When I was a kid I used to sit on my hands after school and wait for the Whitehorse Star. I’d check the previous night’s hockey scores and then I’d read the latest edition of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.

My best friend, Adam Scheck, and I were obsessive about our favourite comic strip. When not reading it, we discussed it, quoted it, or competed to first get our hands on the latest collection to hit bookstores.

Watterson’s cartoons of a misfit boy (Calvin) and his tiger (Hobbes) were wonderfully creative, humourous, and insightful.

Of particular interest were the half-page Sunday strips that bulged out of the allotted panels and teemed with so much colour and energy that they threatened to transcend the medium that spawned them.

These Sunday strips often featured Calvin and Hobbes’s famous toboggan and wagon rides in which they would launch themselves down a hill and Calvin would use the opportunity to make an existential observation:

“That’s the problem with life. It rolls along with speed you can’t control. You can’t go faster or slower.”

Watterson’s drawings always perfectly mirrored the discussion on board — and the ride would always end with a crash, prompting Hobbes to lament:

“It’s not the pace of life I mind. It’s the sudden stop at the end.”

Deceptively simple. Kind of profound.

It wasn’t until he published The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book in 1995 that Adam and I started to realize how doggedly Watterson pursued and protected his art.

Ever wonder why there are no Calvin and/or Hobbes dolls, coffee mugs, television specials or calendars? Watterson refused to license his creation, though he faced immense pressure to do so. Undoubtedly it would have made him a very wealthy man, too.

But Watterson saved his biggest battle for his beloved Sunday strips.

Before Calvin and Hobbes came along, half-page comics followed a formula:

Three rows: the top row had a long rectangular panel followed by a short, square one; the middle row contained two panels of approximately equal length; the bottom row was the opposite of the top.

Every story had to be told within these confines.

In The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, Watterson writes, “As Calvin and Hobbes became more visually complex I found that I could not design the strip to the story’s best advantage…At times (the formula) threatened to ruin the idea and it frequently made for an ugly, graceless strip.”

Watterson was called spoiled for wanting to change the rules and fought the ire of both fellow cartoonists and newspaper editors; but despite threats, very few papers cancelled the enormously popular strip.

Until recently, I hadn’t read Calvin and Hobbes in years. I was scared that re-reading them would ruin the magic.

But they are as good as I remember.

Towards the end, Watterson’s strips regularly portrayed either world-weariness or pointed bitterness. One of the all-time greats is the strip where Calvin builds a gruesome, lopsided snowman.

Calvin: I call it the “The Torment of Existence Weighed Against the Horror of Non-Being.”

Hobbes: I admire your willingness to put artistic integrity before marketability.

In the final panel Calvin is hard at work on a more clichéd specimen.

Unable to deal with the grind of daily deadlines and the pressure to commercialize his art, Watterson quit Calvin and Hobbes after only ten years. Today he lives as a Salinger-esque recluse somewhere in Ohio.

When I re-read his cartoons I felt sad in the same way I do when I hear an old Nirvana song. I can’t help but think about all the Calvin and Hobbes strips that never were.

But like Kurt Cobain, Bill Watterson left us with an American masterpiece, and for that I’m grateful.

Calvin: I call it the “The Torment of Existence Weighed Against the Horror of Non-Being.

Hobbes: I admire your willingness to put artistic integrity before marketability.

In the final panel we see Calvin hard at work on a more clichéd specimen.

Unable to deal with the grind of daily deadlines and the pressure to commercialize his art, Watterson quit Calvin and Hobbes after only ten years. Today he lives as a J.D. Salinger-style recluse somewhere in Ohio.

Now, when I reread his cartoons I feel sad in the same way I do when I hear an old Nirvana song. I can’t help but think about all the Calvin and Hobbes strips that we never got to read.

But like Kurt Cobain, Bill Watterson left us with an American masterpiece, and for that I will always be grateful.

Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon