It’s a defunct comic about a precocious young child, plagued by an adult world that doesn’t understand him. It’s about his wisecracking friend in a sea of inane suburban banality. It’s about searching out chinks in the armor of implacable authority.
I’m talking, of course, about the Boondocks.
Actually, I’m talking about Calvin and Hobbes.
Actually factually, I’m talking about both.
I was looking through some of my favorite old collections when I realized how deeply these two comics talked about the same issues from a similar but very different perspective. Calvin lives a life of sheltered indulgence he never really appreciates. Considering the amount of… well, criminal mischief he has perpetrated, his parents never really actually provide much in the way of punishment for him. Sure he gets yelled at a lot, but really he’s subjected to even less discipline than Bart Simpson.
I believe this comes from the ‘phoning it in’ section of the parenting book. I think the first caveman uttered it when his kid said he was too young to catch his own wildebeest. I got the sense in this strip that Calvin’s dad enjoyed the turnabout of handing off what his father handed off to him. I don’t know if this is universal to all fathers, but since it’s my dad’s birthday today, I will extend the benefit of the doubt and assume this really was something he told me For My Own Good.
Contrast this to the world of Huey Freeman. Huey, like Calvin, lives in the suburbs. Unlike Calvin, he was born in the city (Chicago, if you were wondering- you know, that war zone two steps away from military intervention [at least Fox news tells me so]) before relocating with his brother and grandfather. It’s not established where the boys’ parents are, but given Huey’s radicalism and Riley’s unabashed devotion to thug life, it’s a safe bet they’re nowhere good.
I don’t get the sense of helplessness from Huey’s grandfather that I get from Calvin’s dad. His boys get up to mischief. A lot of mischief. Though not, I would argue, the amount of criminal mischief that Calvin does. I mean, he accidentally stole his parents’ car. But granddad Robert is having none of it. He’ll fill those boys days with punishments and chores, not for any sense of discipline (if you ask him), but because sometimes a brother gotta watch his shows in peace. Lip of course does not equal peace.
Huey is not a boy who is going to protest at the unfairness of anything. Partially because he’s more clever than that, but mostly because he already knows this, and he’s probably come to that realization more honestly than by an early bedtime. But maybe it’s not fair to contrast Calvin to Huey. Calvin is six years old and Huey is a more worldly ten. Anyone who spends time around young kids can tell you there are a million years between six and ten. I don’t even mean that figuratively. Kids change time. Seriously, Einstein did a whole field of study on it. Google it.
A more just comparison might be made between Calvin and younger brother Riley. At eight years old, Riley has more of the exuberance and abandon that Calvin has. He hasn’t entered the cynical world of double digit life. While the biggest challenge of Calvin’s social life is Moe the bully and protecting his toys from Moe’s chubby fingers, Riley has the entire culture of toxic masculinity working against him. Calvin will do his best to disappear into the landscape. Riley will dominate it. Calvin is trying to escape the notice of a system that expects too much from him. Riley is trying to crush a system that expects too little. I think the difference is best exemplified in how they approach Santa Claus.
These are basically the same letter. Calvin writes his for therapeutic purposes and dares not send it for fear of offending the powers that be. Riley doesn’t consider not sending his for a second because he knows he is the powers that be. Different sides, same coin.
The sad irony of these strips is that Calvin probably turned out ok. My bet is that he squeaked through school to the relief of his ineffectual parents and made his way into college where he continued his criminal shenanigans where he was perpetually indulged with a boys will be boys attitude, As for Riley and Huey, I assume that Huey’s FBI file and Riley’s gangstalicious lifestyle led Grandpa to an earlyish grave. Huey calls Riley when he can at the supermax he ended up in, but it’s not as often as he would like because he travels from one undisclosed location to another while living under the anarchy street artist moniker ‘Wakanda’.
I love both of these strips and they inspired me to want to be able to communicate visually and concisely. Superficially, they may not have much in common but if I had a chance to re-christen them, I would call them White Privilege and Black Pride. I only hope that Huey and Calvin have crossed paths out there somewhere in after comics land, I think they would be friends.