Calvin is named for a sixteenth-century theologian who believed in predestination. Most people assume that Calvin is based on a son of mine, or based on detailed memories of my own childhood. In fact, I don't have children, and I was a fairly quiet, obedient kid—almost Calvin's opposite. One of the reasons that Calvin's character is fun to write is that I often don't agree with him.
Calvin is autobiographical in the sense that he thinks about the same issues that I do, but in this, Calvin reflects my adulthood more than my childhood. Many of Calvin's struggles are metaphors for my own. I suspect that most of us get old without growing up, and that inside every adult (sometimes not very far inside) is a bratty kid who wants everything his own way. I use Calvin as an outlet for my immaturity, as a way to keep myself curious about the natural world, as a way to ridicule my own obsessions, and as a way to comment on human nature. I wouldn't want Calvin in my house, but on paper, he helps me sort through my life and understand it.
Named after a seventeenth-century philosopher with a dim view of human nature, Hobbes has the patient dignity and common sense of most animals I've met. Hobbes was very much inspired by one of our cats, a gray tabby named Sprite. Sprite not only provided the long body and facial characteristics for Hobbes, she also was the model for his personality. She was good-natured, intelligent, friendly, and enthusiastic in a sneaking-up-and-pouncing sort of way. Sprite suggested the idea of Hobbes greeting Calvin at the door in midair at high velocity.
With most cartoon animals, the humor comes from their humanlike behavior. Hobbes stands upright and talks of course, but I try to preserve his feline side, both in his physical demeanor and his attitude. His reserve and tact seem very catlike to me, along with his barely contained pride in not being human. Like Calvin, I often prefer the company of animals to people, and Hobbes is my idea of an ideal friend. The so-called "gimmick" of my strip—the two versions of Hobbes—is sometimes misunderstood. I don't think of Hobbes as a doll that miraculously comes to life when Calvin's around. Neither do I think of Hobbes as the product of Calvin's imagination. Calvin sees Hobbes one way, and everyone else sees Hobbes another way. I show two versions of reality, and each makes complete sense to the participant who sees it. I think that's how life works. None of us sees the world exactly the same way, and I just draw that literally in the strip. Hobbes is more about the subjective nature of reality than about dolls coming to life.
I've never given Calvin's parents names, because as far as the strip is concerned, they are important only as Calvin's mom and dad. Calvin's dad has been rumored to be a self-portrait. All my characters are half me, so it's true in some ways, but Calvin's dad is also partly a satire of my own father. Any strip about how suffering "builds character" is usually a verbatim transcript of my dad's explanations for why we were all freezing, exhausted, hungry, and lost on camping trips. These things are a lot funnier after twenty-five years have passed.
Calvin's mom is the daily disciplinarian, a job that taxes her sanity, so I don't think we get to see her at her best. I regret that the strip mostly shows her impatient side, but I try to hint at other aspects of her personality and her interests by what she's doing when Calvin barges in. . . We usually only see Calvin's parents when they're reacting to Calvin, so as secondary characters, I've tried to keep Calvin's parents realistic, with a reasonable sense of humor about having a kid like Calvin. I think they do a better job than I would.
Susie is earnest, serious, and smart—the kind of girl I was attracted to in high school and eventually married. "Derkins" was the nickname of my wife's family's beagle . . . I suspect Calvin has a mild crush on her that he expresses by trying to annoy her, but Susie is a bit unnerved and put off by Calvin's weirdness. This encourages Calvin to be even weirder, so it's a good dynamic. Neither of them quite understands what's going on, which is probably true of most relationships . . .
As a few readers guessed, Miss Wormwood is named after the apprentice devil in C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. I have a lot of sympathy for Miss Wormwood. We see hints that she's waiting to retire, that she smokes too much, and that she takes a lot of medication. I think she seriously believes in the value of education, so needless to say, she's an unhappy person.
Moe is every jerk I've ever known. He's big, dumb, ugly, and cruel. I remember school being full of idiots like Moe. I think they spawn on damp locker room floors.
Probably the only person Calvin fears is his baby-sitter. I put her in a Sunday strip early on, never thinking of her as a regular character, but her intimidation of Calvin surprised me, so she's made a few appearances since. Rosalyn even seems to daunt Calvin's parents, using their desperation to get out of the house to demand advances and raises. Rosalyn's relationship with Calvin is pretty one-dimensional, so baby-sitter stories get harder and harder to write, but for a later addition to the strip, she's worked pretty well.