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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #330

Welcome to the three hundredth and thirtieth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn which Green Lantern Larry Niven wanted to reveal was an alien! Plus, discover a “lost” Calvin and Hobbes comic strip and learn the origin of Clash drummer Topper Headon’s nickname!

Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and twenty-nine.

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Larry Niven wanted to reveal Guy Gardner was an alien in 1989/1990.

STATUS: Apparently True

In 1973, famed science fiction author Larry Niven wrote a novella titled Flash Crowd, about the problems caused when cheap teleporation is introduced to the public. What happens is that large groups of people suddenly show up at places at once, causing all sorts of problems. Decades later, “Flash Mobs” have become a staple of popular culture, working very much on that same premise (well, except for the teleportation part of it).

Similarly, Niven had another idea that ultimately showed up in a different form. In the late 1980s, DC Comics approached Niven about coming up with a history of the Green Lantern Corps. A “bible,” if you would. It was going to appear in a three-issue Prestige Format mini-series that would lead into a new Green Lantern series.

The mini-series never came about, although Niven’s ideas were adapted by Gerard Jones for the 1990 Green Lantern ongoing series.

Also, many of Niven’s ideas later ended up in the one-shot graphic novel by Niven and John Byrne titled Ganthet’s Tale (where Niven introduced the popular Green Lantern character, Ganthet).

However, once DC got Niven interested, he kept coming up with different ideas. One of them, amazingly enough, was to reveal that Guy Gardner was actually an alien! Niven was going to write it as a three-issue story.

Before it could go very far, though, it was squelched by whoever was handling Gardner at the time (I am unsure if it was by the Justice League International staff or the Green Lantern staff).

Amusingly enough, about five years later, guess what happened?

Thanks to Arthur K. for the suggestion!

COMIC LEGEND: Universal Press Syndicate banned a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon featuring a joke about Calvin playing in a washing machine.

STATUS: False

In celebration of Almost Hidden month (where we spotlighted uncollected comic books – here is a list of the books featured), here is a legend about the only uncollected Calvin and Hobbes strip!

Athur K. also asked about the following legend, whether it was true or not:

Universal Press Syndicate refused to publish an early Calvin and Hobbes cartoon because they were afraid it would encourage children to play in washing machines.

That is not true, but it is close!

The November 28, 1985 Calvin and Hobbes strip (less than a month into the strip!) was the following…

However, that version only ran in some of the papers that had Calvin and Hobbes at the time. The rest had the following strip…

Clearly, though, the “playing in washing machines” angle did bother Watterson, as he has never reprinted the strip in any of the Calvin and Hobbes collections. The alternate strip appears instead.

Interestingly, in the recent “Complete Calvin and Hobbes,” Watterson also made edits to two strips that involved Calvin joking about being adopted (the edits came after both strips appeared in earlier collections, though). Here is an example of one of them…

The strip in the collection now reads:

CALVIN: Watch out, Mom. I’m in a bad mood.
MOM: Be in a bad mood somewhere else, OK? I’m busy.
CALVIN: Hmph! I’ll bet A GOOD MOTHER would’ve bought me a comic book and made me feel better instead of shunning me like you.
MOM: Kid, anyone but your GOOD MOTHER would’ve left you to the wolves long ago.
CALVIN: Yeah right. LET’S SEE YOUR TRAINING CERTIFICATE.

Like the ommission of the washing machine gag, this is all Bill Watterson’s doing. Since he has not spoken/written about it, we can only guess as to his motives (although they seem pretty clear, right?).

Thanks for the two great suggestions, Arthur!

COMIC LEGEND: Famed Clash drummer Topper Headon gained his nickname from a comic strip.

STATUS: True

Travis Pelkie wrote in with this one.

In an interview about auditioning for the Clash, famed early Clash drummer Nicholas “Topper” Headon reflected…

Headon agreed to an audition but didn’t bother going; he’d briefly been in Jones’ previous band, the London SS, “but they were all long hair and afghans and stuff”. He bought that week’s edition of the NME, however, “and who’s on the cover, but Mick, Joe and Paul [Simonon, bass player], and it was like… ‘Oh, I’ll be down in a minute, then!’ I went in there and went bang! bang! bang! – I had to relearn my whole drumming style.” He ended up with his hands covered in blood blisters but he’d got the job on a wage of £25 a week.

Being part of The Clash meant Headon had to give up his previous existence. Having set off for the audition in casual clothes and with long hair, he returned home dressed in punk gear, his head sporting hacked spikes. His name was changed next; Simonon rechristened him after deciding their new drummer looked like Mickey the Monkey from the children’s comic, Topper. “I wondered: am I doing the right thing? I’d only been in the band a week – I’d had to deny I was married. It was quite intimidating, you had to ditch all your mates and be part of the gang.”‘

Here is Headon…

Here is Mickey the Monkey (by the great Scottish cartoonist Dudley Watkins) from Topper…

You decide!

Thanks to Travis for the suggestion!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week’s covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!

Follow Comics Should Be Good on Twitter and on Facebook (also, feel free to share Comic Book Legends Revealed on our Facebook page!). If we hit 3,000 likes on Facebook you’ll get a bonus edition of Comic Book Legends the week after we hit 3,000 likes! So go like us on Facebook to get that extra Comic Book Legends Revealed! Not only will you get updates when new blog posts show up on both Twitter and Facebook, but you’ll get original content from me, as well!

Also, be sure to check out my website, Legends Revealed, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can find here, at legendsrevealed.com.

Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are legends never published on the blog!).

The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you all next week!

54 Comments

As an adoptee, that strip never bothered me (it’s even in some of the earlier printings of whatever collection it’s in). I don’t really know why Watterson changed it.

I thought about you when I posted it. I figured you wouldn’t mind, but I bet that there are others with less thick skins!

As to the Calvin and Hobbes, there was another strip at least that showed Hobbes after going through the dryer and being a little dizzy.

I do remember reading in the 10th Anniversary book that Watterson got a lot of grief from another strip, where Calvin asks his mom if he’s adopted, if they’re going to force him to work in a labor camp when he turns 13, and if they’re fattening him up to eat him. (Hobbes had been filling his head with ideas). That one didn’t bother me either, because I understood the joke was in the progression from a reasonable question to an unreasonable one to a downright ridiculous one. But, like you said, some people just must have thinner skins.

The edits always start arguments in regards to reviews of the collected editions.

As far as I am aware, Bill Watterson has adopted children since making those strips. I would imagine he became rather sensitive about the subject himself.

I also remember Watterson getting grief for comments like the one Calvin’s mom made about any other parent leaving him for the wolves. Watterson commented that any sane parent would have some misgivings about having to raise a kid as bratty and destructive as Calvin, and that compared to modern sitcoms, the exchanges between Calvin’s parents are almost heartwarming.

James Manley-Buser

September 2, 2011 at 10:17 am

Umm, not to nitpick, both I read both of those strips, the washing machine one, and the adoption one, in one of my Calvin & Hobbes collections, unedited, so it’s clear that he did republish them at some point.

“where Niven introduced the popular Green Lantern character, Ganthet”

Just because a character is featured by writers doesn’t necessarily mean he is popular with readers.

The rewrite of the mother strip just isn’t as good as the original.

Umm, not to nitpick, both I read both of those strips, the washing machine one, and the adoption one, in one of my Calvin & Hobbes collections, unedited, so it’s clear that he did republish them at some point.

The adoption one he edited later, so yes, it did originally appear in an early collection, but you’re mistaken on the washing machine one. It’s never been reprinted.

With Guy Gardner’s haircut, he must’ve been an alien, or a skrull! ;-)

I do remember reading in the 10th Anniversary book that Watterson got a lot of grief from another strip, where Calvin asks his mom if he’s adopted, if they’re going to force him to work in a labor camp when he turns 13, and if they’re fattening him up to eat him. (Hobbes had been filling his head with ideas). That one didn’t bother me either, because I understood the joke was in the progression from a reasonable question to an unreasonable one to a downright ridiculous one. But, like you said, some people just must have thinner skins.

In that one, the edit was simply changing “adopted” to “genetically engineered/cloned,” so the original joke is actually pretty much still intact (unlike the “parenting certificate” one).

Calvin and Hobbes is and always will be my all-time favorite strip!!

…also, I seem to remember another strip, not sure if the theme was adoption, but Calvin checks the tag in his shirt and assumes HE is made in Taiwan.

Hmm, I’m quite sure I have read that strip washing machine strip before…though it might be that it has been reprinted in collections in other languages and I have seen it in Finnish.

Well, I’m not going to get into a snit over it, but the replacement strip and the changes aren’t as funny.

I’m with James Manley-Buser, I’m certain that I’ve read that washing machine strip before, and I was too young to read in 1985.

@JOSHBROWN: Yes, he asks something about where people come from and Hobbes has him check his shirt tag and he does indeed assume he’s from Taiwan.

As for the washing machine strip, count me as someone who really feels he’s seen it, although it could be that I’ve heard of it so many times and combining it with another washing machine strip in which the mother has to wash Hobbes and Calvin is flipping out about how he’s been instructed to “messily devour” anyone who puts him to bed before a certain time or some such and it ends with something of a similar panel to the one above I think with Calvin telling him sarcastically that it was a fine time for him to take a bath and Hobbes retorting, “Listen, just because YOU never take one…”

That’s all from memory, so it could be a little off but that was the gist.

I’m going to go the all my old Calvin and Hobbes collections, I swear I’ve read that washing machine one.

The washing machine one may have been pulled because of something Watterson notes in a later collection. We see Hobbes kind of twirling all over and Calvin finally remarks something like “He’s always a bit funny after the rinse cycle”. Watterson commented that he disliked strips like that now as they messed too much with the “nature of Hobbes” question.

I find it odd that Watterson would have a problem with the washing machine strip, as he’s ended at least one other strip with Hobbes in the washing machine (The Days Are Just Packed, page 51). I don’t think that a “cold rinse” would imply the same thing as a “cold shower” or anything.

On page 161 of the same collection, Watterson begins another strip in the same way as the good/biological mother strip; however, this time Calvin’s mother catches him by surprise, giving him a comic book and a snack while making him comfortable on the couch. I only mention this because it seems like a response to the good/biological mother cartoon.

(Sorry that I couldn’t provide scans)

i own – collections with these strips in it

I too am adopted and the “Biological mother” strip is certainly WAY funnier than the replacement.

I remember a washing machine strip, but not that one. In the one I’m thinking of, Calvin opens the lid, and Hobbes tells him to shut it again because everything stops when it’s opened.

There was also a dryer strip.

I know I’ve read the washing machine strip… if it’s not in the books, is it in the online library? There’s always Comics Revue as well…

I flipped through my collections and they don’t have the washing machine strip.

The 10th Anniversary book does have the strip Michael P mentioned with this note from Watterson, “Boy, did I get letters about this one. Some readers felt I was maligning adoption by placing it in the same context as child labor and cannibalism. I thought the juxtaposition was ludicrous enough that no one would take it seriously, but as I’ve learned, some people can take everything seriously.”

I’m pretty sure I own those strips in collections as well.

My first printing of “Calvin and Hobbes,” the first book collection published in1987, has the “bat barf” strip, not the “washing machine” strip. So I’d have to assume Brian is right.

I am shocked and disappointed to learn that Watterson didn’t publish the original strips in the pricey Complete Calvin & Hobbes collection. The original idea on both auto-censored strips where much better.
It reminds me of the “Han Solo didn’t first” revision by Lucas in his remastered/revised Star Wars movies.
Sad.

We didn’t know how good we had it growing up. It was always exciting checking the paper everyday for the newest C&H and The Farside. It seems unfair that those strips are gone but we are still left with 3rd generation Blondie and Hagar the Horrible strips.

Checking my collections, too, tonight. That washing machine strip seems REALLY familiar and I have only read early Calvin & Hobbes in English collections.

I thoght I saw the washing machine joke in Essential C & H, but probably saw it in the papers back when.
I do recall Calvin climbing in the toilet and flushing himself to spin wash. Maybe that’s what we recall, plus the later Hobbes in the dyer one.

Hey, like it or not. We are ALL aliens from somewhere, right?:)

@Squashua: And the corollary to that is that just because you don’t like the character doesn’t mean he isn’t popular.

I remember a couple washing machine strips, but I’m pretty certain I DON’T remember this one. It’s been a while since I’ve read any C&H, though. To the library!

If AJ Ryan is correct that Watterson has since adopted children himself, that seems to be a good reason why he’d be sensitive to adoption jokes. However, I think with a “complete” collection, “warts and all” is the way to go. Of course, it’s not MY strip, either….

That Guy Gardner thing…yeah…I’ll, uh, say something about that to you in an email…

And since no one else is commenting on the legend I suggested, thanks for the Clash thing! That is kinda disturbing if he DID look a lot like that back in the day…

Yeah, that washing machine strip is in my edition of The Essential Calvin & Hobbes (my first C&H book).

It’s a huge surprise to see the great Dudley D. Watkins finally get a mention on CBR, but you missed a trick by not mentioning how much of an influence Watkins is on Frank Quitely, and of course the lads from Viz Comic.

I’ve mentioned Watkins influence on Quitely quite recently, actually. It was during Easter Egg month when I featured a Watkins easter egg that Quitely put into a Batman graphic novel he did years ago.

I really enjoyed Smith & Byrd’s run on Guy Gardner. It was like a great action adventure movie! (or tv series!)

They even made him turning into an alien fun!

I miss Byrd’s art (he did an amazing Planet of the Apes one shot from Adventure that I loved!) anyone know what hes upto these days?

“Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and twenty-seven” – I want to see the two top secret instalments! Which are they? Who pulled them? What are you trying to hide? You always used to offer the full back story (or claimed to) but something sinister has happened in the past two weeks. I see a comic book legend here. Or possibly not.

Thanks for the Calvin and Hobbes. Amazing strip. Is the “legend” of the last strip worth doing here,?

The saddest thing about that strip ending was not that it ended, but that now so many younger people only know Calvin pissing on a Ford logo.

Ha! Thanks, Chris. I fixed the opening paragraph.

Has the full Green Lantern “bible” been published?

I do know about “From Green Lantern Bible” part from Niven’s “Playgrounds of the Mind”. I always thought that was an excerpt.

I’m asking because I don’t remember the “Guy Gardner, alien” bit. Either my memory is failing me or this bit was wasn’t included here.

I’ve never been able to justify the expense for the Complete Calvin & Hobbes, since I already have all the earlier collections, so I had no idea a few of the strips had been edited. That is incredibly lame, but it does make me feel a little better about not owning the set, hehe. My unedited treausry editions are looking that much better, in light of that.
The Guy Gardner Warrior era, as lousy as the central idea was, included some fun comics. The team ran with the concept and made the best of it.

I’m surprised the “bat barf” line wasn’t more controversial.

Hmm, I seem to remember those two Calvin & Hobbes strips as well. I bought many of the collections while living in England, so maybe those editions had them? Not sure…

I am blown away that there are actually people challenging you on this, Brian. Owning all of the C&H collections and not knowing that there’s one strip missing is, in the internet age, pretty surprising. I guess I just assume that in 2011, we all would have at some point read the Wikipedia entry on Calvin & Hobbes, checked our collections, and absorbed the surprising revelation. And if not, haven’t we learned to trust Brian Cronin on these things, particularly on something as relatively easy to nail down as whether or not a given strip has appeared in a collection? I chalk it up to that one phenomenon that makes us all think we saw that grappling hook shot in Star Wars, or the fighter crashing into Death Star II’s deflector shield in Return of the Jedi*, mixed together with that irritating disease that has infected the culture, the desire to catch the experts in a lie.

At any rate, that strip has never been reprinted. And like many early C&H strips, I would go so far as to say it’s not that good. As a completist, I think Bill should reprint it because, again like many early C&H strips, it helps us to see how the work developed from a fun but relatively by-the-numbers tribute to Little Nemo (in my view) to what is almost indisputably the most towering achievement in the medium of comic strips, one of the most landmark works of comedy in any medium in history, one of the most important literary works of the modern era, and a work easily on the same level as anything Will Eisner or Alan Moore or Grant Morrison ever gave us in the upper echelons of truly great comics.

As a person who judges things, however, the strip itself is problematic for the very reason that Bill has–I believe–given for excluding it, which is that the way it plays with the nature of Hobbes is uncomfortable and dampens the magic of the character. But seeing early strips like this one–and several others that do the same thing–helps us understand why the strip became such a symphony later on, and helps us learn how Bill became such an incredible and special storyteller. And given that he includes many of the other early strips which are problematic for the same reason this one is–including several that show or refer to Hobbes being in a washer or dryer!–it seems odd that he’d exclude this one.

My guess is just that since it was not included in the early editions–which I think was originally a mistake–Bill saw the chance to just quietly excise it from most of our memories of the strip, which in many cases were shaped by the collections more than the original newspaper appearances. Indeed, I think a big part of why I feel so able to judge this strip impartially is that I have no attachment to it from childhood. Unlike many of the other early strips, which I have to work a little more to feel comfortable judging accurately, this one means nothing to me. I can easily see it for what it is (again, this is all just my opinion): it doesn’t play well with what was really at the heart of the strip’s charm, even in the early days of the strip’s existence, and the gag isn’t even that good. If Bill were to put together a book collecting the finest of Calvin & Hobbes–which he should totally do–it would be hard to argue for the strip’s inclusion. But the completists and scholars out there should have access to a truly exhaustive Calvin & Hobbes collection.

Other Thing 1: Both of the adoption edits are terrible. It’s a little sad to me that a man who fought so hard and so successfully against the syndicate and the newspapers to change the strip and make it less offensive, less challenging, and less cheap, was unable to mount that same fight against his own aging sensibilities. The younger Bill Watterson was no less a compassionate man, I’m sure, then the Bill Watterson of 2011. Has adopting children really opened his eyes to some awful injustice that exists in making jokes that deal in some way with adopting children, some injustice that he could not see before? Or does he just feel guilty that his children might ask him someday about the strips? If it’s the former, I’d love it if he could explain the discovery to me. If it’s the latter…I guess it’s understandable but disappointing. Is this where we all end up? Making Greedo shoot first and giving Calvin faith in his parentage, backing off the wilder things we believed and said and did in our younger days? My future suddenly looks bleak.

Other Thing 2: Can we all agree that, even if Bill won’t return to daily strips, he should seriously be doing something in monthly comics? He’d find a wonderful home at Dark Horse or Image (ironic, given how delightfully and brutally he skewered the Image era–and the Sin City comics–in C&H) today, with a big sandbox in which to play. A Calvin & Hobbes book, of course, would be divine, but anything from Bill would get my comic-book-buying dollar.

*There is a legit missing shot in almost every home release of Star Wars, and it’s so inexplicable and inconsequential that one wonders both why it was included in the theatrical release and why it was cut for home release.

For mamy years, certainly well into the sixties, Dudley Watkins’ character Ooor Wullie appeared alongside the Topper cover logo. Since Wullie sported a spiky haircut, I’m sure that The Clash were thinking of him when they called Topper Topper.

Take a look at http://www.comicvine.com/the-topper-/37-277751/ and you’ll see what I mean.

The Topper was a great comic, one of my childhood favourites

Gerson King Combo

September 5, 2011 at 11:27 am

The washing machine strip is featured in a Brazilian edition, I´m pretty sure.

I wonder if Cleveland Jr.’s stuffed tiger in The Cleveland Show is a reference to Hobbes. It seems to have the power to move on its own when no-one else is watching.

How can something be called the “Complete” Calvin and Hobbes collection if things are left out?

[...] publisher Andrews McMeel issued a hernia-inducing collection of Watterson’s entire body of work—sort of. [Universal Press Syndicate editor Lee] Salem recalls a minor blow-up from readers when Watterson [...]

Three years later and stumbling across this article, but I’d swear I remember the washing-machine strip too, though I couldn’t tell you which book I saw it in. Given the timeframe I suppose it *should* have been in the very first self-titled book, but I don’t have my old copies to check. It’s possible I had it in one of the larger collections, and mine in either case very well could have been sold through the Scholastic Book Club instead of a normal retail copy. Wouldn’t be the first time such a thing has happened, for instance, there’s a handful of examples of famous records that differed somehow in their record-club versions from the retail copies. I know I know the strip though, and I know there’s no way I’d have remembered it if I only saw it in the paper once back in 1985 – it could have only been in some version of one of the books that I read a million times.

(Also, I can’t blame any kind of “implanted”/false memory of it because I’d never heard of the strip being censored/deleted or that there was ever any hint of controversy around it until finding the article just now.)

“It can’t be a false memory because I didn’t know it was controversial until now” doesn’t track because if you didn’t know it was controversial, then how can you be so certain that you accurately recall a single strip like that? In other words, how can you trust your memory that you saw a single strip in a book years ago if now was the first time you’d have any reason to think of the single strip as being anything out of the ordinary, especially since there were a number of other strips over the years with Hobbes in the washing machine?

This doesn’t mean that you are 100% having a false memory (although you are almost certainly having a false memory) but I’m just saying that “I didn’t know it was controversial until now” doesn’t work as evidence that it is not a false memory.

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