Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review # 149: "The Days Are Just Packed" and "Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat"

"The Days Are Just Packed" is a landmark book for "Calvin in Hobbes" as it's the first to be printed in a wide format to accommodate Bill Watterson's new, uncompromising Sunday style. Watterson pushed hard for years to be able to break away from the traditional panel numbering and format which allows for the removal of the top two frames. He disliked it, saying the method stifled creativity. When Watterson won the war, he made the most out of it and created the best Sunday strip of the latter half of the 20th Century.

His first cartoon to break format - in which Calvin and Hobbes race through a forest on a sled - really doesn't push the boundaries very much, but Calvin talking about the concept of gratification seems to hint at something. The actual philosophy doesn't fit with that idea, but it's still noticeable. The first strip that really takes advantage of the set dimensions is where a brachiosaurus appears in Calvin's front yard, with a larger panel highlighting Calvin's perspective. Another one I really like has Calvin imagining himself as a bug. The pictures have an absurd level of detail, including a perfect Oreo cookie.

An oddity of this set, though, is that there is only one extended story in the entire book. While it's a little strange, it may be due to Watterson having a lot to get off his chest. There are strips after strips of Calvin - alone, in school, or with Hobbes - waxing philosophical about the state of the world and society. From news content to investment to the purpose of laughter ("I can't tell if that's funny or really scary.") Then again, there's still plenty of room for humour as Watterson starts hitting daily home runs on Calvin's snow creations. You have the snowman's head on Susie's front step, the "secretly ironic" traditional snowman and - my favourite - the row of snowmen saluting Calvin's father on the way to his car.

"Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat" carries on in the same vein. Boundary-pushing Sunday art (one where Calvin imagines being devoured by his dinner and his parents celebrating is one of my all-time favourites,) philosophy, humour... but there are more stories. Calvin's entry into a poster contest, a convoluted G.R.O.S.S. plan to ambush Susie with water baloons and - an all-time classic - Calvin taking his Stupendous Man costume to school, thinking it will help him pass a test ("Try to restrain yourselves, girls!")

If anything, the addition of more stories makes "Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat" the quintessential first Calvin and Hobbes book to hand someone. I don't think it's as good as "Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink'" and it's not necessarily better than "The Days Are Just Packed," but it truly represents everything that made the strip great.

Rating(s): 9.5/10 ("The Days Are Just Packed"), 9.5/10 ("Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat")

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