Review by Woodrow Phoenix
This is the eighth volume of Bill Watterson’s collected newspaper strip, but the first to feature Sunday pages in colour. With this volume, the shape of these ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ reprints changes to a landscape format. The Days are Just Packed is the same height as previous volumes, but much wider, so that the size of the strips printed inside increases substantially and you can really examine Watterson’s artwork which gets better and better. Now there are two daily strips per page rather than three, and each Sunday strip is reproduced on a full colour page, just as it would have appeared in newspapers. This also makes for a much heftier book size; where the previous volumes averaged 120 pages each, this collection is 176 pages.
Bill Watterson has discussed how restrictive he found the standard formatting of Sunday pages. Creators have to use a very rigid format of pre-sized panels, which allows papers to alter strips to fit into their newspaper layouts. Worse than this is the requirement to make the top tier and second panel of each Sunday strip disposable elements, so that papers can drop those parts altogether if they want to. Readers of some newspapers will only see half of the panels drawn for a Sunday strip by the time editors have finished trimming them. It all adds up to a very unsatisfactory experience that imposes a weird rhythm on Sunday strips and prevents artists from using the space to its fullest potential.
Finally, Watterson suggested a compromise: he would draw a half-page Sunday strip. This would take up less space than a full page but the trade-off was papers would have to print it without altering it.
The success of this new approach is very easy to see when you compare the first couple of conventional Sunday pages shown in this volume to the complete half-pagers that follow it. There’s a huge leap in visual invention as Watterson can vary layouts and compose his panels around a theme, use all the space to tell a longer and more complicated story than in a daily, and draw more involving pictures.
The Days are Just Packed is another great, funny book of one of the best ever newspaper strips, and the new format just makes it even better.