Message from a bug

Today’s vintage Calvin and Hobbes:


Now, this is funny on the face of it: Calvin’s fantasy of being a bug that sends typed messages by jumping on one key after another — realized by Calvin’s hitting the keys on his mother’s typewriter. Calvin’s fantasies are often his interpretations of his real-life actions. Or, looking a things the other way around, his real-life actions are sometimes realizations of his fantasies.

The strip is a lot funnier, however, if you know a little bit of literary history.

When I showed the strip to Kim Darnell and referred to its entertaining allusion to archy and mehitabel, she was baffled. Kids these days! So I had to do the quick tutorial.

From Wikipedia:

Archy and Mehitabel (styled as archy and mehitabel) are the names of two fictional characters created in 1916, by Don Marquis [pronounced like mark-wiss], a columnist for The Evening Sun newspaper in New York City. Archy, a cockroach, and Mehitabel, an alley cat [who believes herself to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra], appeared in hundreds of humorous verses [mostly free verse] and short stories in Marquis’ daily column, The Sun Dial. Their exploits were first collected in the 1927 book “archy and mehitabel,” which remains in print today, and in two later volumes, “archys life of mehitabel” (1933) and “archy does his part” (1935). Many editions are recognized by their iconic illustrations by George Herriman, the creator of Krazy Kat.

… Because he was a cockroach, Archy was unable to operate the shift key on the typewriter (he jumped on each key to type; since using shift requires two keys to be pressed simultaneously, he physically could not use capitals), and so all of his verse was written without capitalization or punctuation. (Writing in his own persona, though, Marquis always used correct capitalization and punctuation. As E. B. White wrote in his introduction to The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel, it would be incorrect to conclude that, “because Don Marquis’s cockroach was incapable of operating the shift key of a typewriter, nobody else could operate it.”)


Wonderful stuff.

2 Responses to “Message from a bug”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From John Lawler on Facebook, quoting Mehitabel:

    toujour gai toujour gai theres life in the old gal yet

  2. chrishansenhome Says:

    I seem to recall that in one story the typist left the CAPS LOCK key on and archy was ecstatic.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: