Arts Desk

Calvin and Hobbes Reimagined as Meth Dealers in Breaking Calvin

They're out there: Breaking Bad fans staggering through life, eyes crusted over and searching, bereft of any answers until 2013, when the final chapter of Walter White's saga airs.

To those fans, worry not: There's a temporary salve.

Capitol Hill resident Clayton Hanson's "Breaking Calvin" blog peddles a mashup of the beloved Bill Watterson cartoon and the brutal AMC series about a cancer-stricken, morally bankrupt chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer and his co-conspirator. Season after season, Hanson, 34, pairs Watterson's illustrations with Vince Gilligan's dialogue—often with disquieting accuracy.

I spoke with Hanson about his project, how his opinion of the show's Jesse Pinkman character has changed, and whether he's going to need to hire a Saul Goodman equivalent to defend him if he gets charged with copyright infringement.

Washington City Paper: Did you grow up around D.C.?

Clayton Hanson: Actually I grew up outside of Anchorage, Alaska. I went to the University of Hawaii and after I graduated I didn’t know what I was gonna do, so I was bartending and playing hockey on the side. A friend said, "Come out (to D.C.) and hang out with me," and so I did.

WCP: What's your day job?

CH: I work at CQ Roll Call, as a legislative information editor. Three days a week I’m on the Hill, summarizing amendments. We have letters that members of Congress are sending to each other. All kinds of congressional information that people are sending.

WCP: And you are a rabid Breaking Bad fan, I assume?

CH: I started watching when it first came out. I remember the first episode, it just kind of blew my mind. It starts with Walter White in his underwear—it’s such a confusing thing, the first time you watch it. It didn’t have that much hype; they only had seven episodes the first season. Every time I watch it, I want to say, "Did you see this? Is this happening?"

When I started working on "Breaking Calvin," it was storytelling in short form, so I had to find a way that one line could cover a whole episode. It has really helped me as an author—if you can sum up the whole 45 minute show online...

WCP: Where did you get the idea for "Breaking Calvin"?

CH: I did it for myself the first time—the juxtaposition of a child saying these extremely adult things with a tiger was extremely amusing. I sent it to a friend and they thought it was really funny and they didn’t even watch the show. So I wondered if I could keep doing that. It was sort of strange, but the inspiration was ... thinking about both of them together.

WCP: Calvin and Hobbes have a Walt/Jesse kind of dynamic. How did you assign one to the other? Do you think that Calvin is more like Walt, and Hobbes like Jesse?

CH: I think that there's the lead person who’s out on their own and they happen to have someone else with them—that’s why I thought of Calvin as Walt. The story revolves around Walt, but without the partner in crime, it’s not the same. Calvin and Walt are really driving the story in a big way. It was kind of strange at first and then more I worked on it, the more hilarious it became.

WCP: You also assign some of the other Calvin and Hobbes characters some pretty funny roles—like Calvin's dad as Saul, or Calvin's mom as Skyler saying that line about sleeping with Ted. What kind of encyclopedic knowledge of the cartoon strips does this kind of matching require?

CH: I read all of Calvin and Hobbes growing up. I had to go through them again. There’s a really small amount of characters in Calvin and Hobbes, so I have to consider who's there ... Hank and Walt have an opposing relationship, like Susie and Calvin. It seemed like the perfect fit.

WCP: What kind of attention/reactions have you gotten?

CH: I got picked up on the Huffington Post with something like 2,000 visitors in four minutes or something insane like that. No idea where they got ahold of it. It’s interesting writing two books before this and not getting same amount of attention for those. It’s like being in a Guns N Roses cover band and having your own album and saying, "Hey, listen to this," and people are like, "Shut up and play 'Paradise City'!"

People ask, "What’s the next comic you're gonna do?" Something with The Walking Dead. I’m like, "I’m doing my third book, this was just a mental break." I've enjoyed every minute of it.

WCP: Did you do most of these with Photoshop? Are you worried about copyright issues?

CH: I was super curious about copyright violations and I’ve asked multiple people, lawyers at different firms. And the main question comes down to whether it’s transformative or derivative. ["Breaking Calvin"] is really much different from what [the show and cartoon] have. So I wasn’t worried about copyright, after talking to people, even though I do have a lawyer. If I started making a ton of money from merchandise, I guarantee that anyone that owns either would pay attention.

WCP: Do you have any thoughts on this long lull between the first part of Season 5 and the second? Any advice as to how people should cope with the lack of new episodes?

CH: It’s disappointing that they ended it the way they did. When the last shot aired, I was yelling at my TV, "Are you kidding me? This is where you decide to leave it?" It’s a million-dollar cliffhanger, but it’s annoying, personally. People, if they’re looking for their Breaking Bad fix, I’d encourage them to check out the first and second season again. It's amazing how I didn’t like Jesse at all at first—not how he was played, but the character himself. He is the worst. Through the last seasons, he’s gotten to be a much more likable character. Going back and watching the earlier shows, you end up seeing some things that you didn’t catch the first time. There’s so much depth there.

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