"Calvin and Hobbes" transcended its medium. Yearning for earlier days when comic strips were more ambitious and told longer stories, Bill Watterson set out to do the same. Down the line, he would change the way strips and books were published. In his first volume... we are a long, long, LONG way off.
A lot of what many have come to love about "Calvin and Hobbes" is there nearly from the start. Hobbes' nature is mysterious; Calvin drifts very early into his "Spaceman Spiff" fantasies; His dad tells him that doing something he dislikes "builds character;" His mom fumes over her son's destruction; Calvin grosses out Susie Derkins with his lunch; Babysitter Rosalyn strikes fear into Calvin's heart.
However, the level of excellence many would come to expect from "Calvin and Hobbes" is not there yet. The gloriously-drawn fantasy sequences we remember are still very crude and cartoony here. Character designs are off and Calvin's nose just doesn't look right. There's some experimentation with facial expressions, but it's still all very kiddy. The most noticeable difference: it's neither as smart nor as funny as it would grow to be, but that's expected.
It's still funny, though. Some jokes lose punch because they're being done for the first time and would get way funnier down the line. Calvin showing his dad made-up polling numbers is a prime example. Calvin and Susie's relationship, though, is already firing on all cylinders (not too surprising given how Susie was lightly based on Watterson's wife) and is as funny as it ever was. As they compare show-and-tell notes, visit the principal's office, play house and fight with snowballs, the laughs come as loudly in year one as they do in year ten.
In all, Watterson got off to a good start and definitely enough of one to draw some serious attention. It would be years until he stepped into his real groove, but this is still A-grade material.