Many of us look back on our childhoods and remember reading the weekend newspaper comics or buying compilation books of our favorite comics. One of the classics was Calvin and Hobbes. The adorable and mischievous little blond boy and his best friend, Hobbes the tiger (his "BFF" long before the term "BFF" came into being). Calvin and Hobbes showed us the power of a child's imagination and the nature of friendship.
Notably, creator Bill Watterson had always been against licensing for merchandising purposes, feeling that this would "corrupt" and "cheapen" his believed characters. After the comic strip ended in 1995, however, decals depicting Calvin urinating while looking back at you with an almost malicious smile began to show up on vehicles. Just like the "Jesus fish" and "Darwin fish", there came a time when you couldn't run an errand without seeing it on at least one vehicle.
The problem lay in the fact that when a creator doesn't seek a licensing scheme, there are fewer "watchdogs" and lawyers retained to ensure that there is no unauthorized usage of an image or character.
Even worse, the urinating Calvin picture became an avenue to insult rivals. The first mention of the decal in the media, in November 1995, referred to a motor home with Calvin urinating on the letters "LSU" (representing Louisiana State University), rival of UF (Florida University). The decal experienced the equivalent of viral success once someone made decals of Calvin urinating on various NASCAR numbers.
Sadly, Bill Watterson could not do much about the decals. They were bootlegged. Since the comic strip was defunct, there was no more license to use the characters. The urinating Calvin ended up also appearing on clothing and ended up at the center of a legal debate over the nature of indecency.
The True Origins of the Image
The urinating Calvin image was likely an alteration of a panel from a comic strip from June 5, 1988. In it, we see Calvin in an identical pose, except instead of urinating, he is filling up a water balloon from an outside tap.
Later in the strip, we see Calvin about to throw the water balloon at a reposing Hobbes, and Hobbes says, "As if life isn't short enough", at which point, Calvin reclines by Hobbes, visibly annoyed that his master plan did not come to fruition.
Some have expressed disappointment that Bill Watterson did not appear inspired to try to legally curb the use of his image, even though there had been arrests, and have wondered if Watterson just decided that life was too short to assist in prosecuting the sticker makers. Lawyers have also explained that it has been much more difficult to go after the sticker makers because they appear to be little "fly-by-night" organizations.
The Many Versions of Calvin
While it is (almost) always Calvin urinating on something, the details and depicted situations vary quite widely. Some sticker makers have gone and taken another image – of Calvin appearing to pray – and putting the Christian cross in the image. Others have made Calvin into the poster boy for Viagra. He wears different hats, urinates on different things, and sometimes doesn't even look like the character, although it is obvious from the pose who it is.
The Calvin decal has become so much of a cultural phenomenon in its own right, it has taken a life of its own, completely divorced from its origins. When we see this decal, we know it's him. But, instead of being the authentic Calvin, it's a character who has lost his original story.
Car decals are an economical way to personalize one's vehicle, so it's no surprise that variations of Calvin have appeared all over the place. If you are thinking of getting a decal for your vehicle, feel free to contact us and chat about your design, or get a quote. Who knows – maybe you'll create the next iconic pop image.