Calvin once complained that he was “a 21st-century kid trapped in a 19th-century family.” At least no one can say the same about the comic strip itself these days.
Given creator Bill Watterson’s well-publicized objections to the commercialization and commodification of his work, it once seemed plausible that the Calvin and Hobbes archives might remain confined to the printed page long after other comics had made the leap to the digital realm. Indeed, its migration onto the Internet has been slow and fitful. But last year, digital rightsholder Universal Uclick gave its blessing to a marvelous homemade Calvin and Hobbes search engine after I and a few others wrote about it enthusiastically. And now Engadget reports that Universal Uclick (the digital arm of publisher Andrews McMeel) has released its first GoComics mobile app for Android, iOS, and Windows operating systems.
Calvin and Hobbes is the app’s headliner, because as far as I know it’s the first time the strip has appeared legally on mobile phones. But there are also several others of note, including Dilbert, Doonesbury, Garfield, and the underrated Pearls Before Swine.
Whether bringing the snarky 6-year-old to smartphones is Watterson’s decision is unclear. (I’ve emailed Universal Uclick to ask and will update if they respond.) But I’d like to think he sees the value in making his work available on a platform that will allow it to reach a new generation of kids. My colleague John Dickerson recently ruminated on the value of allowing one’s offspring to discover the strip’s joys on their own. Making it available on tablets and smartphones, where kids do a growing portion of their reading, would seem to significantly up the chances of a serendipitous encounter.
By contrast, Gary Larson’s The Far Side appears to still be a digital holdout. A Google search for the strip turns up what appears to be a genuine plea from its creator to “please refrain from putting The Far Side out on the Internet.” Larson explains:
These cartoons are my "children," of sorts, and like a parent, I'm concerned about where they go at night without telling me. And, seeing them at someone's web site is like getting the call at 2:00 a.m. that goes, "Uh, Dad, you're not going to like this much, but guess where I am."
Larson’s protective instincts are understandable. But good parents know that they can’t shelter their kids forever. Let them out, Gary. They have a lot to offer the world today.