From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, newspaper readers around the world followed the antics—and surprisingly poignant musings—of 6-year-old Calvin and his anthropomorphic tiger best friend, Hobbes, in Bill Watterson’s beloved daily comic strip. The final strip of “Calvin and Hobbes” ran in 1995, and as animation writer Charles Solomon said on NPR a decade later, they left behind a hole that “no strip has been able to fill.”
Now, one lucky fan can revisit the comic strip’s magic again and again: An unnamed buyer purchased a hand-colored “Calvin and Hobbes” Sunday strip that ran on May 24, 1987 for $480,000 during Heritage Auctions’ Comics & Comic Art Signature sale, the auction house revealed in a statement.
The comic strip broke the previous “Calvin and Hobbes” auction record, which was set in September when a February 1992 hand-colored daily strip sold for $216,000. It also tied the record for most valuable original newspaper strip ever sold at auction. The first “Flash Gordon,” created by American cartoonist Alex Raymond and published on January 7, 1934, also sold for $480,000 in 2020.
“Maybe it should come as no surprise, ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ is easily one of the most beloved comics of all time,” says Todd Hignite, Heritage Auctions’ vice president, to Artnet’s Richard Whiddington. “This strip was emblematic of the qualities that made it so adored. It deserves to be the most valuable, at least until the next one shows up at auction.”
The strip once belonged to Watterson’s late editor, Lee Salem. Evidently, Watterson gave the strip to his editor as a gift, writing in the title panel: “For Lee with best wishes—BILL.”
The strip begins with Calvin and Hobbes lugging a red wagon to the top of a hill. Together, they devise a plan to ride the wagon down the hill and travel through time.
“Gosh, what do you suppose the future will be like?” Hobbes asks.
“Who knows? Flying cars and cities built on clouds, maybe!” Calvin replies.
When they reach the bottom of the hill, they realize they didn’t hurtle through a time warp as planned. But, as Calvin astutely notes, “It’s two minutes later than when we started! We’re in the future!”
Another “Calvin and Hobbes” strip from Salem’s collection sold for $120,000 during the auction, which took place earlier this month. That unpublished, black-and-white illustration, which Watterson drew in 1988, depicts Calvin and Hobbes sitting back to back while reading newspapers with cheeky headlines like “Woman Weds Space Alien Elvis Clone.” After Hobbes comments on the tragedy of adult illiteracy, Calvin retorts: “I’ll say. Think of all the important things in life people miss if they can’t read!”
Salem held various leadership positions at Universal Press Syndicate, which distributed “Calvin and Hobbes” for its entire syndication period from 1985 to 1995. At its peak, the strip ran in 2,400 newspapers around the world. After Salem died in 2019 at age 73, his wife, Anita, decided to offer up the works so that other people could enjoy them.
Born in 1958, Watterson grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. After “Calvin and Hobbes” took off, Watterson remained staunchly committed to his artistic freedom and fought against the commercialization of the strip.
“[Watterson] is a real artist,” says Anita Salem in a statement. “But more importantly, he remembers and captures those childhood moments that remind us of our own youthful experiences. He has that rare combination of imagination and artistic talent that makes him one of the truly great cartoonists.”