It's scientific. 100% scientific.
It is rare anymore to find a syndicated comic strip--that is, one in wide publication with a consistent audience--that has the depth and soul of Calvin and Hobbes. I don't know what it is, really; perhaps the slow confinement of the Funnies page between the police-blotter and the Sudoku that author/artist Bill Waterson was so fervently against. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that no syndicated author has the courage anymore to draw stunning full-color vistas with twigs the way Waterson was wont to do.
Regardless of the reason, Calvin and Hobbes still has the ability to astound me, even as (especially as?) an adult.
We recently ran across all of our old copies of the books as my family was cleaning out the house for a garage sale. Flipping through them, noting as I did my old green-crayon signature on their covers, I began to skim a few strips.
One in particular I remembered from when I was a child: Calvin, playing with his transmografyer--no, of course I don't remember how to spell it--turns himself into an elephant. 'Oho!' says Young-Keller, 'He's turned himself into an elephant! And now he and Hobbes are playing in the mud! How droll.'
Adult-Keller reads the strip. As Calvin (an elephant) and Hobbes (a tiger) are playing in the mud, Suzie--Calvin's female nemesis--comes up. Calvin shouts "Guess what we are, Suzie!" After a pause, he continues: "The Republican Party and Tammany Hall!"
Adult-Keller stops, stunned.
'What?' he thinks. 'Was that just a reference to the corrupt political society that was run by William M. "Boss" Tweed in mid-nineteenth century New York?'
'... Yes. Yes it was.'
'AND IT WAS HILARIOUS.'
See, no other syndicated strip that I've personally encountered has the guts (or, frankly, the brains) to write a joke centered around obscure American-history trivia and make it funny (believe me: I don't do it justice.) Especially a strip written about a six-year-old and his stuffed tiger.
But don't lose heart! There are inheritors of the Calvin and Hobbes tradition!
Though comics in the newspaper may be dying out, standalone comics are just beginning to hit their stride. Check out The Best American Comics 2010 collection (edited by Neil Gaiman!) for a start. Depending on your tastes, move on to Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw or Blankets by Craig Thompson. Both are excellent! Or, if you're in the mood for something a bit more (maybe a lot more) fantastic, read Watchmen by Alan Moore and see what all that movie nonsense was about.
There is no reason to languish in the land of Family Circus! The universe of good comics awaits!
(P.S. Sorry, Family Circus fans. I didn't mean it.)
(P.P.S. Yes I did.)
(P.P.P.S. At least it's not Marmaduke.)