Calvin's alter egos (Calvin and Hobbes)
- 1 General characteristics
- 2 Spaceman Spiff
- 3 Stupendous Man
- 4 Tracer Bullet
- 5 Others
- 6 References
Calvin often pretends he is someone else and often gets lost in imaginative landscapes. His hyperactive imagination leads him to envision himself as other characters with different abilities and goals to escape difficult situations such as school quizzes. The strips which portray these events blend fact and fantasy as Calvin morphs elements in the "real world" with his fantasies. On several occasions, Calvin has appeared as either a larger or a smaller version of himself, wreaking havoc like Godzilla or crawling across a book page as "Calvin, the human insect." More frequently, Calvin's imagination transforms him into a being of a different kind. In many comics which involve Calvin in an alter ego, the strip is heavily stylized to portray Calvin's environment from his imaginative point of view. Such strips often finish with the last panel or two back in the "real world," providing backstory or simply to show the real world consequences of Calvin's actions. (e.g., Spiff dousing an "alien" with a "Hydro Bomb" (i.e. a glass of water), who is revealed to be Calvin's father).
The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book provides background on Spiff's character. Watterson first conceived an earlier version of Spiff when he was taking a high school German class, producing a two-page, short-lived comic titled "Raumfahrer Rolf". When he was in college he reworked the strip and renamed his hero "Spaceman Mort", but decided not to publish it for various reasons. Later on, after finishing college, Watterson came up with the name "Spaceman Spiff" and made what he hoped was a professional strip with Spiff as a hero. There was little resemblance to the Calvin-Spiff character: The early Spiff was a "diminutive loudmouth" with a Charlie Chaplin moustache who explored space in a dirigible with his sidekick Fargle. All the newspaper syndicates rejected this early strip, and the present Spiff was finally born as one of the many imaginary alter egos of Calvin when the Calvin and Hobbes strip began.:68
Spaceman Spiff, "interplanetary explorer extraordinaire," explores the outermost reaches of the universe "by popular request" in a red flying saucer with a bubble canopy (resembling a UFO). As the comic developed and evolved over time, Watterson began to introduce Spiff's adventures with alliteration, featuring phrases such as, "Poised precariously over a percolating pit of putrid pasta."
The galaxy in which Spiff travels is a cruel place where Spiff is shot down or captured by ferocious and disgusting aliens. In reality, these aliens are often people such as Calvin's parents or Miss Wormwood. Frequently, Spaceman Spiff becomes stranded on an unexplored planet due to alien attacks or malfunctioning equipment. Most of these planets seem devoid of civilization, and often have hostile environments or alien predators. Watterson based his alien landscapes on the rock formations of southern Utah and landscapes within the comic Krazy Kat. Gradually, the monsters became more detailed.
The vocabulary, and Spiff's array of high-tech gadgetry, offered a caricature of the "science" found in many science fiction books and TV series. Watterson described Spaceman Spiff as a parody of Flash Gordon. The grand "space opera" style of Spiff's adventures may also spoof Star Trek and Star Wars. Since all the Spiff adventures have a lone protagonist playing with reality, they are close to the early work of Philip K. Dick and that of other writers who have featured lone individuals going to the edge of their perceived world.
In the final years of Calvin and Hobbes, Watterson began to show an interest in information technology, often pitting the progressive and computer-savvy Calvin against his technophobic and reactionary father. Watterson's satire of the personal computer and its effects spilled over into the Spaceman Spiff strips. In one strip, Spiff's ship had a computerized weapon control system that was so finicky and slow that Spiff was hit by the aliens before he had a chance to use any of his weapons.
In the Introduction to Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best, fellow comic strip artist Berkeley Breathed noted that in 1981, he had begun a storyline for his character Milo Bloom in Bloom County, which he described as 'a little blond-haired boy with an over-tweaked imagination working out his real-life anxieties and passions via space hero fantasies'; had it continued, it would have featured 'Dukakis and Donald Trump aliens'. Daunted by the negative reaction from the fans after the first strip based on this story, Breathed decided not to continue with the story, and began a new storyline by introducing a Penguin who watched the 'Mister Rogers' Show - an idea which sat much better with Bloom County readers. Five years later, Calvin rocketed into his adventures as Spaceman Spiff, which Breathed says 'was just how the comic universe was meant to be'.
Spiff carries a futuristic sidearm, originally named the Atomic Napalm Neutralizer. After the first few strips, the name was changed to the simpler Death Ray Blaster, or Death Ray Zorcher. It is difficult to say whether it was a replacement weapon or not, since both guns were similar in shape; on one occasion Spiff also used a similar one called an Atom Blaster. The Death Ray Blaster had various cooking-based settings ("Shake-n'-Bake", "Medium Well", "Deep Fat-fry","Liquefy" and "Frappe"), yet they prove useless against every enemy Spiff faced. The real-life equivalent of these fantasy weapons often turned out to be a dart gun, water pistol, rubber band, spitballs, or snowballs, explaining their ineffectiveness. Spiff's other weapons include Demise-O-Bombs (water balloons) a Zorcher (his water gun) at least one Hydro Bomb (a jar or glass filled with water) and one Stun Blaster (a rock).On one occasion he even had a jet pack (though this was just him running in real life).
Spiff's saucer is equipped with an astounding array of weapons, detectors and propulsion devices, many of which tend to malfunction. The design of the ship appears to be based on a toy spaceship of Calvin's, which appeared in one strip. On one occasion, it was shown as being equipped with a computer-guided weapon bearing the same name as the afformentioned Death Ray Blaster. The computer, unfortunately, was so finicky and slow that Spiff was shot down before he could use it.
Spaceman Spiff first appeared in the twelfth strip of Calvin and Hobbes on November 29, 1985.:26 Spaceman Spiff had a ten-page watercolor mini-graphic novel devoted to him in the Lazy Sunday Book. Spiff's last appearance was on October 1, 1995.:441
Use in clinical case study
Spaceman Spiff was cited as one particular aspect of Calvin and Hobbes that had clinical benefit in a child psychotherapy case study.
Planets mentioned in Spaceman Spiff's universe
Zorg, Gloob, Q-13 (mentioned twice), Zog (mentioned thrice), Zok, X-13, Bog, Mok, Zokk, the closest planet to Star X-351, Gork, Mordo, ZK-5, Quorg, Gorzarg-5, Zark, Ahnooie-4, Mysterio-6, Mysterio-5, Plootarg, Z-12, Zartok-3, Zimtok-5, and Zartron-9.
Stupendous Man is a superhero Calvin often becomes. He, like Spaceman Spiff, talks in third person. Stupendous Man has several nemeses: Mom Lady (Calvin's Mom), Babysitter Girl (Rosalyn), Annoying Girl (Susie Derkins), and the Crab Teacher (Miss Wormwood). Despite his frequent use of various "stupendous powers", Stupendous Man has admittedly only won "moral victories".
- S for Stupendous!
- T for Tiger, ferocity of!
- U for Underwear, red!
- P for Power, incredible!
- E for Excellent physique!
- N for ...um... something... hm, well, I'll come back to that...
- D for Determination!
- U for... wait, how do you spell this? Is it "I"??
Occasionally, Watterson seemed to use Stupendous Man to parody popular superhero comics with his use of superhuman powers for useless plans, like rotating the Earth around to give Calvin another day off school, a reference to the 1978 film, Superman. In one strip, Stupendous Man is identified as "Six-year-old millionaire-playboy Calvin", which could be a homage to Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne. Although in most, he is described as "Mild-mannered Calvin."
Stupendous Man's powers include high speed flight, "the strength of a million mortal men,":88 enhanced vision, "ultra-sonic hearing," and superhuman intelligence. Calvin often gives Stupendous Man titles such as "the masked man of mega might."
Stupendous Man's imaginary clothing corresponds to what Calvin is wearing. He wears a mask similar to the ones he uses to play Calvinball, but with a spandex hood and a cape that his mother made for him. Calvin only possesses the crimson cape and cowl; his imagination supplies the rest of a colorful spandex outfit. He seems extremely ignorant to the fact that his costume does not disguise his identity, and is baffled when he is punished for things he did while wearing it.
Once, while changing into his costume in his locker at school for a test (to use Stupendous Man's "Stupendous intelligence" to pass the test), Calvin audibly hums a tune (Bum ba da da DUM...bum ba da da DUM...), which is meant to be Stupendous Man's theme. Calvin flunked the test, however, and also got his costume confiscated by his mother. In another instance, he runs into a closet to change into his costume, only to realize that the door was locked from the outside.
Stupendous Man has 4 notable enemies. These are:
- Mom-Lady: Calvin's mother in real life.
- Babysitter Girl: Calvin's babysitter Rosalyn
- Annoying Girl: Susie Derkins, Calvin's next-door neighbour. When the "earth's gravity increased", Stupendous Man drops a huge snowball on Susie's head from a tree.
- Crab Teacher: Miss Wormwood, Calvin's teacher.
The character of Stupendous Man first appeared in the strip dated October 30, 1987, in which Calvin, sitting at the top of the playground slide, imagines himself as a superhero ready to leap from a tall building. His appearance was slightly different in this strip, only wearing a simple eye mask and cape rather than the hood and spandex costume that would later define the character. Calvin would debut his Stupendous Man costume a year later, in the November 2, 1988 strip. A possible predecessor of Stupendous Man was Captain Napalm, Protector of the American Way, who wound up trapped inside the closet while changing.
Stupendous Man's last appearance was on August 31, 1995 in a story where Calvin complains that are aren't many real heroes anymore. He is shown putting on the costume, mentioning that, as the world cannot look up to certain people, the "hero stuff" is up to him.
Relation to reality
Unlike Calvin's other alter egos, Stupendous Man has his adventures not in an imaginative landscapes but in the real world inhabited by Calvin, or at least a subtle variation thereof. Unlike his other alter-egos, there is a connection between what he wears and the costume he imagines himself in (see above). When Stupendous Man hurls a giant snowball onto one of his many enemies, Annoying Girl (Susie) from his perch in a tree, Calvin is seen from an outside perspective as dropping a smaller snowball from the same tree, into which he presumably has climbed one-handed. In contrast, a typical Spaceman Spiff adventure involves Spiff in a torture chamber facing a bug-eyed monster while Calvin is being given a quiz or a bath (administered by Miss Wormwood or his mother, respectively). Most tellingly, Calvin keeps Stupendous Man's costume in his dresser and depends on his mother to launder it.
Tracer Bullet is a hard-boiled private investigator styled after film noir and detective fiction stereotypes, such as Sam Spade of The Maltese Falcon or Philip Marlowe, who spouts incisive metaphors and wears a trench coat and fedora. He resembles Calvin, though the Frank Miller-like high-contrast art style Watterson uses in the Tracer Bullet strips obscures Bullet's features. Watterson considered this style dramatic but regarded it as time-consuming, and that the human eye has to work hard to study predominantly dark spaces, so he drew few Tracer Bullet strips.:132 There have been only three strip sequences that involved Tracer Bullet. Tracer Bullet owns at least three guns: a .38 revolver, a .44 Magnum and a .45 handgun.
Watterson first used Tracer Bullet in a story where Calvin has Hobbes cut his hair because, "the barber never cuts it the way [he likes]," and ends up bald. This story turned out to be one of Watterson's favorites: the sight of Calvin's haircut was one of the few times his own work made him laugh aloud, and Calvin's use of a fedora to cover his head led to the introduction of Tracer Bullet. Watterson would later lament, "Would that I could write like this more often" (Tenth Anniversary Book).
Tracer Bullet only appeared twice more. In his second appearance, Calvin has to solve a problem on a math test and imagines the process as Tracer Bullet. He last appeared in a story wherein Calvin and Hobbes break a lamp during a football game.:132–134
- Calvin loves dinosaurs and imagines himself as a dinosaur in many of the strips, usually a predator such as a Tyrannosaurus rex on the hunt. Once, he claimed to have discovered Calvinosaurus, a monstrous carnosaur that could devour an Ultrasaurus in one bite. On one occasion, he delivered a "tasteless and entirely uninformative" report on overpopulation, in which Susie Derkins is devoured in the schoolyard by a pack of Deinonychus dinosaurs as a consequence of natural selection." In another strip, he imagines himself as a T. rex terrorizing the art museum his parents dragged him into. He also pretended to be an Allosaurus fighting a straggler in an Apatosaurus herd. His adventures pretending to behave like dinosaurs usually end with him getting in trouble for making loud dinosaur noises in inappropriate places. Watterson remarked that dinosaurs became "one of [his] favorite additions to the strip".
