Art is dead! There’s nothing left to say. Style is exhausted and content is pointless. Art has no purpose. All that’s left is commodity marketing.
I should start out by saying that I’m not a fan of any smirking Calvin decals. To begin with, Bill Watterson (the creator of Calvin and Hobbes) has always been extremely explicit about not merchandising his characters. His valid argument is that seeing the comic strip characters’ faces outside of their original context ultimately cheapens them.* Comic strips should not remind you of MetLife (Peanuts), or Fruity Pebbles (Flintstones), or car-suction ornaments/mediocrity (Garfield). So not only is every Calvin decal you see illegal, it’s also a blatant slap in the face to one of the greatest comic strip artists of all time, who traded in the chance to become a multi-millionaire in order to preserve the integrity of his creation.
I’ve also never seen any un-sanctioned Calvin product with anything remotely clever to say. What exactly is the joke with Calvin pissing on various car brands? (It’s worth noting that the character of Calvin is an ardent environmentalist who would probably pee on ALL gasoline-powered engines given the chance; also, the fact Calvin and Hobbes mocked brand loyalty of all kinds seems to have escaped the minds of these Ford/Chevy enthusiasts).
And what’s with the bootleg t-shirt where Calvin grouses “God put me on Earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind I will never die”? Oh, God, make Dilbert say this line, make Cathy say it, make Dagwood say it, but turn not this joyful six-year-old Calvin into another world-weary office drone, bemoaning his busy schedule and his own lack of productivity. The closest Calvin ever gets to this sentiment is when he says, during a lazy summer day, that “There’s never enough time to all the nothing you want.”
But these decals of Calvin kneeling before the cross take the cake for me. They’re so goddamn PIOUS in their theft of intellectual property, Calvin prostrating himself before the Lord, but not before the idea that artists should get paid for their work. I guess a cross by itself wouldn’t be enough; these car owner needs to emphasize that they are devoutly Christian and spend all their free time praying, or at least that Calvin is/does.**
The stolen images in sanctimonious repose would be irony aplenty, but there’s the added twist that Calvin himself is a model of rebellion and irreverence. I could see, say, Peanuts’ Linus kneeling to a cross (and the estate of Charles Schultz could probably get behind that), but Calvin? When asked if he believes in God, Calvin glowers and mutters, “Well, SOMEbody’s out to get me.” Elsewhere, he describes the workings of the universe as “either mean or arbitrary, and either way I’ve got the heebie-jeebies.” In a Christmas strip, he compares God to Santa Claus. Calvin is a sort of Calvinist, of course, but only in the sense that he believes in predestination of the Earthly variety, which he uses to absolve himself from all responsibility for his actions.
Car decal people, what is going through your minds?*** What point do you hope to prove by lifting this symbol of non-conformity and plunking him on his knees? Why not appropriate, say, Bart Simpson or South Park’s Cartman, whose creators are at least rich? Why not just spray paint “My piety vastly outpaces my awareness of irony” on the back of your truck?
* You can read his argument here.
** You know who else had an opinion on Calvin decals? JESUS. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners [and on truck decals] to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Matthew 6:5
*** Also, spake Jesus: “[At least Praying Calvin is better than Confederate Flag-Waving Calvin. Nitwits who put up this sticker truly will invoke God's] wrath.” Matthew 3:7