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Classic 'Calvin and Hobbes' strips back for encore

Nearly a decade has passed since the spiky-haired moppet and his stuffed — or was it real? — tiger last greeted countless fans with their morning misadventures and musings.

Now it's time for reminiscing.

The Deseret Morning News — and more than 300 other newspapers — are reprinting classic "Calvin and Hobbes" strips for a 17-week run that ends on Dec. 31.

The selected material is not a run of "greatest hits" but rather strips that represent the scope of creator Bill Watterson's work.

"We didn't try to pick the 'best of' because eight different people would have different views," said Lee Salem, editor of Universal Press Syndicate, which licenses publication of "Calvin and Hobbes" to newspapers. "We tried to pick a cross-section that showed the breadth of the strip."

The strip focused on the relationship between 6-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. Hobbes appeared to be a toy to everyone except the hyper-articulate Calvin, who saw and interacted with Hobbes as a real tiger.

The origin of their monikers was somewhat highbrow. The incorrigible, tactless and jagged-haired Calvin was named after John Calvin, a 16th-century theologian. The pragmatic Hobbes' namesake was the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

Together, the two shared various misadventures and surprisingly stately and satirical conversations that explored subjects including philosophy, politics and art.

The critiques were often stinging. Reality was often questioned, with readers torn, among other things, about whether Hobbes was a live animal or not.

"It had such consistently high standards and crafting," said Thomas J. Biondolillo, professor of media arts and animation at the Art Institute of Atlanta. "It kept such a nice, neat balance of social commentary. But it was always about the little lives of Calvin and Hobbes. The characters are timeless. The innocence of a child, which everyone relates to. It was a nice balance of nostalgic and contemporary."

Watterson, in many ways, is the J.D. Salinger of cartooning. He does not grant interviews. He turned down countless licensing opportunities for his characters. (Those scandalous Calvin stickers so nobly displayed on the back of pickup trucks? Bootlegs.)

The cartoonist often demanded — and received — artistic freedom granted to few comic strip artists. This didn't endear him to several cartooning contemporaries.

Not that these newspaper reprints are without an agenda. They're publicizing the release on Oct. 4 of "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes," a three-volume (23-pound!) hardcover collection of all 3,160 strips. It will retail for $150.

Again, Watterson — ever the iconoclast — is not granting interviews.

The strip, which began on Nov. 18, 1985, officially ended on Dec. 31, 1995. Watterson cited the grind of daily production among the reasons for ending his classic creation. At its peak, "Calvin and Hobbes" was published in nearly 2,500 daily newspapers.