- Calvin appears in several strips as an adult, often when he's been roped into playing make-believe with Susie Derkins, and the comic itself is drawn in a much darker and more realistic art style reminiscent of early Judge Parker or Rex Morgan, M.D. strips until Calvin gets fed up with the game, and the real world scene is revealed. According to Calvin and Hobbes Sunday Pages 1985-1995, Watterson expected the reader to wonder for a moment if Calvin and Hobbes had been dropped in favor of another strip. Watterson mentioned that he enjoyed having the adult Calvin (and adult Susie) get into ridiculous dialogue and actions.
- On a number of occasions Calvin appears as a Godzilla-like character and runs around (almost always naked) creating havoc. In one instance he actually refers to his mom as Megalon, one of Godzilla's actual enemies.
- Calvin often imagines himself to be a pilot. One time he piloted an F-15 to destroy his school; Watterson noted that the large volume of negative mail to a childish fantasy indicated that "Apparently, some of my readers were never kids themselves." In other strips, Calvin flies in the model F-4 he built (which works so badly that he cannot land or eject), aggressively passing other airliners on the tarmac, taking off, and encountering a collision with a landing airliner (the airliner resembles a McDonnell Douglas DC-10). He is also seen captaining a Boeing 727 competing with a rival airline's pilot for the same runway. In another strip, Calvin imagines himself as a pilot headed for St Louis, Missouri in a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 who then decides he wants to see the Grand Canyon up close—in reality, he is actually in the family car going to the store with his mother. He is also seen running for hours in circles outside the house pretending to be a Boeing 727.
- Calvin sees himself in a variety of animal bodies as well, from large mammals to insects, ranging from a veiled chameleon, an ant, a bat, a Great White shark, a Nile crocodile, an African elephant, a Pot bellied pig, a dog, a dung beetle, a dragon, a werewolf, a Blue-ringed octopus, a humpback whale, a chicken, a Song sparrow, a Bald eagle, a hummingbird, a Beaded lizard, a Masai giraffe, a Barn Owl, an Octopus, a Mosquito, a Fly, and even a tiger, appearing as a shorter version of Hobbes.
- Forces of nature/objects
- Calvin sometimes imagines himself as a gigantic thunderstorm, a "safe" (this came from his using the term "I'm safe!" with his transmogrifier gun, causing him to become one), a light particle, an active volcano, a planet causing a solar eclipse, a "C-bomb," an omnipotent deity,:75 and so on.
- Calvin occasionally finds himself being changed into various forms or having rather peculiar things happen to him. For example, he occasionally becomes a giant or a miniature version of himself, somehow reverses his "personal gravity," or becomes half-human, half-fly (as in The Fly). On one occasion, he became 2-dimensional.
- Captain Napalm
- A superhero who protects "truth, justice and the American Way." Only seen on three occasions and is a satirical Captain America. Calvin draws this character from a comic book hero of the same name, leader of the "Thermonuclear League of Liberty," whose exploits he reads, though he is rarely seen with a new issue. According to Calvin, Hobbes reads Calvin's comic books, neglects to put them back in the correct order, spoils the plots of Calvin's new issues by reading them first and commenting on the story as he reads, and mistreats the comics by drawing mustaches on everyone's faces. Captain Napalm trading cards can be obtained from bubble gum packs, and Calvin, being an avid gum fan, has collected nearly the whole series "except 8 and 34" after chewing almost $20 worth of gum.
- Pirate ("Cap'n Calvin")
- On several occasions Calvin has imagined himself as a pirate. In the first, it was shown from a 'real world' point of view, with himself and Hobbes playing in the treehouse. At the end, Hobbes gave Calvin a boot and said that it was their "booty". On another occasion, Calvin imagines himself on a ship on the high seas, calling out "Prepare the plank!" to which the comic shifts back to Calvin and Hobbes sitting on a crude raft in a pond, with Hobbes remarking, "Our ship is a plank." In response, Calvin says, "And you're gonna walk it, wise guy!"
- Safari Al
- In one small instance, Calvin imagines himself as a safari-explorer, hacking his way through a thick jungle (which later turns out to be his messy room) with a machete.
