You laugh as you read

"I Bet Some Kids Walk Around Corners Without Even Thinking About It."

I still miss Calvin and Hobbes.

And I’m sure every fan of the classic comic strip would echo that sentiment.  The strip was funny, creative, and always funny.  The characters had personality.  The punch lines were often surprising even when the set up was familiar.  And the way the strip managed to poke fun at our culture was brilliant.  Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat was a collection from late in the strips run and includes strips from 1992 and 1993.

The strip follows six-year-old Calvin and his best friend Hobbes.  Hobbes just happens to be a stuffed tiger who is real only to Calvin.  And he often seems to be the more intelligent of the two.  Rounding out the cast we have Calvin’s parents, neighbor Susie, and teacher Miss Wormwood.

This book covers nine months and seems to contain more stand alone strips than actual stories, although there are several recurring gags.  For example, we get lots of Calvin’s take on modern art as he creates snow sculptures.  In a strip that scarily is even more appropriate today than it was 20 years ago, Calvin’s lemonade stand fails because of the high prices he is charging.  Missing in this book is babysitter Rosalyn, and bully Mo only gets one appearance.

As far as multiple day story arcs go, Calvin starts getting mysterious letters in the mail.  Who is sending them?  What will the messages say?  Late in the book, we get another episode with Get Rid Of Slimy girlS (G.R.O.S.S.) as they plot to ensnare neighbor Susie in a fiendish trap to lure her behind the house to hit her with water balloons.    Calvin’s alter ego Stupendous Man makes an appearance to take a history test for Calvin.  Calvin makes a deal with Susie to eats worms for money.  And as Christmas approaches, Calvin tries to figure out just how good he has to be to get presents from Santa.

At times, the strip was just a funny look at the life of a six-year-old who struggles in school mainly because he isn’t interested in the subject matter.  But at times, it was also a brilliant look at our culture.  I already mentioned Calvin’s snow sculptures with are a biting look at modern art.  While there’s only one strip involving his magazine for gum chewers, Hobbes' comment about our quiz addicted society is still spot on.  In fact, it’s rather hard to believe these strips are 20 years old.  Many of the remarks and observations made are still spot on today, sadly.

Coupled with the great writing is the great art work.  And I do mean art work.  Especially in the Sunday strips (which are reproduced in full color here), we get some beautiful pictures.  Sometimes it is of the outdoors where Calvin and Hobbes play.  It might also be on distant worlds that Calvin is exploring in his imagination.  Okay, so maybe they aren’t fine art, but they are certainly better than much modern art and the best you’ll find on the comics pages.

And did I mention that these strips are still funny?  Because they certainly are.  I have some of these strips memorized and use them as punch lines in my own life.  And yet I will still laugh when I read them in this book.  Twenty years later, that’s great humor.

So I continue to recommend Calvin and Hobbes in any book form.  Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat is just one great example of a strip I wish had lasted longer.

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