When I was on summer break as a kid, I would wake up, bound down the stairs and pour myself a heaping bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats and read Calvin & Hobbes anthologies.
I’d pour second and third bowls of cereal as I’d flip through Something Under The Bed Is Drooling or Weirdos From Another Planet!, laughing about the failed antics of Stupendous Man and choking back tears at the damn baby raccoon strips.
Calvin felt like a contemporary to me. We were vaguely the same age and had the same penchant for mischief, as most young kids do, and I remember wanting to ask my parents for a red shirt with black stripes to match his, but I was too embarrassed.
Like most kids, Calvin is not subtle about what he’s thinking and feeling. “I’m killing time while I wait for life to shower me with meaning and happiness!” he once famously declared.
Meanwhile Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes’ creator, seems to let his character do the talking for him.
Watterson’s often mentioned with Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger as being brilliant yet reclusive authors. There hasn’t been a new photo of Watterson made publicly available in over a decade, and he rarely talks to the press. He has no social media accounts, no reported plans to publish any new work, and has historically been mum about the details of his personal life.
“It seems the less I do and say, the better everyone likes my work,” Watterson said in his most recent interview, five years ago.
Calvin & Hobbes’ continued success and cultural staying power bewilders Watterson. “But really, I was writing to amuse Melissa (my wife) and myself. That’s as far as I understand,” he says.
Those mornings spent reading Calvin & Hobbes are among the fondest memories of my youth. When I deconstruct the whole process, cereal was technically the first thing I ever cooked for myself, in that I took separate ingredients and combined them to make a meal.
As I’ve grown up my cereal consumption has, sadly, gone down. Well, that is unless you want to call oatmeal a type of cereal, which I guess technically it is, but it’s not the same in spirit. I’m not here to debate the semantics of ‘cereal’.
My family’s pantry growing up was mostly filled with healthy-ish cereals, with only the occasional coveted sugary box of Count Chocula or Oreo-O’s. But now, oh, now I’m old enough to buy whatever goddamn cereal I want.
Before heading down the cereal aisle, I used to shamefully look over my shoulder to make sure no one sees me look straight past the healthy stuff and reach directly for a box of Lidl-brand Reese’s Puffs.
As I fell back in love with cereal, I’ve discovered that there are people who are as enthusiastic about cereal as I once was. Sure there’s a cereal subreddit and loads of cereal memes out there, but there’s loads of high-effort cereal content out there.
There’s Cereal Time TV, a YouTube channel that analyzes both new releases and the classics of yesteryear. Free Toy Inside is a comedy podcast with a cereal theme. My personal favorite is cereal news and review site Cerealously.net, the self-proclaimed “most important blog of the day”.
Cerealously’s readers seem to joyfully deputize themselves to make sure Dan Goubert, the site’s founder and author, gets access to rare and geolocked cereals (which made for a lede in a review of Tim Horton’s Timbits cereal that just gets me so good).
“Now it seems like General Mills, instead of, you know, creating the gingerbread Lucky Charms that I’ve been asking for since at least childhood — before I could even talk I was kind of motioning for it at times,” Goubert jokes on his show, The Empty Bowl: A Meditative Podcast About Cereal.
Even though I don’t eat a ton of cereal, much less have access to the rare gems like Timbits or Hostess’ Powdered Donettes cereal, I can’t help but admire the dedication and depth of the internet cereal community.
Nowadays when reaching for the indulgent cereals, I care not who sees me. I like the healthy, non-candy-bar-inspired cereals (Quaker Oatmeal Squares are the GOAT cereal and do not try to tell me otherwise) but I like to go for the sugary stuff to make up for lost time as a kid.
And every time I pour — nay, cook — a bowl of cereal, I find myself instinctively reaching for a Calvin & Hobbes book that’s not there.
Watterson made something fun, heartfelt, and meaningful just because he felt like it. Thanks for teaching me the value in that and so much more, Bill.