- Calvin the Criminal
- In one strip Calvin imagines himself as a convicted criminal on his way to be hanged, when he is forced to put on a tie.
- Calvin the Zombie
- In a series of comic strips, Calvin is supposed to be doing his homework. But, as usual, he daydreams off. Calvin puts on an obscure face, eats a PB&J messily in place of a human limb, and as he faces Hobbes, both of them begin to pretend to be zombies together. During the time of Hobbes' transformation, he uses the quote, "When in Rome", referencing to the act of doing as the Romans do. This ends when Hobbes and Calvin start laughing at each other's contorted looks, causing Calvin to remark, "Of course, real zombies never get the giggles when they look at each other."
- In one comic strip, Calvin uses his transmogrifier to turn himself into a tiger, albeit retaining the short stature of his human self (Hobbes remarks "Words fail me"), though Calvin and Hobbes spend the day doing practically nothing:
Hobbes: "How does it feel to be a tiger now?"
Calvin: "Kinda fuzzy, but not that different."
Hobbes: "So... what do you want to talk about?"
Calvin: "Do we eat soon?"
- In another strip, Calvin has just finished a bath, and is fed up with the world, so he resorts to turning himself into a tiger. He puts on red sleepers and a stuffed sock as a tail, and has Hobbes draw whiskers on him. Then Hobbes notes that the tiger suit is missing something. So Calvin goes to get his plastic vampire fangs. The two of them then go into the woods where Hobbes is supposed to teach Calvin to be a tiger. Calvin calls Hobbes a disgrace when Hobbes says, "as long as we're going inside, lets fix some soup and sandwiches, OK?". They end up dividing the woods because the encyclopedia states that tigers are territorial by nature. Calvin decides to turn back to a boy when Hobbes reads that tigers are an endangered species.
- Invisible Calvin
- In numerous strips Calvin believes that he is invisible, which always ends up with him removing his clothes so he is 'untraceable.' When his clothes are not on, he is usually caught stealing cookies (which his mom doesn't allow him to eat freely).
- Calvin the Giant
- In one strip Calvin imagines himself as "Calvin the mighty giant", and is seen destroying the town. In the end of the strip, he asks his mom to buy him more toy cars, with her saying no, as he deliberately stepped on them.
- Calvin the insect
- Calvin sometimes is turned into Calvin the human Insect.
Calvin frequently finds rather odd things happening to him, such as losing his "personal gravity", becoming two-dimensional, or being morphed into a massive horsefly a la The Fly. He has also been known to suddenly either gain size or lose it, and his subsequent actions lead to humorous results. Whether these are actually happening to him or if he is merely imagining it like his other alter egos, like the nature of Hobbes, is rather ambiguous.
- Calvin the god
- In one comic strip, Calvin's one of those old-fashioned gods that demand a sacrifice.
- Calvin the elephant
- In order to memorize his vocabulary words, Calvin uses his Transmogrifier to turn himself into an elephant.
- Higdon, Hal (1993-09-01). "A Boy and His Tiger". Boys' Life 83 (9) (Boy Scouts of America). pp. 46–47. ISSN 0006-8608. Retrieved 2009-05-01.
- Watterson, Bill (1995). The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book. Andrews & McMeel. ISBN 0-8362-0438-7.
- McGavran, James Holt (1999). Literature and the Child: Romantic Continuations, Postmodern Contestations. University of Iowa Press. pp. 6–12. ISBN 0-87745-690-9. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
- Watterson, Bill (2005). The Complete Calvin and Hobbes: Book One. Andrews & McMeel. ISBN 0-7407-4847-5.
- Watterson, Bill (2005). The Complete Calvin and Hobbes: Book Three. Andrews & McMeel. ISBN 0-7407-4847-5.
- Sullivan, Laura (2008). "Calvin and Hobbes to the Rescue: The Therapeutic Uses of Comic Strips and Cartoons". In Rubin, Lawrence C. Popular Culture in Counseling, Pschotherpay, and Play-Based Interventions. Springer Publishing. pp. 54–56. ISBN 0-8261-0118-6. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
- Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, May 17, 1987 on GoComics.com
- Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, December 11, 1987 on GoComics.com