If you like Calvin and Hobbes, you will love these comics recommendations
Looking to recapture the spirit of Bill Watterson's classic comic strip? We have some suggestions to help
Calvin and Hobbes is, by any stretch of the imagination, an iconic comic strip that shaped the childhoods of generations of readers; despite running for just over a decade — from November 18, 1985 through December 31, 1995, specifically — it has become a cornerstone of the medium, an example of just how truly fun (and beautiful, and meaningful, and perfectly executed) comics can be, and an almost impossible act to follow.
So: how do you follow Calvin and Hobbes?
There is, after all, only so much Calvin and Hobbes to read. After you’ve finished that, what comes next? There are some obvious solutions — be glad you missed the behind-the-scenes discussion over whether or not Charles Schulz’s Peanuts belonged on the list below — and some not so obvious, such as Bloom County by Berke Breathed, which actually featured Calvin and Hobbes in a 2021 sequence of strips. (Yes, really.) The appeal of Calvin and Hobbes has always been such a personal thing, though, that any list of recommended reading might risk missing the point of what any particular reading believed the strip was actually all about, all along.
Here, then, are six possible reading routes to explore after Calvin and his best friend have sledded off into the horizon — none trying to recreate what Bill Patterson did so expertly, but each building on the legacy of Calvin and Hobbes in its own way, even unknowingly. Perhaps there’s a new favorite to be found here.
Bone by Jeff Smith
Smith’s fantasy strip is in its own right as much of a timeless comics classic as Calvin and Hobbes, having been read by generations in multiple different formats in the years since its 1991 launch. Inspired by such disparate influences as Walt Kelly’s Pogo, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Bone is nonetheless very much its own beast: a charming story about three cousins who, despite their best intentions, find themselves drawn into an epic adventure involving dragons, true love, rat creatures with minds of their own, unspeakable evil, and — of course — true love. That Bone is also unspeakably funny feels almost unfair; few comics could have hoped to live up to this level of entertainment as was.
Buy on Amazon: Bone by Jeff Smith
Hilda by Luke Pearson
Pearson’s series of graphic novels featuring his fearless heroine and the surreal world she inhabits — one that involves rock trolls, elves that like to be very precise in all things, and no shortage of wonder and awe — might be best likened to what would happen if all of Calvin’s elaborate fantasies happened to actually be real. What makes this a great follow-up to Calvin and Hobbes, however, might be the spirit of kindness and possibility that is present throughout the entire run of graphic novels, publishing by British company Nobrow Press. (Eagle-eyed viewers might be familiar with the series via its animated adaptation on Netflix, which features none other than The Last of Us’s Bella Ramsey as the voice of the title character.)
Buy on Amazon: Hilda by Luke Pearson
Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters by Chris and Laura Samnee
Like Hilda and Bone, Jonna is an adventure fantasy strip inspired by some of the same influences on Watterson’s work on Calvin and Hobbes that reads, at times, like one of Calvin’s fevered imaginings — but what makes Jonna so remarkable, and worthy of a place on this list, is Samnee’s astonishing artwork, which might be the high watermark in a career made up of high watermarks. Fans of Watterson’s cartooning, which managed to combine clarity of movement with masterful character acting at all times, will find a lot to love here, even if Samnee’s line work owes more to Toth, Caniff, and Miyazaki than Patterson himself. I don’t want to undersell the appeal of such a well-done all-ages post-apocalyptic piece of writing as this series manages to be — especially one that manages to ring optimistic, rather than the alternative — but, man; the art on this series is amazing.
Buy on Amazon: Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters by Chris and Laura Samnee
Bunny vs. Monkey by Jamie Smart
And now for something completely different. Jamie Smart is, simply, one of the finest humor cartoonists working today, and Bunny vs. Monkey — a strip that runs weekly in British anthology series The Phoenix, and has been collected internationally — is not only a great example of his skill, but one of the closest things you can find to the manic energy of Calvin and Hobbes at its most frenetic. The basic set-up is explained by its title: a team of scientists attempt to send a monkey into space, but he ends up crash-landing in a nearby forest instead. The problem is, the monkey is a jerk, and he declares that he now owns the forest, and every other animal inside it needs to get lost, or else. If Calvinball or the rivalry between Calvin and Susie were your particular jams, this is almost certainly something you should be reading.
Buy on Amazon: Bunny vs. Monkey by Jamie Smart
Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson
Launching in newspapers more than a decade after the end of Calvin and Hobbes, Thompson’s Cul de Sac had similarities with that strip’s core concept — the world seen through the lens of a precocious kid with a particularly skewed view of how things work — but Thompson, who’d previously worked as an editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post, National Geographic, and The New Yorker, brought enough of an individual sensibility (and, notably, a dryness and, bluntly, neuroticism that stands out even today) to the writing and a unique, beautifully messy line that it won over fans almost immediately, including Watterson himself; one of the few public displays of his art since his “retirement” was a painting of Petey from the strip, created for a charity auction.
Buy on Amazon: Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson
Nancy by Olivia Jaimes
Arguably the most inventive (and, not coincidentally, most amusing) newspaper strip currently running Olivia Jaimes’ Nancy is a cartoon that’s consistently surprising, contrarian, and unapologetically idiosyncratic, reading at times as much like a private joke shared with the audience as a syndicated cartoon strip featuring characters and concepts that are, at this point, almost 90 years old. It’s all to the strip’s credit, pushing back against tradition and expectation in a way that remains both charming and hilarious five years into Jaimes’ run. Perhaps the most appropriate compliment for Nancy that I can think of is this: Calvin himself would be a fan of this strip.
Buy on Amazon: Nancy by Olivia Jaimes
After decades of quasi-retirement, Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson is about to return with a new picture book called The Mysteries.