There’s nothing quintessentially more American than t-shirts, bumper stickers, and bad taste. Well that, and copyright infringement. The current exploitation of Calvin from “Calvin and Hobbes” is enough to kill the creator and make him roll over in his grave. Americans love thier cars, and Americans love to put ugly art on their cars, but nothing says “I’m an idiot with a pointless opinion” like a window sticker of Calvin peeing on something.
Bill Watterson quit producing the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” at the height of it’s popularity. He was somewhat of a recluse when it came publicity and mass marketing. As a result, every Calvin and Hobbes t-shirt that you’ve ever seen has been a bootleg. The characters of Calvin and Hobbes have been co-opted by by popular culture to a degree that surpasses any other phenomenon, with the possible exception of the smiley face. Only time will tell if Watterson’s characters have as long of a shelf life as the smiley face. Calvin and Hobbes have been transformed from wholesome, Dennis-the-Menace type characters (with a better imagination) to frat boys drinking beer, smoking pot and most recently, peeing on every known auto manufacturer logo.
Apparently, it’s not enough to like the car that you drive, you’ve also got to hate other brands of cars. I’ve been collecting pictures of these auto-window stickers for a couple of years now with mixed results. It’s hard to remember to constantly bring a camera with you, and even harder to drive and take a picture at the same time. There are some that I’ve missed, and some that I’ve only gotten bad photos of. Some people have no problem with wanting everyone to know that they don’t like Fords, but they get really bent out of shape when you try and take a picture.
Where do they come from? I’ve never seen one in an auto parts store, although I’ve only looked a couple of times. As far as I can tell, the biggest source seems to be guys at carnivals with a computer and vinyl cutter. They set up shop with about a hundred tacky decals of witty sayings like “Shit Happens” and ripped off cartoon characters. By far the most popular variation is Calvin peeing on something. And talk about camera shy, these guys get very defensive if you try to take pictures. Ironically, a lot of their concerns are similar in nature to copyright infringement. It seems that they don’t want anyone getting a picture of the designs and then producing them themselves. One guy even had the nerve to insist that I couldn’t take any pictures since I didn’t ask him first. I reminded him that he was in an open-air carnival on public property, so he might as well shut up and say cheese. Snap! Snap!
It’s not just Calvin taking a whiz. It’s Calvin doing just about anything imaginable. Universal Press Syndicate is cracking down. lately there have been variations of the character designed to resemble Calvin but different enough to avoid legal troubles. Also, I think some kind of “extreme” motor-cross company might be involved. This appeals to the same crowd of jokers with “No Fear” and “Fear This”. I’m afraid of you all right, I’m afraid that you might actually figure out how to vote in the next election. You’re such a bad boy, you should start a club. People will use any angle to get in on the cash cow. After the obvious targets like lawyers and divorce, there’s aliens, Girl Power, cowboys, firemen, hunting, Viagra, you name it. And let’s not forget about our hispanic-american and native-american brothers who have also gotten in on the act. Some people hate a guy who drives a race car with the #24 on it. Do I know who that is? Nope. Probably drives a Ford though, crazy old man.
Speaking of variations, let’s talk about the Jesus fish. First came the fish. It’s a symbol of Christianity that I’m guessing has something to do with Jesus producing fish out of thin air, or not. I never really paid attention in Sunday school, or church for that matter. In fact, during my last fulfillment of family obligations ( going to church on X-mas eve ) I was so bored that I actually started reading the bible. Ironic, huh? After the plain fish had been around for a while, some enterprising malcontents made the infamous Darwin fish, which is a fish outline with feet and the word “Darwin” on the inside. Historically, and despite their own teachings, Christians have hard time with dissenting opinions. It’s not enough that they have their own opinions. Everyone must be made to see things their way, which necessitated having a large fish with the word “Jesus” or “Truth” eating a small Darwin fish. I don’t think Jesus would approve of his name being used to infer that Christ devours those that disagree with him. For crying out loud, even the freaking Pope has admitted that evolution is real. They get around the whole creation-thing by saying God still created the original spark, and therefore evolution too.
The Jesus fish also appears with Latin (ort Greek?) letters that are somehow significant. Not to be outdone, free thinkers have come up with a range of alternatives, all based off the basic outline of the fish. There’s the obvious Satan Fish, a rocket with the word “science”, a flying saucer – UFO thing, a fish with the word “Gifilta” for non-gentiles, and even a fish with a guitar and “Devo” inside. I love Devo, but the Devo fish is kind of weak. Of course, I haven’t documented them. So by all means, send in you pictures. Christians don’t like any of them. I’ve had a Darwin fish involuntarily removed from my car. Not suspicious, except that there were several Jesus fish on the same block. I’ve also had afriend whose Science fish was destroyed. Instead of turning the other cheek, some Christians have chosen to fight urine with a little copyright infringement of their own. It’s important that you know that they love Jesus and don’t appreciate bodily functions.
Getting back to Calvin peeing. What’s up with all the rivalry between the armed forces? They’ll fight for our freedom and way of life to protect us from Osama, but they don’t like each other? That may be. Sometimes they can’t even get their copyright infringement right. And where is Hobbes in all this? It’s got cross-over appeal too. The Calvin Peeing graphic has even appeared on fingerboards.
Lest anyone think that I am passing judgment , I will admit to copyright infringement to the detriment of Bill Watterson. The first silkscreen shop I worked for was at a university. This shop once printed a run of Calvin and Hobbes getting drunk shirts for some stupid fraternity party. They also made a habit of selling a generic Calvin and Hobbes dancing shirt. After the shop got the cease and desist order, I took the artwork and used a network of friends and acquaintances to sell the shirts for extra cash. I finally got an attack of morals and stopped selling them, but that didn’t prevent me from printing more for my little sister when she needed to make some extra cash. When I finally started my own silkscreen business, my partners and I made a point of not bootlegging shirts, that is until we entered the gray area of printing nostalgia shirts from TV shows of the seventies. An unemployed friend of ours was one of our biggest clients. He made a ton of money selling Cat in the Hat shirts and Brady bunch stuff. All of this was years before the Grinch and Brady Bunch movies. He’s now a derelict drug addict, so he got his in the end.