Bill Watterson, creator of the syndicated cartoon strip "Calvin & Hobbes" is shown in this Feb. 24, 1986 file photo at his home in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
C.H. Pete Copeland—AP
By Merrill Fabry
November 18, 2015

Calvin and Hobbes have been friends for 30 years.

It’s been exactly 30 years since the two title characters of Bill Watterson’s comic strip Calvin and Hobbes met in the first strip of the comic published on Nov. 18, 1985.

Bill Watterson drew Calvin and Hobbes for the next decade, giving life to six-year-old Calvin and his tiger friend Hobbes—named after the Protestant reformer John Calvin and the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, a choice the cartoonist called “an inside joke for poli-sci majors” per the Los Angeles Times—until their final appearance on Dec 31, 1995.

In the first strip Calvin explains to his dad that he set up a tiger trap with a tuna fish sandwich for bait: “Tigers will do anything for a tuna fish sandwich!” In the final panel, Hobbes, held upside-down by a rope, eats the sandwich and says, “We’re kind of stupid that way.”

As Watterson’s style developed from the spare drawings of that first strip, he often played with artistic styles and created rich and realistic details for scenes from Calvin’s imagination, contrasting them with reality. Watterson’s drive for his art eventually won him greater creative freedom to draw Sunday strips without the usual panel restrictions. His syndicate agreed to sell his Sunday comics without the rigidly formatted cells, allowing him to create his own half-page layouts. In these color panels he would play around with the design to create larger panels for landscapes.

He also famously found the themes and imaginary world of his comic incompatible with consumer products. He refused to license it for merchandise because he thought the comic could not be condensed “without great violation to the strip’s spirit,” as he wrote in The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book. “My strip is about private realities, the magic of imagination, and the specialness of certain friendships. Who would believe in the innocence of a little kid and his tiger if they cashed in on their popularity to sell overpriced knickknacks that nobody needs?”

The lack of licensing was distinctive. Joel Allen Schroeder, who made the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson, told TIME in 2013 that not having outside representations of the characters was crucial to let fans’ imaginations run wild: “I really think that had he handled [licensing] differently, had things played out differently, this strip might not be as special for me, all these years later.”

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